February 16, 2012
Tiny new chameleon found in Madagascart
October 16, 2010
An appreciation of my top travel books listThanks to Pat Hartman of "The Blog of Kevin Dolgin" for this shoutout, Picking a Literary Travel Destination. The blog references my list of recommended travel books, Belliveau's top literary travel books, and describes me as "one of those exceeding literate outdoorsy folk, like Paul Theroux and a surprising number of other adventurers.
October 21, 2009
God bless and keep Marcia MoriartyMarcia Moriarty, foreground in wedding dress, on her wedding day and 50th birthday, July 11, 2009, with me (second from right) and my brother and sisters.
Our brave cousin Marcia passed away this morning at 1:20 a.m. in Boston. She was diagnosed suddenly with liver and pancreatic cancer on May 20, six months ago.
Shortly after we heard the shocking diagnosis, we received happy news, that Marcia and her longtime friend Arnie Baker would be getting married on her 50th birthday. Four of my siblings, my cousins and aunt and myself attended the happy day in Quincy, Mass.
Arnie let us know after the wedding that he, Marcia and her daughter Alison would come to D.C. to visit my parents. I thought that was lovely thought but unlikely to happen given her grave prognosis. Sure enough though, the trio came to Washington for a cheerful visit that showed not only respect and courtesy to my parents but tremendous fortitude, as Marcia chatted at my sister's kitchen table about playful battles with her brother growing up and rescuing stray cats who had 28 kittens en toto.
She was too sick to talk to us in recent weeks but always in our hearts. On Sunday, her favorite cat, who slept at her feet, stood up on the bed and looked at Marcia and then looked at the ceiling. Her spirit seemed to be passing to Heaven. From Monday til this morning, her body battled, but her husband and daughter told her early this morning it was OK to let go.
Top 10 favorite moments in the JK wedding entrance danceYes I am compulsively watching and rewatching the pure boogie-ing joy of Jill and Kevin's wedding dance on YouTube. (And I am not alone, my sister confesses to having downloaded it to her iPod for happiness interlude purposes.)
Here are my Top 10 favorite moments:
10. "Kevin's Mock Escape"
He appears to pretend to be trying to running from the altar but the bridal party is marching very determiningly, blocking the aisle.
9. "Cool Guy Does Royal Wave"
If you can't dance, do the Queen of England's little wave. You're still supporting the concept.
8. "The Underrated Dancer"
This guy is visually blocked much of the time by the chubby bald-headed guy who kind of does the Funky Chicken, but he acquits himself well when not blocked in the frame.
7. "Handstand Guy"
One of three or four moments where the crowd ROARS its approval!
6. "Twirl of Support"
When the party reaches the altar, they slowly mime nearly falling as the lyrics chant "I won't you fall, let you fall, let you fall," and the final three bridesmaids in the frame (are they professional dancers) twirl beautifully. Here we see the barely scripted genius of this entire dance, the song and the moment, as somehow an apparently amateur videographer catches so many lovely ephemera. And as with "Kevin's Mock Escape," the friends are supporting the couple and suggesting that a marriage is sanctioned and held up by the larger community.
5a. "Chubby Red-Tie Guy"
He'll never be a professional dancer but he moves with assurance and aplomb and even a certain style behind the lead dancer ("Pogo Guy" ... see Fave Moment No. 2) with the wildly swinging knees and jumps and you gotta love him anyway as a supportive friend. (Looks like I've actually got 11 favorite moments so there will be two No. 5s).
5. "Somersault and Necktie Straightening"
Kevin does a surprise somersault (whoo!) and then STRAIGHTENS HIS NECKTIE! We are in the presence of greatness ... the whole group is having too much fun to be nervous and inspiration certainly graced the groom for this little gesture.
4. "Girls Vogue"
How fabulous is this!! Are these professional dancers? The most happening part of the video for me and the crowd knows they are in for a difference. Every woman who loves to dance would love to have this moment in the limelight. I can totally see my high school buds Deborah and Patti in this role.
3. "Couple Strolls Together to Altar"
2. "Initial Moment of Shock"
The first notes of Chris Brown's "Forever" squeak out, no one is sure what is going down, and then Pogo Guy stars boogieing ... What ?!
1. "The Bride's Appearance"
You can see why Kevin is marrying Jill in these expressions! Boogie on forever.
There are other great moments that didn't make the top 10, including when the swing dancing couple flashes by the camera with broad smiles on their faces ...
and when the young-looking version of John Goodman-looking guy waves his arms as part of the group dance toward the altar ....
And the woman in the audience whose face reflects delight in each and every segment of the dance (as well as the audible laughter of the guy nearest the camera):
When I first saw this video Saturday, there were 4 million page views. Now there are 12 million. (Many of them by me, obviously!). (Make that 15 million as of Aug. 3.)
Some favorite comments:
Lamont: "If only there were a brass pole at the altar." (It took me two days to get this.)
My sister Sharon: "So glad to hear that I am not the who is repeatedly watching this video. My favorite parts list is essentially the same as yours! There's one more moment I just love: the groom taking the bride by the arm, then strolling together in step. Oh, oh and that the guys are in the absolutely blandish tan-brown suits ever. How extremely dweeby is that? It is perfection. ... Try listening to it with headphones - you can really hear the
laughter of the guests."
My reply to Sharon: "The dweeb suits COMBINED with the fact that somebody's non-Hollywood camera manages to miraculously catch a lot of the fleeting expressions and quick dance moves make this sublime."
Sharon's husband Rob: "How'd they leave the church?"
My friend Deborah: "i can't stop crying with sheer joy -- I LOVE IT! it is sooo perfect -- soo happy and frolicking and fun. damn, now i'll have to get married again to do something like that. thank you for sharing it. were groomsmen and bridesmaids chosen for their dancing ability?"
My friend Patti: "I watched these crying and amazed at the joy, liberation, freedom and escape music and dancing bring us. Loved these! Thanks for sharing ..and thanks, ladies, for being there for 37+ years!"
Adelicia Villagaray, Baltiimore's and maybe the world's finest zumba teacher: "Oh my goodness that was great! I just watched it from your link and i was crying and laughing at the same time how sweet and fun.... i gotta show this to my boyfriend."
Comment on Youtube.com: "I'M GONNA GET A D I V O R C E so I can do it again THAT way. I thought I was a rebel in the 60's because I wouldn't say ...... and OBEY.... HA - love love love this..... Wish I were at the reception. "
Read more at the Washington Post: Going to the Chapel & We're Gonna Get Jiggy.
Watch more at NBC Today Show: Interview with the couple and dance recreation on live TV.
Update: Jill and Kevin are hoping to "direct this positivity to a good cause. Due to the circumstances surrounding the song in our wedding video, we have chosen the Sheila Wellstone Institute," they note on a new website seeking to help victims of domestic violence, appropriate given the background of singer Chris Brown.
August 2, 2008
LA Times blogger hat tips Romance on the RoadThanks blogger Tim Cavanaugh for your Opinion L.A. entry, Make some strapping cabana boy happy today!
Can we ever get enough of mature women sex tourists on Viagra? I didn't think so! Commenter Jeannette Belliveau (I just hear that name and I'm already hooked) hipped us yesterday to her book "Romance on the Road," that describes female sex travel "as a qualified victory for feminism." The brief excerpt available on her site is terrific, in particular the "Sexual Geography" world maps, which feature fat and skinny arrows pointing all over the place and look like the rise-and-fall-of-the-Axis endpapers they used to have in histories of World War II.Cavanaugh adds:
And as demonstrated in this hilarious blog post detailing the nearly total fabrication of an interview with the Daily Mail, she's an effective critic of that weird combination of sweaty-palmed leering and pleasure-hating moralism with which the mainstream media always treat matters of lust.I have indeed received a lot of response on the Daily Mail fabricated interview, from unlikely sources including the local hardware store owner (who knew she reads this?!).
And Cavanaugh nails the "weird combination of sweaty-palmed leering and pleasure-hating moralism with which the mainstream media always treat matters of lust."
Because of this media schizophrenia, I never know when I'm on the radio or being interviewed by print journalists whether we will have a laugh-a-minute Howard Stern-fest or solemn condemnation of women "exploiting" poor Jamaicans or something right in between.
April 22, 2008
The art of making up quotesThe Daily Mail, above, quotes me in its article today, "Sun, sand, sex and stupidity: Why thousands of middle-aged women are obsessed with holiday gigolos." Or more accurately, my name is used as a prop for the reporter to warn and scold women about chasing younger guys on foreign beaches.
Does anyone remember when journalistic charlatan Jayson Blaire wrote an article about Jessica Lynch, the soldier rescued in Iraq? He pretended to go to her home in West Virginia and described a view of "tobacco fields and cattle pastures" from the family porch.
He'd never been to Lynch's home, and it had no view of any such thing.
The fascinating detail that came to light after his fantasy article was published was this: No one complained to his editors at the New York Times! They just assumed journalists make everything up.
I'm reminded of this as I ponder whether to contact an editor at the Daily Mail regarding an interview their reporter, Diana Appleyard, conducted with me three weeks ago, the results of which appeared today.
Or actually, some parallel interview appeared with another "Jeannette Belliveau" who wrote a book identically titled to my own "Romance on the Road." She doesn't live where I live, she wasn't divorced when I was divorced, she doesn't speak or think like I do, but there she is, right in print!
I'm more bemused than bothered and am just intrigued with this whole notion of making up stuff they have in the U.K. tabloids. Maybe I'm just vain, or as a long-time copy editor, sort of in love with the idea that words have precise meanings that don't survive radical alteration and accuracy is worth pursuing.
My first clue that our interview was published today was when I came down this morning to an e-mail box full of requests for interviews with other members of the UK press.
That is the Faustian pact involved with publicity: As long as they spell your name and book title correctly, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right? Especially as I watch "Romance on the Road" zoom up the sales rankings at Amazon.co.uk, and realize there are two sides to this devil's bargain.
Still, I am still innocent enough to be somewhat amazed by the lip service UK journalists pay to pretending to interview the subject of an article. This is apparently done tactically to avoid having to admit to the world that no, they never even contacted the person quoted. At least when they call, they can pretend their madeup quotes are some sort of misunderstanding.
Anyway, here's a blow-by-blow of what I told Diana in our interview, and how it came out in the article.
It was fun to hear from Diana. I mentioned at the start of our interview, fittingly conducted on April Fool's Day, how pivotal Daily Mail articles on female sex travelers were to compiling Romance on the Road.
By way of intro, I told Diana, "I'm not really a sex tourist at all. I think of myself more as a world traveler who was open to intimate encounters during my travels. Because few women are willing to publicly disclose such affairs, I tend to serve as a proxy for actual sex tourists in interviews with the BBC and other media."
This came out as:
"Writer Jeannette Belliveau, a self-confessed former 'sex tourist' " ...
OK, let's start maybe color coding the errors. I will put errors in red, and accurate material in blue, and we will see how this sorts out. One more time:
Writer Jeannette Belliveau, a self-confessed former 'sex tourist' " ...After my name, things fall apart a little bit, with two major errors in five words: I'm not really a sex tourist, now or formerly, and the opposite of a self-confessed one.
Next I am quoted as saying "the problem is becoming endemic and that these women are deluding themselves about the dangers such flings present."
I never simply describe sex tourism, either in this interview or others or my writing, as a "problem," it is more of a natural human response to loneliness and the ability of travel to bring farflung men and women together.
Nor do I call it "endemic." It is worldwide and ubiquitous, found in all the world's resorts and even non-resorts, such as the Nepalese Himalayas. "Endemic" is a loaded word that suggests a disease, one I would not use for sex travel by women.
Nor did I say women are deluding themselves about the dangers of such flings. I said the media focused on supposed exploitation of poor men, rather than genuine risks to health and safety.
What I really told Diana: "Critics tend to focus obsessively on fears of exploitation of the men of the Caribbean by wealthier tourists, and they ignore the real potential risks, which are rape, murder and HIV or AIDS."
This came out as:
"The ultimate risk is death," she says, bluntly. "In the past two years three Western women have been killed for their money by their foreign 'toy boys'."The first phrase, "the ultimate risk is death," is accurate. The sentence that follows, "In the past two years, three Western women have been killed for their money by their foreign 'toy boys'," is pure fantasy. What I told her was the Experiences chapter of "Romance on the Road" describes four apparent murders, and these occurred from 1975 through 2000, and NONE involved MONEY!
Further, the expression "foreign toy boys" has never once crossed my lips. Nor has the more semantically accurate "boy toys."
At this point, this article is really losing me with its ratio of fiction to fact.
Next we have these passages:
Statistically, a third of all cross-cultural "marriages" end in divorce, and Jeannette says the naivety of the women involved is unbelievable. "Most of them are middle class and intelligent, which makes their behaviour even more baffling," she says. "These guys are after their money, pure and simple, and the ultimate goal is marriage so they can get a visa and move to the UK. The fact that they can fall for lines such as 'You are so gorgeous' is ridiculous."I cannot even speculate how Diana came to put those words in my mouth. Here I am fairly convinced that she may have misattributed a chunk of text where perhaps she meant to quote Jacqueline Sanchez-Taylor, or someone else she interviewed?
We discussed the fact that she planned to interview Sanchez-Taylor, who has been very helpful to me in my research, but who tends to look at the phenomenon of women's sex travel in a far more negative light than I do.
The entire point of my book, "Romance on the Road," is to look at the entire spectrum of Western women who travel to meet foreign men, and a major premise is that sincere love comes out of some proportion of these seemingly random holiday encounters.
Next we have:
Fifty-three-year-old Jeannette, from Surrey, divorced in her early 30s.I am not from Surrey. I am from Maryland in the United States. I lived in Surrey from 1981-85. I've been back in my home state, and nowhere near Surrey, for 22 years, since 1985.
I divorced when I was 27 years old, not my early 30s. How did the authoress pick "early 30s," I wonder?
Why not just write, "She was abducted by an alien spaceship when she was 47 and had sex with younger, repeat younger, darkskinned, repeat darkskinned, Romulans under the triple moons of Alpha Centauri, prior to joining the middle class and renouncing such plebian activities with a brisk, 'Wise up!'"
It's interesting, it's random, why not?
A few years later, despairing of the lack of dates in the UK, she began to travel the world and had numerous sexual encounters with young, foreign men.A few years later? No. My first encounter with foreign men was when I was 27, and I was separated at the time. Here are the opening words of my chapter on my experiences in Greece:
"At the age of 27, I made the first of three visits to Greece."
I guess Diana did not quite make it to page 16 of the pdf I e-mailed her of "Romance on the Road!"
"A lack of dates in the UK." No. I also make it clear in that chapter that I had a boyfriend in England at the time of my Greece trip. My estranged husband made some attempts to reconcile, and in addition to the boyfriend, other men made clear their interest in little flirtatious visits to my office and my home.
"Numerous" sexual encounters. More like "some" or "a few."
"Young" foreign men. I think a fair number of them were my age or older.
Next, note a completely accurate paragraph (pops open champagne!) followed by a more shaky one:
"In countries such as the Gambia and Kenya, there is both a surplus of men and the fact that women there tend to marry men at least ten years older than themselves, which is the culture. So for 18-year-old and 20-plus men, there is no one to date.I would not describe poverty in the Gambia as "rife," I tend to speak very precisely on poverty, which I devoted a chapter to in my first book, "An Amateur's Guide to the Planet," and note in "Romance on the Road" that the Gambia is wealthier than nearby countries, quite possibly due to female tourists providing capital to start local businesses.
"Poverty is rife. Then, over the past ten years, planeloads of mature single British women have started arriving, their handbags full of cash. They're fit, good-looking men and it didn't take them long to realise that there are rich pickings here."
The "10 years of mature British women" reference is made up ... I note in "Romance on the Road" that Scandinavian women began arriving in the Gambia in the late 1960s, and that is not British women, and more like 40 years ago.
"Handbags full of cash" is an utter fabrication out of Diana's imagination.
I would be highly unlikely to describe Gambian men as "fit," they are strong and buff, not "fit" as in yuppies who go to a gym.
"Rich pickings" is a phrase that has never passed my lips. I might well say that a woman can take her pick on the beach, that is certainly a fact.
Sex tourism by British women is not a new phenomenon. As far back as the 1890s, [As Romance on the Road notes, more like the 1840s,] there are recorded incidents of single British women becoming involved with dark-skinned Italian and French men ["dark-skinned" Italian and French men? BWA HA HA HA!] on their cultural 'tours' of Europe. [I write much more of the early travelers to Syria and Tunisia and Egypt, not France!]This is a mangling of the research in "Romance on the Road," which describes numerous instances of India's rajas and nawabs becoming smitten with Englishwomen, often maids. Diana has some sort of obsession with older women with younger men, that she overlays onto the dynamic of India, where age differences had zilch to do with intercultural romances.
During the British Raj, it was not unknown for English matrons to fall prey to the darkeyed charms of young Indian men.
But in the past two decades, the phenomenon has escalated. Author Jeannette says that since the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of western women have had affairs with much younger foreign men.See earlier point about Diana's obsession with age differences. My estimates are that 600,000 Western women have engaged in travel sex (not just with younger men) from 1980 (not "since the 1990s) to 2005.
"These are respectable middleclass women ...The phrase "respectable middleclass women" has never passed my lips. Good lord, have I morphed into Miss Jean Brodie? The hectoring Scottish schoolmarm played by Maggie Smith?
"Not all of them are unwitting victims to these sexual conmen," she says. "On top of the fact this quote is made up, I have no idea what point is being made here.
"I have spoken to many women who fly to the Gambia or Jamaica specifically for the purpose of recreational sex."Never said this, I haven't spoken to more than a few women who happened to have sexual experiences in the Gambia and the French Caribbean, and in these cases, romance and tenderness and even marriage were part of these women's stories. Here's a giant chunk of made-up quotes:
Jeannette agrees. "Wise up," she says.The phrase "wise up" has never passed my lips.
"At the very least you will be fleeced out of hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds.Not only did I never say this, who in their right mind would claim traveling women automatically lose thousands of pounds to conmen every time they have a casual shag? The reference to "pounds" rather than "money" is another giveaway that this is a madeup quote attributed to an American who doesn't automatically talk about pounds sterling.
"Kenya and Africa generally, Aids is endemic and you are putting yourself at serious risk."This sentence is remotely similar to what i actually said, which is that Kenya has the highest HIV rate of any country known for visits by women seeking sex tourism.
"Some of these guys are so poor they have nothing to lose, and they may turn violent. if you go off alone with them and change your mind, they may well rape you anyway."Oh Lord up in Heaven!! This sentence is complete fantasy or perhaps delusion. This is what I actually told Diana:
"I note in my Ethics and Etiquette chapter that it's important to be careful in going off alone with your guide, which is close to an automatic presumption that sex is likely to occur. So you either should not go off alone together or be prepared to fight him off if you don't want an advance."
"I know i have been guilty of sex tourism in the past, but there is no way i would take those risks now, knowing what i know."The sentence above is just insane. "Guilty of sex tourism"? Those words have never crossed my lips.
This is a colossal mangling of what I told Diana, where she takes remarks not by me, but from A WOMAN I INTERVIEWED, mangles them, and attributes them to me directly. What I said:
"I interviewed a woman for my Africa chapter who had traveled in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s and enjoyed sexual encounters with men there, who said she would not recommend anyone engage in this behavior today, it's just too risky."
Well, finally, many minutes later, I am at the end of this article ... no more misquotes.
I'll polish this up and send a link to a Daily Mail editor and see what happens, as sort of a lab experiment to see if the folks in West Virginia were correct to not waste their time with contacting editors about fabrications.
Here's the oddest oddity: Yesterday Diana asked me for some women to talk to about their experiences.
Hi Diana, Possibly Fiona Pitt-Kethley, the poet who now lives in Spain ... google her you might find her details for contact, or the Guardian might have them, I believe she writes for them intermittently.Someone in the wee few hours between midday Monday U.K. time, when I was contacted, and Diana's Monday night deadline, we have full-blown profiles of two women, "Sarah Jarvis" and "Nicky Jardine," who ostensibly had affairs in Turkey and Egypt respectively.
I have a contact in Germany who is willing to discuss these things with the media. (You'll find that usually media have to find women not in their home country to interview ... due to the delicate nature of the story ...)
There are some women quoted in an article in Woman magazine, see link here:
Assuming they aren't made up, the author might share the names with you! she was I believe Anna Kingsley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Juliane Stokes in Nottingham is writing a dissertation on female sex tourism, you could see if she ever found anyone, I know she found it an uphill battle:
Yvonne wrote an article in Eve magazine, you can try her too:
good luck -- Jeannette
And both read straight out of a romance novel.
So far, a good number of Diana's UK colleagues are hot on the heels of "Sarah Jarvis" and "Nicky Jardin" and asking me (not sure why) how to get in touch with them. Since their names have been changed, this will not be easy!
I have a feeling the closest they will get is in the pages of Diana Appleyard's romance novels, "Too Beautiful to Dance," "Playing with Fire," "Out of Love" and "Every Good Woman Deserves a Lover."
They act fictionally and implausibly.
This would just be more humorous examples of Tom Stoppard's adage that there should be a journalist doll -- "Wind it up and it gets it wrong" -- except that I try to operate in the world of responsible, factual journalism.
And I relied on the Daily Mail for some of my anecdotes in "Romance on the Road." And now, frankly, they are suspect, and I may have to drum my fingers and think about revising them out of the picture.
P.S. -- Want to read a 100 percent accurate interview with me on female sex tourism? Try Emily McCoombs "Ticket to Ride" that appeared in Bust magazine, link here.
March 7, 2008
How Americans view the worldClick on the image to see it at full size.
This tickles me as someone who wrote an entire book about what Americans could learn from foreign countries.
I laughed out loud at the depiction of Alaska and Hawaii, the thrill of "More America!!" in two great vacation spots. One of the better jokes is the complete absence of Africa, which I touched on in my first book, An Amateur's Guide to the Planet, in a chapter on Kenya and Tanzania.
The chapter was subtitled "Our Love-Hate Relationship with Africa," and a subtext was "our hefty ignorance about Africa," born of the tiny trickle of American tourism there.
Female sex tourism video on YouTubeAnyone wanting to see the terrain explored in the film Heading South and the book How Stella Got Her Groove Back in documentary form -- albeit brief -- might want to take a peek at this video, Rent a Dread, on YouTube.
This shows some of the action in Negril Beach, Jamaica and on Dominica.
What I notice is that we have the local men willing to participate in the video, as well as expatriate white women, but not the female tourists themselves, who, to date, have only been interviewed in any depth by UC-Santa Barbara's April Gorry, who devoted months living in Belize to an interview project for her doctoral dissertation.
Rent-a-Dread video, click arrow to play
During the time from July to December of last year when my blog was broken, I wasn't able to keep up with my occasional roundups on news in sex tourism and dissociative mating. Let me try to catch up a bit now.
• The big tidbit is probably the marriage of a 51-year-old English grandmother to the 27-year-old son of Osama bin Laden in wake of a holiday romance. Here's The Times version of the story, and a photo of the couple:
Mrs Felix-Browne, who has been married five times previously, met (Omar Ossama) bin Laden in Egypt in September while undergoing treatment for multiple sclerosis. She says that their fairytale romance began when her future husband saw her riding a horse near the Great Pyramid. They were married in Islamic ceremonies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and are awaiting permission from the authorities in Riyadh to make their marriage official.This touches on a number of themes in Romance on the Road, including how Arab men, emulating Mohammed, often find older women attractive, as well as an examination of the possible role of sexual frustration experienced by young Arabs with few mating options in contributing to world terrorism.
• From the U.K.'s Daily Mail, the world champ on chronicling tabloid-y travel romances, we have a related story: "Our nightmare daughter: The teenage girl who keeps running to Egypt for her men."
I have no idea if any word of this is true, but for what it's worth:
Holed up in a £60-a-night hotel room in the Egyptian resort of Hurghada, 17-year-old runaway Amy Robson cuts a rather forlorn figure.• From Mangalorean.com, "Goa Tourism: Love knows no borders," comes an article noting that Indians from elsewhere and Nepalese men are flocking to Goa for jobs -- with marriage to a foreigner considered the ultimate success.
Her pillow is wet with tears over what might have been and she doesn't know what to do with herself.
This desolate scene, she tremulously explains, wasn't how it was supposed to be. When she secretly sneaked out of her home in the Cumbrian village of Beaumont last week, her pretty little head was filled with romantic images of being reunited with her 29-year-old "fiance" Mohamed El Sayed.
During the arduous 24-hour journey to the Red Sea resort - involving three flights via Gatwick, Amsterdam and Cairo - she'd been sustained by the thought of being swept up in her handsome lover's arms before dashing off to get married and live happily ever after.
Love they say knows no boundaries and what better way to epitomize the feeling in the case of Raj, Prabhakar and Bharat. The trio's love for their partner's and now wife's has transcended the boundaries of colour, religion, nationality and religion.• From the International Herald Tribune: "Letter from Thailand: Variations on a Theme: Thai Women and Foreign Husbands:"
The former waiters present the other side of the Goa shining example materialisng through the tourism platform. Goa, which served as a spring board for them, a life beyond taking orders from hotel guests. Love and marriage has opened new doors for the trio as they now live and work in Europe along with their wives.
Raj would not agree with anyone who argues that holiday romance, remains an affair confined to the holiday season and no further than that. Typically in most cases the holiday fling and Goa included, the romantic liaison is all over after the holiday ends. As one of the partner packs his bags and leaves to head home to his home country.
