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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Here's the thing - it's not all about you

At least it shouldn't be.

I recently read a travel piece in the New York Times by a writer named Freda Moon. Whining and self-indulgent, the piece has all of the charm of a warm Chardonnay. The basic ingredient had potential, but the manner of serving is all wrong. How Ms Moon convinced the Old Gray Lady to publish this is beyond me.

The title of the piece is, "Bringing a Destination Wedding Within a Family's Reach". not a bad premise for a nuts and bolts service article in the "how to" fashion, but Ms Moon's piece gives no insight how to accomplish this and instead focuses on her own self-induced travails and they're not very interesting at that.

When Clay Felker was Editor of New York magazine he championed "New Journalism", where the writer injects themselves in to the piece they are writing and becomes a significant part of the story. Tom Wolf and Hunter S. Thompson were let loose on the world and for writers of their talent the story became better for it. Ms Moon has no such gift.

Currently, the Scottish writer Andrew O'Hagan does this brilliantly with his travel essays, as does Lawrence Osborne, the English writer. I assume that Ms moon is not from the British Isles. Nor is she Dervla Murphy, the swashbuckling Irish writer who dragged her young daughter across Madagascar and wrote it up in a book called, Muddling Through In Madagascar - a highly recommended read.

Travel writing relies upon observation and anecdote and it takes a good raconteur or skilled writer to interest us enough to care. Ms Moon's petty tribulations bored the shit out of me. Starbucks has made billions by not serving you a cup of coffee, but by giving you an experience that's all about you, and Freda Moon and her ilk lap the attention up and regurgitate this as a way of life.

The cod's wallop that was served up in this offending piece was about attending a friend's wedding in Punta Mita, Mexico, with baby and husband in tow. Punta Mita is a pricey enclave just north of Puerto Vallarta. I've worked there and know it quite well so I was interested in reading the article. Our poor scribe couldn't afford the rates at Punta Mita so they took cheap digs down the road. Thankfully I was spared stories of tarantulas in the bed and lizards in the shower, but I did get the tale of her baby soiling it's diaper as the Lyft driver arrived to take them to the airport in San Francisco.

On that omen she should have taken the hint, stayed at home and made up an excuse for the New York Times because the article became no better as I toiled through one laborious, self-indulgent sentence after another. The writer's observations of her location were few and shallow and the prose was mundane. I'd advise her to keep the day job but I fear this may be it.

Serviceable travel writing is fairly straightforward, here's where to go and what to do sort of thing. Good travel writing is hard to come by and ranks high on the literary scale for me. Actually, Lawrence Osborne claims that he has turned his back on it these days to pursue fiction because travel writing is really from another era.

I think I know what he means and if I may expand on that thought: Good travel writing is losing an audience in these times of pre-packaged trips to an all-inclusive, tweeting at every opportunity in-between taking Selfies and posting cell phone shots of everything that comes your way on Instagram.

The more travel marketers use terms like experiential and authentic, the less it becomes so.

Pity, but there are still dinosaurs like me- and O'Hagan - who can appreciate a good yarn well told and seek to inject some depth into creative endeavor.

Litbu, Punta Mita