NO RESERVATIONS: Bourdain to push limits on new season

NO RESERVATIONS new seasonAnthony Bourdain charges back with an all new season of NO RESERVATIONS starting this Monday. In this seventh season of the Emmy award-winning Travel Channel program, Tony starts in Haiti to uncover beauty in the dark corners of humanity, a theme promised to be delivered throughout the new season.

Calling it as he sees it, Bourdain puts a new perspective on the situation in Haiti during a visit with actor/humanitarian Sean Penn in the opener February 28. His frank, unique summations, open a never-before-seen window to the enduring devastation that continues a year later.

Regular viewers are promised a different season this year as Bourdain takes personal risks leading to a renewed sense of purpose in his journey. By taking viewers to off the grid locations that challenge him with a better understanding of human existence, Bourdain probes behind the underlying stories.

Gadling readers hooked on our new series, Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV), will totally be in the right mind to glean new perspectives from the intense and evolving focus of both NO RESERVATIONS and it’s host.

In Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV), Gadling’s Rolf Potts hopes to “glean five days worth of travel experiences from the glowing parameters of a single TV set and figure out what the Travel Channel might be saying about how one should see the world.”

On NO RESERVATIONS, Anthony Bourdain is back to give viewers more of his trademark sharp commentary on the world…with a twist. Throughout the season, viewers will watch a transformation of sorts in the progran’s host. In one episode, he’ll travel to Cambodia and identify a parallel between Cambodia’s development and his own maturation, seeking to reconnect with this historically rich country during his second visit.

Viewers can chat live with Anthony Bourdain during the premiere episode Monday February 28, 2011 on the Travel Channel @NoReservations.

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Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV): Part 3

Where does the Travel Channel take us? Rolf Potts embarks on a
one-week gonzo experiment to find out

SAMANTHA BROWN NEEDS A DRINK
Day 3, Hour 36: 12:51 pm.

Just one day after having declared my infatuation with Samantha Brown, I’m beginning to feel like the love has faded. As with many relationships, our falling out has been a slow accumulation of irritants.

Since noon, Samantha has been riding hot air balloons, kayaking, and attending drag- queen brunches in Washington, DC and New Mexico. She’s been her usual gregarious self, but I’ve begun to bristle at her compulsion to laugh at things that aren’t all that funny, her tendency to affect a faint accent when chatting with people who aren’t fluent in English, and her habit of talking over her interview subjects when she gets excited. Sometimes she seems downright ditzy, like the time she sizes up a lunch-counter chilidog in DC and asks her server if she’s supposed to pick it up and eat it. (As opposed to what, Samantha? Hanging it over your fireplace?)The true deal-breaker comes when Passport to Great Weekends drops in on a Santa Fe shamanic healer who appears to have been dreamed into existence by the makers of This is Spinal Tap. All of the hackneyed Aquarian stereotypes make an appearance during the three- minute segment — the quivering maracas, the middle-aged Caucasian shaman-lady invoking the name of “mother earth,” the ridiculously vague messages from the spirit world — but Samantha just blushes and grins at mystical revelations that would probably apply to 80 percent of the U.S. population. (Sample: “You have a lot of dreams and desires, you just haven’t come into a relationship with them.”) When the shaman shares a handful of insights that could have been divined by anyone with a Wikipedia-grade understanding of what a Travel Channel host might like to hear (“you have a desire to unite people from different cultures”), Brown gushes that she feels a new sense of purpose.

Looking back on what I’ve experienced of Samantha Brown in the past three days, I’m pretty sure her most genuine and effective scenes have come when she’s been drinking. Next season on Passport to Great Weekends, I’d love to see Samantha go back to Santa Fe with five shots of tequila under her belt and tell that New Age dingbat to stop blowing sunshine up her ass.


WHEN TRAVEL TV HOSTING GETS REAL.
Day 3, Hour 38: 2:45 pm. If I haven’t said much about Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, it because he doesn’t offer much to riff on: Despite the name of his show, he’s the most conventional and fundamentally grounded host in the Travel Channel lineup.