But for Raj and for two of his colleagues, working at Dominic beach side seasonal restaurant in Benaulim, in South Goa, the holiday romance was not just fleeting moments, but a long lasting relationship which has been solemnized in marriage.
About 15 percent of all marriages in the northeast, a study published by Khon Kaen University found, are now between Thai women and foreign men. Most of the men are Europeans, but there are upwards of 300 or so Americans, many of them veterans of the Vietnam War who were based in Udon Thani in the 1960s and early 1970s and are living here, most of them with Thai wives as well.• Here's a blog entry from Koren Shadmi, who came up with a delicious illustration for Bust magazine for an article, "Ticket to Ride," mentioning me and Romance on the Road:
There is a sort of calculated redemption on both sides of these marriages. Many of the women have painful stories, of working as prostitutes, of abandonment by Thai husbands and boyfriends, of children they couldn't afford to take care of. They make no secret of the fact that marrying some nice, older foreign man saved both them and their extended families from poverty and unhappiness.
I was asked to do an illustration for BUST magazine for an article about sex tourism, from a female point of view. Apparantly there are over 25,000 women in the US who travel abroad on a regular basis to have sex with some of the locals. Its not often that you get such a fun subject to work with. I got the job a day after I landed from my visit to france, so the whole intercontinental atmosphere combined with the jetlag created good grounds for an illustration.Koren, like Lamont, apparently graduated from New York's School for the Visual Arts.
• From the Associated Press, as run in USAToday, "Interracial marriages surge across the U.S.:"
NEW YORK — The charisma king of the 2008 presidential field. The world's best golfer. The captain of the New York Yankees. Besides superstardom, Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter have another common bond: Each is the child of an interracial marriage.The 1967 Supreme Court decision mentioned is significant. Lamont's parents could not get married in Maryland -- it would have been illegal -- so they went down to Howard University in D.C. to tie the knot.
For most of U.S. history, in most communities, such unions were taboo.
It was only 40 years ago — on June 12, 1967 — that the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down a Virginia statute barring whites from marrying non-whites. The decision also overturned similar bans in 15 other states.
Since that landmark Loving v. Virginia ruling, the number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures. Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7% of America's 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2% in 1970.
• And finally, here's an article, again from the Daily Mail, that links highly intelligent women to low emotional IQs that lead to romantic failure, a possible reason for some women to explore travel sex as a pick-me-up, Anna Pasternak writes: Why are intelligent women such fools in love?
However, recently it has struck me that I am not alone in my ability to have made the right career choices - but hopelessly wrong choices in love.This similarly is examined in Romance on the Road, which notes the presence of female university professors in sex tourism zones.
I know of at least seven girls in my year at school - I went to St Paul's Girls' School in London, one of the most academic schools in the country - who are single mothers, while my female friends from Oxford, who are also divorced or single mothers, runs into double figures.
The most high-profile casualty of those is Earl Spencer's ex-wife, Caroline Hutton, who was famously left with two children by her first husband, PR guru Matthew Freud, and then left again with two more children by her second husband, Earl Spencer. Not, it seems, the perfect judge of men.
So what does all this mean? Well, I believe that at the root of all this is the fact that many women with a high IQ have a perilously low EQ (that's their emotional intelligence quotient). Put more prosaically, this would explain why bright girls are often fools in love.
Last year, American writer Michael Noer created outrage when he wrote a piece in Forbes Magazine warning men off marrying career girls. He claimed that recent studies had found that clever, professional women were more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat and less likely to have children.
Simultaneously, the American Journal of Marriage And Family cited studies that claim the divorce risk rises when women out-earn their husbands. Evidence, everywhere, seems to point to the fact that thousands of bright women can't sustain meaningful relationships for a plethora of reasons: they are too controlling, they can't tolerate less successful men and equally, men resent higher-earning partners.
December 13, 2007
Hello, any female sex travelers out there?This is a fairly sincere question.
My favorite blogger in terms of her comments on this article, Echidne of the Snakes: Sex Tourism Reversal, noted shrewdly that following:
My final thoughts had to do with wondering about how all this would be explained by the misogynistic section of evolutionary psychologists. Women aren't supposed to do this kind of stuff, and certainly not older women.
Echidne, I deal with many of the ethical questions you raise in my book, Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men, and spent six years researching this topic.
What bothers me about the Reuters report, aside from the fact this is very old news, is the focus on the racial aspects.
Just because the media focus obsessively on travel by white women to Africa and the Caribbean, doesn't mean that this is representative of what is going on.
Black and Asian women also travel in search of love on foreign shores. And they visit Nepal, Thailand, Latin America, Oceania and most of the world's travel destinations in search of it.
So, this is not a simple case of neocolonial exploitation or immorality, as many try to make it to be.
As you point out, if this would be just fine if it were occuring in Florida, then what is the problem? Is there some rule that women cannot seek love and affection outside their own race and age? That foreign men in countries with rampant unemployment cannot seek to better themselves via their winning bodies or personalities?
I personally know of a young man in the Caribbean, with limited prospects otherwise, whose college tuition is being paid for by his foreign girlfriend.
And you are correct in noting that the evolutionary psychologists are completely buffaloed by female sex tourism. I write in my book about wretched social science study designs where women are asked by men on their own college campus whether they would go for a quickie with an attractive men if there were no repercussions. This fails to account for the fear of the slut label, which can only be avoided by travel far from home. Once that fear is removed, we see an openness by women to what outsiders would call hedonistic behavior, and the women might term acting on a hunch that this new guy they met on the beach really is all about some uncomplicated fun without pre-judgement.
Two prominent exceptions to the blindness of the social scientists are Donald Symons of UC-Santa Barbara and April Gorry, whose doctorate at UC-Santa Barbara correctly notes the search for romance by traveling women and the lack of racial fetishism by participants. Gorry found that women traveling in Belize simply admired the daily competence of the local fishermen and tour guides, which seemed so much more appealing than the beat-down office men in their orbits at home.
The distressing thing about the Reuters article is that it depicts a preference for socially competent men met while traveling as freakish, as though a black man cannot be perceived as an attractive or in fact preferable dating partner by anyone. This type of writing is neocolonial exploitation, not the behavior of the women interviewed.
December 8, 2007
Stephen Hunter captures Baltimore ... and sex tourism, and more
OK! Here is an older post -- and much revised and I hope improved post -- from just before my blog got broken back around July 25, when my Web host moved from California to Ohio and my shopping cart also got wrecked in the process. I've finally got the wonderful Richard Kersey at SlickRicky.com to get me up and running again, with this entry lost however. Now I will figure out this newfangled Movable Type 4.0. To resume ...
That image of Baltimore, changing merrily, became the Baltimore of record: so unhip it was hip, so uncool it was cool. Long forgotten is the fact that in the beginning many Baltimoreans hated Waters for his trick of processing an elegant, intellectual city with powerhouse financial, advertising and shipping chops into a kind of Happy Valley U.S.A. of mild, funky rebels and hair enameled lifeless and piled to the stars. Soon the Waters view prevailed, not necessarily a bad thing, and everybody bought into it. "Hon," that exemplar of down-home Bawlamore charm (and not mumbled, embittered Baltimore condescension), became so positive an identifier it was featured on a welcome-to-Baltimore sign on the B-W Parkway.
It's okay. That's the way it goes. When the legend conflicts with the truth, print the legend, as John Ford knew. Waters is not a documentary filmmaker; he's a mythmaker, a parable-spinner, an illusion merchant. But you can't forget what's there, too, a vast, flat, hot tragedy, where young men pop each other at record pace and nobody seems to know why or what to do. In a few happy glades -- Federal Hill, Homeland, Canton -- one can live as elegant an urban life as anywhere in America, enjoying a Georgetown at Patapsco River basin prices. But go out on Federal Hill at night, and you see before you the Inner Harbor all agleam, the bold new downtown skyline, and have the sense of a town that seized on the fame and momentum Waters and Ripken lent it, and did its best to become what it seemed to be.
But don't listen to the sirens that blaze into the dark night, or pay attention to the blinking police and emergency service vehicles that look like blood-red pulsing pinpricks in the dark seen from the sleek buildings around the harbor far from where the real dying happens far too frequently.
(Baltimore)'s a place of funky neighborhoods, populated by happy peasants, some of them cross-dressed. The defining mark is the hairdo, a kind of individual tower of protein, a high-rise lacquered in place by aerosol droplets so that the ziggurat is as motionless as if built by slaves on the Mesopotamian plain. As for the men, the hair is weighted with glowing unguents that play sparkle games with the light.
I think the wildly individualistic hairdos that once defined Baltimore are disappearing as the older set dies off. What you now have to visit the Honfest to see, used to be just everyday Baltimore. We seem to be getting more homogenous as time goes on.
I suppose if you're shooting three movies back to back on the other side of the world and it's one of the biggest gambles ever in the entertainment industry, a detail might have slipped your mind. In Jackson's case, that little detail was shampoo. He either couldn't afford it or he forgot all about it. The result is that you never saw so many greasy, tangled, thorny, wet, lusterless protein brambles as are on display in this movie. Viggo Mortensen, with a haircut that looks like a drowned swamp rat floating belly up in a bayou, leads the troop.
(Director Wolfgang) Petersen is an old pro. His is a narrative sensibility, and he's capable of keeping the story moving and subplots straight. He's got an eye for beauty too, though mainly of the male kind. He so loves the image of the helmeted, husky warrior boys, bulgy of bicep, lean of loin, aglow of sweat, eyes feral and fierce in the slits of their art-deco steel pots, that he hits it over and over and over. Many a gay man will consider this the ultimate date movie.
One morning -- the portents have been over-dramatic -- the Mayans arrive in force. And why, you wonder, would the Forest People not even have heard of them and made no preparations, as they are about two days' march from a Mayan urban center? The only answer is that it suits the political agenda of the picture, which is to subvert notions about the "innocence" of native peoples and the "guilt" of usurpers from the outside. In other words, in Gibson's worldview, the Mayans are to the Forest People exactly as, sometime later, the Spaniards would be to the Mayans. It's all a question of empire prerogative.
The results are not pretty.
You see it all over the Third World, anywhere poverty and beauty converge under balmy skies, and the liquor is sweet and hits hard. A Westerner, north of 45, with fallen arches, hair, belly and spirit, clearly no longer sexually competitive in the meat markets of the big city, shows up, hunting an arrangement.
The arrangement will be with a younger, suppler body, owned by a younger, duller, more beautiful person. The two will share not an hour of anonymous sex, a la the streetwalker and her beau, but something tangentially more dignified: a kind of ersatz relationship, with life narratives exchanged, laughs and drinks sampled to lubricate the awkwardness, day trips to the mountains or the monuments to eat up the afternoon hours, and then discreet nights of sweat and bliss. Finally, certain monies will be quietly exchanged, "gifts," not payments, addresses passed between the two for the letters that will never get written, the photos that will never be sent, and ... that's it.
Hello, Monday morning, back in the office. Hmm, you look so refreshed. Have a good time down south? That glow in your face? You must have gotten good weather. Meanwhile, you are thinking, Good Lord, I didn't even notice the weather.
Weyman Swagger: He's actually a photo editor on my old paper, The Sun, and a grizzled old truck-driver looking man, without college education and a little rough and hilly in his ways. He's also a brilliant natural editor, who has helped me immeasureably; he knows things the pros in NY don't and my books are much the better for his ideas. I don't always use them but they are usually so provocative that they jigger me into something that works. He's also a very smart perceptive line reader, who's got a sense of voice and timing and colloquialism bar none. It's a privilege to have him help me.
June 5, 2007
Awesome wildlife video: Battle at Kruger
Lamont found a Youtube video of this amazing three-way battle at a waterhole at South Africa's Kruger National Park:
I would rank this video awfully high on the list of wildlife videos I've ever seen. It's probably even more dramatic in some respects than a National Geographic video we saw once where an orca whale came up on a gravel beach in if memory serves Antarctica and grabbed a penguin and tossed it in the air.
This shows that the axiom that amateur digital photographers somewhat threaten the pros because they can capture so many images that some are bound to be good is also beginning to occur among amateur wildlife videographers.
It's probably more fun for readers of this blog to just take a look at this video first and then read the rest of my blog, because it will contain some ** spoilers.**
Our traveling party had the great good fortune to witness a lioness kill a hartebeest on a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. The account below is taken from my first book, An Amateur's Guide to the Planet.
Would that I had camera footage of this hunt, but a verbal description will have to do. The hunt we observed was different from the one captured above in that a single lioness conducted the actual kill, she attacked a wildebeest rather than a much stronger water buffalo, and she quickly bought it down with a powerful paw swipe to the spine.
From my chapter: "Giraffes by the roadside: Kenya and Tanzania … and lessons on our love-hate relationship to Africa:"
From our vantage on the roof of the Land Rover, we could see only the flat tops of their heads and a bit of their haunches. From the lower angle of the wildebeest, the lionesses would have been invisible in the grass.
Our guide, Mr. Jeffir, put the Land Rover into park and switched off the engine. Although our driver seemed for the most part disengaged and verging on somnolent, even he perked up for the drama about to unfold. Rembeaux, Carly, Jim, Steph and myself were electrified by the possibility, squeezed into the waning moments of our visit to Africa, of lionesses demonstrating how they killed their prey.
“I have been here 20 times, and never seen this,” said Mr. Jeffir, with relative vigor.
Foot by foot, for 30 minutes, the lionesses advanced. “Exactly how my cats stalk birds,” Jim said.
Lionesses, faster and more agile than lions (a fact women seem to love), can reach speeds of up to 35 mph. Still, they lack the upper range of speed of many of their prey, such as wildebeest, which can attain 50 mph. So the lioness must approach closely and lunge before its target can bolt.
We watched a wildebeest, heedless, walk calmly away from the larger group toward the hidden huntresses. “Uh oh,” I breathed.
The end game unfolded. The lead lioness tore toward the isolated wildebeest. A nearby hartebeest, terrified, bolted for its life. The panicked wildebeest ran two steps and made a desperate, tight U-turn.
The lioness, reversing field swiftly in reaction, caught up in two gallops to her prey and raised a mighty right leg toward its shaggy withers. The attacker, probably weighing 300 pounds, swept her huge right paw towards the wildebeest’s middle spine. In a display of might, she dug her spread claws into its back and pulled her giant foreleg to earth, bringing along the entire wildebeest. The victim toppled, its back crashing to the ground. Its four hooves flung once in the air and then fell. Resistance ended, and the animal lay still. The final chase had lasted perhaps 10 seconds.
We swung our cameras at the commotion in another direction. Just as the wildebeest met its end in front of us, two other lionesses behind our vehicle nearly felled a zebra. The herd stampeded, hundreds of hooves raising a reverberating thunder and a cloud of dust. Jim’s photos later revealed the surging head of a lioness above the haunch of the targeted zebra, who somehow barely escaped. Jim and I agreed that the family sheltie, Conan, would last perhaps five minutes out there.
Back at the downed wildebeest, eleven lions and cubs began to eat simultaneously. The killer stood quite near our Land Rover, perhaps three yards away, panting heavily like a struggling train engine. Long scars from past battles ran along her ribs. Too exhausted to eat, she shuffled wearily away.
As we photographed her and the feasting pride, another lioness from the failed zebra maneuver strolled up, unnoticed, inches away from our rear bumper. Had she wanted to jump up, she could have clawed us more easily than the slowest of wildebeest.
The exhausted huntress pants with fatigue near our safari vehicle in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater after bringing down a wildebeest.
May 22, 2007
Leslie Blanch passes on
The obit notes:
The Wilder Shores of Love, Blanch's first book, became an immediate success when it was published in 1954. In it she profiles four women who left convention behind. One, Jane Digby, became the wife of a Syrian tribesman and lived a Bedouin lifestyle.
Another, Aimee Dubucq de Rivery, was kidnapped and sent to live in an Ottoman sultan's harem. Isabelle Eberhardt roamed North Africa alone, dressed as a man, and Isabel Burton traveled with her husband, Richard, who explored Africa and the Middle East.
I first read "The Wilder Shores of Love" at the undergraduate library at the University of North Caroline-Chapel Hill, while visiting to give a couple of cultural travel talks there and at neighboring Duke.
It was fascinating for me to learn especially the story of Lady Jane Digby, who was a revelation in that her behavior placed the first instances of especially hedonistic travel sex by women far before the 1960s, more like 1850 in fact. Sometimes when researching a book you almost vibrate with excitement at finding such forgotten pieces of the puzzle. It's interesting that "Wilder Shores" was a pretty big book when it came out, but its message slipped beneath the waves over time.
As I wrote in Romance on the Road:
The year was 1847, and the place, appropriately, was Rome. Massachusetts-born feminist writer Margaret Fuller fell in love with a Roman marchese a decade younger than herself. She became pregnant, later married him and had his son.
Two years later, again in Rome, Lady Jane Digby romped with an
Italian artillery officer, an army captain and a diplomat’s son over the
course of a brief visit (Lovell 137). This oft-married, sexually adventurous Englishwoman appears to have led the way in what was likely the first
instance of casual travel sex.
Here's something from the obit that I didn't know about Blanch, the author:
(Romain) Gary's popular novel, "Lady L," in 1958 was said to be inspired by Blanch. In it, a worldly grand dame works the social circuit, telling captivating stories along the way. Sophia Loren starred in a 1965 movie version of the book.
Sounds like Lady L needs to go on my movie list.
May 10, 2007
Bust magazine article on female sex tourists
It's nice to be able to point to a good, balanced article on female sex tourists, such as the one this month in Bust magazine (pdf version available in my media kit, under the Articles section). I wrote the following letter to the editor today:
As the author profiled in BUST's article on female sex tourists ("Ticket to Ride," Apr/May '07), I was delighted at the balanced and intelligent coverage provided by your writer Emily McCombs.
A good number of magazines and radio shows have interviewed me since my book, Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men, came out.
While it's always fun being asked to talk about sex, sometimes the results in print have been fairly comic.
Airheaded writers for British publications are especially deft at making quotes up out of thin air that make one sound like, surprise, an airhead.
Bust magazine quoted me accurately. That is rare. Emily asked great questions, summarized the information well, and found rare and exclusive sources for conflicting viewpoints on female sex tourists.
Bust magazine is available at Barnes & Noble, where I purchased my copy.
This letter was prompted by some amazing errors that have cropped up in other coverage of Romance on the Road in the media.
Here's an article in Britain's Eve magazine said my first marriage lasted nine years. It lasted less than two. This fact is significant, nay crucial. The brevity of my first marriage is quite central to what later happened to me on my travels, and clearly described in print in my book, and clearly expressed (I thought) during my interview witih the author. If she is confusing the length of my first and second marriages (the second one is now on year 11), you still don't come up with "nine" years.
The Eve article goes on to say that in Athens I was "sitting in a bar looking at postcards." No, standing in Syntagma Square. Next it says I met a man and "that evening he took me to a secluded bay." No, it was a few hours later, in the early afternoon.
What is strange about the rate of about three mistakes per sentence in this article is that I sent the author a PDF of my book. If she can't quote me accurately, she could have accurately reconstructed every incident we discussed from the text. Oh well.
Similarly, I had a start when I read the original version of this review at PerceptiveTravel.com (scroll down to third item), which said I was twice divorced. Believe me, no one once divorced wants to be thus misdescribed. Fortunately I e-mailed the author, who got the editor to fix this gross error of fact. No explanation for how the error occurred. Again, the first chapter of Romance on the Road is fairly clear, I thought, on my marital history.
It's always a curious exercise to add new articles to my online media kit (here), when they are generally error riddled, barely mention my book itself, full of airheaded misquotations, or rip off giant chunks of the research in my book and pass it off as original reporting, without attribution.
I almost feel I should take a red pen and mark up the magazine pieces before I post them. But since there is supposedly no such thing as bad publicity, they get added to the kit.
Anyway, the article by Emily McCombs was a wonderful exception to the rule.
April 26, 2007
Baltimore for budget travelers
Baltimore is sufficiently offbeat and off the beaten track to be of interest to foreign backpackers.
I'm going to take a stab at looking at lodging, things to do, media and guidebooks in this blog entry. Let's start first with the prospective reopening of Baltimore's youth hostel.
Fortunately for those on a budget, Baltimore long-closed youth hostel looks like it is on the verge of reopening.
A Baltimore Sun story on April 10, entitled "Volunteers prepare their hostel takeover: Group renovates mansion so tourists can visit Baltimore without breaking the bank," tells about the revival of the hostel:
After eight years without one, Baltimore is close to welcoming a hostel back to town.
The opening, a rare occurrence for the languishing national hostel scene, means travelers to the city will once again be able to find safe lodging that costs less than most hotels' continental breakfast.
MacLeod and about 10 volunteers have been working for years to raise money from private sources and renovate a deteriorated Mount Vernon brownstone. They say the hostel, at 17 W. Mulberry St., could open as soon as May.
It will be the only hostel in a major Maryland city - the only other Maryland hostel is in Knoxville, near Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
Baltimore's last hostel, which operated from the same location, closed in 1999, shut down by the local branch of Hostelling International because of poor management.
I was spurred into researching the question of Baltimore for budget travelers by an excellent e-mail from Ryan, a member of the Travelerspoint Travel Community, who e-mailed me:
I'm hoping to get your advice on Baltimore.
There is a group of three of us coming to visit Baltimore for three days in early May from England -- we are flying into BWI airport.
I must say I'm having real difficulty finding accommodation of the budget variety and am quite reluctant to pay the exorbitant prices that the chain hotels are requesting in the Inner Harbor area.
Do you know of any hidden gems or what areas to perhaps look towards? Just to let you know we won't have a car.
Also, what would you recommend doing with our time in Charm City?
Hi Ryan, I would start with the youth hostel -- see if they can accommodate you specially, even though they aren't open yet -- try them at Friends of Baltimore Hostel, 410-576-8880, acknowledge that you know they aren't open yet but can they help you?
The Mount Vernon Hotel would be the next place I would check. Then The Tremonts --ask for the business rate.
Other options for essentially freeloading with other travelers are these:
It's a long shot, but you could put a notice on Baltimore's free Craigslist, in the sublets-temporary section, seeking help with cheap accommodation for a few days.
Here's a list of Baltimore area hotels, with addresses and links, compiled by the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Here's Expedia's list of discount hotels in Baltimore. They start at around $126. They also list a Best Western outside town at $76 a night, but that would require a car.
Here's the TripAdvisor list of discount hotels. These start at about $129.
Where did Ryan eventually end up staying? Well here's what he told me:
I certainly had a look at the Mount Vernon hotel, however I finally managed to get a room at the Days Inn in the Inner Harbor area. By securing an online special advanced rate, plus the fact that three of us will be sharing this room, as well as taking advantage of a particularly healthy pound-dollar exchange rate -- we have managed to offset the amount to roughly $50 a night each. This is not too bad for three nights but would not be pleasant for someone looking to travel the length and breadth of the country over an extended period of time.
Ryan also asked about things to do and see. Let's look at some ideas now.
Things to see
Most everyone agrees on this list of things to see:
Maryland Science Center
Upper Fells Point
CityPaper Daily Highlights
Places to eat
CityPaper Online Eats.
The current hotspot for the beautiful people is Pazo. Do try to check it out!
Sunspot forum-Local news, take a look here to see what local people on this lively and friendly forum think about Things to do in Baltimore, Best Place to eat crabs in Baltimore and Best cheap eats in Baltimore area.
Here's a discussion on things to do in Baltimore on the Lonely Planet Thorntree -- Baltimore.
Traveling to D.C.
Lonely Planet guide to Baltimore
Please contact me if you have any suggestions on cheap places to stay in Baltimore or other recommended updates to this blog entry.
May 22, 2007: Here is an article in the New York Times, 36 Hours in Baltimore, with a roundup of places to see and visit.
The article lacks a list of budget hotels and notes incorrectly that"
Discerning locals go to Obrycki's (1727 East Pratt Street, 410-732-6399; www.obryckis.com), known for a homemade peppery crab spice that, pardon the blasphemy, rivals Old Bay. The faux-fancy décor (stenciled brick walls and fake windows) is not why you came. It's the freshness of the crabs ($43 for a dozen mediums), in an establishment that commendably shuts down for the winter when the local catch is lean.
Obrycki's (a half-block from our house) is not visited by locals, who consider it expensive and the food oversalted.
February 24, 2007
A free packing list for travelers
Today I would like to offer travelers a customizable packing list based on one my friend Jane Burtnett originally developed two decades ago.
Hers was typed on a sheet of paper. I saved it, used it, and shared it with my mother, who really loves using it.
To update the packing list, I have entered the items into an Excel spreadsheet, which you can download and customize -- add or subtract items or categories, add yellow highlight columns for stuff you really want to remember.
I am going to upload a PDF version too for those correctly concerned about macros in Excel spreadsheets (believe me, there are none in mine, but I realize this is a concern in this Internet age).
All suggestions for improvement welcome, please feel free to contact me.
February 13, 2007
Where women choose the men they wed
"Love comes first into the heart of the woman. Once it's in the woman, only then can it jump into the man."
Isn't that a wonderful quote? It was relayed to me last week by Rukmini Callimachi, a reporter for the Associated Press in Dakar, Senegal.
Rukmini had some questions for me on European and American women who visit the Gambia for affairs with local men. I provided her information on Africa from my book, Romance on the Road. We had a wonderful, warm conversation, and she said, "I have to send you a link to an article I wrote on this island off West Africa. It's matrilineal, and women pick men they like by giving them a plate of food."
