Tag Archives: anthropology

Travel Writers’ Most Memorable Bummers

outhouseBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Tim Cahill is an adventure travel writer who has visited about 100 countries and won a National Magazine Award, among other tributes. One of the founders of Outside magazine, he’s also seen his work appear in National Geographic, the New York Times Book Review, and many other places. One of those other places is The Titanic Awards, a humor-laden online complaint department where Cahill and others with stories to tell gather ’round and reveal their all-time least delightful travel experiences. We quote his unfond memories of the world’s worst outhouse:

The Throne of Terror, built at an archeological dig near Lake Paytexbatun, Guatemala. Archeologists are not biologists and constructed the two holer over an existing vertical cave populated by bats. Visitors are obliged to deal the common travelers’ ailment while angry bats swoop and dive about in a maelstrom of rage.

By strange coincidence, a bat-infested privy is also described by Paul Theroux, only his brush with the phenomenon took place in a leper colony in Malawi. It’s in his book Fresh Air Fiend.

Grant Thatcher, publisher of the LUXE city guides, mentions the toilet in a certain train in India. He says, “The image charred into my retina will forever be the benchmark against which I judge all conveniences.” But we mustn’t get the idea that American travel writers find fault with what Voltaire called “the smallest room in the house” only if that room is located in another principality. For instance, Mike Richard, editor at Vagabondish.com, recalls a public restroom in Portland, Maine, as the worst of the worst. “It was like someone let a pack of methed-up children loose on a poo pinata,” is his vivid description.

Now, here’s a fellow who should know something about bad. He’s the author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places. We’re talking about Robert Young Pelton, who reminisces about his worst toilet, which was none, in Mali. He says you just “wander out into the sand and find a spot,” observed, more likely than not, by indigenous people, who are curious to know if a white guy does it different somehow. Well, fair’s fair. Isn’t that what white guys go over there to find out? The question, “Do the natives do it different somehow?” is the very essence of the entire field of anthropology and several others.

But potties infested by airborne mammals, or latrines in general, or even the absence of amenities entirely — these are not the only focus of the Titanic Awards. For instance, there’s the Worst Buskers category. And the Worst Tourism Slogans, Worst Theme Park Attraction, and many, many more. And by the way, visit WorldHum and check out Eva Holland’s contribution, “Adventures in Unfortunate Place Names.”

There’s another whole category of bummer, the kind made up of war zones and other apocalyptic locales typically explored by P.J. O’Rourke, as in his books All the Trouble in the World and Holidays in Hell. In Parliament of Whores, he gives examples:

I’ve been to Beirut, where people were living in holes scooped out of rubble. I’ve been to the Manila city dump, where people were living in holes scooped out of garbage.

Yet, somehow, it always comes back to the jakes. As O’Rourke told interviewer Chris Mitchell, “I am a little tired of the Third World travel, part of it’s just age, it’s tough on the system, tough on the gastro-intestinal tract…”

photo courtesy of WKHarmon, used under this Creative Commons license

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in Fact and Film

catedralBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Marina Sarruf, special envoy to the Brazil-Arab News Agency, reports on an upcoming work about the Arab presence in Rio de Janeiro. Apparently the history of Arabs in Brazil is a neglected area of study. Sarruf tells us:

Paulo Hilu Pinto, an anthropologist and professor at Fluminense Federal University, has already started collecting files, images and stories for elaboration of the book, to be part of a series of publications by Light Institute, under the Rio de Janeiro energy company.

Rio! Is there any other place-name so evocative, that can pack so much into three letters? There may be a thousand cities in the world named Rio This, That or The Other, but there is only one Rio, and everybody knows it: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There’s Carnival, of course. And filmmakers love the place. If you search for the city name in IMDb’s location database, well over 500 results come back, including movies and TV shows. The new feature film Beneath the Cristo was conceived there, inspired by Romeo Risica’s novel, as director Mario M. Milano told the press. Relaxing at an outdoor café, he was overtaken by a need to write down so many ideas for the film, he used up a whole container of paper napkins and didn’t vacate his seat until the proprietor decreed it was closing time. Milano also discovered a new leading lady, in a crowd of extras, at the beach.