He’s the network’s equivalent of the short white guy on the basketball team who sinks all
his free throws.

I don’t mean that in a snarky way: Zimmern is skilled at establishing good-humored chemistry with his interview subjects, and his segments are sprinkled with solid facts about local geography, history, and culture. His penchant for colorful food comparisons (alligator ribs are “seafoody, like a mild crab”; head cheese is “really just pig jello”) offers viewers a tangible sensory reference and keeps the show from turning into a one- note culinary freak show.

Ironically, the most arresting moments on Bizarre Foods come when the host gets caught off-guard and his good-natured fundamentals unravel. Today, for example, Zimmern is eating his way through Ecuador, and despite the charm of his guinea pig restaurant scene (“it’s like picking out a lobster,” he notes, “just go to the pen and point to the one you want to eat”), the show gains a new level of energy when a rainstorm sends his Amazon jungle excursion into disarray. The stitched-together footage of this incident, which was obviously a rather miserable experience at the time, feels more evocative of an actual travel situation than any of the show’s more conventionally exotic setups.

Watching this, I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s observation about what happens when a stray cat wanders onstage during a play. The cat, Twain notes, is more intriguing to watch than the dramatic performance because it is not bound by the rules of narrative probability. In the same way, travel — and, by proxy, travel TV — doesn’t truly get interesting until real events send preparations astray and the traveler is forced to deal with the unexpected.

After a rain-soaked Zimmern munches jungle ants and piranha meat in the Amazon, he is whisked off to see an Ecuadorian witch doctor. At first, when the shaman rubs Zimmern’s half-clothed body with a live guinea pig, the encounter plays out like a standard cross-cultural sight gag. But soon the witch doctor begins to whip the TV host with a bundle of nettle-like twigs, raising angry little welts along his arms and torso. “This isn’t funny anymore,” an increasingly panicked Zimmern implores to his off-screen handlers.

But of course it is funny — not just because of the slapstick factor, but because he has just

given us an unrehearsed glimpse into the world behind his show.

THE GHOSTS ARE NOT IMPRESSED

Day 3, Hour 45: 9:32 pm. The past few hours have taken me through four episodes of infrastructure porn (Top Ten Bridges, World’s Best Megastructures, etc.) and four episodes of multi-city binge eating (Man v. Food). Now I’m watching a show called Ghost Adventures, which follows a three-man camera crew as they lock themselves overnight in purportedly haunted buildings and try to document paranormal activity. The program is one of the Travel Channel’s more popular offerings, but after a half hour of watching, I can’t grasp its appeal. It strikes me as the kind of show excitable 13-year-old boys might watch on a Friday night when they’ve grown bored of playing video games and masturbating.

Tonight the Ghost Adventures team is investigating England’s Ancient Ram Inn, which
is reputed to be infested with all manner of malevolent spirits. The inn is overseen by an
eccentric old codger who tells our ghost-hunters that the structure was built over a 5,000-
year-old pagan burial ground and is thought to contain the bones of children who were ritually sacrificed. Naturally, this intriguing supposition raises a lot of questions. How, for example, do we know that the burial ground is 5,000 years old? What kind of pagans would have been living here at that time, and what do we know of their funerary rites? If bones have indeed been exhumed on the grounds of the inn and they do indeed belong to children, how does one determine if they are the product of some evil ritual?

Unfortunately the ghost-hunting team, which is led by a self-serious metrosexual named Zak Bagans, possesses the combined reportorial acumen of a jar of Miracle Whip. Instead of calling in the counsel of archeologists and cultural historians, they instead invite the perspective of a “witch,” who turns out to be a portly local gal clad in a shiny crayon cape, cherry-red hair-extensions, and a silver tiara. After performing some kind of dagger ceremony (“I call upon the elemental of sylph!” the witch intones), the Ghost Adventures team members prepare themselves for what they call “lockdown.”