What better topic for Valentine's Day? Here is a link to Rukmini's article, Where women alone choose whom to wed:
ORANGO ISLAND, Guinea-Bissau -- He was 14 when the girl entered his grass-covered hut and placed a plate of steaming fish in front of him.
Like all men on this African isle, Carvadju Jose Nananghe knew exactly what it meant. Refusing was not an option. His heart pounding, he lifted the aromatic dish, prepared with an ancient recipe, to his lips, agreeing in one bite to marry the girl.
"I had no feelings for her," said Nananghe, now 65. "Then when I ate this meal, it was like lightning. I wanted only her."
In this archipelago of 50 islands off the western rim of Africa, it's women, not men, who choose. They make their proposals public by offering their grooms-to-be a dish of distinctively prepared fish, marinated in red palm oil. Once they have asked, men are powerless to say no.
To have refused, explained Nananghe, remembering the day half a century ago, would have dishonored his family -- and in any case, why would he want to choose his own wife?
"Love comes first into the heart of the woman," he explained. "Once it's in the woman, only then can it jump into the man."
We laughed after Rukmini told me about this quote. She also recently broke the story of Whoopi Goldberg getting her blood tested and finding out that her ancestors arrived from Guinea-Bissau (West African Nation Lays Claim to Whoopi). Rukmini told me the letter from Guinea-Bissau to Whoopi called her "Your Excellency Hoppy" Goldberg.
I don't think I've laughed so much ever when being interviewed for the first time over the phone by a journalist.
Rukmini, in her earlier assignment for AP covering New Orleans, broke the story of the Big Easy selling its flooded buses on eBay. It sounds like she is doing a bang-up job covering West Africa now, too. Good luck Rukmini and let me know if you need a research buddy on your Gambia trip!
January 10, 2007
One of National Geographic's travel experts
It's time for a little brag, but here goes ... I was invited by National Geographic's sustainable tourism director Jonathan B. Tourtellot to be one of 419 experts on world travel to help National Geographic Traveler rate World Heritage destinations.
Probably I was nominated to participate based on my first book, An Amateur's Guide to the Planet.
The results of the survey are found at World Heritage Destinations Rated.
Some background, from Tourtellot:
The World Monuments Watch List is compiled biennially in order to call international attention to cultural heritage sites around the world that are threatened by neglect, vandalism, armed conflict, or natural disaster. An independent panel of experts reviews the nominations, and a final World Monuments Watch: 100 Most Endangered Sites 2008 list will be released.
The World Monuments Fund defines a monument as any of the following: archaeological sites; residential, civic, commercial, military, or religious architecture, including vernacular architecture; engineering or industrial works; cultural landscapes; historic city centers; and townscapes.
I filled out extensive questions on the following places, all of which I have visited:
United Kingdom: City of Bath
France: Versailles and environs
France: Loire Valley
Italy: Cinque Terre
In moderate trouble
Tanzania: Serengeti National Park and environs
Brazil: Historic center of Salvador (Pelourinho)
China: Suzhou town and gardens
Indonesia: Borobudur and environs
China: The Great Wall
Mexico: Chichen Itza
Greece: Acropolis, Athens and environs
Belize: Barrier Reef
December 22, 2006
Female sex tourism: Critics and ethics
It's interesting how people hear what they want to hear. You write a book that attempts to capture all aspects, good bad and middling, of love journeys.
You have an interview on the radio.
What people hear -- on the radio -- is that you are defending wealthy women going to Jamaica and breaking up families.
Or that you are a disgusting person who deliberately travels overseas to seduce minors.
Case in point, this blog entry by Brad Gagne, who listened to my show on CBC Radio's "The Current" with host Anna Maria Tremonti on Monday (audio link here, uses RealPlayer), discussing my book, Romance on the Road.
Jeannette Belliveau disgusts me.
Well hey! That certainly grabbed my attention when my Google alerts for sex tourism rolled in this morning. And on the principle that there is no such thing as bad publicity ... and my corollary, the worst thing that can happen when you publish a book is that it is ignored and sinks like a stone .. I was actually pretty happy to disgust Brad, because at least he paid attention to the interview.
More from Brad:
But what shook me out of my daze was when the author started relating a story of how she (in her forties at the time) hooked up with a boy who "looked about 15, but was probably 16".
Jesus cabinet-making Christ.
Now really ask yourself what I just asked above. Switch the genders involved and reconsider the scenario: a 40-or-50-something man deliberately traveling to a foreign country to have sex with a girl who "looks 15". Even the interviewer did at this point: isn't that kind of like... uh... sex tourism? You know, where men travel to places like Thailand to have sex with young girls?
Well aparently if you have breasts it's called Romance Tourism. I kid you not. And dirty old Jeannette Belliveau dodges the question and continues on about what a great experience it was.
OK Brad, hang on a minute. Who ever said I deliberately traveled to Brazil to have sex with anyone?
And rather than dodging Tremonti's question, I instantly answered the question about my encounter with a Brazilian youth with three words: "He initiated it."
To elaborate: The Brazilian youth took off my muddy sandals, and swished them in a stream. I thanked him, put the sandals on, and WALKED AWAY. At which point, I heard (from behind me) what is clearly a sexual overture, and had to quell a momentary stab of uncertainty as to whether I might come to harm.
In my book, this is not quite deliberate sex tourism.
My three-word answer on the radio, I elaborate upon in my full reply, posted as a comment on Brad's blog:
"Hi, Axe #3.
The author here. I get Google alerts on sex tourism and your blog came up.
Let's see, if you are disgusted with me, you must also be disgusted with:
1 -- A woman who, while hiking near a bird sanctuary, and upon being followed on a path by a marsh by a fully aroused Brazilian youth making suggestive comments, fights the fear of rape in an isolated part of a strange country.
2 -- A woman who, in coastal Brazil with its astronomical HIV rates, does some creative quick thinking and steers the above-mentioned youthful stranger into a bit of sex play that falls short of the intercourse he wanted, thus avoiding HIV risk, and rape.
3 -- Remote colonial towns in Brazil where quite evidently, sex is as natural a part of life as breathing. Where youths have no fear of demonstrating, to an older woman no less, their talents of virtuoso foreplay. Where this youth had evidently already had some level of female coaching on what women do and do not like, and rather amazingly took a very generous and unselfish approach to foreplay, as though it was important to always be on good form even with a stranger. In other words, he had more respect for the passion of our activity than those in North America who go for impersonal "hooking up."
4 -- Sexual precocity, in Latin America, and in general, as witnessed in the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the Buendia boys are quite ready to go at it with the housemaid by the age of 14.
5 -- Adventure travelers who visit most of the world post-divorce, do not rule out sex as a means to cultural knowledge, and who possess a certain curiosity to see what might happen if all inhibition might fall away beside a stream in scarlet-ibis country, as well as willingness to write truthfully about a moment of abandon.
6 -- Anyone who doesn't demand ID before sex. For all I know, this youth was 18.
7 -- Radio hosts who apply a reductio ad absurdum to the above singular set of circumstances, which travel exposes the traveler to, and which are difficult to judge fairly from the vantage point of a radio studio in Ottawa. Let alone, the injustice of describing this encounter so incompletely. So, what happened to me in Brazil was no better than when Gary Glitter goes to Vietnam, rents a house, pays a complicit family to have his way with two underage girls, so that the girls' parents can buy a moped?
There weren't touts at the bird sanctuary saying, "Female sex tourists, right this way!"
In fact, just a wee note of reality here, it's not exactly time-efficient to fly to Brazil, buy an air-pass to five cities, visit a colonial ruin with exactly three tourists rattling around it at the time of my visit, go watch scarlet ibis, and then stand around a marsh, no money anywhere on my person, no comfortable place to lie down, waiting impatiently for a poor, exploited sex worker to come address the whimsy of my desire.
Especially in Brazil, where men and women have knowledge in their eyes rather early, and they are happy to share even outside a pagan marsh setting.
Jeannette Belliveau, author, Romance on the Road"
November 30, 2006
"Romance on the Road" available as an e-book
A month or two ago, I loaded an e-book copy of Romance on the Road on my Web site shopping cart.
It has proved handy for the steady requests by undergraduate and graduate students writing about female sex tourism who have a paper due in a week and need a copy of RotR quickly.
I am also happy to help any purchaser of the e-book who needs additional reference materials (a bibliography, citations, my saved online discussion forum chats) on a particular of women and love journeys. For example, I helped a student just before Thanksgiving with her paper on women who visit Cuba, providing her with an amazing discussion from the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum where tourist women raved about Cuban men -- a discussion from some years ago, long gone from the site, but saved in my files. I also helped direct her to some little-known essays on Cuba from anthologies.
Similarly, I helped a professor who was just returned from Costa Rica, and was pretty amazed at some of the citations I had that were helpful to her study of female tourists.
This is my favorite topic of the moment, so if you are studying women, sex and travel, do contact me.
November 19, 2006
Child sexual abuse in Pitcairn -- and many other places
Probably we shouldn't be surprised at the constant thinness of social science research in newspaper articles. Here's another example in The Independent (London), in a story entitled: Pitcairn: The island of fear, which describes a TV documentary entitled Trouble in Paradise: The Pitcairn Story:
Jacqui Christian grew up on an island paradise in the Pacific. The childhood she describes sounds like every over-stressed family's fantasy in her adopted city, London: a serene tropical haven, with no cars, little contact with the outside world, where everyone is a neighbour, or family. "After school we could go riding our bikes or kite-flying anywhere on the island and not worry about being mugged," she says.
But that wasn't the whole story. "There was this other side that we never talked about, where being a girl you always tried to avoid being anywhere with an adult male on your own. The older you got, the smarter you got about who was safe to be around and who wasn't." Her first memory of being sexually abused was when she was three years old.
Here's some interesting material from the investigation:
The two detectives who were assigned to Pitcairn under an investigation named Operation Unique, tried to make sense of what had been going on. They came to the conclusion that, because of an apparent lack of law and order, the adult men on the island felt it was their right to do whatever they wished. One man, said George, had admitted that he tried to get girls of 10 or under, because Christian "got them when they were 12, so he had to go younger".
[Filmmaker Nick] Godwin has his own theory. "Women were certainly complicit in this," he says. "Although we didn't have time to go into it fully in a one-hour documentary, there was certainly evidence that women not only turned a blind eye, but offered up their daughters to older men in some cases.
"The widespread nature of this kind of activity, in my view, goes back to the island's origins, to the mutineers. We know that some of those women [they took] from Tahiti were very young, and I suspect many of those women may not have come of their own accord. We certainly have documentary evidence of men having sex with very young girls in Polynesia in that time. It was very much part of the culture then ... . All those things feed into the situation today."
OK, what is missing from this?
First, though the filmmaker cites Pitcairn's unique history as a factor, actually rape is an extraordinary problem in Melanesia and Polynesia generally. My chapter on Oceania in Romance on the Road describes the horrific situation in Papua New Guinea where both female and male tourists risk being raped in their travels.
RotR also describes warnings for women traveling in Polynesia to never wander on their own on an island, as this is taken as an invitation for sex.
The chapter on Oceania stresses the isolation of Oceanic societies, where local men who get involved with tourist women suffer great anxiety that they will be abandoned when the woman flies home to her country so far away.
Dea Birkett's book
Serpent in Paradise (thumbnail description here, scroll down) describes the incredibly circumscribed life on Pitcairn, such that she pays dearly for a one-night stand with an island Lothario -- and for not reciprocating the interest of a quieter, available islander.
I am wondering also if the producers of Trouble in Paradise: The Pitcairn Story looked at the issue of rape and incest in isolated societies. One of the most shocking aspects of my brief week in Barrow, Alaska, in 2004, filling in for the regular Arctic Sounder reporter, was writing up the police report. Dozens of pages described SAMs (sexual abuse of minors), a endemic problem in Native communities in rural Alaska. (I have also read a travel book -- An African in Greenland
-- set in part in the Inuit community suggesting problems there.)
The common thread here is that on an island such as Pitcairn, with fewer than 50 residents and 3,000 miles from anywhere, and in little Alaska villages not on any road, with illegal liquor flown in by bush plane and long winter nights, girls are at extraordinary risk of being raped by a predatory family member or neighbor.
I've read that astute mothers in remote places, from Alaska to Vanuatu, accompany their daughters everywhere (sometimes toting a rifle) until they reach marriage age.
I suppose it is expecting far too much for producers and journalists to attempt a quick perusal of sociological and anthropological literature when reporting on a topic.
However, the end result of sketchy reporting is that every expert reader of an article (or viewer of a documentary) scratches their head and concludes it is incomplete or lacks context. Plenty of people -- not just anthropologists, sociologists, and criminal justice experts, but also Peace Corps volunteers, backpackers and travel writers (and interim reporters like myself) -- stumble into the sexual cesspit of isolated societies and realize the sexual abuse of minors does not just affect Pitcairn and appears to be rife in much of the Pacific and Arctic ocean areas.
It is too bad more TV producers and reporters don't have access to Jstore, Academic Search Premier or any of the other databases college students can wallow in to find reams of citations to academic journals on any social sciences subject (see for example the databases available at Johns Hopkins University to anthropology or sociology students). Spend a day gathering citations and then wandering into the stacks (or online), and you will finally have a better idea of exactly how Pitcairn is just like Barrow or Papua New Guinea, and exactly how Pitcairn is unique unto itself.
To read more: The Parable of Pitcairn. Musings on the clash between Western jurisprudence and isolated societies.
November 9, 2006
Bahamas appoints a director of romance
Does this sound like a fun job or what? From Travel Weekly:
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism appointed Freda Madrisotti as director of romance. Her position, which the BMT said is the first of its kind within a tourism office in the Caribbean, will provide a link between hotels, resorts, facilities, vendors and suppliers to ensure seamless and stress-free planning for any romantic occasion. From liaising with the Bahamas Bridal Association and affiliated wedding coordinators to staying current with romance-specific hotel packages in the Bahamas, Madrisotti will serve as the gatekeeper to all things romantic.
This is interesting to me because although the "director of romance" has a job facilitating respectable love -- the wedding on the beach kind -- behind the scenes, the men of the Bahamas, the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world are directing their own freelance romances all the time.
Also, that a country would have a director of romance speaks to the ever-more explicit tie-in between sun, sand and sex in the marketing of the tropics as a destination.
From Romance on the Road:
... Most governments (as well as their citizens) in the developing world come to accept sex tourism as a valuable genesis of airline and hotel receipts.
In the Caribbean, for example, government-paid advertising to foster tourism, highlighting sun, sea, sand and friendly locals, indirectly promotes sex tourism as well, given the tight weave of sex and travel in the tropics. And those amiable locals include taxi drivers, waiters and Jet-Ski rental agents willing to befriend tourist women.
October 22, 2006
Women and solo travel
At the request of my travel writing friend Beth Whitman, who is starting a Web site devoted to women traveling solo, I've provided an article I wrote a while back for the Baltimore Sun on solo travel.
Note my interest then in romantic encounters and travel!
If it's true that travel broadens the mind, solo travel unfetters it completely.
It's chemistry: Free ions combine more easily with their surroundings than compounds. Group tours, couples, friends all move within their little bubble through exotic landscapes.
But lone travelers interact furiously with the places they are visiting, and in the process, they learn much about others and themselves.
That is the shining advantage of going solo: meeting people and overcoming challenges outweigh the relatively minor risks of loneliness, getting lost, or experiencing a health emergency or language difficulties.
"You actually have more opportunities when you travel by yourself, when you are not traveling as a self-contained entertainment unit," says Amy Berkov, a free-lance graphic artist in New York City. "You are more likely to meet people where you are traveling. You are more likely to make overtures in the country you are visiting. The people in those countries are more likely to make overtures to you."
"You really get to know the people's customs, cultures and manners," says Rochelle Jaffe, a former travel bookstore owner. "Having traveled when I was married and then having traveled alone after marriage. The difference that I have found so exciting is that traveling alone I have met the most wonderful people. They will talk to a single person. They will not talk to someone with another human being.
"They let you in."
Precisely. Time after time, solo travelers note the ultimate paradox of going it alone: you end up meeting manyfold more people -- local folks and fellow travelers alike -- than when you go as half of a couple or part of larger group.
My trip diaries confirm this perception. In a 100-day solo trip from China to Tahiti in 1985, I met 56 people whom I got to know well enough to exchange addresses with. I arrived in Hong Kong to start the journey psychologically braced for what could have been 100 Days of Solitude. Instead, I met Australians, Britons, French, Japanese, Canadians and others, all going my way at least part way. In fact, the changeovers in traveling companions were almost seamless -- saying goodbye to an Indiana woman at a hotel in Shanghai and practically within minutes joining two men, an Australian and a Canadian, to continue on the boat to Hong Kong.
Conversely, a month-long trip to Africa in 1989 with three good friends, while far less psychically demanding, yielded a thinner listing: just four Africans and one American friend by journey's end.
I cannot recall a single instance of being invited into the home of local people while traveling with others. On my own, however, I have spent the night at a private chateau in Normandy, a family dwelling in Bali and a cottage in Ireland's western mountains, had dinner with a West Indian family in St. Barthelemy and a Tahitian grandmother on Bora Bora, enjoyed simple treats from tea in Chongqing to pancakes in Canberra.
Going solo can mean going sociably -- to a fault. "Sometimes I would crave being alone," says Vicky Foxworth of Takoma Park, in wake of non-stop friendliness on a solo trip to Australia.
Who goes solo? Once upon time, frontiersmen. More recently, rugged individualists, "take-charge people," says Jane A. Doerfer, the Cambridge, Mass., who in the 1990s edited the newsletter "Going Solo." Historically, solo travel has attracted many writers, poets and journalists, and seems to be more readily accepted as a tradition by Britons and Australians.
Ms. Foxworth, who for three years taught a course on traveling alone for the Open University in Washington, D.C., noted that her classes included "a fair amount of women in their early or late 30s, either divorced or never married -- some who basically had made a lot of money. ... They were very successful people, very independent-minded women, who were going to go for a year and come back with $30,000 saved to set up again."
The number of solo female travelers is remarkable. I have the impression that at least along the Asia backpacker circuit, women predominate as solo travelers, but others observers do not confirm this. Still, it is clear that most of those writing andteaching about this growing travel trend are female, as are about two-thirds of the subscribers to "Going Solo."
Solo travel has come to include not only many divorced and single women, but also retirees whose spouses don't care for travel, people on the rebound from romance or at another critical life juncture -- finishing college or switching jobs or careers. And it seems poised for an even bigger boom.
"Traveling on your own is just about to become a boom area," says Ms. Doerfer. "I think we're about two years away. Hotels and restaurants have been very slow, almost neanderthal. There are 77 million single adults in the U.S. (Yet) a lot of hotels don't go as far as having communal tables."
Many customers come up to Ms. Jaffe and whisper quietly as they pay for their travel books, "I'm going alone." "Some of the best experiences I've heard from my customers have been their trips abroad alone," she says.
In addition to offering freedom, flexibility and opportunities to meet others, solo travel appeals to those who seek challenges or wish to build self-confidence and to practice decision making. Even small steps, such as buying your own ticket in an Italian railway station, or using sign language to order a meal in a Chinese village, can be little triumphs.
Solo travel, particularly in the Third World, encourages -- forces -- lessons in patience. Hours spent by a roadside waiting for a bus or jeep repair in Malaysia or Tanzania can handily be recalled later while sitting in a minor traffic jam at the Inner Harbor or when put on hold while trying to straighten out a credit-card bill. "This isn't so bad after all," is the lesson we bring home, with a bit stronger imprint perhaps when you have survive inconveniences on your own. The materialism and self-absorption of Westerners may begin to look strange to the returning solo traveler, who has observed peoples around the world living for a year on what we might spend in moments on imported boots or our pet's trip to the vet.
Such insights may offer both a personal and professional boon upon return.
"I think you can use your travel skills to make yourself marketable," says Ms. Foxworth. "You gain experience in problem solving, organizational skills, assertiveness and experience people of different backgrounds and ages."
Traveling can boost confidence: "If I can get myself around Japan, I can handle business situations," Ms. Foxworth says.
Obviously, at least some solo travelers will be on the rebound from failed love or in search of romantic encounters, although this is not a topic that I have ever seen addressed very openly. Gauging the extent to which travelers engage in trysts or forge permanent relationships with their fellows or local people is most difficult.
What is likely is that the solo female traveler, whether interested or not, will have to listen to male braggadoccio about lovemaking prowess and the many other American women who have come looking for love in (pick any country). This can be countered by formal behavior, leaving some of the easily misinterpreted American friendliness at home, modest dress in keeping with local standards and avoiding eye contact.
"If you feel threatened, and you are not in a totally secluded area, walk up to strangers that look OK to you, and ask if they can walk with you," Ms. Foxworth recommends.
"The downside is the loneliness. Two weeks is usually the point at which I almost start hallucinating," says the 24-year-old cyclist, who notes that "there is a sense of dread at breakfast."
Others agree that mornings are the roughest time. That's when you may be saying goodbye to newfound acquaintances and heading again off into the unknown. "You may be in a rough place, cold, not that clean, lying there shivering asking, "'What the hell am I doing here?" says Ms. Berkov. "As soon as I'm up and dressed, I'm fine."
Experienced solo travelers are sometimes puzzled by two of the more frequently stated objections to traveling alone. These are (1) dread of eating alone in restaurants and (2) regret at not having anyone to share pleasurable moments with.
First, restaurants. I never mind wandering in, with a book or postcards or newspaper, and busying myself with these while waiting for the food to arrive. Yet fear of dining alone seems to be the main hurdle to many people who wish to travel alone.
Ms. Foxworth, who doesn't mind eating alone while traveling herself, nevertheless addressed the point with sympathy during her travel classes. She asked participants to think of a reverse situation, imagining they were in a restaurant with others and saw somebody come in to dine alone. They acknowledged that would glance at the diners but did not stare, thinking the person was "a real nerd or don't have any friends."
I must confess to feeling a bit obvious, during a visit to the Yangtze River city of Chongqing, upon drawing a crowd of at least 150 staring Chinese once while sitting down at an open-air eatery with my bowl of tofu with Szechuan peppercorns. This is the exception, however, that proves the rule: Most times, other diners will be incurious, and self-consciousness is unjustified.
The travel writer Paul Theroux addressed the other frequent fear -- lack of someone to share moments with -- in a 1985 interview. "I think it's because travel is so time-consuming and so demanding that if you travel with someone else, it's very unfair to the other person. And I also think that the perceptions that you get from other people are not helpful, that you have to make your own mind up. You don't profit by having someone near you, saying 'Oh look, it's raining" or "Isn't that an interesting rock formation.' "
Mr. Theroux was addressing why he travels alone when he is writing about his destination. But his observation is valid for anyone who feels that a play in London or a sunset in Tahiti is always better viewed by two. Solo experiences offer more room for reflection, for knowing one's true mind about something, and perhaps for converting the observations into writing or art. It is neither superior or inferior to shared experiences; it is certainly different, and something born solo travelers don't mind at all.
These born soloists have risen above the bugbears of novice travelers, plunging into a country on its own terms.
"I like to be with myself, so I don't mind a day spending time by myself in the zoo at Kuala Lumpur," says Barbara Miller of Baltimore, dean of international programs at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Others find solo travel daunting at times, but the only logical response to logistical dilemmas. You may really want to go to a certain place at a certain time, and no one in your circle of friends wants to, or can, accompany you. The obvious solution: Go anyway, and link up with travelers at your destination. They'll be there.
"When you pick an odd destination it's not very likely that you'll find anybody that particularly wants to go with you," says Ms. Berkov.
Some travel solo after argument-filled trips with companions. "My first big trip to Greece, we spent all our time fighting," says one woman. "It's better not to be locked into a commitment with a travel partner, although I've always been terrified before I leave."
One man, a 24-year-old journalist who has gone on solo cycling trips in the United States and Western Europe, openly admits that "since I'm the kind of person who likes to blame other people, probably I'd get into arguments when things didn't go well. I figure another person could really ruin a vacation. That's the main advantage. I like the fact that I'm the only one calling the shots. I don't have to consider anyone else. When you're on a long trip, there are so many facts to consider -- weather, itinerary, etc, -- I don't want to add another person. It just gets too complicated, unless the other person ceded all the authority to you."
"There are drawbacks to traveling with a companion," acknowledges Ms. Foxworth. "There can be differences in how you see time and money and interests. One person may have a month vs. two weeks. You may want three hours in a museum, and they want six hours."
"I feel that it's real enriching," says Ms. Berkov. "It's a good way to help develop a certain amount of flexibility and poise and how to survive in the world. It's good to learning to deal with as many kinds of people and you possibly can. Particularly in the United States, we tend not to realize what a
small part of the Earth we are and how differently many other people live from us and think from us.
"I feel really incredible lucky that I'm able to travel around. To me it's a real privilege."
Many books and newsletters offer tips on easing solo travel. Here are some:
- Seek budget accommodation. All your fellow solo travelers are most likely to be at the youth hostel, the pension, the bed and breakfast, the university dorm that lets in travelers, the clean, simple place listed in a Lonely Planet travel guide. Or else they may be at "really nice hotels, where you can meet people in the restaurant," notes Ms. Foxworth. Avoid the middle-price range frequented by tour groups and families, she says: "You just don't find solo travelers."
