And the Monkey Learned Nothing: Dispatches from a Life in Transit
by Tom Lutz
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Tom Lutz is on a mission to visit every country on earth. And the Monkey Learned Nothingcontains reports from fifty of them, most describing personal encounters in rarely visited spots, anecdotes from way off the beaten path. Traveling without an itinerary and without a goal, Lutz explores the Iranian love of poetry, the occupying Chinese army in Tibet, the amputee beggars in Cambodia, the hill tribes on Vietnam s Chinese border, the sociopathic monkeys of Bali, the dangerous fishermen and conmen of southern India, the salt flats of Uyumi in Peru, and floating hotels in French Guiana, introduces you to an Uzbeki prodigy in the market of Samarkand, an Azeri rental car clerk in Baku, guestworkers in Dubai, a military contractor in Jordan, cucuruchos in Guatemala, a Pentecostal preacher in rural El Salvador, a playboy in Nicaragua, employment agents in Singapore specializing in Tamil workers, prostitutes in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, international bankers in Belarus, a teacher in Havana, border guards in Botswana, tango dancers in Argentina, a cook in Suriname, a juvenile thief in Uruguay, voters in Guyana, doctors in Tanzania and Lesotho, scary poker players in Moscow, reed dancers in Swaziland, young camel herders in Tunisia, Romanian missionaries in Macedonia, and musical groups in Mozambique. With an eye out for both the sublime and the ridiculous, Lutz falls, regularly, into the instant intimacy of the road with random strangers.
Postcards from around the globe, far from the beaten path of tourism.Los Angeles Review of Books founder and editor-in-chief Lutz (Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America, 2006) writes that he originally intended to subtitle this book “Around the World in Eighty Anecdotes.” “I thought it was an honest disclosure,” he writes. “What follows is an anecdotal rendering of eighty moments in my traveling life, with no attempt to use them to trace any world picture or any narrative arc.” Or to teach any moral lesson, though there is plenty to be learned here, for the writer and readers alike. Often in a state between dislocation and disorientation, he found himself grappling with the culture, politics, and religions of places where he could barely read the signposts. He writes of beggars who were more like demanders and of borders where he was often unclear whether the papers he brought with him to cross would allow him to cross back and, if so, who needed to be bribed how much. Lutz disdains the surface pleasures of tourism, but at a Zimbabwe National Park, he recognized that he “couldn’t shake the sense that I was not in the wild at all, but in a New Jersey safari park….I am a tourist. I love elephants.” He does, however, hate monkeys with a passion that puts a different slant on the title. He usually traveled alone, typically where other travelers don’t, but he often encountered kindred spirits who aided his understanding or shared his confusion. A musician himself, he responded to a variety of extraordinary music, which required no translation. When the book arrives at its final section on Europe, it is no surprise to readers that there is no visit to London, Paris, or Venice, or even to the countries where those much-visited cities are located. A travel memoir with short, provocative, occasionally inscrutable entries that will eventually tire even armchair travelers.
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