I never am able to work out the precise methodology of a lockdown, but apparently it involves a lot of yelling, swearing, and rushing around in the dark with sound recorders and night-vision cameras. Most any ambient noise in the house is immediately identified as ghost activity; seeming door-creaks and hall-drafts are recorded, “enhanced,” and given subtitles (example: “I don’t like you!”) that don’t seem to correspond to the noises in question. Zak and his sidekicks alternate between hollering threats at presumed ghosts and yelping with fear at random noises.

Imagine three stoners with community-theater experience getting together to reenact the Blair Witch Project, and you pretty much get the gist of what I’m watching right now.

TELEVISION FATIGUE, DAY THREE

Day 3, Hour 48 (plus 1): 1:45 am. Having fallen asleep midway through Ghost Adventures, I wake up hours later with the unsettling feeling that I, too, am on “lockdown.” Despite my glib pronouncements about the virtual adventure of my Travel Channel marathon, three days in a hotel room has turned me into a bloated, anxious, cabin-fevered ghost of myself. Hoping to improve my spirits, I head out into the streets of Las Vegas for a wee-hours stroll.

The Plaza Hotel sits at the head of Fremont Street in the aging downtown district of Vegas. The pedestrian walkway here is awash in flashing neon and filled with people: old men dressed in sweat pants; obese couples wearing matching white athletic shoes; groups of college guys clutching large, football-shaped cups full of yellow alcoholic slush. 1980’s hits by artists like Tone Lōc and Steve Winwood blast out over public-address speakers. Strip-club marquees tout a feminine ideal that hinges on Eastern European bone structure and overzealous chest enhancement. Casinos glitter in every direction, advertising music extravaganzas, complimentary slot tokens, all-you-can-eat buffets. Kiosks offer cheap jewelry, bumper stickers, novelty underwear.

On any other day I might have seen this place as an epicenter of low-rent artificiality — but after three waking days of watching travel television, Fremont Street feels startlingly true to life. I walk the streets for nearly two hours, drunk on fresh air and the sight of real human beings.

[Read more of Rolf Potts’ series Around the World in 80 Hours here]

Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV): Part 2

Where does the Travel Channel take us? Rolf Potts embarks on a
one-week gonzo experiment to find out

JACKASS COMMENTATORS AND DUBIOUSLY RANKED DESTINATIONS
Day 2, Hour 17: 9:04 am.


The first Travel Channel show of the day has already begun by the time I wake up and turn on the TV. As the picture tube slowly comes into view I can hear some jackass droning on about the gentle wonder of interacting with elephants in Thailand. When the screen finally flickers on I realize that the droning jackass is me.

The show is 21 Mind-Blowing Escapes, which is the Travel Channel’s version of a VH1 clip-show where comedians poke fun at celebrities. Instead of comedians, this show features travel writers; the “celebrities” are places, and nobody makes fun of anything. In addition to Thailand, my commentary pops up in segments featuring Venice, Angkor Wat, the Grand Canyon, and the Greek island of Santorini.

The strange thing about this show is that when I initially did my talking-head interview it was entitled 25 Mind-Blowing Escapes — which means that at some point four destinations were scrapped. Instead of just lopping off the bottom four places, however, the show’s producers seem to have scratched out destinations at random. The country of Bhutan, for example, was originally hailed as the world’s fifth most mind-blowing escape; now, for reasons that aren’t explained, it’s not on the list at all. Hence the inherent arbitrariness of any TV show that ranks destinations like they were NCAA basketball teams. Somewhere in Bhutan, the tourism minister is probably hurling is clipboard against a locker room wall.
During a commercial break, I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth and notice that the
haggard, puffy-eyed face staring back from the mirror bears faint resemblance to the
chirpy, advice-spewing version of me that appeared on 21 Mind-Blowing Escapes. I’m
only beginning my second day of the experiment, but my TV marathon has already begun
to take a physical toll.


NOTES ON THE SEMIOTICS OF WATERPARKS

Day 2, Hour 18: 10:42 am. Desperate for variety, I’ve made my way down to the Plaza
Hotel gym, where I can watch the Travel Channel while I work the treadmill. The gym’s
aging TV screen is scorched with a faint grid of keno numbers, but for the most part
it suits my purposes. The only problem is that any time I start running faster than 20
minutes per mile I can’t hear anything but the sound of myself clomping along on the
treadmill.