- Ask friends or family to write you en route, either to poste restante (general delivery) or (if you have American Express traveler's checks) at American Express offices worldwide, which will hold customer mail. I went into the American Express office in Singapore after some months of rough travel and found five letters from home. Even brave solo travelers get the blues, and hearing from Mom that the dog is fine and she's keeping up with the laundry can boost morale more than you could ever believe.
- Don't make your first trip a major challenge, and do your homework. Barbara Miller advises: "I would think if you want to go somewhere alone, the very first place should be somewhere like England, Scotland or the (Caribbean) islands. Do your research, be sure you don't have a lot of time on your hands, know what you want to see. I think the first time should be a shorter trip."
- Visit the State Department's Travel Warnings for information on problems within a country.
- Focus your trip along educational or special-interest lines. One of my best "solo" trips ever was taking a sailing class in the Virgin Islands with a captain and four other people. We had good company and vastly improved sailing and navigation skills to boot. The advantage to this sort of travel is the great likelihood of quickly forging friendships with others who share your interests. Programs run by Earthwatch and Elderhostel have received favorable notice in solo traveling publications.
- Stay with a family. You can seek out family-run accommodation in most of the world. Ms. Foxworth highly recommends Servas, an international-youth oriented organization that links up travelers with local people in 90 countries.
This article has been adapted from one Jeannette Belliveau, an experienced solo traveler, originally wrote for the Baltimore Sun.
September 9, 2006
Good article on the "not-so-ugly American"
From the New York Times magazine, check out The I’m-Not-Ugly American by Ann Hulbert.
Ann and her family followed the hypersensitive advice found in the World Citizens Guide to modulate their behavior on a trip to Turkey.
Lo and behold, Turks dress any old way they want too, from traditional to sluttish, and are loud and argumentative. Hulbert writes:
What may be most confusing of all is the warm welcome U.S. visitors actually receive in a country that is as culturally cacophonous as America and labors under no inhibitions when it comes to boasting and bullying. The demurely dressed American tourist (shoulders and knees covered, often in khaki) can’t walk a block in Istanbul without seeing Turks wearing hijabs and jilbabs (those modest coatdress coverings) side by side with tank tops and tight jeans — and without getting lectured about where the true cradle of cultural diversity lies. Here’s a collision of secularism and Islamism, the Turks are right, that owes more to Ataturk and centuries of entanglement with Europe than to the corrosive allure of New World exports.
Busily monitoring our well-known tendency to strident self-importance, earnest American practitioners of personal diplomacy can risk missing the genuinely humbling lesson of being abroad: an awareness of how bewildering another country’s own blend of boorishness and fervent belief, of openness and defiance, of backwardness and progress and of internal dissensions can be. In the end, it’s as narcissistic to assume we’re the overbearing cause of everybody else’s national identity crises in a dizzying world as it is to imagine that we can orchestrate the solutions to them. The sobering, and liberating, truth is that our britches are not that big.
I make a related point in the Brazil chapter of my first book, An Amateur's Guide to the Planet. At a candomble ceremony in Salvador, the American tourists were respectful as they could possibly be while the Euros misbehaved:
The American tourists — two others had arrived — displayed respect for the ceremony. The Euros spanned the spectrum from intrigued to bored to rude. A blond woman resembling Madonna chattered away in French or Italian at my immediate left. I shushed her. She kept right on talking to a boyfriend who stood outside the window.
As at the Indian camp in the Amazon, with its overbearing young Germans, it seemed the torch of the “Ugly American” had been passed on to other nationalities.
August 21, 2006
Roundup on female sex tourism
Here's a roundup of the latest news regarding road romances:
From today's Daily Mail, a story of problems after English woman Elizabeth Christopher, shown at right, met a Gambian man on holiday: "Yes, it all ended in tears:"
Now, a devastating sense of betrayal is all that is left from Elizabeth's nine-month union to the Gambian man nearly 20 years her junior — that, and her depleted savings account. Six months after they returned to England as man and wife, the charismatic, charming man who wooed her so tenderly during her exotic African holiday has disappeared without a trace.
This just goes to show how off-base many of the critics of female sex tourism are in their charges that Western women "exploit" foreign men. There is plenty of latitude for a conniving man to take advantage of these women's loneliness and con them into a rather heart-breaking situation.
Also in "romance on the road" news: Add Poland to the list of destinations for women, at least according to this news release (which borrows from the definition of female sex tourism that I wrote for Wikipedia): Sex tours to Eastern Europe becoming fashionable For women:
Traditionally women have gone to the Caribbean, Southern Europe, and Africa to meet men on sex tours. But advertising of the Polish plumber in Western Europe as part of the European Union entry process by Poland had a significant side effect in that it attracted the attention of many women in Western Europe.
And the attraction of women to the Polish Plumber has been noted internationally. As a result Eastern Europe and Poland are attracting women for sex tours from America, also. As more and more women come to Poland and have pleasant experiences with Polish men and the Polish plumber, sex tours to Poland become more popular as they relate their experiences ever so privately to other women in their home countries.
I can't vouch for the veracity of this article, but it fits in quite smoothly with the concept of dating wars and man shortages spurring Western women to leave their home countries.
And here's a tidy rebuttal of the notion that female sex tourism is a reprise of slavery, in this review, "'Sugar Mummies' Sex Tourism on the London Stage":
Some of the women's behavior when angry is wholly unbelievable -- the overt references to slavery -- the whipping, the "unsayable" insults -- seem to shoehorn a message -- "look, this is almost slavery -- a replay of it" -- where it simply doesn't fit.
To say the least. Women who get involved with foreign men enter an intriguing dance where both they and their lovers are basically uniting to reject the control of white men (or non-whites who hold control).
This was true of the Victorian lady explorers who took local guides in Syria and other remote areas as a means of rebelling against the control a European man would exert if he led their traveling party.
This excerpt from Romance on the Road takes an exactly opposite tack to the Sugar Mummies view:
Female sex travelers may act as radicals for fairness, as they bestow affection on foreign men and thus acknowledge the men’s humanity. These pairings unite the rainbow couple in a challenge to the old order of white men in charge. North Africa explorer Isabelle Eberhardt vigorously defended “the exceptional nature” of her Algerian husband to a skeptical French colonial. Other Victorian women sang the praises of foreign men to an extent that can only be described as subversive, given the way female praise undercut attempts by colonial men to portray their subjects as childish and incapable of self-government. These female pioneers appear to feel empathy toward foreign men, for both had to struggle against attempts to “keep them in their place.” The film Heat and Dust, set in colonial India, has a moment crystallizing the difference in perception. As Olivia washes the back of Douglas, her husband, he opines, “They’re so transparent. The Indians, all of them. They’re like children.”
Olivia replied, “They look like grownup men to me. Certainly the Nawab does.” She sees the local governor as grown up, and they later become lovers.
Finally, the Baltimore Sun ran an article Aug. 15 entitled, "A man is hard to find in Md.":
According to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, the ratio of men to women in Maryland is among the lowest in the nation, with fewer than 93 men for every 100 women here. Only the District of Columbia and Mississippi have more lopsided gender ratios. Looking for the best odds to find a man? Try Alaska, with its 103 men to every 100 women - some towns, with up to 120 men per 100 women, have even tried to recruit women to move there.
Maryland might be off-kilter, experts say, because its economy is more friendly to women, particularly the many government office jobs in Baltimore County and the Washington suburbs.
Others posit the theory that the numbers could be traced to the fact that African-American women typically outnumber African-American men and Maryland has one of the country's highest percentages of African-American residents. The disparity between the total number of men and women in the state has been noted for the past few years.
"This is more than a curiosity," said Martha Farnsworth Riche, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau and a fellow with Cornell University's Center for the Study of Economy and Society. "This is something policy-makers need to think about. This has a long-term effect on the economy, the education system."
Of course, what concerns many women is the so-called marriage market.
In Maryland, according to an analysis of the new census information, unmarried men slightly outnumber unmarried women in the 20-to-34 age bracket - prime marriage territory - but from 35 on, unmarried women outnumber unmarried men by a greater and greater margin until after age 65, when there are nearly four unmarried women for every unmarried man in Maryland.
"It definitely puts women at a disadvantage," said Jillian Straus, author of Unhooked Generation: The Truth About Why We're Still Single, published in February by Hyperion Books. "Unfortunately, if you're a woman, there's a lot more competition out there."
Well, I read this and thought, "No wonder it was I (a Marylander) who wrote Romance on the Road. As I wrote in RotR, quoting Baltimore family therapist Mary Ann Constantinides, "I see so many truly nice women and so few truly nice men."
Now we have numbers to back Constantinides and myself up.
August 14, 2006
More on 'Sugar Mummies' and female sex tourism
From the Times (London) review of Sugar Mummies:
Wealthy, unfulfilled women travel to the Caribbean for sun, sea and sex. Local men, for whom life in this impoverished picture-postcard setting is far from paradisal, charm the cash from their purses with honeyed tongues and honed bodies.
Who is exploiting whom? Does she who holds the purse strings also hold the power?
What is all this talk of exploitation between tourist women and foreign men? My read of these interactions is that most are mutually beneficial, some involve manipulation (common enough in interpersonal relationships) rather than "exploitation," and that the true risks of female sex tourism aren't even touched by Tanika Gupta's play.
As I noted in the Experiences chapter of Romance on the Road, negative experiences allied to casual travel sex include HIV, AIDS, other STDs, rape, harassment, mental health problems, broken marriages involving the foreign man's original wife, high divorce rates for post-holiday marriages, and suicide.
These are far more concrete problems, which came up in my six years of research, than quote-unquote exploitation.
Hail to the Guardian's Michael Billington, who writes of the play:
Behind the play lurks a puritanical assumption I find hard to share: that there is something wicked about female sex tourism. If men can go on holiday looking for sex, why not women?
Hear hear. Billington goes on, "Gupta's moralism shows itself most clearly in a dreadful scene in which Maggie ties up a 17-year-old lover who has failed to rise to expectations." When a producer for the BBC's "Woman's Hour" described this scene in the play, it seemed absurdly negative, and as I said on air, I take a far more benign interpretation of the female sex tourism scene. It is a logical response to man shortages in the West, affordable air travel, and women shortages and chronic underemployment in the developing world.
Finally, as promised in yesterday's entry, some dandy comments from the public on this entire topic of female sex tourism.
The most amusing comments come from the Guardian article,
"This is not romance."
For full entertainment value, read the original article first, and then note the British skill at pointing out obviously absurd aspects of Bindel's piece, mainly that she fails to acknowledge that men love sex, that they love especially to be viewed as "hypersexual," that they love to be thought of as having "big" bamboo, and that while it is possibly to sexually assault a man, it is impossible for a woman to rape him.
- "Incidentally, is it more or less sexist/racist to imply that black men have big cocks, or than white men have small cocks? Because, even if they're equally offensive, I wonder which of the two insults most men would prefer to endure."
- "Ms. Bindel mistakenly conflates prostitution with destitution; i.e., that no one actually wants to be a prostitute, and that all prostitures are thus victims of poverty. This is untrue. Firstly, many horny young men leap at the chance of being payed to do what they are desperate to do anyway, 24/7: have sex. Secondly, the idea that prostitution is demeaning is a peculiar one, born of guilt about sex inculcated by the nonsensical Abrahamic religions."
- "Try picturing this maybe. A sweet and sexually adventurous middle-aged woman, slightly lonely and attracted to younger men goes on holiday and observes that for a fee certain men will sleep with her. She is sensitive and empathetic enough to understand when one of these men is not necessarily attracted to her and the sex is a bit of an ordeal. She politely pays in full or part anyway and sends him home. Some insist on doing what they are paid for, some thank her and leave.
"Eventually she finds someone who is attracted and they have a great time and even become friends. He makes money, a new friend, she a new friend. All a bit of a muddle at times but it worked out, life often does if you focus on the bright side of things and people."
- "So some men are younger and poorer than some women? And sexual relationships often features a measure of exploitation? Aside from the weather, how does this differ from relationships all over the world in every country?
"I look forward to Bindel's next story, Dog Bites Man."
- "I've been to St. Lucia and met the guys that do this kind of thing (this was back in '92, so we're not talking about a new phenomenon here). None of them had any particular complaints about the business they were in. Indeed, they were very happy with their lot. I spoke to one man who had launched himself into the jet ski rental business because one happy client had bought him his first jet ski. A happy man indeed."
- "The idea that these men would starve if they didn't sell their sexual favours is debatable to say the least. Jamaica is nowhere near as poor as some of it's neighbours or some Sub-Saharan countries. Most if not all of these men resort to this lifestyle becuase it is easier than working."
- [I love this one:] "This is a poor article. Power dynamics based on wealth often occur in relationships in the wealthy Western World as well.
"As Ms. Bindel notes, the men do not feel in danger so what makes what they "sell" any different from those who put on voodoo displays for tourists?
"It's only because they are black and the women white that it has become fashionable for the media to make a big issue of it--because writers like Ms. Bindel still think in the parlance of slavery and thus calling it an abuse of racial power makes it more sensational.
"I am a black American woman and I experience the same sort of overtures she describes from poor men in India, Morocco and Haiti. Stop waving around race to try and make your article juicier."
- "Every young single girl who's gone to Spain or Greece or wherever in the last 35 years and shagged a waiter or local has probably bought the drinks or paid for the hotel room etc. (more so the further back you go as the locals were poorer). It probably never entered their heads that there was an element of exploitation, it was just young people having fun. Now some of the older women indulging in 'sex tourism' may choose to delude themselves and others may call a spade a spade but I can't get myself worked up about any injustice."
- [This comment raises the question of identity loss, which I write about in the Reasons chapter of RotR:] "A more interesting question is why Western women, young and not so young, feel more sexually uninhibited abroad. Probably because judging voices like Julie Bindell's are not there.
"If it was socially acceptable for middle-aged women to pay for sex here, they would be doing it in the same way as in Jamaica."
- "if you do not want to sell sex as a man, you do not have to. To equate "beach boys" with the sex workers of Eastern Europe being held AGAINST THEIR WILL is disgusting to say the least. I am friends with many of these men, and the point all of them make regularly to me is that if a man chooses to not sell his body, then guess what, he stops doing it. But to sit here in judgement of the women who use the services WILLINGLY offered is just another example of "getting all up in someone else's Kool-AiD" when indeed your name is not cherry. And why is it that we only discuss the heter-sexual nature of this question? So many holes in Ms Bindel's assumptions, that it almost was not worth commenting on."
- I think you're finding too many victims for a non-crime here. A lot of Caribbean men like fat women -- which applies to a lot of British, American and Canadian women in the over-30 age group. Caribbean men also like white women. If the Caribbean man is over 16/18/whatever you consider legal age, what's your problem?
- "Every person and situation is different, naturally - one woman might be a strong and see the situation as a thrill without ramifications."
"Another woman might be desperately lonely and sad that she has to `pay` for sex and romance."
- "Whoever is talking about economic imbalances etc. and all that Guardian tosh, when I went to Jamaica for a week, the bloke who was running the entertainment business at the hotel was firing it up 2 40-somethings who would try to lay their kids off on other people. This is about personal choice in most cases, not economic necessity."
- "I've always been amused by those lefty NGO type women who go on holiday to Cuba, shag a local guy, and manage to position it as a dewy-eyed token of Third World solidarity -whereas a bloke who goes to Thailand or Philippines or wherever and manages to find someone to buy meals in return for sex is a vile colonial rape-monster. "
- "In terms of living with my own conscience, I'd rather be a prostitute than a journalist. As they say in Spain: 'Don't tell my mother I work for a newspaper, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel.'"
- "How can you exploit a lad that's obviously got a stiffy?"
And my favorite:
- "Although this article has some valid things to say it reeks of Puritanism. The certainty Julie lays down around sex is shocking given its long history and differnt ways of being seen by different cultures. I was wondering if Julie could issue a 4000 page Code of Conduct that would set rules for everthing and define in detail these things. If I go to a country whose GDP per capita is 4% less than the one I live in and buy a non minor I meet a drink and then happen to have sex with them is that still exploitation? Should I first issue them a written disclaimer before I buy the drink? I'm sorry I'm totally lost. Please Julie, get us the Code of Conduct because we desperately need you to define everthing in detail so that it can be set in stone for all time. Please include all the Disclosure Statements and Financial Services Guides we will need."
And comments from the Daily Mail's "Men for Sale" article:
- Helen of Nottingham writes, simply: "Have done the same thing myself many times and intend to keep on doing it."
- Mark writes: "Why should older woman not have some fun? Good luck to them. I lived and work in Cuba from 1993 to 2000 and it was a common sight to see a middle aged female tourist surrounded by a bevy of good looking and much younger Cuban men. What harm was done? The woman went back home with a warm glow and some exciting memories, the men had consumer goods and expensive items they could not otherwise afford."
"Also, although I cannot speak about elsewhere, in Cuba it is by no means unknown and barely worthy of comment for a Cuban woman to take a much younger partner. Are we attempting to impose our own cultural norms onto other societies?"
I'm always on the lookout for mentions of places women visit to keep my geographic list complete, and posters mentioned Cyprus, "older European women with boat boys in Luxor [in Egypt] or beach boys on the Red Sea coast," "East Africa, particularly popular resorts of Mombasa and Zanzibar" and Senegal.
For additional destinations in Latin America, the Arab world and Asia, see RotR.
August 13, 2006
Female sex tourism: Topic A in Britain
As I noted in an earlier press release, the simultaneous release of my book, Romance on the Road, the movie Heading South and the play Sugar Mummies in London had catapulted the issue of female sex tourism to the greatest degree of public awareness it has perhaps ever received.
(At least since the Victorian era, when the release of Henry James's Daisy Miller created a public frenzy.)
This week, female sex tourism has been Topic A in Britain.
On Tuesday, I appeared (via a live hookup from the BBC's Washington, D.C., offices), on the BBC Woman's Hour, along with the playwright Tanika Gupta, who wrote "Sugar Mummies," and Julie Bindel, the author of "This Is Not Romance." (You can hear the audio of this program here.)
Hostess Jenni Murray and producer Lizz Pearson prepped me extensively and sympathetically for this appearance.
Surprisingly, I was the one on the BBC panel with the task of defending women who travel for sex and romance, with Gupta and Bindel, two ardent feminists (?), attacking this practice. To me, it shows gumption to go out and find some lovin' rather than sit at home in New York or London, Baltimore or Nottingham, bemoaning one's fate. And Jenni seemed to give me plenty of time on our 11-minute segment to make this point.
All the better that many of the destinations that Western women visit, from Cuba to the Zambia to the Arab world, are peopled by young men whose culture genuinely permits the admiration of older women and of women with fuller figures. (A subtlety missed by Gupta and Bindel.)
My appearance on the Woman's Hour was mentioned in the Daily Mail, and this morning I sent the following letter to the editor:
In re: "Men for Sale (Kathryn Knight, 13 Aug.), it's interesting to be identified as "the self-confessed sex traveler who appeared on Radio 4 this week." (Yes, it was I on the radio.)
I spent six years researching the topic of female sex tourism for my new book (Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men).
My conclusion: It's no great surprise that the women of the West, beset by dating wars and man shortages, travel to resorts and get together with Third World men, themselves beset by dating wars and woman shortages. Now affection and companionship are a commodity -- something that can be purchased -- and a globalized commodity at that.
The fact that one in 30 of these holiday romances evolves into a long-term relationship shows that, underneath the games and manipulation sometimes seen in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, the Gambia, Kenya, Bali, Phuket and hundreds of other destinations for lonely women, are encounters that bring together international couples who smash the old rules of mating behavior.
Baltimore, Md., USA
What is most fascinating to me by FAR are the comments that appear underneath the Daily Mail and Guardian articles. This once-taboo topic is coming into the open, with women acknowledging their own trips and a growing minority of commenters defending the practice of romance on the road -- even when it includes gifts and outright payment -- as an understandable and human response to simple loneliness.
I'll return soon to the astounding comments posted by readers on these Guardian and Daily Mail articles.
August 6, 2006
Another take on the movie "Heading South"
Well, there certainly is no shortage of controversy about the film "Heading South," including this review from the Boston Globe, "A muddled exploration of sex tourism."
Here is my letter to the editor regarding this review.
A muddled view of women, travel and love
Ty Burr's movie review, "A muddled exploration of sex tourism" (Aug. 4), displays a rather harsh take on the women shown in "Heading South," who travel to Haiti for sex with local men.
Perhaps the reason director Laurent Cantet never sets a match to a potential "tinderbox of racial and sexual exploitation" is that so very few First World women are actually involved in "moral strip-mining of the Third" World.
Rather, the opposite is often true, as I found out during six years of research for my new book, Romance on the Road. As one example, my husband's mother, who founded a community college on a tiny and quite poor Caribbean island, teaches a student whose tuition is paid by his older foreign girlfriend. Her gift of college courses is tremendously significant in the scheme of this young man's life.
Outsiders often damn such relationships, showing little empathy for the loneliness of many tourist women, who flee man shortages, a dating war, or a painful divorce. Their holiday lovers are also seek an escape from lives of poverty, limited options and local women who reject them.
Both parties in a holiday romance often benefit, and the fact that one in 30 such relationships evolves into something long term demonstrates that the hunt for a mate is yet another activity that has become globalized.
Author, Romance on the Road
Beau Monde Press
July 19, 2006
Female sex tourism in Brazil
Brazil has long been famous for having men readily available to foreign tourists, but now comes the first report of a more organized scene, in Salvador of Bahia.
Over the last 10-15 years Salvador has been noticably flooded with Scananavian women chasing after black Bahian men. There are usually also a few Brits and North American gringas in evidence. I met some of the Brazilian guys who played the game. At least two of them ended up moving with ladies to somewhere in northern Europe for a time.
When I was in Salvador in 1994, I observed a fair number of gay male tourists, but gringas were little in evidence, either with local guys or not with them.
This new information from Bill places Salvador closer to the category of Caribbean destinations, if visible numbers of blond foreign women are now seen in the company of local fellows.
July 17, 2006
Female sex tourism: Basic facts
Here's my entry in Wikipedia on female sex tourism. I wrote this starter article in response to an interview by a New York Times writer last week, when it became clear to me from her questions that basic information was lacking. Since Wikipedia is a collective encyclopedia, participants and administrators may change this. Meanwhile, I will keep the original here for enquiring minds, members of the media, etc.
Female sex tourismFemale sex tourism is travel by women, partially or fully for the purpose of having sex. It differs from male sex tourism in that women do not use bars, sex shows and formal tours to meet foreign men. There are "de facto" tours, however, such as airplanes bound to the Gambia in West Africa full of British and Scandinavian women seeking affairs with beach boys.
Often relationships with a high component of mutual affection are called "romance tourism."
Women sometimes give clothes, meals, cash and gifts to their holiday boyfriends. In some destinations, there are "going rates" for male companionship, ranging from $50 to $200. In other destinations, especially in Southern Europe, Bali and the French Caribbean, men do not expect to be compensated.
While men tend to go to Asia for sex tourism, women tend to head to the Caribbean, Southern Europe, and Africa. These geographical patterns reflect a search by Western men for traditionally feminine women, and a search by Western women for traditionally masculine men. The patterns have been explored by Michel Houellebecq in Platform and in the non-fiction work Romance on the Road, and are important in that they support the idea that sex tourism by both men and women reflects serious problems in the tourists' home countries, including a dating war, or profound conflict between the sexes.
Thailand, the Dominican Republic and Cuba are exceptional in that both male and female sex tourists find these places all-purpose sexual emporia.
The primary destinations for female sex tourism are Southern Europe (mainly Greece and Spain), the Caribbean (led by Jamaica, Barbados and the Dominican Republic), the Gambia and Kenya in Africa, and Bali and Phuket in Thailand. Lesser destinations include Nepal, Morocco, Fiji, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
Lesbian sex tourism is nascent but evident in Lesbos (Mytilini) in Greece; Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand, and on Bali in Indonesia.
Terms used for female sex tourists
Tourist women are called Shirley Valentines (if British), longtails (in Bermuda), yellow cabs (Japan) and, in Jamaica, milk bottles if newly arrived or Stellas if black. Female sex tourism in Barbados has been dubbed "Canadian secretary syndrome."
The men who chase tourist women are kamakia ("fishing harpoons," Greece), sharks (Costa Rica), rent-a-dreads, rent-a-rastas, rent-a-gents and the Foreign Service (Caribbean), Kuta Cowboys or pemburu-bule ("whitey hunters," Bali), Marlboro men (Jordan), bomsas or bumsters(the Gambia), sanky pankies (Dominican Republic).
Barring some isolated cases of women traveling for sex among North American Indian tribes and within Turkey, female travel sex (involving American and English women) began in Rome in the late 1840s, at the same time as feminism's first wave, which encouraged independence and travel.
Affairs and intrigues, particularly between American heiresses and down-on their luck European aristocrats, continued steadily until World War I and inspired Henry James's Daisy Miller, Joaquin Miller's The One Fair Woman, and much of the early output of E.M. Forster.
Female sex travel declined from the time of the Depression until the 1960s, with the exception of India, Nepal and Thailand, where intrepid women from England, France, Czechoslovakia, the United States and elsewhere continued to attract the attention of maharajas and other Asian royals, despite the uproar of World War II.
Coincident with the explosion of leisure travel in the 1960s and feminism's second wave, sex tourism by women re-ignited, first via French Canadian women traveling to Barbados and Swedish and Northern European women to Spain, Greece, Yugoslavia and the Gambia. Female sex travel became ubiquitous throughout the Caribbean, from the tiniest islands through the big destinations of Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Barbados.
