BETWEEN THE WINES
The mental connection one makes with a travel writer can sometimes be quirky. The author is (unless you have serious armchair time) an inconstant companion on an often imaginary or vicarious journey; his opinions or observations are immune to your debate and your personal curiosities frequently go unsatisfied. So it is the writer's humor, rhythm, prejudice or even preoccupation that becomes his personality as the reader experiences it. In this case I refer to two male writers who both take to the road, so to speak, but whose styles and attitudes are almost comically unalike. Tim Moore, an English travel journalist whose peculiarly Anglocentric manner is nearly a caricature of the Punch-drunk pompous satirist, has retraced what was once almost an Anglo-American ritual in The Grand Tour: The European Adventure of a Continental Drifter. Tiziano Terzani, a cosmopolitan of the old school (born in Florence and educated in both Europe and the U.S.) and a veteran Asia correspondent now living in New Delhi, recalls a year he spent rediscovering Asia in A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East.
Moore starts out by wondering who actually invented the Grand Tour, the luxurious sojourn through France, Italy and Germany that was supposed to broaden the minds of young British gentlefolk. He discovers not only that the modern vision of its cultural high-mindedness is exaggerated tours frequently turned out to be drunken debauches but that its inspiration was a memoir by a voluble gentleman wannabe named Thomas Coryat. Coryat sailed, rode carts and went primarily by foot, but Moore, determined to ponce about Europe, purchases a purple velvet suit that Oscar Wilde might have raised an eyebrow at and a not-too-well-kept 1990 Rolls Royce for his own tour. The book careens between Moore's gentle poking at cultural flatulence and his almost grudging admiration for the still-impressive cathedrals and landscapes, neglected cemeteries and odd and often fascinating historical throwaways of Europe. Moore, of course, comes home with somewhat more sympathy than he started and sells the Rolls at a profit.
Terzani's book, published earlier abroad and now available for the first time in America, is a true journal that uses his visits to various fortune-tellers as a framework for his observations on the many cultures, political movements and spiritual convictions he experiences on his own tour, ranging from Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia to Mongolia, Russia, Poland and Italy. In 1976, a Hong Kong seer told him that he must not fly in 1993 or he would be killed, and in fact, a helicopter he would have been on does go down, injuring his replacement. Terzani, who for more than 20 years had been blowing in and out of Asian war zones and cities in crisis and having one airport blur into another, decides to follow the advice and spend the year traveling only by train, ship, car and so on.
It's no surprise when he discovers that each country has its own character. While in Laos, which continues politely to decline European ideas of development, he exclaims, What an ugly invention is tourism! [reducing] the world to a vast playground, a Disneyland without borders. The time he spends listening to the people in the streets is richly repaid with mystery. In Bangkok, he discovers the body-snatchers, who must put together the pieces of corpses who have died violently in order to bring release to their souls and whose work has become so profitable that these charitable institutions now vie for the business. In Burma, he finds the giraffe women of the Padaung, whose necks are lengthened by big silver rings until they are 16 or 20 inches above their shoulders.
Terzani's thoughtful progression provides great pleasure because he is more open to the people, and people are always the real journey.
Picking the right wineAs for a wine, I rarely issue warnings, but only one recent import can do justice to Moore in the Wildes taking aim at pseudo-culture: Luna di Luna, a cheap ($10 or so) Italian sparkling blend of 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Grigio. Lurid is the word that comes to mind: sugary, grapy and not so much floral as scented. It even has a little shepherdess type on the trendy, cobalt-blue label. It should be used only for punches (very 17th century) or for christening your own journey's vehicle. Not even Terzani could find a future in this one.
Eve Zibart is the restaurant critic for The Washington Post's weekend section.