This lends my TV viewing experience a curious new perspective. Right now I’m watching America’s Favorite Waterparks while running nine-minute miles. At the beginning of the hour, when I could hear the voiceover narration, this show struck me as a mildly informative little rundown of aquatic fun-parks in the United States. Without the sound, however, the show has become an incomprehensible video loop of teenagers racing down water-slides, young boys getting into splash-fights, and chubby families bobbing in wave pools. It’s hard to discern one water park from another. Amid the repetitive flood of images, I begin to notice a persistent visual pattern: Nary a minute passes without another shot of some massive aquatic gravity-tube ejaculating a swimmer through the air on a frothy gush of water.

Somehow I suspect a spunky 24-year-old northern California feminist is at this very
moment hashing out a PhD thesis entitled “Phallocentric Fun-Parks: A Lacanian
Symbology of Patriarchal Imagery and Recreational Male Privilege in American Hydro-
Amusement Communities.”

WHAT DO HOSTS DO WHEN THEY’RE NOT HOSTING?

Day 2, Hour 20: 12:55 pm. After nearly two hours of treadmill action I’m back up in my
hotel room, where I’m developing a crush on TV-host Samantha Brown. As I watch her
show, I’m thinking I’d like to marry her for the simple end of diversifying my bloodline
with perky, winsome offspring.

Today Samantha has been cavorting her way through Spain and Italy on a show called
Passport to Europe. At the moment she is learning how to flamenco dance. In previous
scenes she trained as a bullfighter, sampled horsemeat with Italian wine, reenacted a
scene from Romeo and Juliet, and guzzled beer in her hotel room. I like it that Brown is
always drinking on camera. I’m also charmed by her self-deprecating humor, and her raw
exuberance for most everything she encounters.

The weird thing about Samantha Brown, however, is that it’s hard to discern what she
does when she’s not gallivanting off on a weekend getaway to Valencia or Verona. Whereas personalities like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern work as chefs when they’re not on TV, Brown’s main line of work appears to be going on vacations for the Travel Channel. This makes it a tad confusing when she “escapes” to the Tuscan countryside or enthuses about “getting away from it all” at a spa in Baja. Just what is it that she’s getting away from? Isn’t that trip to the spa part of her job?

Hence, while it’s easy to imagine what Bourdain does in his spare time (eat, drink, bang
groupies), or what Zimmern does when he’s not filming Bizarre Foods (eat, sleep, look up adjectives to describe the taste of seared yak scrotum), I’m at a loss to envision what Samantha Brown does when she’s not pretending to go on holiday in front of a TV crew.

A part of me imagines her sitting on the floor of a trash-strewn Hell’s Kitchen apartment, snorting crystal meth and listening to Danzig records while she drills hollow-points into
ammunition for her .50-caliber Barrett M82 sniper rifle.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN DOES NOT SPEAK TRAVELESE

Day 2, Hour 21: 1:55 pm. I’ve noticed that there’s a sameness to the narrative language on all the Travel Channel shows. Since I began my TV marathon, both Andrew Zimmern and Samantha Brown have used the exact same phrases — “vacation paradise,” “land of contrasts,” “it doesn’t get any better than this” — to describe wildly different places and experiences. The words heaven,” “breathtaking,” “dreams,” “treasure,” and “unforgettable” are intoned like Travel Channel mantras, and just today I heard the phrases “hidden gem,” “secret gem,” and “unique gem” on three successive programs.

This type of language belongs to a distinctive media-dialect called “travelese,” a word journalist William Zinsser coined in his 1976 book On Writing Well. “Nowhere else in nonfiction do writers use such syrupy words and groaning platitudes,” Zinsser noted. “It is a style of soft words which under hard examination mean nothing.” At the time Zinsser was alluding to print-based travel journalism, and 35 years later the overwrought cadences of travelese continue to plague magazine, newspaper, and guidebook writing.