In the 1990s, women from Japan and Taiwan began to appear on the beaches of Bali and Phuket in Thailand.
Today, many other destinations are popular, including Morocco, Nepal, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico -- everywhere with beaches and a surplus of underemployed men.
Reasons for female sex tourism
Female sex tourism's first and second waves coincided not only with feminism but with Victorian-era man shortages that began in England and later cropped in continental Europe and the United States.
Other societal reasons for women seeking intimate companionship abroad include the dating war, as typified by extreme competition between the sexes in schools, the workplace, while dating, in marriages, and even in contentious divorces. The dating war appears to especially drive sex tourism by Australian and Japanese women, and to a lesser extent, German and Scandinavian female tourists.
Another factor in women engaging in holiday romance is identity loss. Many women behave while traveling in a way at odds to how they behave at home, where fear of the "slut" label curbs the kind of hedonistic behavior seen on holiday. Traveling and expatriate women often try on a new, more experimental identity when away from family and friends.
Additional reasons include:
- sexual connoisseurship -- an interest in experiencing a variety of men
- a search for healing after a divorce or breakup (see Michelle Thomas, in Major academic publications, below)
- prolonged involuntary celibacy
- the commodification of sex, whereby affection is now something that can be purchased by women, as well as men, as well as the globalization of sex and affection markets.
Non-fiction books include Anne Cumming's The Love Habit and The Love Quest, Fiona Pitt-Kethley's The Pan Principle and Journeys to the Underworld, Cleo Odzer's Patpong Sisters and Lucretia Stewart's The Weather Prophet.
Female sex tourists have been notoriously difficult to find and interview on the record (see de Albuquerque, 1998, in Major academic publications subhed, below). Thus some observers have turned to film and fiction to examine the motivations of women who travel for sex, love and affection. Movies include Heading South (Vers le Sud), with Charlotte Rampling, which depicts three Western tourists in Haiti in the 1970s, taking their pleasure with local men. Earlier film depictions include How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Shirley Valentine.
Fiction includes, in addition to Michel Houellebecq's Platform, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying.
Major academic publications
- Bloor, Michael, et al. "Differences in Sexual Risk Behaviour between Young Men and Women Travelling Abroad from the UK." [Contains only random survey of young sex travelers.] The Lancet 352 (1998): 1664-68.
- Cohen, Erik. "Arab Boys and Tourist Girls in a Mixed Jewish-Arab Community." International Journal of Comparative Sociology 12 (1971): 217-233.
- de Albuquerque, Klaus. "Sex, Beach Boys and Female Tourists in the Caribbean." Sexuality & Culture. Ed. Barry M. Dank. Vol. 2. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1998. 87-111. 2.
- de Albuquerque, Klaus. "In Search of the Big Bamboo: How Caribbean Beach Boys Sell Fun in the Sun." The Utne Reader, Jan.-Feb. 2000: 82-86.
- Gorry, April Marie. Leaving Home for Romance: Tourist Women's Adventures Abroad. Doctoral dissertation, Univeristy of California, Santa Barbara, 1999. Ann Arbor: UMI 9958930, 2000
- Herold, Edward, Rafael Garcia and Tony DeMoya. "Female Tourists and Beach Boys: Romance or Sex Tourism?" Annals of Tourism Research 28.4 (2001): 978-997.
- Meisch, Lynn A. "Gringas and Otavaleños: Changing Tourist Relations" [a description of sex and romance tourism in Ecuador]. Annals of Tourism Research 22.2 (1995): 441-62.
- Pruitt, Deborah, and Suzanne Lafont. For Love and Money: Romance Tourism in Jamaica. Annals of Tourism Research 22(2): 422-440.
- Thomas, Michelle. "Exploring the Contexts and Meanings of Women's Experiences of Sexual Intercourse on Holiday." Clift, Stephen, and Simon Carter, ed. Tourism and Sex: Culture, Commerce and Coercion. London: Pinter, 2000. 200-20.
- Vorakitphokatorn, Sairudee, et al. "AIDS Risk in Tourists: A Study on Japanese Female Tourists in Thailand." Journal of Population and Social Studies 5.1-2 (1993-94): 55-84.
- Wagner, Ulla. "Out of Time and Space — Mass Tourism and Charter Trips." Ethnos 42.1-2 (1977): 39-49. (This article describes sex tourism in the Gambia, West Africa, as does a followup article: Wagner, Ulla, and Bawa Yamba. "Going North and Getting Attached: The Case of the Gambians." Ethnos 51.3 (1986): 199-222.)
Dr. Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, Lecturer: Dollars are a Girls' Best Friend? Female Tourists' Sexual Behaviour in the Caribbean
July 15, 2006
Who knew "Heading South" would resonate so?
How exciting ... I got a phone call Wednesday from Elizabeth Hayt, a contributor to the New York Times, in conjunction with a story running tomorrow (but now available online), Libidos of a Certain Age.
Her topic is Heading South,the new film starring Charlotte Rampling as a female sex tourist visiting Haiti in the 1970s. An excerpt:
A rave review by Stephen Holden in The New York Times called the movie “one of the most truthful examinations ever filmed of desire, age and youth.’’ Since it opened July 7, theaters have been packed with women about the same age as the ones on the screen. Some bought tickets in groups for a kind of middle-aged girls’ night out. Interviews indicated the movie has hit home with this audience because it affirms the sexual reality of women of a certain age, that even as they pass the prime of their desirability to men, libidos smolder. More than a few said they came seeking a hot night out.
Well done, Elizabeth, your interviews hit the nail on the head. Two great engines of female sex tourism are man shortages and involuntary extended celibacy.
I had thought "Heading South" would do middling business, like other films about sex and travel such as "Before Sunrise" and "Echoes of Paradise" (see my full list of travel romance films, here). Instead, it seems heading towards Hitsville, more in line with How Stella Got Her Groove Back and (in the UK) Shirley Valentine.
Bravo that this topic has struck such a chord and is attracting full houses. It comes to Washington Aug. 18, and a full schedule nationwide can be found here.
In my (cut by the editor) interview with Elizabeth, I covered a lot of the basics found in Romance on the Road:
- Female sex travel largely began in the 1840s, continued until World War I, and resumed in the 1960s. From 1980 to the present, an estimated 600,000 women have had holiday romances with men in the developing world. These affairs zoomed after the 1998 release of the film version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
- Female sex travel parallels the first and second waves of feminism, in the 1840s and 1960s.
- The second wave of female sex tourism, in the 1960s, coincided not only with a resurgence of feminism but the expansion of leisure travel and man shortages. French Canadian women surged to Barbados for male companionship, and Northern European women to Southern Europe and Africa. In the 1990s, Japanese and Taiwanese women began heading toward Bali and Phuket.
Well, all our stuff in the interview got cut by the editor, who wanted to focus on women who had seen the movie. But the distributor is arranging for me to see the movie next week, in case of more media inquiries.
Guess I should take this opportunity to send a letter to the editor of the New York Times. In case it never gets in, here goes (ain't it fun to just publish all your letters to the editor immediately on your blog?!?!):
Women, sex and travel
To the Editor:
Re: "Libidos of a Certain Age" (Style, July 16):
The popularity of the film "Heading South," about vacation flings in Haiti, reflects extended involuntary celibacy, documented by the University of Chicago, suffered by many single older women.
Women are indeed "Heading South," and have been doing so since the 1840s, when the earliest English and American female travelers began romping about Rome.
Since the Victorian era, women have learned that the solution to Affection Deficit Disorder is a boat, train or plane ride away. In the Caribbean, Greece, Morocco, Bali and Kenya, surpluses of young men, willing to exchange affection for gifts, await female tourists.
The result has been hundreds of thousands of holiday romances, often of mutual benefit. One student at a Caribbean community college run by my mother-in-law has his tuition paid by his European girlfriend. In exchange, many women find healing from romantic breakups at home.
Jeannette Belliveau, author, "Romance on the Road"
Beau Monde Press
I also went to Wikipedia and got started with some basic information on female sex tourism, see here. At first it looked like the article would be deleted for being too much based on my book, but I beefed it up with many important citations and won some of the critics over.
Also, let me announce to the word, I'm available if any more feature reporters, NPR stations, or travel section editors want to learn more about this phenomenon! Here's how to contact me.
And here's an earlier blog of mine related to "Heading South."
July 10, 2006
Women who travel for sex: Sun, sea and gigolos
Yet another article on female sex tourism, this one in Britain's Independent and entitled "Women who travel for sex: Sun, sea and gigolos."
This article is a nice roundup of what is going on but also contains some stretches in its criticism of the whole phenomenon, to whit:
It is a nasty twist that the countries where this sort of tourism is most rife are ex-slave colonies. Many are still dealing with the fallout of colonialism. All the hotels, restaurants, cars and glass-bottomed boats in Negril [in Jamaica] are owned by Americans. The urban economy doesn't even belong to the local people.
Yet the women who sleep with the beach boys insist they are helping race relations. They flatter themselves they have gone native. "In my play there's a scene where a white woman is taking about how she loves R&B and reggae and what she calls hip and hop," says Gupta.
It is the female tourist who books the flights and determines the length of time she will spend with their boyfriend, as well as making day-to-day decisions when they are together, such as when and where they eat. One 21-year-old migrant from Haiti who had been working in Sosua, told Sanchez Taylor that he even had to "snog" his tourist client despite a bad toothache and a swollen face. If he did not, he would not be able to afford the antibiotics to cure it.
In Sugar Mummies, Gupta deliberately allows herself one relationship that might just work. "I'm not saying anything about mixed race relationships, I'm talking about these specific kinds of sex-tourist relationships where women go out there specifically to have sex. It will probably backfire and a whole load more women will go off to Jamaica.
Thought I would take another occasion (wrote a similar letter a few weeks ago to the editor of Pattaya Today, see my blog here) to write a letter to the editor. Here goes, in case they never print it!
Liz Hoggard's article, "Women who travel for sex: Sun, sea and gigolos" (July 9), makes the point that sex tourism is not practiced only by white women.
Black women (who mainly visit the Caribbean and Africa) and Japanese and Taiwanese women (heading to Thailand and Bali) also travel in search of affection. It's not entirely correct to say that female sex tourism is rife in ex-slave colonies, what with Nepal, Morocco, Ecuador, Fiji and Phuket now on the list -- practically everywhere, in fact, except Antarctica.
With such a steady stream of lonely ladies heading from the West to developing countries, my book, Romance on the Road, estimates that in the past 25 years, 600,000 Western women have engaged in holiday romances with men in foreign countries.
Critics of female sex tourism such as Nirpal Dhaliwal are quoted as saying these women are guilty of "hypocrisy." Yet gifts of cash, business capital, clothing and meals to poor men, multiplied by the hundreds of thousands, offer foreign aid -- in significant amounts -- from one hand, one heart, to another. My mother-in-law, for example, runs a community college on a small Caribbean island where one student's tuition is paid by a foreign girlfriend.
Also note that one in 30 of such romances leads to a lasting relationship. Thus my question: What really galls critics of female sex tourism? Is it perceived "exploitation" of poor foreign men? Or are these critics implicitly saying, oddly like members of the National Front, "Don't date or fall in love outside your color, nationality or economic group"?
At least seven compelling reasons propel casual travel sex by women, including man shortages (near-crippling for professional black women) and dating wars at home. It's a wonder all traveling women don't indulge. With Western women of all colors now looking for love an airplane ride away, it's clear that they and their holiday lovers have decided that a swap of gifts for affection is in everybody's best interests.
Beau Monde Press
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
PS This article also mentions Terry McMillan's ex-husband, whose name is Jonathan Plummer (not Jeremy).
July 7, 2006
Heading South (Vers Le Sud)
Film reviewer Peter Bradshaw writes:
The globalisation of the sex industry, and the creeping sense that, like pornography, sex tourism will shrug aside moral objection through the sheer weight of its profitability, is a hot-button topic. ... Michel Houellebecq's novel Platform proposed a startlingly plausible vision of a holiday firm offering hypocrisy-free sex tourism in Thailand, a commercial adventure whose fictional catastrophic sequel prefigured the Bali bombings. That novel was much more shocking and more powerful than this movie, however, despite what the two have in common, because it tackles head-on the tougher reality: sex tourism is - of course it is - about men exploiting women.
If there is one thing that Houellebecq's Platform (see my capsule review here) does not express, it is that sex tourism is about exploiting women. To the contrary, the novel finds that the Thai prostitute visited by Michel, the protagonist, looks into his soul and serves as a doctor of his wounded psyche. Further, Platform notes the ways sex tourism also serves Western women, and does not assert that these women are exploited by men in the developing world.
The writer continues:
The role-reversal in Heading South is interesting, and certainly no fantasy. Lucretia Stewart's classic travel memoir The Weather Prophet touches on the gigolo market for white visitors to the West Indies, though Stewart made it plain that resentful male violence was a possibility that the moneyed female clientele would always have to negotiate. In Cantet's film, by contrast, the Haitian men are all sweetness and gallantry.
The Weather Prophet: A Caribbean Journey (again, see my capsule review here) does touch briefly on the gigolo market in the West Indies. I do not recall any resentful male violence directed at female tourists in this travelog; I do recall Stewart getting involved (as a journalist, more so than a tourist) with some edgy characters herself. The motif of female sex tourism in the Caribbean is not replete with sordid, violent endings; many of the gigolos would not be in business if they did not offer the attentiveness and affection unavailable to visiting women in their home countries.
Bradshaw also writes:
So how would Rampling's character look if things were turned around, and her character was a man in search of young girls? What was daring and transgressive and exotic would suddenly, I suspect, become sordid and repulsive. Her sang-froid, her elegant refusal to conform to the pleasure-fearing squeamishness of the middle classes, might all just look coldly predatory and selfish.
Or would it? There might be a way of challenging the moral assumptions of bought sex and making a male customer in the sex-tourism marketplace look merely human. It would be a tough sell. Maybe finding a story from the distant past, as Cantet has done, in a hazily imagined developing-world country, with women at its core, is an efficient way of upending the moral apple cart. It's difficult to avoid the feeling, though, that this is a fundamentally evasive way of representing the power relations of prostitution.
Well, it's a good question whether female sex tourism makes male sex tourism look "merely human." That is the compelling message of Platform, for sure -- that people in the cold West trade money for love throughout the developing world, in relationships that are of mutual benefit.
I make the point in Romance on the Road that perhaps 600,000 Western women have engaged in sex or romance tourism from 1980 to the present.
The reality of this film Heading South (Vers Le Sud) is not something "from the distant past ... in a hazily imagined developing-world country," it's omnipresent. A film director in the Azores has contacted me for a copy of Romance on the Road, with a view toward possibility making a documentary on female sex tourism. And my book was also discussed earlier this week on a Dutch radio show, again in conjunction with Vers Le Sud. I will have to get my friend Rachel to translate parts of the show that I captured on a Web broadcast!
June 18, 2006
Female sex tourism in Thailand
Here's an interesting item, Just a holiday romance, in Pattaya Today, a newspaper for the resort town in east Thailand. Author Bea McConnell asks:
Word on the street has it that middle-aged women will flock to Jamaica and the Gambia in their hundreds in search of what they much prefer to call a holiday romance.
Yes, this is really happening. It's not just word on the street, and I have explored this phenomenon in Jamaica, the Gambia, and many other places, in Romance on the Road.
Here's something I didn't know:
It also appears that Chinese women are getting in on the act, although they do not favour the African or Afro-Caribbean types. They prefer to stay closer to home, and closer also to what they know and understand.
Consequently, women from Hong Kong and Taiwan are holidaying in Beijing where they can purchase the attentions of a "duck" (or yazi) if they feel like a bit of company. Just imagine, you can shop till you drop all day as you buy new items for your wardrobe and a little something for the folks back home, and then in the evening you can buy yourself a sexy young drinking companion to talk to, flirt with and even take pleasure with later in the evening.
... Apparently Chinese women are also a bit picky and favour the men from Manchuria where they tend to be taller than the average oriental man.
The author then asks:
So where is all the action in Thailand? How come women aren’t flocking to the Land of Smiles for a little paid-for hanky panky in the sunshine?
I was a little surprised to read this, because I report in RotR that Western lesbian tourists indeed go to Pattaya itself, and that flocks of Japanese women (straight) visit Phuket, while Western women (straight) also visit Bangkok and Koh Samet.
I sent this e-mailed Letter to the Editor to Pattaya Today:
Regarding the item, "Just a holiday romance?" (June 16), Bea McConville asks, "Where is all the action in Thailand? How come women aren’t flocking to the Land of Smiles for a little paid-for hanky panky in the sunshine? Why is there not a ‘scene’ here for women to dip into when they are in need of a little attention?"
Well, the answer is easy: The action in Thailand is in Phuket, Bangkok and Koh Samet, where tens of thousands of Japanese women visit Thai beach boys each year.
As I write in Romance on the Road:
"No one wanted to look into the spike of female tourist arrivals on Phuket and figure out what was going on — except a lone Thai demographer. Sairudee Vorakitphokatorn discovered that
during the years 1990 to 1994, numbers of female Japanese visitors to Phuket soared from fewer than 4,000 to more than 40,000, and they began to outnumber male Japanese tourists. Beach boys reported that Japanese women, usually aged 18 to 27, comprised 70 percent of their clients."
Vorakitphokatorn's findings provoked a storm in Japan, where women in fiercely protested the report.
Anthropologist Cleo Odzer also entered into affairs with Thai men in Bangkok and Koh Samet, and discussed other Western women "playgirls" as well. There are also reports of Western lesbians visiting Pattaya to consort with Thai women.
Beau Monde Press
Baltimore, Maryland USA
It's surprising a local publication doesn't know about female sex tourism in various locales in Thailand!
Update July 20, 2006: A female travel friend of mine reports active holiday romances between American women and Thai guys in Chiang Mai. One woman visited Chiang Mai as a result of friction with her Japanese husband, who she left at home.
This is significant in that it supports a viewpoint presented in RotR: That female sex tourism has expanded from beach resorts to a vast number of destinations, including mountainous regions such as Chiang Mai and Nepal.
May 31, 2006
It's official: Romance on the Road is out!
Well today is June 1, the official publication date of (fanfare, trumpets) Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men, which I've been working on for six years (I think ... it's been awhile, anyway)!
Anyway, to mark the occasion, I'll be giving an interview on Around the World radio in Santa Barbara today. You can listen live at this link at around 1:10 p.m. our time (East Coast). Click on the microphone on the upper right of the link. I'll try to record and post the show on my Web site.
Also, I've been asked by Beth to submit something for her forthcoming book, For Women Traveling Solo. This is what I'll be sending her.
Solo women travelers will be approached by foreign men -- there is no doubt about that. The pursuit can be overwhelming in the Mediterranean and Near East, and sometimes in Latin America, too.
Many guidebooks deal with this matter with a section entitled "For Women Travelers" and assume a sort of scolding tone -- advising a woman to dress modestly and wear a wedding ring to deter harassment.
Or conversely, women may be blithely told that they should pack condoms to be prepared for temptation.
While such advice is valid, the reality of road romances is more complex, and it's best for solo women travelers to think ahead and be truly prepared. Ideally, you should give some thought to how to politely put off annoying men and politely engage with intriguing guys -- just as you would at home.
And maybe you should even be open to the idea of losing your head completely with a handsome stranger. Wild travel flings live in the memory forever as being one of life's most vivid experiences. They often provide a paradoxical path back to having a man in your life permanently.
Two facets of human nature as it exists outside the walls of Western workplaces will confront the solo female traveler. First, most of the men of the world outside the reach of corporate anti-harassment statutes assume that men and women belong together. You being female and not accompanied by a husband means (in the minds of foreign men in many exotic places) that, according to all the rules of the universe, you are looking for their company. So it's best not to get too irate with guys who are hard-wired to be macho.
Second, women also need to be honest with themselves about their reasons for solo travel. Six out of every seven women who travel and engage in flings lack a mate at home. And so many solo traveling females engage in either flings or serious relationships while on the road, that they virtually confirm what foreign men think -- that every solitary human, deep down, is seeking a partner.
When I see women on travel forums ask about "traveling safely on their own in the Caribbean," for example, I conclude that somewhere, unacknowledged in their decision to travel unescorted in perhaps the world's most overtly sexy climate, is a subconscious yearning for companionship and physical release.
So, what do you need to know about love, romance, sex and travel before you go? Seven points to think about:
1. You are most likely to have a fling with a fellow traveler. One woman I know spent a romantic time with a Parisian photographer she encountered in Bangkok.
2. You are more likely than you think to encounter out-of-nowhere propositions from appealing foreign men. One in six first-time, female visitors to the Dominican Republic, for example, enters an affair with a local guy.
3. A foreign lover can be your ticket to seeing everyday life in a foreign culture. In places with tourist ghettos -- think resort areas of the Caribbean -- a local boyfriend can be one avenue, and perhaps the easiest way, to getting to really know a place.
4. One of the best things about road romances: An exotic boyfriend in a tropical setting can offer a road to healing for the divorced female traveler, or one who feels discarded or unappreciated.
5. One of the worse things about road romances: There are resort areas (in Kenya, West Africa, Thailand, parts of the Dominican Republic and Brazil) where HIV rates are so high, and men are so skilled at rapid seduction, that a broken condom (or the rush to have sex without one) may be extremely risky. So it pays to study the U.N. statistics on HIV / AIDS, and to realize that rates may be higher than what the U.N. reports in resorts with gigolos, prostitutes and many tourists. One experienced traveler who wrote a book mentioning her casual affairs in Africa years ago, for example, told me she would never experiment there today. And female travelers have contacted AIDS from men in places such as Cyprus, not thought of as a disease epicenter.
6. Ethics and etiquette for the female romance traveler often boil down to the same rules you really should be following at home. Try to avoid temptation if you are happily married. Treat your lover as a flesh-and-blood man, without condescending to him if he is younger and poorer, or leading him on if this is just a fling for you. Surprising as it may seem, often the man is the one who can get hurt, especially if he lives in Oceania or the Middle East, where sincere men may lose their hearts to a female traveler they have no means to ever see again.
7. Let coffee or tea be your drink of seduction, not alcohol. You need to have your radar fully operating to detect whether danger -- or merely mutually satisfactory amusement -- are on a foreign guy's' mind.
May 8, 2006
OpinionJournal has an interesting article, Innocents Abroad: A new guidebook offers Americans advice on how to behave overseas, by Martha Bayles. Excerpt:
Poor Yankee Doodle. Our lovable bumptious boy, given to bragging about his bank account at top volume through a mouthful of fries while sticking his sneaker-clad feet into other people's faces, has been diagnosed as antisocial by a significant number of foreigners. As red-blooded Americans, our first reaction was, "Say it ain't so! The world loves us, right?" But then Doodle's behavior began to hit us where it hurts, in the pocketbook. So we decided to take steps.
In a nutshell, this is the story behind the "World Citizens Guide," conceived in 2003 by Keith Reinhard, chairman of DDB Worldwide, an international advertising firm.
The articles goes on to note "... the first 'World Citizens Guide' lists four reasons why the world dislikes America: 'foreign policy,' the 'negative effects of globalization,' 'our popular culture' and 'our collective personality.' "
In my experience, you might be correct if you insert the word "European elites" for "the world" in the sentence above.
In Asia, Africa and Latin America, and even much of Europe, regular folks lap up our popular culture, befriend Americans and don't appear to give a moment's thought to globalization.
Further, annual inmigration rates of 1 million or more to the United States belie any notion that foreigners overwhelming dislike this country.
That isn't to say that American expatriates and tourists are perfect. We all learn to modulate our voice volume, wait for explicit invitations to come into a home or a room, avoid personal questions and try to read when "yes" means "maybe" or "no" in another culture. In that sense, a "World Citizen Guide" should be valuable for the more doltish.
Just be sure to give this booklet to European tourists, too, who (providing one of potentially hundreds of real incidents I've observed) chatter nonstop during Brazilian religious ceremonies while the Americans watch in silent respect (as I mentioned in the Brazil chapter of An Amateur's Guide to the Planet).
April 27, 2006
Holiday romances roundup
Thanks to the wonders of Google Alerts, an excellent way to keep on top of any subject area, here's a quick roundup about what some Internet commentators are saying about holiday romances.
- Don’t go looking for it.
- Don’t go unprepared.
- Don’t discuss life back home.
- Keep photographs to a minimum.
- Don’t continue it after the holiday is over.
Note from me: One in 30 or more people do continue the romance after the holiday. And as Jim promptly notes, "Jeremy, an Irish friend of mine, met a Spanish girl on holiday in Salamanca four years ago. He ended up marrying her and they now live in wedded bliss in North London."
In the Sydney Morning Herald, we find Looking for love in all the right places, with somewhat surprising recommendations for the top hook-up spots for women. I would have expected Jamaica, the Gambia and an Asia pick (Nepal, Phuket in Thailand, Bali), but instead we have:
Top three hook-up hot spots for women:
The Irish have a long tradition of matchmaking, and in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, the annual September Matchmaking Festival attracts 100,000 international visitors. A healthy 75 per cent are men, and the organisers claim 100 weddings result each year from their efforts.
This remote city has so many single men per woman it's known as "Manchorage". It's cold, but you'll have an extensive choice of human hot-water bottles.
Silicon Valley, USA
In this Californian tech city, single men outnumber single women by almost 5500. And they're not all geeks. This is one of the world's most educated and wealthy bachelor populations.
All of the above are more "marriage magnet" cities for women, more so than hook-up spots.
