Friday, July 06, 2012

Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn

Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day

By Doug Mack

Perigee, 2012

It's a great premise: tackle modern-day Europe using a 1963 Frommer's guidebook for direction.
I suspect the premise was better-suited to something the length of a magazine article, rather than a book.
Basically, all the restaurants Frommer cited are closed or have become unholy tourist traps, and the hotel business has changed a lot in 49 years.
To be fair, there's plenty to offer in this book, including a thoroughly researched, engaging look at the postwar history of US travel to Europe.
The premise works for a while when Mack is on the road, but by the time he reached the eighth and final destination, Madrid, I'd tired of it and it's pretty clear Mack did too. It led to a lot of digressions into topics like the circular debate over the nature of travel versus tourism. (Mack's short answer, and I agree, is they aren't as distinct as some people like to think.)
On the plus side, the tale is enlivened from a distance by Mack's mom, who toured Europe in the 60s and left a cache of postcards and letters that enlightened his 21st century tale a bit more than the old guidebook did.
The author’s acknowledgements include one to Arthur Frommer himself, “though we’ve never spoken or met.”
Too bad – Arthur still has a lot to say, and I think Mack would be a great interviewer.