The thing is, for all the consumer travel articles sopping with words like “quaint” and “wondrous,” the print world offers plenty of verbally disciplined, literary-minded travel reportage by writers like Peter Hessler, Tim Cahill, Susan Orlean, Pico Iyer, Kira Salak, Gary Shteyngart, and Paul Theroux. Unfortunately, travel television does not appear to offer a comparable respite from its more mindless tropes: Almost without exception its program language is indecipherable from that of its commercials.

In saying this, I certainly don’t absolve myself from the equation. I’ve gone years without ever using the word “majestic” in a print story, but I used it twice in less than one minute of airtime on 21 Mind-Blowing Escapes. Beyond that, I described Venice as “romantic,” Angkor Wat as “magnificent,” and the sunset at Santorini as “magical.” Back when I was being interviewed for the show, I’d also pointed out logistical hassles and tourist hordes at all three places — but those simply aren’t the kinds of details that make it into TV clip- shows about travel destinations. Indeed, if the Travel Channel doesn’t seem to convey much critical or intellectual substance, it’s probably because television itself is a medium that doesn’t tolerate nuance and reflection.

The network’s sole exception to this phenomenon is Anthony Bourdain, whose No Reservations is at once counterintuitive, given to opinionated perspective, and self- aware of its limitations as a TV show. Yesterday Bourdain guided us off the sun- dappled tourist-trail to visit the eateries of “the three most fucked-up cities in America” — Baltimore, Detroit, and Buffalo. By the end of show he had done a fair amount of rust-belt dining, but he’d also given the audience subtle lessons in socio-economics, immigration history, and urban planning. In Buffalo, he refused to discuss hot-wings (“you can have Al fucking Roker describe them to you on some other show,” he said). Today’s Miami-based episode simultaneously skewers South Florida tourist clichés, documentary TV fakery, and the basic assumptions of every other food-travel show on television. A running joke of the episode is Bourdain’s stubborn avoidance of Miami’s most stereotypical cuisine-culture; he eventually relents during the final moments of the show. “I’ve finally done the Cuban thing,” he quips in the concluding scene, “satisfying my network masters’ request.”

YOUR MEDIA CRITICISM WILL DO YOU NO GOOD HERE

Day 2, Hour 31: 11:20 pm. I’m nearing the end of another full day of TV viewing. A show about amusement parks, Extreme Terror Rides: Death-Defying Drops, is flickering on my screen. According to my notebook, this is the eighth hour of programming today that has been dedicated to water parks or roller coasters.

Back when I was gearing up for this Travel Channel marathon, my primary guidebooks were media-studies classics like Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations, Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, and Todd Gitlin’s Watching Television. My hope was that these readings would help me understand the far-flung televisual landscape, lend my travel- TV analysis a postmodern flair, and make me sound smarter than I really am. Most of these writers argue that television is more about creating feelings and sensations than communicating information or conveying reality — and that has certainly been the case with what I’ve seen thus far.

The problem with my pre-trip media-theory research, however, is that I geared my expectations toward a cross-cultural mode of travel that doesn’t seem to exist on the Travel Channel. For example, I had hoped to harness the insights of science writer Bill McKibben, who pioneered the art of marathon-TV analysis in his 1992 book The Age of Missing Information (which contrasted a full day of multi-channel television programming with a full day spent in nature). When McKibben analyzed travel shows 20 years ago, he noted the irony in the fact that the Travel Channel aired a special on Nuremberg without highlighting the city’s notorious reputation for Nazi rallies in the 1930s. “Three things make Nuremberg famous,” the Travel Channel chirped on the day McKibben was watching, “its Christmas market, Nuremberg gingerbread, and the Nuremberg sausage.”

If the Travel Channel hasn’t glossed over many foreign destinations in the past two days, it’s because it hasn’t shown many foreign destinations. Of the 31 television-hours I’ve experienced so far, I’ve spent less than two hours outside of the United States. Thirteen hours of programming have been dedicated to American junk food, 11 hours to American amusement parks. If visual media provides us with a grammar of seeing the world, as critic Susan Sontag once suggested, the Travel Channel appears to be telling us that the world doesn’t stretch very far beyond the local fun-park or burger stand.

