What’s to be done with the present tense and its unending popularity among travel writers and editors? In 2001, in his introduction to The Best American Travel Writing, Paul Theroux was already denouncing it, calling it “precious, self-regarding, a distraction.” It had been years since Theroux had taught, so he was unaware that it is also anathema to writing teachers, who spend a good deal of their time changing verbs from past to present in stories by students who forget that they started out in present and inevitably move to the more natural, and accurate, past tense (often before subconsciously reverting to present again). Life would be so much easier for everyone – students, teachers, readers – if travel stories were told in retrospect. Travel writers, we know you survived your journey, otherwise we wouldn’t have your words about it, so don’t pretend you’re still out there. And travel editors, free your writers – and readers – from the present. Unlike the past, it has never been called ‘a foreign country.’

By Thomas Swick • Category: Americans, writing

Yesterday I showed Hania the makowiec (poppy seed roll) I'd bought at the Polish deli for the condo Christmas party tonight.

"I hope nobody's planning to take a drug test soon," she said.

By Thomas Swick • Category: Uncategorized

le livre juste

12/13/17 09:00

Over the holidays I like to reread a favorite novel. Perusing my shelves the other day I found a title that seemed the perfect one to end this year with: Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.

By Thomas Swick • Category: books

artful Miami

12/11/17 08:36

Saturday morning we drove to Miami through intermittent showers. The rain must have dissuaded some art lovers, as the traffic on Biscayne Blvd. was fairly light, and we found a parking space – in the lot of Trinity Cathedral – without a problem. Twenty dollars for my church.

We sat in the car until a squall passed, then walked with umbrellas to Art Miami, a huge tent that had been set up on the site of the old Herald building. Inside, we waited with other damp people for about 25 minutes. At 11 am we were all let loose.

We stayed three hours and didn’t see everything. The Koreans had a large presence, with some brilliant artists who, like many on display, demonstrated a playful sense of humor. A few of the patrons were as interesting as some of the paintings, while  taking themselves much more seriously. Even the window looking onto Biscayne Bay – its causeways, its cruise ships, its condos – had the look of a canvas, showing the scene in a rare watery grey. Even I couldn’t help but think it was a view too good for journalists.  

For lunch we drove – again surprisingly easily – up Biscayne Blvd. to the Design District. While consuming our vaca frita and black beans and rice at Estafan Kitchen, we listened to a pianist who, during his break, was replaced by black-and-white videos of old Latin stars. Afterwards, we walked the streets, passing art lovers and construction workers. Two people stood at a streetside information desk.

 “When is this district going to be finished?” I asked the young man.

 “Who knows?” he said. “Perhaps it will be the Sagrada Familia of Miami.”

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown

It’s been hard not finding a newspaper outside the door every morning. Now I have to come in here, where I work, blog, waste time on Facebook, to read the paper before blogging, working, wasting time on Facebook. The front page appears on my screen, but I have to scroll down to see what’s at the bottom of it. Yes, I can reduce the size, so only the headlines are readable (headlines being the majority of what one reads in a newspaper), but as soon as I click to turn the page it reverts to its previous size. If I scroll down to read the bottom of a page, and then turn the page, instead of seeing the bottom of the next page, I see the top, making it necessary for me to scroll down again. (I thought perhaps I could do one page down, the next page up, etc., but that would be too logical.) I’m tempted to read only stories above the fold, but then I’d be tormented by the idea of missing something I shouldn’t. Reading online has further reinforced for me the beauty of paper. No wonder people addicted to screens aren’t getting their news from newspapers.

I’m off to Pennsylvania. Will be back here next Monday.  

By Thomas Swick • Category: media


12/01/17 09:41

A true travel writer would rather write a memorable line than see an unforgettable sight. (I remind myself of this as I sit at my desk and gaze at friends' photos on Facebook.)

By Thomas Swick • Category: writing