And similarly, the top hookup spots for men seem strange, but the article does acknowledge these are really hookup spots for women (and I agree):
Top three hook-up hot spots for men:
Anywhere in Italy
Surprised? Consider the logic; thanks to all those movies and books about lonely women finding love with Tuscan hunks, Italy now attracts one-third more female single tourists than male. Canny blokes should head there and snap up the surplus.
St. Croix, Virgin Islands, Caribbean
With a 54 per cent resident (and stunning) female population as well as thousands of wealthy bachelorettes dropping in each year, a red-blooded male can't avoid action here.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Club Dance Holidays specialises in breaks with dance lessons in Latin American locations. The tango trips to Buenos Aires are considered the sultriest, with 70 per cent of participants single and women outnumbering men. See www.clubdanceholidays.com.
Holiday romances are curious things. Some people go through their entire lives without ever having one. Others go miles out of their way every summer to have them because they are addicted to the transience, the inconsequential nature of mad flings that neither they nor their part-time partners have any plans to take further.
Others blunder into holiday romances and end up getting thoroughly messed up because of them. They mistake the blinding light and heat of a phosphorescent fling for love and devotion and actually consider changing their entire lives for the new man or woman temporarily in their lives.
It matters little that keeping this new flame alive might involve you emigrating to Fiji or putting in for a transfer from your office in, say, Sydney, to the Gold Coast branch.
The highs and lows of holiday romance by Susan Quilliam, on the UK women's Web site iVillage.co.uk, looks at the ups and downs of holiday flings, noting, "A holiday fling can make you feel like a queen and boost your confidence sky-high." An extended section of RotR (Romance on the Road) comments on mental health and travel sex, and Quilliam also comments on this:
Holiday sex can be brilliant. The excitement of being on holiday, combined with sun, bareflesh and a few drinks can put even the most demure person in the mood for sex.
The problem is that holiday sex can get out of control. Women often report getting carried away with the moment and having sex with a stranger. Once the sun comes up, all they're left with is guilt and regrets.
If you click the various sections at the bottom of each article, you will reach factoids on "How to avoid heartbreak" and "will the romance last" and "cross-cultural romance:"
If you pair off with a local, you can get to see the country you're visiting from an insider's point of view - and often have the holiday of a lifetime.
But be warned - dating a local comes with hazards. Firstly, you may be just one of a series of summer flings for him. And, on the other hand, if you are both serious, be prepared for potential clashes of culture. You and your holiday beau might have deep-rooted attitudes that you don't share.
Cosmo UK even has a quiz to determine whether a holiday romance is "just a fling" or something more, at this link.
Finally, the Sydney Morning Herald columnist "Sam in the City" asks, Holiday romances: can they last?:
And while the majority of the 2,000 people surveyed said they have experienced a holiday romance with nearly half declaring that the heady mix of sun, sea and sand made falling in love all the easier, things were completely different once they returned back to home ground.
Her blog led to a fast-and-furious posting of comments, with many answering yes and others no. I posted a quick little note --
About 1 in 30 holiday romances leads to something permanent, according to a study by Dan Hellberg on casual travel sex.
Even if they don't last, they can be a good idea in the sense that they often help people rebound from problems in their home countries.
-- and have received lots of feedback from Australians interested in my new book. Will Romance on the Road be mainly be of interest in Australia (and France, from which I have already received an order)?! We'll see.
April 19, 2006
Jane Fonda's six years of celibacy
What a fascinating interview, for the student of women and travel sex, conducted by Larry King with Jane Fonda yesterday.
From the CNN transcript:
KING: Your sex life never need improving. Did you ever have low points in your sex life?
FONDA: Yes. There's been a six-year drought.
KING: You have gone six years?
FONDA: I know you haven't. You know what Ted always said, if you don't use it, it grows over. Secondary virginity.
KING: Are you in a six-year period now?
KING: By your choice?
FONDA: I haven't met anybody I wanted to break the fast with.
KING: Really? You don't have that kind of need.
FONDA: I'm not talking about need. That's a whole other issue. There's other ways.
KING: We're getting really --
FONDA: Should we really get into it?
KING: But if you met Mr. Right --
FONDA: When you're 68 years old, the idea of getting in bed with a new man is scary. If I ever -- people say, you should remake "Barefoot in the Park," it would be called Barefoot in the Dark. I would be backing out of the bedroom in the dark.
I studied the issue of women and celibacy for my forthcoming book, Romance on the Road (pages 127-32).
Jane Fonda's six years of celibacy is not that atypical for older, unmarried women, according to surveys in the United States, France and Britain, which I describe in Romance on the Road. In the United States, 26 percent of women aged 45 to 54 report no sex in the previous year.
Some women Jane Fonda's age and older, unable to find Mr. Right at home, are showing up as sex tourists, especially in the Gambia, where the wedding registrar has turned away grandmothers attempting to marry teen boys, and Sri Lanka.
Though Fonda would appear to be a "voluntary" celibate, as she tells Larry King this is by her own choice, she is technically what is called an "involuntary" celibate, because she is more a victim of the man shortage, her advancing years and a lack of suitable partners than a woman making a religious pledge.
I will ask Dr. Denise Donnelly, one of my scholarly reviewers, if she has any observations on this interview.
Meanwhile, ladies, here we have a Hollywood star, still flawlessly groomed, a fitness guru and a woman with presumably plenty of money, who cannot find suitable dates despite -- or because of -- her attainments.
This is sad.
Fonda's is a cautionary tale on the difficulty of mating for even affluent and accomplished older Western women, especially those who fail to settle down with someone stable in their prime years. It's a slightly grimmer tale than that of even author Terry McMillan, who, for all her high-profile struggle with her Jamaican husband, Christopher Plummer , who turned out to be gay, at least had six years with the guy with some sort of physical activity, vs. none at all. (See the duo on Oprah here.)
It's also a sobering example of why British grandmothers fly to the Gambia for a last hurrah sexually.
Update: One noted scholar on the family e-mailed me to write, "I agree that it is sad. Maybe this is why married people consistently report more frequent and more satisfying sex than other groups!" My thoughts exactly -- this was the bombshell finding of Laumann and Michel's 1994 study, Sex in America.
Sometimes it doesn't pay to be a celebrity, if Fonda's is the price to pay.
Updates: I posted this item on the Baltimore Sun talk forums. Some interesting replies:
- "I'm sure she can find some men in Red China, North Korea, or some other commie country to help her."
- "What's wrong with her being free from a sexual relationship for this long period of time... after all, she's older... she's accepted Christ as her personal savior... and professes to be a Christian now... is that so bad?
"But as for it being sad... I think it is... I think it's sad that anyone her age is not in a healthy relationship with a partner... it's sad that someone her age has no companion to share her waning years with... life, especially at that age, is best not lived alone but shared with a loving companion... in her case, a husband... "
- "It may have been H. L. Mencken, after a nasty encounter with a paleofeminist, who quipped that men should go out and burn every bed in the world. Larry King should have responded to Jane there is no need to share everything."
April 10, 2006
Loving tourism destinations to death
A crush of tourists mob the top of the Great Wall of China.
Ten years ago, I wrote in An Amateur's Guide to the Planet (page 2):
If you have not yet been to [exotic places,] by all means consider going. Many world treasures appear to be more impermanent than you would wish. These include the Maya pyramids, the lemurs of Madagascar, the Buddhist culture of Burma, the pyrotechnic corals of Thailand and the elephants of East Africa.
This passage was basically inspired by visiting the Maya ruins at Palenque, the only ones that still have painted combs on the tops of the pyramid platforms.
When I learned that all the pyramids once had these, and that Palenque's were expected to also crumble away, I wrote the above thoughts.
Now it seems that many world treasures are crumbling due to climate change, weathering -- and too much love by swarms of tourists. See interesting Newsweek article, Vanishing Acts: The world's treasures are under siege as never before. So get out and see as many as possible—before they disappear. Excerpt:
Conservation International reckons that "unsustainable tourism" poses the main threat to half the cultural heritage sites in Latin America and the Caribbean, and to one in five sites in Asia and the Pacific. Cambodia's once-remote Angkor temples now receive a million visitors a year; the Taj Mahal is subject to 7 million. Rising prosperity in the developing world, more and more elderly on the move, and cheap flights to anywhere will only hasten the human flood. China alone reported a staggering 1.1 billion domestic tourists in 2004.
See also the excellent photo gallery accompanying the article, and numerous sidebars, including this one by Peter Mayle, Guests Welcome: Tourists don't deserve their bum rap. Without them, Provence might become a derelict bastion of mediocre food, that defends tourists. Excerpt:
Personally, I have never found the tourist season intolerable; indeed, there is reason to be grateful for some of its effects. If it weren't for the money that tourism brings, many of the châteaux and gardens open to the public would become derelict; monuments would be left to crumble; many restaurants could never survive on local custom alone; it wouldn't be worth putting on concerts or village fetes. Rural life would be the poorer.
Obviously, this is not true everywhere. Some parts of the world have been so thoroughly overexploited that they have lost whatever charm they once possessed. This is usually the result of local greed; but the tourist, not the rapacious developer, gets most of the blame. If you believe some of the gloomy reports in the press, tourism is an international blight, and the travel writers' search for somewhere unspoiled that they can discover becomes ever more desperate. So what are we to do about it?
Here is my remedy: let us all try a period of travel abstinence. I will spend my vacation at home in Provence, and you spend yours at home in London or Brussels or Boston. Almost overnight, the problem of the invasive tourist would be solved. Alas, the reaction from tourist-bashers is always the same: what a ridiculous, unrealistic idea. In any case, it's not people like us.
A second sidebar article, Damage Control: Despite their bad reputation, tourists can also be one of the world's greatest forces for preservation, points out how tourist visits have actually helped a tribe in Ecuador return to traditional ways. The tribe had moved to the highway and begun wearing Nikes, but then:
Thanks to an influx of tourists, things have recently changed for the Cayapas. With visitors coming in search of community, or ethnic, tourism—to eat, work and often even live with the indigenous people—the Cayapas are embracing the nearly forgotten culture of their ancestors. Once again, they are wearing traditional clothes, building old-style homes and using traditional agricultural techniques. "They have become a sustainable community microbusiness, with a preservationist conscience, because they have understood that their indigenous roots are what interest tourists," says Armendáriz. "[It makes them] value their ancestral culture."
There's a lot to digest in these reports, which are causing quite a buzz on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree. Looks a balanced and thorough package of articles.
March 28, 2006
Soldiers and sexual geography
Why, after more than four years in Afghanistan, don't our soldiers speak more Pushtu?
Robert D. Kaplan hits the nail on the head in his latest, Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond, regarding the intersection between language and culture, a preoccupation of An Amateur's Guide to the Planet.
On page 235, Green Berets raid a compound near Gardez, and then interrogate one of the men living there. Kaplan reports:
As I left the compound, I noticed a counterintelligence officer interrogating one of the male inhabitants. They were both squatting against a section of mud wall illuminated by flashlights attached to the M-4s held by other Green Berets, who had formed a semicircle around the Afghan. He had a long white beard and brown hood over his pakol. He looked stoic, unafraid. The counterintelligence officer was asking him simple, stock questions in English: Had he seen anything suspicious? Who were his friends?
Each question elicited a long conversation between the man and the terp. It was clear that the intelligence officer was missing a lot. He didn't speak Pushtu beyond a few phrases. Finally, all he could say to the man was "If you ever have a problem, come and see me at the firebase," as if the man would feel comfortable forsaking his kinsmen and trusting this most recent band of invaders passing through his land, invaders who couldn't even communicate with him.
Here was where the American Empire, such as it was, was weakest. With all of its technology and willingness to send the most enterprising of its soldiers to the most distant parts of the world, it was woefully incompetent in linguistic skills, especially in places and in situations where it counted the most. This was another neglected part of defense "transformation that had nothing to do with the latest weapons systems.
By contrast, U.S. soldiers training their counterparts in Colombia rattle away in Spanish, which many speak either as a native or second language. It's no surprise, of course, that many more Americans speak Spanish than Pushtu, but given the obvious benefit and necessity of getting good intelligence, we need to get up to speed on some languages that few of us know.
Kaplan's most intriguing theme is that the U.S. military has apparently decided that it is a lot cheaper and more effective to drive a wedge between groups like Al Queda and Latin guerrilla movements, and regular villagers around the world, by sponsoring dental and medical clinics and building wells and doing Peace Corps and non-governmental organization-type work. The theory is that if you have fixed a boy's broken leg, and trained a local army to provide real security, his father will never forget your help and will be loyal to you and not Al Queda.
Kaplan gives copious examples of such activities in the Phillipines, where clinics overlap with quiet gathering of intel via informal chitchat and observation, as well as in Lamu in Kenya and Mongolia. It will be fascinating to see the domain clash between the Peace Corps and NGOs over who gets to help the Third World.
"Imperial Grunts" also visits the Phillipines and identifies a number of issues relative to sexual geography. First, the obvious contrast between the burkha'd women of the Middle East and sassy Filipinas. Second, the way that sex tourism offers a viable economic alternative for poor people, a theme I explore in Romance on the Road. From pages 174-75 of "Imperial Grunts""
There were nearby strip joints with names like Muff Divers. Walking into them was like entering an octopus. Several sets of hands would suddenly be all over you, offering massages and more. The women were not down-and-out as one might expect. I interviewed Filipinas in their forties who looked considerably younger and had turned to sex to put children through good colleges and boarding schools. They had specific strategies for investments, future jobs, and cushy retirements. They were not strippers or prostitutes per se. The Philippines offered something subtler: "the girlfriend experience,'' it was called in Manila. There was an entire class of attractive Filipinus who made an excellent living, relative to the standards of the local economy, by becoming companions of Western men. Relationships lasted days, weeks, or months even. Couples were often loyal to each other. Such overtly sex-for-money relationships sometimes evolved into marriages. It was crude by the standards of the middle-class West, and yet quite sophisticated and discriminating by the standards of conventional prostitution.
This observation would also apply to the type of romance tourism practiced by the men in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, and the world, for that matter.
Here's some more dandy observations on sexual geography, the dating war in the West and how Western men and women react quite differently to the undercurrents of Asia:
While the Philippines was an Eden without rival for Western males, for the same reason the wives of American servicemen harbored "a visceral hatred of the place," as one soldier observed. When Subic Bay and Clark Field were in operation as American bases, female spouses who came out here were often in an uproar when they saw what was going on. it led to real "morale problems," as the U.S. military would euphemistically put it: spousal screaming matches, divorces, and the like.
Now here is an observation that, while fascinating, is incomplete:
With the bases gone, soldiers interacted more with the locals. it wasn't ike the days of the old Pacific Army prior to World War II. But the situation had moved back a bit in that direction. The result, actually, was a better relationship with the immediate environment, a phenomenon which, in fact, has a basis in imperial history.
In Armies of the Raj: From the Great Indian Mutiny to Independence, 1858-1947, British military historian Byron Farwell writes that the opening of the Suez Canal, by allowing the wives of British officers in India to conveniently join their husbands, cut the officers off from native society, and became one of the contributing factors leading to the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 against British rule. "In all societies women have been the conservators of culture," Farwell explains. "When British women began to arrive in india in numbers, they brought with them British attitudes, British fashions, and British morality; they were soon imposing their ideas, standards, and customs upon their new environment." Consequently, British soldiers, many of whom had preferred to be orientalized themselves rather than to Christianize the Indians, now no longer went native, and a new divide opened between them and the locals.
This is excellent research on Farwell's part regarding an aspect of sexual geography. It reminds me of how Sir Richard Francis Burton extolled the virtues of learning a language via an area's prostitutes. Again, we see the importance of language to learning a culture, and the importance of sex (!) to learning a language! Given the devolution of the Indus Valley (modern-day Pakistan) and its regional neighbors from areas of wild sensuality during Burton's time to the burkha today, it doesn't seem our soldiers will be learning Pushtu from prostitutes, or even everyday women.
Yet OK, one quibble here. It was not the arrival of British "women" that inconvenienced the British officers in India -- it was the arrival of their wives. Plenty of British women arrived in areas of the Commonwealth -- India, Burma, South Africa -- and began carousing with locals, especially royalty. In fact, these women traveled during the Raj era to escape the domination of men at home, and would only feel constrained when British colonial men meddled in their freedom.
So Mr. Farwell -- what you describe was a two-way street!
March 24, 2006
'Platform' to be made into play
From the Edinburgh Evening News:
'Anti-Islam' sex tourism book takes to the stage at Festival A CONTROVERSIAL novel about sex tourism in Thailand which landed its author in court accused of stirring hatred against Muslims is to be turned into a new play for the Edinburgh International Festival.
Catalan director Calixto Bieito, who is renowned for his X-rated productions, will work with novelist Michel Houellebecq to adapt his explosive book Platform for the stage.
Anyone interested in sex tourism, male or female, should take a look at Platform (see our capsule review here). It will be fascinating to see how it can be adapted for the stage, given its high quotient of frank eroticism.
February 28, 2006
Beach, with blanket: Ocean City in the winter
My 1995 article on visiting Ocean City in the winter. You can click the image above to read it as a .pdf, or see it as text below.
I noted with delight that this week's Washington Post contains an article on visiting Ocean City in the winter: Ocean City: Why Wait?
This is perfect example of how certain destinations can be just as enjoyable in the winter as they are in the summer. When I lived in the U.K. in the 1980s, I found the off-season the best time to meet local people. Anyone who might have stayed at the Britannia Grand Hotel, Scarborough during the colder months will know that the UK might not always be sunny, but it can still be a fascinating place to visit. Copenhagen is another city which still has lots for visitors to see and do, even during the winter time.
The same can be said of Ocean City. In the winter, it can be cold and desolate. In other words, perfect.
Why the delight? Because I wrote about the popularity of Ocean City in the winter almost exactly 11 years ago, also for the Washington Post Escapes section!
Rereading my article, which I've reprinted below, I enjoy (as if someone else had written these points) its celebration of blobbing in Ocean City and the way Ocean City and Assateague are explicitly paired as two parts of a perfect destination.
Lo and behold, after finding the Washington Post story, the Baltimore Sun chimed in, too, with Cold comforts: In winter, the Maryland shore is everything it's not in summer -- and more.
Well, here comes double the self-congratulation, since I'm sure nobody on Earth but me recalls my article in 1995 and noticed the two follow-ups this week.
When you are a writer, and someone is covering the same ground as you are, you peak at the newer work quite cautiously. Have the more recent writers totally trumped one's feeble efforts? I honestly feel that, since neither writer took my sister Sharon, or my sheltie Beau for that matter, they simply weren't privy to the joy Sharon, Beau and I experienced at this out-of-season destination.
Sometimes your company just "makes" a story happen.
My original article, for sake of comparison (click on the image above to see a PDF version of it):
BEACH, WITH BLANKET
Sometimes You and the Sea Need To Be Alone. Well, the Coast Is Clear.
By Jeannette Belliveau
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 8, 1995
"Recreational forecasts, Maryland beaches: Today, partly sunny, flurries. High 38-46. Wind west 11-22 mph. Ocean temperature 40-43."
PERFECT forecast for a weekend at the beach. That is, if you want a good look at Ocean City's nine miles of off-season sand with about 300,000 fewer partiers than usual. Before driving east on an unclogged U.S. 50, I canvassed people for suggestions of things to do.
"Sleep," my neighbor Rich offered.
"I pack sweats, knitting and a book," said my sister, Sharon. "Then wonder if it's too much."
"A lot of books are read," said Martha Clements of the Ocean City Visitors and Convention Bureau.
The advice boiled down to:
Take walks. Eat. Read. Blob. Repeat.
The beauty of Ocean City anytime is that there are plenty of activities, yet no must-sees. Especially in the off-season, this is one escape where you don't have to rush at all.
A simple pleasure: strolling beaches as deserted as Western Australia's, yet lined with enough condos behind the dune grass to house the entire population of Norfolk or Tampa.
Sharon jogged ahead, logging her standard three miles. I walked behind, with my Shetland sheepdog, Beau. I counted a total of eight people in either direc tion, as far as the eye could see. At the high-water mark lay scoured seashells and carcasses of horseshoe and blue crabs, but no human litter. Gull congregations gaggled at the water's edge like penguins. It was the first time I'd seen these magnificent beaches virtually empty, and I felt like an explorer stumbling on a secret hideaway. Maryland's boom resort seemed deserted and wild, more like the rocky Caribbean edge of Cozumel in Mexico.
A stiff west wind, crashing surf and big cloudless sky sent Beau into crazed raptures. He barked maniacally, attacked my shoelaces, snatched my glove and pranced off. Mind-reading his little dog thoughts was easy: Cold weather! An environment like my ancestral home! Another best day of my life!
Later on the boardwalk, Beau greeted his mirror image, Saber the Sheltie, part of a mini-throng lending a hint of summertune liveliness to O.C.'s main drag. Strollers bundled in parkas and scarves ambled past open game arcades and shuttered eateries. Vendors passed buckets of Fisher's caramel popcorn directly onto the boardwalk, through a window somewhat protected from the cold by hanging plastic sheets. T-shirt shops threw their doors open to the elements. A man added more layers of glitter and tackiness to the exterior of the Ocean Gallery. A policeman on horseback purchased funnel cakes.
A trio of Washington experts on the off season -- Angie, Richard and Rob -- met us for delicious pancakes and home fries at Rayne's, in a 1926 building near the base of the boardwalk. Wooden floors, flowery cur tains, a 1950s green Hamilton Beach shake blender and loads of philodendrons reminded Sharon of our grandmother's house.
Three local young people looking a bit worse for the wear took the next table. "Mountain Dew is good for hangovers," the waitress counseled, with near-papal authority no doubt gained on numerous other Sunday mornings. Angie, Richard and Rob shared their insid ers' secrets on things to do in the off season:
"Sleep late. Get up, read the paper, and sometimes not speak until noon. Swim in the condo's pool. We rode the tram behind Northside Mall to look at the Winterfest Lights, but we nearly froze."
Mainly they go almost daily to Assateague Island National Seashore, a nature reserve that acts as both Ocean City's polar opposite and perfect complement. Angie led us for our first visit to the Life of the Marsh nature walk. Two marsh deer peered, probably in astonishment, at our quintet of wind-lashed humans tromping along, studying placards about palmyras grass and the remaining scars of mosquito drainage ditches.
Assateague's wild ponies proved about as elusive as K Street squirrels. Squadrons of them surrounded autos on the roads and in the parking lots, smearing car windows with their noses, begging for food like Yellowstone bears in the '60s. The ponies looked particularly rugged and healthy with their woolly winter coats. A long wild forelock curled across the eyes of a piebald stallion, while a dark chocolate mare had a copper-blond mane and tail, an eye-catching photo-negative effect
Let us not give a wrong impression of ourselves as highbrows who only take nature walks. Something about the very atmosphere of Ocean City permits grown adults to savor without guilt:
1. Reading People magazine for content. Discussing the article on the Prince Charles/Camilla/Tiggy the nanny triangle.
2. Watching the Beavis and Butt-head "Moron-a-thon" on MTV.
3. Blowing $20 of quarters on Terminator 2 and arcade football.
4. Pouring sand out of our shoes at night.
5. Going to see "Dumb and Dumber." Due to beach maturity regression syndrome, laugh contagion spread to us from the 10-year-old contingent;
6. Watching (dumbest) the Ricki Lake show. "I started at Ocean City, went up to Dewey, then up to Rehoboth, and now I'm back at Ocean City," said Sharon. "K you're really sophisticated, you reach the stage of, I don't care, I don't have to go to the right places."
That's how everyone's favorite summer beach at 16 becomes a winter favorite at 40.
Ways and means
Many people prefer Ocean City's "second season" for the soli- tude and the bargains; rooms are typically half price or less. Incredibly, almost half of Ocean City's 8 million visitors per year arrive after Labor Day and before Memorial Day, with New Year's Eve drawing 100,000 visitors. . .
WHERE TO STAY: For visitors seeking bay views, luxury and a hint of the Caribbean, there are two hotels on Fager's Island, 60th Street at the Bay: The Coconut Mallory (410-723-6100), with a Haitian art gallery and winter rates starting at $69 for doubles, and the smaller Lighthouse (410-524-5500, reservations 800-767-6060), with rates starting at $89.
If you have a pet, try the Fenwick Inn on 138th Street (410-250-1100, reservations 800-492-1873), with rates starting at $49, or the Sheraton on 101st Street (800-638-2100), with rates starting at $60. Dogs are permitted on the beach in the off-season.
Numerous bargain places post rates on their signboards, or ask for brochures from the Ocean City Visitors Center (see below).
WHERE TO EAT: Fager's Island Restaurant (410-524-5500) We won't spoil the musical surprise for first-timers. But try to arrive well before dusk (call for a recommended time) and sit near the bay-side windows to experience a surprisingly impressive ritual. BJ's on the Water (410-524-7575) offers an alternative venue for the same lovely bay sunset, good steaks and plenty of televisions for sports fans. Rayne's (410-289-9141) has home-style food, homestyle setting, local flavor.
WHAT TO DO: Among the possibilities: Assateague Island National Seashore, Route 611, 7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, Md., 21811, 410-641-3030 or 641-1441. Old Pro Golf, 6801 Coastal Highway, 410-524-2645, with year-round indoor miniature golf with a dinosaur theme and arcade games. Northside Park, a local favorite on the bay at 125th Street featuring a marsh walk -- here, right behind Northside Mall, I spotted a blue heron.
Special events include a St. Patrick's Day Parade ; an Arts and Crafts Fair at the Convention Center, 40th and Coastal Highway and a wildfowl carving competition.
