Tag Archives: travel writing

10 Days in Chile: A Not Remotely Exhaustive Gallery of Valparaiso Murals

The sunburn faded. My delicate stomach is back to its natural equilibrium. My suitcase is unpacked and back under my bed. It’s kind of hard to believe that less than a week ago, I was here:


The glacial lake at Cajon de Maipo, outside of Santiago, Chile

I spent 10 days in and around Santiago, from Valparaiso to the Valle de Elqui, traveling with a dear friend and making some new ones. We saw sea lions dozing on harbor rocks, hiked snow-covered peaks, ate sopaipilla upon sopaipilla and palta upon palta, gazed at the Milky Way through the clearest sky in the hemisphere, and even took a yoga class in Spanish (turns out Sanskrit is Sanskrit wherever you go).

In the Museum of Memory and Human Rights I listened to Allende’s last address to the country while La Moneda was bombed around him. In the Salvador Allende Museum of Solidarity and Resistance, I saw works of art by Miro and Picasso donated to the people of Chile. In the homes of Pablo Neruda, salt and pepper shakers were labeled Morphine and Marijuana, water tasted better in red and green glass, and merry-go-round horses were repurposed into living room decor. In the Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art, I saw Mapuche grave markers, Andean weaving, and Inca quipus (knotted string accounting tools).

And then there were the murals of Valparaiso. Chicago is not known as a city of great street art (though we do have a few notable exceptions), and so I always find myself stunned by the simple joy of paint on walls in other cities. Not that this is just paint on walls, no, it’s anything but your average scrawled signature or fuck-the-man anti-establishment tagging. This is gorgeous, moving art that nestles itself between buildings, becoming part of the architecture of the city instead of merely hanging on the side of it. A few examples, but believe me, I could go on:
















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Filed under Art

America, According to Simone



I just read Simone de Beauvoir’s travel journals, America Day by Day, a chronicle of her 1947 three-month journey across the US of A. From New York to San Francisco, LA to New Orleans, DC to Boston, de Beauvoir travels solo on a tour of college campuses and along the way occasionally reunites with her lover Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, Marcel Duchamp, and other famous and semi-famous writers and artists of the era.

De Beauvoir’s discovery of America is a strange mix of attempted conquest, intellectual competition, and condescending observations on American “simplicity” overlaid with the conflicted envy of an outsider looking in on a party she’s not even sure she wants to attend.

America, according to Simone de Beauvoir:

Here the creams are creamy, the soaps are soapy: this honesty is a forgotten luxury.

I drink Scotch docilely because scotch is one of the keys to America.
Men remain bareheaded, but many of the young people stick fur puffs over their ears fixed to a half-circle of plastic that sits on their hair like a ribbon–it’s hideous.
There’s always some holiday going on in America; it’s distracting.
In America, the individual is nothing. He is made into an abstract object of worship; by persuading him of his individual value, one stifles the awakening of a collective spirit in him.
America is a box full of surprises.
Americans are nature lovers, but they accept only a nature inspected and corrected by man.
But in the end, people are always faced with what they wanted to escape: the arid basis of American life– boredom.
How I regret being unable to love more unstintingly a country where the reign of man is affirmed with such magnificence, where the love of one’s fellow man seems at first sight so easy to achieve?
All human problems are posed here on a gigantic scale; and to a greater degree, the solutions they find here will illuminate these problems, retrospectively, in a moving way or swallow them up in the night of indifference.
America is one of the pivotal points of the world, where the future of man is being playing out. To “like” America, to “dislike” it–these words have no meaning. It is a battlefield, and you can only become passionate about the battle it is waging with itself, in which the stakes are beyond measure.
And just for kicks, de Beauvoir on Chicago:
It’s hard to breathe in the lobby [Palmer], which is permeated by a stifling heat and the thick scent of dollars.
At least I had a glance behind the painted set. I saw a real city, tragic and ordinary, fascinating like all cities where men of flesh and blood live and struggle by the millions.
And one of my favorite descriptions:
He also writes about gastronomy and world affairs. The last piece was entitled “Mayonnaise and the Atomic Bomb”
Related Post: What does one need to watch to have really watched everything? Recommended viewing.


Filed under Books, Chicago, Really Good Writing by Other People

Complicated Feelings about Tourism, Harassment, Gender, Other Buzzwords

Screenshot_8_20_13_1_24_PMI have been thinking about this essay [trigger warning] about a white woman traveling in India a lot. Have you read it yet?  It’s making the rounds, but because I share her alma mater, it’s been tearing up my newsfeed. The gist of it is that the author, a college student studying abroad, was traumatized by the culture of sexual harassment, objectification, and assault that she experienced first and secondhand during her travels. She has since been diagnosed with PTSD. A sample:

I covered up, but I did not hide. And so I was taken, by eye after eye, picture after picture. Who knows how many photos there are of me in India, or on the internet: photos of me walking, cursing, flipping people off. Who knows how many strangers have used my image as pornography, and those of my friends. I deleted my fair share, but it was a drop in the ocean– I had no chance of taking back everything they took.

I’m having all kinds of feelings, so let’s do it this way…

On the one hand… This woman is entitled to her experience. I have also traveled in India as a single white female. I had a very different experience than the one she describes. Although I also had my picture taken a million times, had inappropriate questions asked, was stared at, and received two marriage proposals (which I politely declined), I did not experience any physical harassment. I felt that the stares were primarily based in curiosity, at my looks and at the audacity of a woman of my status to travel alone, not objectification.