The beaches of Rio are, of course, legendary. So are the hundreds of slums full of armed thugs. There is even a sociological phenomenon known as “slum tourism.” The city wants to host the Olympics in 2016. It’s the home base of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, as we see from Julie Garisto’s report in the St. Petersburg Times. A pair of performance artists have lived for weeks suspended from the wall of an art gallery. In fact, they’re scheduled to be there until August 20.

It was in Rio that a famous footballer called Fat Ronaldo got into a compromising position of some kind last year with a transvestite or three. He also abandoned his team for a different club, and disapproving fans were going to meet him at the Rio airport on August 9 dressed up as transvestites — which would kind of make them transvestites, too. I mean, wouldn’t it? Anyway, it’s a very complicated story and the airport protest may not have happened anyway.

Although Kevin believes Corsica is the most beautiful place on earth, he also says, “In my book, Rio may well be the most beautiful major city.” Well, it is his book, isn’t it! And part of it is about Rio, and one of those statues he’s so crazy about, and a lot of people with

…their arms stretched out so that their friends, lovers or spouses can squat a few
feet in front of them and take pictures of them superimposed on the 30-meter statue of Jesus behind them. All together, they kind of look like the final scene in The Life of Brian.

The person who wrote that piece on The Life of Brian at the other end of that link, by the way, is Alex von Tunzelmann, who is a historian and the author of Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. As a specialist, she “watches classics of big screen history and prises fact from fiction.”

By the way: What is the most beautiful major city?

photo courtesy of Catedrales e Iglesias , used under this Creative Commons license

Europe + Beer = Energy + Fun


News Editor

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas H. Maugh II alerted the public to the discovery of the world’s oldest known musical instrument and no, it isn’t Willy Nelson’s guitar. (There is no real good segue into this, but you should know that Maugh has written way more than 1,000 articles for the Los Angeles Times.) The artifact we’re talking about here is a 35,000-year-old flute, which is not in cherry condition. In fact, it’s only a partial flute, found in 12 pieces, and they don’t all add up. Nevertheless, someone in the distant past drilled deliberate holes in a griffon vulture bone, in such a way as to make it into a wind instrument. Maugh says:

Excavated from a cave in Germany, the nearly complete flute suggests that the first humans to occupy Europe had a fairly sophisticated culture, complete with alcohol, adornments, art objects and music that they developed there or even brought with them from Africa when they moved to the new continent 40,000 years or so ago.

They found a couple of ivory instruments, too, left there eons ago by folks who “drank beer, played flute and drums and danced around…” Remind you of anyone? Only everyone you know! The difference between our great-great-greats and us is that we have a lot more varieties of beer to choose from. For instance, there’s one called St-Feuillien that people just rave about. It’s a $10 bottle of brew described as a “delicate, exquisite gourmet beer” by Paul Hightower in the Examiner, and there’s a legend behind it, too.

Beer-making is adaptable to environmental and ecological best practices, and it’s a darn good thing, because nobody’s going to quit making the stuff any time soon. At Inventorspot, Myra Per-Lee looks into the use of beer waste as an alternative energy source. A guy named Wolfgang Bengel of the BMP Biomasse Projekt says he’s figured out a way to make beer byproducts into fuel that will power the breweries. Each cycle would recapture 50% of the energy, or something. Apparently, he’s already done similar feats in Thailand and China. It sounds great. This isn’t a totally new concept, however. Anheuser-Busch has been doing a similar thing in its United States breweries, says Leslie Guevarra at Reuters.

We have it on good authority (Rick Steves of Tribune Media Services) that there are over 300 varieties of Belgian beer alone, and that’s not counting all the rest of Europe. In Brussels, there’s a bar called Delirium where they have more kinds of beer than anybody. Really, it’s certified by the Guinness World Record people. As of 2004, anyway. Who knows where the current record holder may be? That’s one of the things that beer pilgrims go to Europe to investigate!

photo courtesy of Experiencias de viagem de 1 Brasileiro
, used under this Creative Commons license