INFORMATION: For more information, contact the Ocean City Visitors Center, 4001 Coastal Highway, Ocean City, Md. 21842, 800-OC-OCEAN (800-626-2326).
February 19, 2006
Foreign travel and women
One of my themes in Romance on the Road is the power of traveling Western women to improve the lot of foreign women.
Some of this occurs with massive attendant controversy. Scandinavian women who traveled in coastal Spain in the early 1960s had many affairs with young local men, who could not sleep with their fiances. While many would likely condemn the behavior of the Nordic females, in a paradoxical way they eventually brought more freedom to Spanish women.
Similar trends have been noticed in Mexico, Greece and Costa Rica.
Here's more confirmation of the trend in India (albeit not involving romantic contacts with Indian men). In Girl Power in the Land of the Maharajahs, Terry Ward describes staying in a remarkable place, a guesthouse run by women, the first one she'd found in three weeks of traveling in India.
The mother and her two daughters had opened the guest house after the mother's husband died, as making a living selling produce from their fields was difficult after three years of little rainfall. They faced local anger if they hosted male foreigners, or if the daughters walked with male guests, but Mama prayed for the strength to keep their business going despite the criticism.
Ward asked one of the daughters a question:
I asked her how she felt about her mother choosing her husband.
“I think your system is the best,” Arachana began. “Here parents try. Better to self try. But Mama knows me, and she knows what kind of boy I am liking.”
“What if you fall in love?” I prodded, too curious to resist a typically Western question.
Arachana cocked her head, a gesture I’d seen many times in India, a slight dip of the forehead with a piercing look that said neither yes nor no. I never knew how to interpret it; this time I figured she didn’t understand the concept. Then she said something that told me she did.
“One time there is a boy staying here, a photographer from Italy. He is taking many photographs of me and Rachana. He is a nice boy,” she said. “But Mama is saying to me, ‘He is not from your caste.’ “ She cocked her head again, and her eyes said it all: Her world was hers and my world was mine.
In sum, contact with Western travelers is bringing this family some measure of their livelihood, and causing the family and neighbors to weigh a lot of cultural values, including how women get married. Rural India may join the list of places drastically transformed by peripatetic women from the West.
Speaking of travel writing, don't miss this wonderful piece by Robert Kaplan, Cultivating Loneliness, in the current Columbia Journalism Review.
Reading Kaplan's piece put me in the mind of the years I worked as a graphics editor at the Washington Post. One day I asked older gentleman who served as diplomatic correspondent, who routinely traveled overseas with President Clinton's secretary of state, how often he got to look around the countries he visited. "Never," he replied.
From the article:
Journalism desperately needs a return to terrain, to the kind of firsthand, solitary discovery of local knowledge best associated with old-fashioned travel writing. Travel writing is more important than ever as a means to reveal the vivid reality of places that get lost in the elevator music of 24-hour media reports. In and of itself, travel writing is a low-rent occupation, best suited for the Sunday supplements. But it is also a deft vehicle for filling the void in serious journalism: for example, by rescuing such subjects as art, history, geography, and statecraft from the jargon and obscurantism of academia, for the best travel books have always been about something else.
Here is a valuable difference between the art of the travel writer and that of the journalist -- see especially the sentence I bolded and underlined below. It reminds me of an argument I got into with two journalist companions traveling in Japan, who relentlessly pumped our dinner companion about the bombs dropped on Nagasaki (described in the Japan chapter in An Amateur's Guide to the Planet):
Owen Lattimore, while traveling in Inner Mongolia, makes an observation that all journalists should take to heart:There is nothing that shuts off the speech of simple men like the suspicion that they are being pumped for information: while if they get over the feeling of strangeness they will yarn as they do among themselves. Then in their talk there comes out the rich rough ore of what they themselves accept as the truth about their lives and beliefs, not spoiled in trying to refine it unskillfully by suiting the words to the listener.
Just listening to people, to their stories — rather than cutting them off to ask probing, impolite questions — forms the essence of these and all other good travel books. I learned this over two decades ago while trying to interview a refugee in Greece who had just escaped from Stalinist Albania. I had a list of questions to ask this refugee, but instead he preferred to tell me the story of his life. It was only after listening to him for several hours that the information I sought began to slip out.
But such a leisurely approach goes against the grain of journalism as it is commonly practiced. Reporting emphasizes the intrusive, tape-recorded interview; travel writing emphasizes the art of good conversation, and the experience of how it comes about in the first place. It has long been a cliché among correspondents that in Africa 10 percent of journalism is doing interviews, and 90 percent is the hassles and adventures of arranging them. But while the former fits within the narrow strictures of daily news articles, it is the latter that tells you so much more about the continent.
The travel writer knows that people are least themselves when being tape-recorded. You’ll never truly understand anybody by asking a direct question, especially someone you don’t know very well. Rather than interrogate strangers, which is essentially what reporters do, the travel writer gets to know people, and reveals them as they reveal themselves. After being with a battalion of marines for several weeks in Iraq, I noticed that they suddenly stopped using profane language when some journalists arrived and turned on their tape recorders. Whatever the marines were in front of the journalists, they were less real than they had been before.
And here is the section of Kaplan's article I truly want to applaud:
If anyone deserves a public service award for peeling back the curtain on distant societies, it is less the publishers of major newspapers and magazines than those of the Lonely Planet Guides and The Rough Guides. These two series combine historical and cultural depth with intrepid, solitary research by young travelers who get to every remote location in a given country; and in the course of informing the reader about where to stay and where to eat, say much about public health, crime, the economy, and politics in a society. In the 1990s, when it was particularly hard to get visas to Iran — and much of the information about that country emerged out of seminars in Washington — the best thing to read on the subject was Iran: A Travel Survival Kit by David St. Vincent, published in the Lonely Planet series.
That was my entire impression traveling in, for example, China in 1985: If you based your impressions of China on mass media coverage of textile imports and politics and so forth, you were utterly, totally unprepared for the Middle Kingdom. Only the Lonely Planet guide might warn you of the hell of hard-seat train travel, or people blowing their nose by covering one nostril and shooting snot into the gutter, or how crowd might gather, their children crying in terror, at the sight of a Westerner (hair and eyes the color of demons) on foot in their cities.
February 14, 2006
Neglect in our backyard: the U.S. and the Caribbean
While the Middle East attracts just about all of our attention, we are likely losing a popularity contest in the Caribbean.
Today Opinion Journal has an article entitled, "10 Months in the Bahamas: How Castro stretches his tyranny to other shores." It tells the story of the Bahamas jailing two Cuban dentists whose escape boat foundered in nearby waters, despite the United States offering to update their visas. Excerpt:
The real problem is that the Bahamas fears Castro and the retaliation he might unleash--especially a mass refugee exodus--if the escapees are allowed to reach liberty in America. So its compromise with the dictator has been to keep the doctors separated from their families. ... The Bahamas is part of the British Commonwealth and, the last time we checked, a civilized place. Now would be a good time to prove this by releasing the dentists, whose only crime is fleeing for freedom.
I think there is a larger problem here. The Bahamas may fear Castro, sure. But it's also possible that Bahamians LIKE Castro (based partly on his shrewd playing of racial solidarity cards) and are fairly happy to co-operate with him. This is merely a suspicion on my part, but it's based on personal observations on Castro's popularity in Tobago.
I sent this response to OpinionJournal (reprinted here, scroll down to subhead "Fidel's Propaganda") regarding the article above:
There is a larger story here, one of Cuba's influence around the Caribbean.
I was stunned on a visit to in-laws in Tobago a year ago to hear Castro mentioned constantly and favorably.
If you asked people -- newscasters, young students, dancers -- where they wanted to visit, they said "Cuba" rather than the United States. And Cuban arts groups were slated to visit Tobago -- there seemed to be a two-way interaction going on.
Not a soul had a bad word for the Maximum Leader or realized how he imprisons dissenters.
The experience made me think the United States needs to do a far better job of reaching out and spreading the truth in the Caribbean -- Fidel seems to be controlling his image a bit too well.
Of course, part of my thinking a year ago in Tobago, as I chewed over the problem, was daydreaming of how perfect I would be for the role of roving ambassador-at-large to the Caribbean. On my job application, I would note my qualifications: Love the United States! Articulated this love in my first book! Also love tropical weather, salsa music and watching parrots! Hit it off with island people quite well! Will shortly have TWO books with full details on THAT! You gotta appoint ME!
Once I had this cushy appointment, Ambassadress to the Islands, I really would focus immediately on having student, artist and journalist exchanges between the United States and Caribbean nations. Scholarships to U.S. institutions for college-age students. ESPECIALLY journalism fellowships for Caribbean journalists, to Stanford and Georgetown.
We'd market Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas as cheap destinations for the Caribbean middle class. (Believe it or not, there is one, especially on Trinidad.)
Oh heck I am free associating here.
But my point is: The simplest solution to anti-Americanism I have found is to have people actually see the United States for themselves.
I recall my friends Roger and Joanne, from Zimbabwe and South Africa respectively. We worked together at a newspaper in Surrey, England, two decades ago. They were quite critical of the United States based on whatever tendrils of biased media reporting had managed to reach them -- until their first visit. After that, they contacted me, red-hot to do a job exchange or something that would allow them to live here, at least temporarily.
And for those who can't see the United States for themselves, let's have them meet American teachers and journalists. For example, my husband Lamont was quite a hit a year ago when he spoke to a large assembly Tobagonian students about how to do newspaper graphics. There was almost a Freedom School excitement to his presentation. The students were hungry for information on software, jobs, logistics, anything he could tell them. It can't have hurt the image of our country.
No sooner had I finished sending my note above to OpinionJournal than did I click over to National Review Online and read THIS: "Red China on the March: The People’s Republic moves onto Grenada."
Oh no -- let's review here. Both Cuba and China are moving aggressively to court Caribbean nations and the Bahamas (technically in the Atlantic), while we do nothing. This is seriously not good. One more time -- China, which is poised to be a countervailing world superpower (I devote a chapter to this in An Amateur's Guide to the Planet), is establishing its presence in our cozy little neck of the hemisphere.
Excerpt from Mosher's article:
In January 2005, Grenada established diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China, breaking off its longstanding relationship with Taiwan in the process. The sudden move followed a hotly contested election in which the ruling party won by the smallest of margins. The PRC has opened a substantial embassy in the tiny island nation — Ambassador Shen Hongshun and entourage arrived in April — and is rebuilding, at considerable expense, the national soccer stadium that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. Other aid has been promised, including funds for scholarships in China and the renovation of the main hospital.
China's move into Grenada clones a pattern it has followed elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean. Exactly the same scenario was played out last year in the neighboring island of Dominique, and some years ago in St. Lucia. Each of these island republics now has a full-scale Chinese embassy, a completed or promised national soccer stadium, and is receiving continuing aid.
Here's the money quote. Author Steven W. Mosher gets to the heart of the problem -- the lack of a countervailing U.S. influence in this part of the world:
But this alone does not explain China's continuing aggressive and expensive efforts to bring these small nations — Grenada has less than 100,000 people — under its sway. With staffs ranging from five to ten people, these embassies are able to hold regular meetings and informal dinners with leading political figures, and to monitor the eastern Caribbean's political and economic environment on a daily basis.
By way of contrast, the U.S. doesn't even maintain a single diplomat in any of these countries. Instead, the U.S. ambassador to Barbados is jointly accredited to the other island nations in the Eastern Caribbean and is a complete stranger to most eastern Caribbean figures in the public and private sector.
Mosher's solution, which doesn't sound as fun and concrete as my idea to sail around and set up arts and student and journalist exchanges, is to "stop taking the region for granted." He does note that the United States only reacted "after the fact, as we did after a communist coup in Grenada in 1983. That crisis, it is well to recall, would have been much worse if other Caribbean nations had not taken a firm stand against the Russian and Cuban-supported coup, and voted in favor of U.S. intervention. Would the new crop of politicians, so assiduously courted by China, come down on our side in the event of a similar problem?"
I just finished reading Marie Arana's fabulous American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood. She talks about growing up in Peru in the 1950s and sensing, like a scent in the air, local people turn against the United States. A fascinating passage talks about her American mother taking her to watch Vice President Nixon's plane land, and the ugly anti-Americanism in the crowd, including a nasty encounter with a strange man who left the young Marie crying.
Were not quite there yet in the Caribbean. It's time to wake up and just simply spread the truth of what the United States stands for, and is. There is no great distance, and less of a cultural gap, between Miami and Port-of-Spain. We can do this and it won't cost billions.
Update: Another OpinionJournal reader, David Paulin, responded that the situation in Jamaica is similar to that in Tobago:
Jamaica is another member of the British Commonwealth which has accorded similarly outrageous treatment to Cuban asylum seekers. One notable case occurred in late 2002 when I was working in Kingston, the capital, as a freelance journalist.
One day, eight skilled Cuban workers in their 30s and 40s arrived in a rickety fishing boat and requested political asylum. However, they were promptly taken to a jail cell in Montego Bay. Two months later they were deported--just one day after their requests were denied. Much to the outrage of their Jamaican lawyer, human rights activists, and the local representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the men were not allowed the right to appeal the denial of their asylum petition.
In the past, similar fates were accorded other Cuban asylum seekers in Jamaica. Haitian asylum seekers, on the other hand, had been granted asylum after being allowed to appeal the initial denial of their asylum petitions. Jamaica's conduct prompted a letter of reprimand from the U.N.'s Commission on Refugees, reminding Jamaican officials of their obligation toward refugees under the U.N. charter.
Among Bahamian officials, the ill treatment of Cuban asylum seekers may indeed be motivated by fear of Castro. In Jamaica, I suspect the ill treatment is due to the esteem in which Jamaica's left-leaning and ruling elite hold Castro and his regime. Because of this, they're reluctant to do anything that puts a negative light on either. Such conduct is calculated and willful. As such it is far more odious than the fear that apparently motivates Bahamian officials.
February 2, 2006
Economics and mating behavior
I just finished reading the enjoyable The Armchair Economist by Steven Landsburg.
If a book can be both accessible and quite challenging at the same time, The Armchair Economist certainly qualifies. I felt like I was barely hanging on at some points and had to reread passages, but some of the points Landsburg makes -- especially about the moral neutrality of markets -- are quite intriguing.
On pages 168-170, at the start of a chapter entitled "Courtship and Collusion: The Mating Game," Landsburg posits that:
In the markets for sex and marriage, men compete among themselves for women and women compete among themselves for men. But men compete differently than women do, in part because men are more inclined to seek multiple partners. ... There are, of course, many people of both genders who fail to fit the pattern, but more often than not, there is a germ of truth in the observation that "a woman seeks one man to fill her every need, while a man seeks every woman to fill his one need."
In societies that allow polygamy, it is almost invariably men who take multiple wives, rather than the reverse.
It follows, Landsburg observes, that for "each man with four wives, there must be three men with no wives at all." The upshot is that the competition for women in polygamous societies is quite intense.
Men in polygamous societies "are like spice merchants perpetually resisting encroachments from competitors. Merchants respond by agreeing to divide the territory. Somewhere back in history, the masculine gender decided did the same. By custom and by law, men have managed to enforce a collusive agreement to limit their attentions to one woman apiece. There is a lot of cheating on that agreement, but that is just what economic theory predicts."
In other words, men would love to be polygamous but this ups the competition for available women, so paradoxically they agree to be monogamous to lessen this competition.
In fact [Landsburg writes], the antipolygamy laws are a textbook example of the theory of cartels. Producers, initially competitive, gather together in a conspiracy against the public or, more specifically, against tehir customers. ... That story, told in every economics textbook, is also the story of male producers in the romance industry. Initially fiercely competive, they gather together in a conspiracy against their "customers" -- the women to whom they offer their hands in marriage.
... Men have maintained that antipolygamy lawas are designed to somehow protect women. But a law that prohibits any man from marrying more than one woman is not different in principle from a law that prohibits any firm from hiring more htan one worker. I suppose that if such a law were enacted, firms would argue that it was designed to protect workers. Who would believe them?
OK, what do we think of this argument? I have just finished thinking a bit about the issues of marriage markets for my second book, Romance on the Road, coming out June 1.
First of all, think to harems in North Africa, the Sahel and the Middle East.
While the women in the household do hold some power to affect household decisions, as Claude Njiké-Bergeret, a colonial Frenchwoman who married a local ruler and joined a polygamous household, describes in her book Ma Passion Africaine, this does not begin to countermand the lower status of women in a place such as Cameroon.
Landsburg leaves out of his analysis the ability of wealthy rulers such as Njike to have his cake (many wives) and eat it too (he lords it over both the females in the household and the men in his province who presumably go wiveless due to his sizable harem). And that men form "cartels" to reduce competition for women in a way only further indicates their power in the mating game, that is, their attractiveness due to earning power.
In a way, the female sex tourism I describe in Romance on the Road does demonstrate the way markets correct for over- and under-supply. Which countries have the most love-starved Western women visiting? Places like Greece and the Gambia and Jamaica, where migration patterns, polygamy and/or the shunning of poorer men create a glut of fellows far more attractive to the visiting tourist than to local women.
Romance on the Road has extensive analysis of some of the economic and demographic factors entering into romance tourism by women. Maybe I should invite the engaging Mr. Landsburg to take a look at this phenomenon and provide his take on the matter!
April 4, 2006, update: I e-mailed Professor Landsburg regarding this point and received a prompt reply. His words:
Of course women only reap the benefits of polygamy when they're essentially free to make their own choices. You can go be the fifth wife of the sheik or the first wife of the peasant; in the latter case the peasant will be very glad to have her (after all, four other peasants are going wifeless) and will treat her very well.
In this case, polygamy can't hurt her. It only gives her new options she didn't have before. But of course in a society where she's *forced* to marry the sheik, polygamy can be a bad thing for her. I'd contend, though, that even in that case, what's hurting her is not polygamy but her lack of freedom.
That's probably the bottom line, being forced to be part of a polygamous household. How often in all history has a woman such as Claude Bergeret actually chosen voluntarily to be part of harem of wives? Not often, we can be sure.
January 26, 2006
Pico Iyer on sexual geography
Here's a little excerpt from A Sense of Place, edited by Michael Shapiro.
You'll notice how noted travel writer Pico Iyer observes a worldwide dating war and the legitimacy of people finding "outsiders" attractive. This is a central theme of my forthcoming book, Romance on the Road.
Shapiro: Your work made me rethink some of my perceptions. When I was in Thailand, I saw these svelte, delicate Thai girls-and they were girls; somewere sixteen or younger-with these large, somewhat boorish, lager-bellied Germans. And I thought, These girls have to tolerate these gruff is. One thing that appeals to me about your work is that you try not to judge, but rather approach the world with beginner's mind.
Pico Iyer: That's a lovely phrase, thank you. Foreignness is an intoxicant. As when we're drunk, we don't know how much it's our true selves coming out and how much it's the drink speaking through us. And so I think those young Thai women walking through the street with the large German
men wouldn't be able to say how much they're attracted by what the German men represent or how much by something else. The first thing I noticed when I traveled around Southeast Asia, when I talked, say, to the young women who worked in the bars in Thailand, was that they had nothing good to say about Thai men. And when I went to Bali, young Balinese girls had nothing good to say about Balinese men. And I don't think that means that the Thai and Balinese men are inherently worse than any others. I think it goes back to what I was saying a minute ago: when we see people from our own community we're particularly sensitive to all the things that are wrong with them. When we see people from another community we're alive to what's refreshing about them.
I travel in search of ambiguity. To me, the beauty of travel comes in dissolving one's judgments. When I sit inside my house in Santa Barbara I'll think about a couple in Thailand and decide that the German is an imperialist who's corrupting this sweet and relatively impoverished society. And the beauty of going to Thailand is quickly to have to throw out all those notions, and to see a reality that's much more human and complex and to some extent unfathomable.
Pico's closing phrase bears repeating: "a reality that's much more human and complex and to some extent unfathomable." I spoke a while back at the UMBC Geography Department, and the audience was remarkably receptive to the notion of travel romance as a means of one-on-one economic development, rather than as a horrible instance of exploitation or corruption.
April 3, 2005
The world's greatest traveler, Pope John Paul II
This photo and cutline ran with my June 1982 article in the Catholic Standard on Pope John Paul II's visit to Britain.
What an inspired choice the College of Cardinals made on Oct. 16, 1978, picking on their eighth ballot Karol Wojtyla as pope.
The vigorous actor, skier and devout cardinal took his message on how to navigate an out-of-control modern world everywhere he could, from Rio di Janiero to Angola, from Coventry and Denver to the Philippines (partial map here).
News accounts of the passing of Pope John Paul II note that he is the most traveled pope of all time. It is quite likely that he is as well the most traveled person in human history.
In An Amateur's Guide to the Planet, I noted in the third chapter, on missionaries in Borneo:
Pope John Paul II, the modern world’s champion missionary (and perhaps even its foremost traveler at 625,000 miles), issued an encyclical in 1990 calling for increased missionary zeal. He wrote that “faith demands a free adherence on the part of a person, but at the same time faith must also be offered to that person.” Even so, he acknowledged that simply preaching at people would have little success in the modern world: "People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching and in life action than in theories."
Pope John Paul demonstrated that the indeed, people trust more in experience than in teaching, and that the vast experience gained on his travels made him treasure more than ever traditional wisdom on the importance of life and the family.
The Washington Post reported:
Simplified radically, his theology was this: Without fixed moral principles, people can fall into the trap of treating one another like objects of commerce or pleasure or vengeance. The proof was in nearly all realms of human activity. In "The Gospel of Life," his famous 1995 indictment of modernity, he cited the Second Vatican Council in listing murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, slavery, prostitution and disgraceful working conditions.
He continued to the corners of the Earth to bring this message. The figure of 625,000 miles traveled, logged by the mid-1990s, mushroomed to 742,000 miles by 2002, according to report from the Vatican Information Service (described here). And the Pope continued traveling, despite poor health, through 2004, for a total of 25 years of his papacy.
"Since the start of his Pontificate on October 16, 1978," the Vatican Web site notes, "Pope John Paul II has completed 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy and 146 within Italy. As Bishop of Rome he has visited 317 of the 333 parishes."
CNN lists his visits to 125 countries here.
I saw the pope during his October 1979 visit to Washington, D.C., part of his first visit to the United States. Few of us had an inkling that this brand-new but very dynamic pope would go on later in the decade to, along with President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, help bring Communist rule to an end in Poland and ultimately Eastern Europe.
As I note in my article below, the pope waded into a small lion's den in secular, cynical Washington, D.C., but that was sandwiched between far more bold ventures to Poland, in June 1983, June 1987 and June 1991. CNN notes of his first visit:
Huge, adoring crowds met him wherever he went and were an acute source of embarrassment to the communist government. Officially, the country was atheistic; it was also suffering from food shortages. The pope added to the authorities' discomfort by reminding his fellow Poles of their human rights.
"That was the beginning of the end of what we call the Soviet Empire," Robert Moynihan, editor and publisher of the magazine "Inside the Vatican," told CNN in a 2003 interview. "I think he brought that empire down, but not with missiles and not even with economic sanctions, but just by being a man, by being a man of faith."
By 1982, John Paul inspired great respect on his trip to, of all places, resolutely anti-Catholic Britain. I'll conclude by reprinting is a story I wrote more than two decades ago about that trip (published in Washington, D.C.'s Catholic Standard). How brave of him to go where he did and teach traditional morality. Who else has even attempted a fraction as much?
Washingtonian tells of British response to Pope
'More joyous' than during U.S. visit
June 10, 1982
By Jeannette Belliveau
(Special to the Catholic Standard)
LONDON — As a Washington Catholic now living in Protestant Britain, I expected the worst during Pope John Paul II's historic visit.
At first it seemed like Henry VIII in 1531 all over again. Cries of "the Antichrist," "pagan" and "Communist sympathizer" came from Ian Paisley and other fundamentalist Protestants. In March, a poll showed only half of Britons approved of the visit.
At my office outside London, a coworker grumbled the morning John Paul arrived: "The Pope is here making political statements," she said, "talking about war. He's supposed to be a spiritual leader."
But my smugness at the undoubtably greater tolerance and pluralism in the United States has been brought to an abrupt halt over the past few days. If anything, this is a more joyous event than the Pope's American visit in 1979, a welcome of amazing warmth from a country one-quarter the size of the U.S. — and less than 10 percent Catholic.
As one of the 175,000 who saw the Pope on the Mall in Washington, I now ponder the turnouts he has somehow received in this overwhelmingly Anglican nation: 350,000 in Coventry, 200,000 in Manchester and York, 300,000 even in Scottish, Presbyterian Glasgow.
The press coverage has been, in a word, glowing. "Joyful crowds take Pope John Paul to their hearts," was the banner headline in the May 30 Sunday Times.
John Paul is emerging here as a leader unafraid to call forcefully for peace in the Falklands and unity among Christians. This visit will undoubtably be remembered for a different stress from his visit to Washington, where he restated traditional themes against divorce, contraception, married clergy and women priests.
But John Paul's message is almost eclipsed by his forceful personal magnetism. Most riveting was his ministry to the sick on the day he arrived, at St. George's cathedral in London. As Guardian correspondent John Ezard put it:
John Paul's quarryman face and tender hands dominated a national service for the sick, elderly and dying yesterday afternoon. The event ... was the first in which intimate qualities of strength and love were able to emerge clearly from the man who quarried stone as a student. ... The pope's personal force could be seen most pointedly from close to the altar during the anointings. He clasped the hands of his people and looked with concentration into their eyes. Their faces opened like flowers as he touched them on the brows and fingers.
