The Best American
Travel Writing 2009

Simon Winchester,

The best writing here comes from the places you'd expect: The New Yorker, National Geographic, Harpers, and Outside. The wordiest comes from just where you expect it, too: The New York Times, The Virginia Quarterly Review,, and Ski Magazine, whatever that may be.

Calvin Trillin tells us of the ups and downs of seeking out the best BBQ: "Many Texas barbecue fanatics have a strong belief in the beneficial properties of accumulated grease." Paul Salopek reveals what it's like getting lost in the Sahel, that band of grassland that separates the North African desert from the jungles to the south. He also tells us of watching a flogging:

    Sudanese magistrates in pale blue leisure suits rendered their verdicts according to hudud, the Islamic punitive code, and police meted out sentences on the spot with an ox-hide whip.

"I had never seen anyone flogged before. They forced us to watch."

Matthew Power agrees to go down the Mississippi with an old friend, and gets caught in the paradox of his anarchist buddy, in his raft trying "to escape the strictures of society," but who, it turns out,

    had made himself a property owner, and subject to the same impulses of possessiveness and control as any suburban homeowner with a mortgage and a hedge trimmer.

Within a few days, to coin a phrase, Matthew bails out.

James Dickey's son writes a semi-familial mea culpa for his father making the Chatooga River so famous that the federal government had to step in and declare part of it off-limits ... even to those who live around it. Dickey, Senior, gave us a picture of locals as "violent, inbred rednecks" which, for some reason they resent. One old-timer says "the worst thing that ever happened to this area was that ... that Deliverance."

Dickey, Junior, says,

    Half of me wanted to apologize to him for something...

leaving us trying to figure out which half he is apologizing for: My memory of the movie doesn't cast up any shots of proud, wholesome, fully-all-there mountain folk.

Two stories are from the pen of Patrick Symmes, and both are classics. This includes his trials of building a cabin in lower Argentina ("It's important to have some failures in life") and a captivating tale of getting around forbidden Naypyidaw, the new capital of Burma: even playing golf there. They made him wear a special pink golf shirt which "dyed my belly a sweaty pink."

    On [hole] eight, I took a penalty rather than play my ball off a mound of snake holes.

Frank Bures' article on "penis disappearance" is too weird for words, and Roger Cohen's "The End of the End of the Revolution" in Cuba, does go on endlessly. It's from the New York Times Magazine which often, also, seems to go on endlessly.

--- Lolita Lark
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