Twice in the last two weeks I’ve found myself eating in a restaurant and looking up from my plate to see two barefoot, bare-chested men brawling in a ring. And this was not in sports bars; it happened first in a pizza place and last night in a barbecue joint. Both times it was at an hour – around 6 o’clock – when civilized sports are hard to find on TV. But that doesn’t change the fact that for people who aren’t into MMA (and probably even some who are) the sight of two men hitting and kicking each other is not the ideal accompaniment to dinner.
My six-week travel writing course in Miami – which begins tonight – coincides nicely with the new issue of Granta in which 13 writers are asked if travel writing is dead.
It’s something I’ve been asking myself, but in a different way, wondering if there is still any interest among the public in travel writing. Reading is on the decline generally, and when it comes to getting to know the world there are now many more enticing (though not necessarily superior) ways to do it – HD, interactive apps, virtual reality, etc. The two most popular travel books of recent years – Eat, Pray, Love and Wild – were at heart memoirs.
Pico Iyer gets at this dwindling not of a genre but of an audience for it (which, ultimately I guess, is the same thing) when he laments the abundance of pedestrian blogs and the increasing absence of bold, thoughtful, rigorous portraitures of places. “But that doesn’t mean that travel writing is dead;” he concludes, “only that we sometimes are.”
We met our friend Joe at the Taste of Oakland Park Friday night. Since we’d last seen him, Joe had lost 27 pounds.
“What kind of diet are you on?” Hania asked him.
“I don’t eat anything that makes me happy.”
Friday he was calling a moratorium. After you paid your $10 entry fee, everything inside Jaco Pastorius Park was free. Local restaurants, and the culinary students of a local high school, handed out samples of pulled pork, Shepherd’s pie, pasta, lentil soup, Crepes Suzette, chips and salsa, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Funky Buddha brewery was serving two types of beer and Casa d’Angelo had a beautiful spread of Italian desserts.
Sitting in the bleachers to eat our victuals, Joe told us about his sister Laura, who lives in L.A. She had gone to the women’s march in the city with her 5-year-old daughter Aurora, after telling her that she could make her own sign, saying whatever she wished. Joe called up a photo on his phone that showed his smiling niece holding a sign that read: “I WANT CANDY.”
My disappointment over that book reading - the one that produced very few sales despite being well-attended and enthusiastically received - followed me home and carried over into the next day. It wasn't until I came in here and started to work that my mood improved.
"The cure for anything," Isak Dinesen wrote, "is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea."
But for a writer, as she surely knew, it's writing.