[Read more of Rolf Potts’ series Around the World in 80 Hours here]

Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV): Part 1

around the world in 80 hours

PRELUDE

Day 5, Hour 77: 9:53 pm.

Twenty-three hotel floors above the gritty neon splendor of downtown Las Vegas, I am nearing the end of a bewildering travel experiment: For the past five days, I have been watching the Travel Channel for the entirety of my waking hours, without ever changing the station or (save a few key occasions) leaving my hotel room.

My goal has been to create an intensive, vicarious televisual adventure — to glean five days’ worth of travel experiences from the glowing parameters of a single TV set and figure out what the Travel Channel might be saying about how one should see the world.

In the 77 hours since my experiment began, I have witnessed many wonders. I have, for example, seen three grown men shriek like schoolgirls while locked overnight inside a dubiously haunted English inn. I have learned that ants in the Ecuadorian Amazon taste like lemons, that Gulf Coast raccoons taste like turkey, and that Andean guinea pigs taste like roast pork shoulder. I have learned that nachos are not authentic Mexican food, and that the Japanese have invented a toilet that can both wash and blow-dry your ass. I have seen two separate shows that sing the praises of deep-fried Twinkies, and I’ve heard the phrase “like a party in your mouth” used to describe the culinary merits of three separate food products. I have seen a restaurant full of Americans cheer like hockey fans while watching two guys devour a 10-pound pizza in less than an hour.

I have also watched commercials — more than 2000 of them in the course of five days. According to the tally marks in my notebook, I have been invited to visit Jamaica 16 times, been warned 51 times that my existing health insurance might not be adequate for my retirement needs, and thrice been asked to ponder how Cheez-It is able to bake so much cheesy goodness into such small bites.

I have left my hotel three times in the past five days, and been nearly robbed once.

In exactly 7 minutes (once the guy who ate the 10-pound pizza finishes eating a 4.5-pound steak), my TV marathon will culminate with two back-to-back episodes of a show called America’s Worst Driver, which — like many shows on the Travel Channel — doesn’t appear to be about travel.

Brandishing my notebook, I stare at the screen with a fatigued sense of resolve and ponder the events that brought me to this moment.

I.

WHY I CAME TO VEGAS TO WATCH TV FOR A WEEK

Day 1, Hour 2: 10:37 am. I am currently watching a show called Food Fun Factories. Its tagline is “hit the road and put your taste buds to the test,” which (given the content of the show) seems to infer that you should plan your vacations around the manufacture of junk food. On the screen, a man dressed as a jellybean is hugging a small child at a Fairfield, California, candy factory.

Since I don’t own a TV, I am viewing the action on a 24-inch RCA that sits atop a cream-colored cabinet in Plaza Hotel suite 2333, Las Vegas, Nevada. At $22 a night, it was cheaper to fly to Vegas for the week than it was to rent a comparable hotel room 10 miles from my Midwestern home. My room smells faintly of cigarettes and features a king-sized bed, late-’80s-style muted beige neo-Greco décor, and a synthetic potted plant that probably gets taken outside and hosed down once a year. The casino auditorium downstairs advertises a nightly extravaganza called “The Rat Pack is Back.”

I’ve been intrigued with the Travel Channel ever since I started making my living as a travel writer twelve years ago. Sometimes I’ll catch snippets of its programs when I’m staying in American hotels, and in recent years I’ve occasionally appeared on the network as a talking-head commentator (primarily on a pair of countdown clip-shows about international destinations). These fleeting Travel Channel appearances haven’t done much to deepen my understanding of the network (they were filmed by an independent production company), but they have attracted more attention from long-lost friends and family members than all of my books and travel articles combined.

Indeed, the Travel Channel has built up a significant viewing audience since its inception in 1987, a truth borne out by its $975 million valuation when the Scripps media conglomerate bought a controlling stake in the network one year ago. Given this popularity, I’ve begun to wonder what kind of message the Travel Channel is sending.