When I first read this essay, I was tempted to roll my eyes. That’s a lie. I did roll my eyes, and I am now embarrassed that I did so. Part of me wanted to tell her to toughen up, brush it off. I am embarrassed by that response as well. Her experiences were different than mine (as mine are different from yours) and even if they had been similar, she is allowed to feel differently about the experience than I do. This seems obvious as I type it, but as I was reading, I was having an immature, judgmental, condescending reaction to her words.

On the other hand…She’s not a soldier. She’s not an aid worker. She’s a tourist. She can leave, so leave. She has all of the resources to stop the source of her trauma. She doesn’t live in India. She is not a resident who contends with the threat of rape and assault on a daily basis without the benefit of a return flight. Her harassment might be amplified by her red hair, but as recent tragedies would suggest, Indian women and girls are in no way immune from the the treatment she received. She is now back in the United States receiving treatment for PTSD. Her essay doesn’t acknowledge that this is a perpetual state for many; is PTSD even an acknowledged illness in India? She is lucky, as am I. We get to globe-trot, we get to explore, we get to be the solo lady travelers. We live in countries where we can vote and drive and have sex without being stoned and wear what we want and live alone and call the police when we need help and work and so many other things.

On the other hand… Sexual harassment is never okay. When one travels, there are obviously customs that are different in the countries you visit and, within reason, it is healthy and respectful to try to observe them. You should not travel expecting to recreate your experiences at home wherever you go; a Big Mac is not a Big Mac in India, it’s made of chicken and it’s called a Maharaja Mac. There may not be hot water. There might be bugs. It will smell differently, etc. etc. etc. But, sexual harassment and assault are not acceptable, even if they are more common in some parts of the world than others. While a “When in Rome,” attitude is usually a plus, “When I’m in Rome, I’ll get groped on the train,” is not cool.

I’m ashamed that I shrugged at her experience. I almost threw her the most insulting, patronizing response to her trauma, “What did you expect?” WHOA, Emily, NOT OKAY. You’re wearing yoga pants, what did you expect would happen? You’re drinking and dancing, what did you expect? You’re pretty, what did you expect? The “What did you expect” is a close cousin of “You were asking for it,” and we know that you are NEVER asking for it and that that is a line for the weak and the cowardly.

On the next hand… I can’t help but think about my own experience traveling in India and elsewhere. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive with a few blips of shittiness here and there and consequently my instinct is to declare that this makes me a “better” traveler than the author. My second instinct is to call bullshit on myself. Differentiation–“she’s not like me”–is the classic first step in victim blaming. If she’s not like me, then she’s somehow responsible for what happened to her, which would never happen to me,  because we are fundamentally different, and on and on. It’s a common defense mechanism to help calm the fear that it could happen to anyone (because, intellectually, we all know… it could happen to anyone).

There are at least three other hands to consider … (please feel free to add in the comments!), but I’m tired of talking about this. I am sympathetic for her experience. I am irritated at the essay’s “plight of the white woman” vibe. I am even more irritated that I identify with it. I feel pretty helpless in the face of the level of harassment and assault in India. If I’m honest, I feel pretty helpless in the face of harassment and assault here at home too.

So yeah, there’s that. 

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Filed under Chicago, Gender, Media

S(Monday) Scraps 108


1. AUTHORS: 50 places every literary fan should visit, according to Flavorwire. I’ve been to one…

2. OITNB: If you are not watching Orange is the New Black I don’t even really know what to say to you anymore. Anyway, Autostraddle has an in-depth look at the differences between the memoir and the show.

3. RACE: After Don Lemon’s awful advice to black people (pull up your pants!) Jay Smooth takes him to task on the Ill Doctrine and explains how pulling up one’s pants does diddly squat to solve institutionalized inequality.

4. PRIVILEGE: Doug Muder’s The Weekly Sift very articulately picks apart the “distress of the privilege” with examples from Pleasantville to Chick-fil-A.

5. BRAZIL: Suketu Meta (author of Maximum City) writes for the New York Review of Books about his experience traveling in the favelas of Brazil.

6. ADVICE: George Saunders, who I love, gave a stellar commencement address to Syracuse about kindness.

Related Post: Sunday 107: Millennial worry, mermaids, Amanda Palmer, etc.

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Filed under Books, Education, Gender, Hollywood, Media, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People

S(Monday) Scraps 105


1. TEXAS: This is a long and beautiful piece by Amy Gentry for The Rumpus about abortion, body politics, and who we’re really protecting.

2. BADASS: Senator Claire McCaskill replies to James Taranto’s horrifying essay about how the fight against sexual assault in the military is actually a “war on men” and male sexuality. Taranto: 0, McCaskill: ALL OF THE POINTS.

3. TRAVEL: Fascinating essay by travel writer Simon Winchester about a tiny island of 300 people, Tristan de Cunha, and how he got banned from visiting for violating local customs.

4. HISTORY: In the wake of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, Slate has an example of the dizzyingly confusing literacy tests that were used in the 50s and 60s to prevent black people from voting.

5. PLANNED PARENTHOOD: In case you ever forget what Planned Parenthood provides, a lovely essay from the blog What Are You Doing Here, Are You Lost?

6. CITIES: Chicago Magazine has an awesome series of panoramic shots of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, pre- and during industrial development.

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Filed under Art, Body Image, Chicago, Gender, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People