African Dispatches

The Fates were watching over us last night. We hadn't decided on a specific Ethiopian restaurant, but then Ms. Jane spied one on our left, and an open parking spot (miracle!) on our right. We ceased thinking and surrendered ourselves.

The signs from on high continued. Not only did this place serve my favorite vegetarian combination (red lentils, yellow lentils, collard greens), but they made their own T'ej. I was thereby transported to heaven, leaving Jo and Ms. Jane bewildered as to where I'd gone.

After I descended back to earth and drove home, I finished off P. Therrroux's latest Africa travelogue. The man may be a grouchy cuss, but he's got a flinty-sharp mind, and knows exactly who to goad. His slow, exacting eviscerations of the do-gooders he meets along the way, and his analyses of how these closed-minded ninnies usually compound the problems they seek to remedy, are a pleasure to read. My hands are now itching to bludgeon each and every one of the misguided with a copy of Patrick Marnham's Fantastic Invasion.

It's been a while since I read a travelogue. I used to adore them, but after a couple of years I realized that few strayed beyond the wacky natives/goofy traveler/was-THAT-the-wrong translation formula. The locations ceased to matter, and the books started to make me angry. So much so that I now believe Bill Bryssson and Stuart Stevvens should be tossed off a tuna boat, bound together and smeared with fish guts.

I can still tolerate a few travel writers, including Mr. Therrroux. He, Barrry Lopez, V. S. Napalm, and Pico Iyeer--when focused--are able to weave history and their own meditations through their narratives. The books become more than just comically illustrated passports. A reader actually learns something. That's all I ever ask, really.

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