By the end of an event of great intensity, not only the sick but many of the able-bodied in the congreation had to be led out of the cathedral, while they recovered from its impact.
A magical and surprising moment in this nations where Catholics number but 4.4 million. Try to imagine it happening in secular, cynical Washington.
As notable as the sizable crowds greeting John Paul are the tiny numbers at counter-demonstrations. While he celebrated Mass at Wembley Stadium in suburban London, Protestant protesters gathered at Trafalgar Square. I counted perhaps 600, and police estimated 500. A paltry turnout for a major, well-publicized London meeting -- I've covered meetings of the Montgomery County (Md.) school board that pulled more of a crowd.
The Rev. David Wright, vice-chairman of the Scottish Reformation Society, addressed the crowd. "Is he (the Pope) our brother in Christ?" he asked. "No!" they roared back.
A man in the crowd, wearing a "Jesus Lives" T-shirt, listened with eyes shut and fist raised straight in the air. Periodically he shouted, "Thank you, Jesus! Bless His name! Hallelujah!" It was a scene right out of the rural Maryalnd revivalist meetings, held summer evenings on Route 355 outside Darnestown.
Despite seeming so American, the man -- David Hartshorn, and his wife Rose -- were from Chatham, in Kent. What did they think of the pope's visit? "Horrifying," said Rose. "It's politically inspired, as well."
How so? "It's a subtle move from the devil to weaken the resolve of the country against the Argentine," said Dave. "He wants peace at any price. Peace at any price doesn't suit us."
Feelings like this run deep but not wide. In Liverpool, where earlier in March militant Protestants aborted a sermon by Anglican leader Dr. Robert Runcie, Ian Paisley could muster but 300 demonstrators on the Sunday of the pope's visit.
Far more typical was a Sunday Times editorial entitled, "First Citizen of the World:"
In all the long annals of the papacy, there has never been an occupant of the throne of St. Peter who knew better how to appeal to his fellow creatures, Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, old and young, sick and healthy: Karol Wojtyla is a human phenomenon.
One priest asked on television whether the pope was winning converts responded, "Perhaps not converts, but sympathizers."
Jeannette Belliveau is a 28-year-old native of Rockville who from 1975 to 1981 was an education and features reporter on the Montgomery Journal. She moved to Britain in October. She is now a copy editor on Here's Health magazine in Surrey, England.
February 22, 2005
Book aids tsunami relief
Here are some final numbers for my efforts to encourage tsunami relief by offering a free copy of An Amateur's Guide to the Planet to those who donated:
40 copies of An Amateur's Guide have been used to recognize $6,361 in donations and another $1,100 in matching donations.
Graduates of Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md., members of the Comets and Canton Connection soccer teams, Drew Curtis' Fark.com and theTravel Publishers Association have given to AmeriCares, The American Red Cross, the Phuket Project, American Jewish World Service, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Worldvision, Lutheran World Relief and a South India ashram.
Thanks to one and all!
Here is some additional information and updates to earlier blogs:
- For those looking to help Ko Yao Yai (Long Island), please visit this link and click on the link for News, or contact:
Julie Sebode Tel.: +66 (0)7-2841071
Hanne Sebode Tel.: +49 (0)2686-8219
The group is attempting to replace boats for 36 families, who lost five houses, 19 boats, additional boat engines and three piers.
- Sounds like Phuket, Phi Phi Don and Koh Samui are incredibly more developed than we saw a decade ago on our sailing trip, leading to exponentially more devastation in an area the world now recognizes as facing some danger from Mother Nature:
- Women in South Asia were hit disproportionately, because they are weak swimmers, see The town left without women, by Richard Lloyd Parry in Indonesia: "A community of 6,000 woke up to find the tsunami had swept away its womenfolk." This is bound to increase the already existing impetus for men in this region to work as gigolos to contact female sex tourists, if they are lacking their own women.
- Actor Leo DiCaprio, star of The Beach, eventually did give an undisclosed sum to Unicef, see link.
January 1, 2005
Bravo: Lonely Planet donates to tsunami relief
To know the wildly exotic coast around the greater Indian Ocean is to love it.
Tony Wheeler, a Briton who spent his high school years near Baltimore, Md., followed the backpacker trail in the early 1970s from London through Asia and on to Australia and indeed fell in love with what he saw.
He and his wife, Belfast-born Maureen, began with a simple, home-produced guide called Across Asia on the Cheap. He gradually built the Lonely Planet publishing empire, with guides for most places around the globe, but a focus on the amazing world stretching from South Africa to Asia and the edge of Oceania. (See their history here.)
I interviewed Tony in 1987 for an article in the Baltimore Sun travel section, noting that his guides quite simply opened up vast parts of the world to the average traveler. I would never have gotten anywhere during my 1985 trip to China without the LP guide. The Wheelers made being an independent traveler a great deal easier. What an influence they have had on my generation. Lonely Planet arguably spawned the culture that led to the book and film The Beach (see my review here (scroll down a few screens).
No big phenomenon -- such as the popularizing of Thailand's beaches for young disaffected -- could be without its negative aspects. More than anything, The Beach demonstrated the scope of the Lonely Planet phenomenon, and the dark side of what is by and large a positive, socially responsible approach to travel.
Today I received the following e-mail from Lonely Planet's Comet, a monthly e-newsletter:
Lonely Planet has committed AUS$500,000 (approximately US$400,000) to the disaster relief effort. Of that money, AUS$225,000 will be donated immediately to the Red Cross, Care, Oxfam, Save the Children and Foundation for the People of Burma. The remainder will be donated to specific community initiatives over the next six months. In addition, Lonely Planet is offering each of its employees a day away from the office to volunteer in the relief effort, and is facilitating employee contributions.
Folks, this is a staggering amount of money for an independent publisher, or any publisher for that matter.
Bravo, Tony and Maureen.
More than that, note how Lonely Planet is getting involved: the careful selection of charities to support, the pledge to examine individual community initiatives after the immediate aftermath (and this company knows the areas affected well enough to help in a concrete way individual communities), and the offer to employees allowing them to volunteer.
Before receiving the Comet, I had already visited Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree bulletin board, earlier this week, knowing it truly was the backpackers' world grapevine. Lo and behold, the Thorn Tree had a valuable missing person's board for those seeking disaster victims, which I mentioned in my most recent blog.
$400,000 from one publisher. Good thing the United States upped its contribution from $35 million, because a great and generous nation of nearly 300 million should be able to give more than a dime a person, if a married couple can give nearly a half-million dollars.
Lonely Planet's donation is my own response, as a traveler, writer and publisher, to this disaster writ large, large, large. I didn't realize until this disaster that my first book, An Amateur's Guide to the Planet, had such a focus on the Indian Ocean, but it does. I write about seven gorgeous places (Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar) of the 11 countries later affected by the tsunami.
I've helped raise $450 so far with an offer of a free copy of An Amateur's Guide to fellow Farkers at the humor, news and Photoshop contest site Drew Curtis' Fark.com.
I want to do more, much more. I believe I'll approach other alumni of my high school, Richard Montgomery, in Rockville, Maryland, offering them an autographed copy of An Amateur's Guide as a reward for donating. With so many people having already given, my motivation is to stimulate a last little push among people who just need a tiny nudge or who are confused by the plethora of agencies available -- those who find it appealing, also, to read more about the area affected in a book that attempts to reveal these areas in happier times.
These Indian Ocean fishing and tourism communities were once paradises on Earth, and it is the least we can do to try to relieve their suffering.
Maybe I can also approach those areas -- Seattle, San Francisco, the Colorado Front Range -- that loved An Amateur's Guide when it first came out, perhaps via an offer on Craigslist. I am nervous about falling flat on my face with this effort, but I feel I have to try.
It was absolutely great to receive this news from Lonely Planet. Tony and Maureen Wheeler no doubt feel like James Firmage of Marin County in Northern California, whose family outran the wave on Phi Phi Don.
Over and over on CNN, he thanked Thai people who comforted his family and brought rice despite their own devastation.
Anyone who has traveled in South and Southeast Asia is likely to feel the same empathy for the people affected.
December 30, 2004
Tsunami disaster befalls Indian Ocean countries
In 1994, my brother Jim and I, along with three friends, sailed around Phangnga Bay, to the east of the island of Phuket in Thailand.
Thus began eight days of the most intense pleasure one could have, perhaps outside of falling in love.
As I wrote in An Amateur's Guide to the Planet:
All the superlatives about the splendid waters of Phangnga Bay proved to be fully deserved. The bay lay still as glass, the sky and water a soft blue-gold, the limestone peaks rosy. Our first afternoon at Ko Roi marked the beginning of eight days of delirious swimming and snorkeling. We swam for hours, from the boat to mysterious shores, under stalactites and lime arches. Swallows darted from their nests in the cliffs as we floated by. We followed channels into the collapsed centers of Ko Roi and other islands, where natural chimneys offered peepholes to the sky. We floated and backstroked Olympian stretches from boat to islet to shore and back, distances requiring a dinghy in the Virgin Islands or the Chesapeake or Greece. Here we preferred to swim because the water was so tranquil and warm.
We swam as though our DNA had forgotten the eons since we evolved from saltwater into amino acids and finally life on land. Maybe a week before we labeled ourselves Homo washingtonianis, rats in a race. But now we lived in bathing suits and bare feet, sleek otters in the water and, later as we sailed, clambering monkeys on the foredeck fiddling in a forest of sails and lines.
Map from page 137, An Amateur's Guide to the Planet:
Perfect seas: Thailand and ultimate sailing
When I first heard of the tsunami disaster, I became worried most about expat Kiwi restaurateur Gary we met on Racha Yai.
His heavenly open-air establishment faced the open Andaman Sea, only a tiny rise on inland paths from the beach shown on the cover of An Amateur's Guide to the Planet.
Gary and the local Thai fishermen were even closer to the sea than Phi Phi Don, which anyone who's been watching CNN this week knows was hammered.
Next, I thought of the kids we met at a Muslim fishing village on Ko Yao Yai (see map above). I called my brother Jim and we promised to exchange updates.
That was on Sunday.
On Monday my husband Lamont called from work. "There's footage on CNN ..." he said. I rushed to the TV, phone in hand.
And I got almost too choked up to speak. The visuals hit me hard, because finally I began to comprehend what had happened.
The flimsy walkways and houses on stilts at the Muslim fishing village had bounced wildly with every step of us heavy farangs.
Now on CNN, I saw the tonnage of punishing seawater that had rushed up Phangnga Bay, and I matched the image of a killer wave to my memory of an idyllic but fragile landscape. I gasped and couldn't continue. I barely said to Lamont, "Huhhhh ... We visited a Muslim fishing village there ... on stilts ... it was all so flimsy ..."
We met some children there too. Nick, one of our companions, gave them Thai baht to buy shoes. We later debated the point of whether to give poor people cash ... I felt it created beggars and was to be avoided. Maybe Nick had a better sense of the ephemeral measurement of our time on Earth.
What chance could these villagers have had?
I looked at the cover of An Amateur's Guide, at the picture of the Thai longtailed boats on the beach at Racha Yai, near Gary's restaurant, and the tiny figures tending the boats. Let's see, a 5-foot wave would destroy them, 10 feet would wreck their homes too.
Back in 1994, before we began sailing, we had landed at a decent hotel and immediately learned that we were missing the storm of the century back on the U.S. East Coast (March 1994). Hotel workers had seen this on CNN.
A decade later, Jim and I agreed that if, at a minute before 8 a.m. on the day after Christmas, CNN had broadcast a warning of the earthquake and tsunami, it would have gotten the word immediately to Southeast and South Asian hotels. The word would have taken longer to filter to all the backpackers in the $5 a night, rattan, no-electricity beach huts around Thailand, and the fisherfolk along the coast of Sri Lanka .. but some would have been saved.
I am not knocking CNN. I am just saying, you can have some elaborate Indian Ocean tsunami warning system involving governments and cumbersome bureaucracy ... Or, you can just have the existing Pacific Tsunami Warning System -- which detected the Sumatra earthquake, see here -- pick up the phone to CNN and get out an urgent bulletin via shoreside hotels, cafes and bars to move everyone to the hills.
For anyone still missing friends, there are at least three essential message boards:
- The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree has 22 pages of posters seeking missing persons information. People are getting a bit desperate, trying to find their mom who was on Khao Lak, etc. Please see this link if you can help.
- CNN has organized its pleas for finding the missing by country. See this link. You can fill in a form and also search by Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Seychelles, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand.
- And there is the Phuket Gazette, which is under strain given the hundreds of thousands of hits it is receiving from around the world. You can post a message here, and read a list of the missing here (partway down the page). Be patient, and this missing person's link should come up.
Anyone who watched the 9-11 coverage, where families came on cable news shows looking for missing relatives (mainly fathers), will recall that a notable proportion came from Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm. The realization that Cantor had been hammered was at first impressionistic, and later confirmed.
The Cantor Fitzgerald of this disaster, in terms of Thailand, appears to be a new, affordable resort called Khao Lak (on the coast north of Phuket, across from the Similan islands, a dive mecca), as the plaintive postings on the message boards attest.
Four thousand tourists and hotel staff appear to be missing, according to an article appearing on Dec. 31, 2004, in the Bangkok Post.
Next worst hit is Phi Phi Don, where we anchored a decade ago. We remember how choppy the harbor at Phi Phi is ... the anchorage is at the end of two long, sweeping arms of land, and rather than protecting, it seems to amplify waves that rush up the small inlet.
Some boos and bouquets
- Where is Leonardo diCaprio, who starred in "The Beach," filmed on Phi Phi Le? He has been quick off the mark to criticize the U.S. environmental policies and President Bush. Where is he now? Can he help with disaster relief?
- What of those sharks who stole from the dead tourists? From the Washington Post:
There were about 20 tourist police in town, witnesses said. But they mostly stayed in front of a supermarket, guarding its locked gates against rampaging looters who were breaking into villas and making off with luggage and passports.
"They were taking wallets and jewelry from dead people," Kaba said.
- How up to par was the U.S. embassy in Bangkok? Not very, according to those who say the embassies of Sweden and other more pro-traveler countries lent a helping hand. The U.S. could have done more to help American diver Helen Wachs (story from CNN.com):
Faye Wachs said she was impressed by the efforts of the Thai government and the International Committee for the Red Cross, but "she was appalled at the treatment they got" from the U.S. government, her mother said.
At the airport in Bangkok, other governments had set up booths to greet nationals who had been affected and to help repatriate them, she said.
That was not the case with the U.S. government, Wachs told her mother. It took the couple three hours, she said, to find the officials from the American consulate, who were in the VIP lounge.
Because they had lost all their possessions, including their documentation, they had to have new passports issued.
But the U.S. officials demanded payment to take the passport pictures, Helen Wachs said.
- To Fark.com for generous donations and, amidst all the flame wars, some useful information on which relief groups get the most bang for the buck. I posted an offer of free copies of An Amateur's Guide to the Planet to Farkers who give more than $50 to AmeriCares at this link. Non-Farkers are free to also take advantage of this offer!
More than 2,400 foreign travelers were lost in the tsunami, Thailand reported.
This week has been the moment of lost innocence for the Lonely Planet generations, traveling happily since the 1960s in carefree South and Southeast Asia.
There is a rough lesson here for the solo traveler. Some of those in search of paradise on Earth have been treated cruelly by Fate, dying anonymously far from home -- thus making real a fear that must be supressed by all those who dare to roam before embarking on any journey.
May 25, 2004
Sex, politics and the Mideast
I've blogged recently about the links between sexual repression and terrorism in the Middle East.
A column today on National Review Online looks at a related aspect of the sexual politics of the Middle East -- how Islam and tribalism reinforce the second-class (at best) status of women in Iraq.
Steven Vincent writes of unpleasant incidents during the course of traveling with a female Iraqi friend, where even teen-aged boys feel free to glare and monitor the behavior of a grown woman:
Something frightening lies at the heart of this nation, I've come to understand, something dark, irrational, thuggish, especially among the "ignorant men" of its lower classes. In public, it often takes the forms of a weaponized stare that glowers at an unescorted woman — or a woman accompanied by a foreigner — as if yearning to see her disgrace herself, do something scandalous or un-Islamic, in order to fuel invidious gossip and innuendo. In private, it manifests itself in the threat, and frequently the reality, of violence to restrain and subjugate females. To accommodate and placate this malevolence, Iraqi females learn to repress their own behavior and instincts, while safeguarding their most important social possession — reputation.
As I examine in my forthcoming book Romance on the Road, Iraq itself is the source of veiling laws brought by the Assyrians 3,000 years ago to distinguish between virtuous, married women (who had to wear the veil) and prostitutes (who did not). Gradually this Assyrian restriction on female sexuality spread throughout the Fertile Crescent and Eastern Mediterranean.
Much later (after 700 A.D.) Islam arrived, allowing men under the guise of religious fervor to further control their daughters, sisters -- and, as Vincent describes, even complete strangers.
My chapter in Romance on the Road on the Middle East examines conflicts for the Arab man between a strong sexuality that steers him to the more uninhibited Western tourist and a religion that reels him back to his own -- sexually naive -- women, seen especially in Egypt. Vincent's column reveals that in Iraq, local women are not just sheltered --- they are actively humiliated, and the dating war takes a dark, nasty turn.
May 7, 2004
Naked prisoners and sex ... you heard it here first
It's not often that we are ahead of renowned columnist Charles Krauthammer by 48 hours, but it has happened!
Two days ago, I wrote that the hooded prisoner treatment in Iraq:
... speaks to the sexual politics of the Middle East, which comprise a chapter of my forthcoming book, Romance on the Road.
... What is the real problem here? The perception, a correct one, that female U.S. soldiers laughing at naked Muslim men is an especially humiliating insult -- to Muslim men. That having a woman be a soldier at all, yet alone a conqueror, and most of all a gloating conqueror -- making fun of a Muslim man's private anatomy -- is beyond the bearable for a Muslim. Women are demonstrably second class under sharia, Islamic law, and in the most traditional Islamic nations are barely allowed out in public, so we can readily imagine the extent to which a gloating female conqueror would be welcome in an Islamic society.
It almost makes one wonder if the U.S. command knew exactly what it was doing ... that they could break Iraqi prisoners without a single blow or harsh word. A few laughing soldier girls could do the trick.
Today, Krauthammer writes:
... the torture pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison could not have hit a more neuralgic point. We think of torture as the kind that Saddam practiced: pain, mutilation, maiming and ultimately death. We think of it as having a political purpose: intimidation, political control, confession and subjugation. What happened at Abu Ghraib was entirely different. It was gratuitous sexual abuse, perversion for its own sake.
... What makes [jihadists] unique ... is their particular hatred of freedom for women. They prize their traditional prerogatives that allow them to keep their women barefoot in the kitchen as illiterate economic and sexual slaves. For the men, that is a pretty good deal -- one threatened by the West with its twin doctrines of equality and sexual liberation.
... Which is what made one aspect of the Abu Ghraib horrors even more incendiary -- the pictures of female U.S. soldiers mocking, humiliating and dominating naked and abused Arab men. One could not have designed a more symbolic representation of the Islamist warning about where Western freedom ultimately leads than yesterday's Washington Post photo of a uniformed American woman holding a naked Arab man on a leash.
I have posted a piece I wrote 17 days after Sept. 11. The nexus between terrorism and sexual frustration was immediately recognized by female travelers; now, nearly three years later, with the Abu Ghraib prison photographs, the big-name columnists are finally getting it.
May 5, 2004
Naked prisoners in Iraq
The hyberbolic criticism surrounding the photos of naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners really is a bit much, but at the same time, it speaks to the sexual politics of the Middle East, which comprise a chapter of my forthcoming book, Romance on the Road.
First, the hyperbole, as exemplified by this Washington Post op-ed piece, with the headline "Willing Torturers," and its inference that at some level, our culture is not immune to the sort of cruelty seen in Nazi Germany and the Cambodia and Rwanda genocides:
We've now seen the horrific evidence: American soldiers, brought up in an American culture, stripped and sexually humiliated Iraqi prisoners. They dressed them in black hoods and laughingly threatened them with electrocution.
They also took photographs of themselves, grinning and pretending to shoot at the genitals of their captives, even though the prisoners came from a society that values physical modesty, even though some of the guards were women.
As Rush Limbaugh said on Monday, the photos, say of naked men stacked in pyramids, aren't that far afield from what you might observe in a Britney Spears or Madonna video. Being stripped of one's clothes and forced to lie on top of another man, icky though that may be, is short of real torture, as in the Hanoi Hilton greeted our own airmen, many of whom were brutally broken and never recovered enough to live normally. It also falls well short of the desecration of bodies in Somalia and Fallujah.
I hear that in at least one Baltimore office, water-cooler conversation centered on the fact that U.S. soldier women made goofy "I'm getting photographed" expressions as they paraded near the naked Iraqi men, who are apparently being forced to handle themselves. I have posted one sample photo, a frame grab from CBS's 60 Minutes, above.
What is the real problem here? The perception, a correct one, that female U.S. soldiers laughing at naked Muslim men is an especially humiliating insult -- to Muslim men. That having a woman be a soldier at all, yet alone a conqueror, and most of all a gloating conqueror -- making fun of a Muslim man's private anatomy -- is beyond the bearable for a Muslim. Women are demonstrably second class under sharia, Islamic law, and in the most traditional Islamic nations are barely allowed out in public, so we can readily imagine the extent to which a gloating female conqueror would be welcome in an Islamic society.
It almost makes one wonder if the U.S. command knew exactly what it was doing ... that they could break Iraqi prisoners without a single blow or harsh word. A few laughing soldier girls could do the trick.
You could almost make a feminist argument that Muslim men are better off getting used to Western women being a part of all facets of our society, including the military and even including military staff who get off on prisoner humiliation that after all, leaves the prisoner flustered and disoriented yet without a mark on his bodies.
Yet the West reacts as if the soldiers were kicked in the ribs, hung like slabs of beef from hooks, starved, shocked and starved -- because again, they correctly perceive the degree of insult.
That brings us to the sexual politics of the Middle East. To quote from part of my Middle East chapter in Romance on the Road:
Way back in 1966, a sociologist in Israel observed the budding relationships between shy, lonely Arab youths and visiting Scandinavian women and later produced the first social science report ever published on Western female sex adventurers. Erik Cohen ("Arab Boys and Tourist Girls" 232) presciently noted that tourist girls provided the youths with an alternative to "extreme activism (found in nationalism) and extreme passivity (found in drugs)." Decades before Sept. 11, he identified the life of the unmarried young Arab as a tense, unhappy, "pitiful and eventless," such that just to obtain a blonde visitor's home address offered a shining ray of hope for a decent life overseas (226, 227).
There is a nexus between terrorism and an entire region's sexual frustration, unemployment and cultural envy. Female Western soldiers enact in concrete form the teasing superiority of Scandinavian tourists, Hollywood actresses and music video temptresses that madden Islamic men, with few prospects for women or jobs, from Morocco to Indonesia.
March 11, 2004
Europeans as slaves
Interesting article, A million Europeans enslaved, on an Ohio State historian's book, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800.
In course of researching my second book, Romance on the Road, I learned that some individual women had ended up as captives in the royal harems of Turkey after high-seas piracy. The most famous example is Aimee Dubucq de Rivery, whose story is told in The Wilder Shores of Love. It makes sense that such abductions were part of a larger patterns of white slavery.
March 9, 2004
In Slate, Meghan O'Rourke compares French writer Michel Houellebecq's Platform to Jill Nelson's Sexual Healing: A Novel, noting correctly that both books acknowledge the move of sex into the realm of commodification, a theme of my forthcoming Romance on the Road.
You can see my brief take on Platform and related books here.
March 7, 2004
Sex in the Middle East
Fine article from Foreign Policy on "The True Clash of Civilizations" notes:
Samuel Huntington was only half right. The cultural fault line that divides the West and the Muslim world is not about democracy but sex. According to a new survey, Muslims and their Western counterparts want democracy, yet they are worlds apart when it comes to attitudes toward divorce, abortion, gender equality, and gay rights--which may not bode well for democracy's future in the Middle East.
My forthcoming Romance on the Road will make this point in a somewhat different way. Sexual repression in the Middle East has contributed to both to fervid fundamentalism and bottled-up young males pursuing tourist females.
March 3, 2004
Another question re: gay marriage
David Frum recently posed eight questions regarding gay marriage, pointing out the legal quagmire that awaits us as practical questions arise.
Here’s another: Will gay sex tourists be able to bring their foreign boyfriends home on fiance, or spouse, visas?
I sense that any test cases will arise out of attempts to bring in Thai boys. First, wasn’t there a Washington area university administrator that brought a young Thai man in under a pretext? (Can any readers help me here ... I can’t seem to find the details readily, as this happened quite some time ago.) Second, Thai women seem to predominate in news report out of Germany and Scandinavia of Thai “wives” brought in and forced to continue in prostitution by their European husbands.
Thailand is an all-comers (excuse the expression) sex boutique, as my forthcoming Romance on the Road will examine, including lesbian and straight women (especially from Japan) as well as male sex tourists.
As I wrote in my first book, An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet , of the Thais: they face “The perils of being a beautiful people” (page 140).
One final point: An estimated one-third or more of fiance and spousal visas are requested for fraudulent relationships. Look for green card seekers to exploit fake gay marriages, too.
March 2, 2004