At AS220: A virtual world tour

By PHILIP EIL  |  October 2, 2013

I FOUND AN INTERVIEW FROM 2009 IN WHICH YOU SAID YOU’D BEEN TO 55 COUNTRIES. HAS THAT NUMBER GROWN SINCE? Yeah, but I don’t know the number now. I don’t really count. Isn’t that terrible? I know there are some travel writers who make a tally of how many countries they’ve been to, like putting cultures into the basket at the grocery store, but I don’t.

Not pointing any fingers explicitly, but I do think if you’ve been to every country in the world, how much time did you really spend in each one of them? You [either] want to know something deeply or you want to know something broadly. You can know things like a college professor or you can know things like a TV anchorman. What is it going to be?

THE THEME OF ‘ACTION SPEAKS!’ THIS YEAR IS UTOPIAN/DYSTOPIAN. HAVE YOU TRAVELED TO ANY PLACE THAT APPROACHES UTOPIA? I get bored on a beach, generally, because there’s not much to do, unless there’s some wildlife to look at that I’ve never seen before and then suddenly I’m hooked.

But there are certain places where I always want to go back and one of those places is Namibia. Namibia is frankly one of the most fascinating countries, to me, in the world. It’s the least densely populated country in Africa. It’s got a very rough recent political history. It’s a land of a lot of contrasts: beautiful deserts with barely anyone in them and yet oases with wildlife. And this really cold, rough water that sinks ships on the oceanfront. And you also have these mining companies that control entire swaths and they’ll shoot you on sight if you wander into the wrong area. It’s just a fascinating place.

Not a utopia, obviously; there’s a lot of trouble. [But] I’m not one of those people who thinks of utopia as necessarily a good thing. A utopia can be quite mind-numbing.

YOU HAVE HIGH PRAISE ON YOUR BLOG FOR ARTHUR FROMMER’S GUIDE TO BRANSON, MISSOURI. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT BOOK’S SIGNIFICANCE FOR FOLKS WHO HAVEN’T READ THE BLOG POST OR THE BOOK, ITSELF? This was back probably 20 years ago, 15 years ago when Branson — they thought it was going to be the “new Vegas.” And perhaps in all of history there has never been a guide book that sort of more reviles its destination.

Page after page, it warns you about the way Branson is falling short, insults your intelligence, serving bad food. So reading it is really entertaining. I think [Frommer] does go out of his way to try to be kind to the locals and paint them as decent, God-fearing people, but at the same time he wrote a guidebook to Branson for people who would not normally want to go to Branson. It’s not for people who are already in love with Branson. It’s for most of Americans who are puzzled by the whole thing and want a window, a peek in the keyhole. It’s an astonishingly unflinching guidebook and you don’t see many like that. They’re hard to get published.

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