Where do we go when we watch travel television? Who do we meet? What do we learn? Since the word television literally means “seeing far,” I’ve decided to tune in for five full days and check out the view.

For the sake of discipline and full immersion, I have resolved not to use my cell phone or the Internet during my experiment. A small plastic cooler holds enough food and drink to last me the week. The only information I’ll take in for the next 78 hours will come courtesy of the Travel Channel.

On the TV screen, the candy factory footage cuts away to a hearing-aid commercial hosted by the guy who played Bobby Ewing on Dallas.

NOTES FOR A TRAVEL CHANNEL DRINKING GAME

Day 1, Hour 6: 2:08 pm. By mid-afternoon the Travel Channel has shuttled me to Alaska, where Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern is dipping a chunk of bowhead whale-flesh into a jar of fermented blubber-oil.

I’m nearing the end of a midday stretch of programming that has featured three of the most popular personalities on the Travel Channel. Zimmern is a jovial, bald, pot-bellied cook from Minneapolis who travels around the world sampling dishes like boiled llama brains and fried deer genitals. Samantha Brown, who appeared at noon on Passport to Great Weekends, is an extroverted everywoman who takes brief, activity-filled trips to popular vacation destinations. Anthony Bourdain, whose show No Reservations aired an hour ago, is a grizzled, articulate, and coolly glamorous chef who travels the world using food as a window into culture.

I’ll talk more about each host’s respective show as the week progresses, but for now I think I’ve learned enough to create a drinking game that will ensure Travel Channel viewers get nice and buzzed by the end of a given episode. Assuming one has a bottle of whiskey on hand, it goes like this:

  • Bizarre Foods: Do a shot every time Andrew Zimmern nibbles on a morsel of, say, pickled gerbil rectum and stares off into the middle distance for a moment before comparing the taste to pork, beef, chicken or fish.
  • Passport to Great Weekends: Do a shot every time Samantha Brown emits a monosyllabic expression of enthusiasm, such as “Yay!” “Ooh!” “Aah!” “Wow!” or “Woo!”
  • No Reservations: Do a shot every time Anthony Bourdain does a shot.

On the TV, Zimmern noshes a bite of whale and compares it to his grandmother’s pot roast. I find myself wishing I’d brought booze with me.

NOTES FOR A TRAVEL CHANNEL DRINKING GAME, PART TWO

Day 1, Hour 13: 9:30 pm. Thirteen hours in, and I’ve just begun my fourth consecutive episode of a show called Man v. Food, which is hosted by Adam Richman, an affable and hyperactive bloke who seems to be channeling his TV persona through the hybrid aura of Jay Leno, late-period Elvis, and Cookie Monster.

The premise of Man v. Food is that Richman travels to a major American city and declares his intention to eat an insanely large food item — say, a 30-pound sloppy joe — in one sitting. For the next 20 or so minutes, Richman visits other popular eateries in his destination city, wolfing down meals in normal-sized portions while continually alluding to the gastronomical challenges presented by the 30-pound sloppy joe. At the end of the episode Richman strides into a restaurant, strips naked, rolls on a condom, and makes wild, passionate love to the 30-pound sloppy joe while a crowd of rowdy locals cheers him on.

Actually, I’m just joking. The host of Man v. Food never technically has sexual intercourse with the food. But if you were required to take a shot of whiskey every time Adam Richman bites into a hot-wing or a cheese-steak and rolls his eyes back with an orgasmic shudder, you would be hammered inside of a half-hour.

TELEVISION FATIGUE, DAY ONE

Day 1, Hour 16 (plus 2): 3:13 am. I wake up disoriented, the TV blaring some wee-hours infomercial about mortgage relief (the Travel Channel only broadcasts original content for 16 hours each day; the rest is given over to paid programming).

I grab my cell phone and squint at the time. Despite the fact that I spent most of the day sitting down, I nodded off from bone-deep exhaustion less than five minutes into the 11:00 pm rerun of Extreme Fast Food.

Watching a screen all day without having the option to change the channel has been an unexpectedly taxing endeavor: My limbs ache and my eyes burn as I get up to turn off the TV for the night. I have 64 waking hours left in my Travel Channel marathon.

[Stay tuned for the continuation of Rolf Potts’ series Around the World in 80 Hours tomorrow]

[flickr image via Erin Drewitz]

The Best Inspirational Travel Quotes

As an inveterate quotation-hoarder, I am always on the lookout for concise yet powerful expressions of wit and wisdom related to travel. Here are ten of my favorites, followed by a couple comments on why I find them so memorable and meaningful…

10. “We are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn… that the state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own underwrite our joy nor condemn us to misery.” – Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel. Travel is many things– mind-altering, exciting, challenging– but it is not a panacea. Those who travel abroad because they’re unhappy at home will find that travel does not cure all of life’s ills.

9. “When one is traveling, one must expect to spend a certain amount of money foolishly.” – Robertson Davies, as quoted by Chuck Thompson in Smile When You’re Lying. It happens. Whether it’s indulging at the hotel mini-bar or being ripped off by an unscrupulous taxi driver, people often see their money evaporate at alarming rates when they’re traveling. Expect it, and most importantly, budget for it.

8. “Very many people spend money in ways quite different from those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because the respect of their neighbors depends upon their possession of a good car and their ability to give good dinners. As a matter of fact, any man who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers travels or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like everyone else.” – Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, as quoted in Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding. A reminder that it’s your money and your life: do with it what you want. Every dollar spent at home is a dollar that can’t be spent abroad.

7. “There are two things to do in Juneau, drink and get drunk.” – Chuck Thompson, quoting a friend, in Smile When You’re Lying. It isn’t just Juneau; there are only two things to do in a lot of places. Not every travel destination is a winner, and sometimes you’re left in the middle of nowhere splitting a bottle of booze with a friend. Still, there are worse ways to spend an evening, or a week.

6. “Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically teaches viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves.” – Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel. In our normal, workaday lives, the experience of being “humbled” is often an embarrassing or upsetting one. But standing in the midst of Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu, we are happy, ecstatic even, to be humbled. It’s a great, great feeling.

5. “You must kill ten hours to make two hours live. What you must be careful of is not to kill ALL the hours, ALL the years.” – Charles Bukowski, The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship.
The most powerful force in most people’s working lives is inertia: we do what we do because it’s what we’ve always done. But surrendering one’s life to inertia is a tragic mistake.

4. “As for the idea of a native country, that is to say, of a certain bit of ground traced out on a map and separated from others by a red or blue line: no. My native country is for me the country that I love, that is, the one that makes me dream, that makes me feel well. I am as much Chinese as French, and I don’t rejoice about our victories over the Arabs because I’m saddened by their defeats.” – Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to Louise Colet, The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830-1857. As true today as it was when Flaubert wrote it in 1846, travel provides a window into the lives of the oft-derided Others: illegal immigrants, people from the Middle East, Asian factory workers who “steal” American jobs. Travel reminds us of what shouldn’t need reminding: these are people too.

3. “The fool, with all his other faults, has this also: he is always getting ready to live.” – Epicurus. Couldn’t have said it better myself. If not now, when?

2. “We have a new joke on the reservation: ‘What is cultural deprivation?’ Answer: ‘Being an upper-middle class white kid living in a split-level suburban home with a color TV.'” – John Fire Lame Deer, Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions. Ouch. Okay, this one hits a little too close to home. Still, it’s a reminder that there’s a hell of a lot more to life than watching TV and clicking aimlessly on the internet. A whole world awaits.

1. “Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am… Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.” – Michael Crichton, Travels, as quoted in Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding.
I can’t tell you how often that final sentence pops into my mind whenever I’m hanging on for dear life during some insane taxi ride, or arriving in a new town after midnight. No, travel isn’t always comfortable, but it’s always, always invigorating.

Got a favorite travel quotation of your own? Share it in the Comments.