The Rich and Insipid Traveler

Mostly to feed our fantasies, I guess, a few years ago a friend who thought we should travel more sent our names to a travel company called R. Crusoe & Son. Several times a year, we get the R. Crusoe catalogs. Once or twice I’ve perused them seriously–one time they had an off-beat cruise that started in Chicago and went out through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence to Newfoundland and then on to Greenland. One of the stops on the tour was L’Anse aux Meadows, the single site in North America where physical evidence has turned up of a Viking settlement. Something about that appealed to me. But we’re talking luxury travel here, inviting people to drop five or maybe even six figures on a trip. When the time comes, I’ll get to Newfoundland for a lot less than that.

Sometime in the last few days, we got the latest R. Crusoe catalog. In format, in style, and substance, they look and read like J. Peterman gone into the travel business. Mostly the results are innocuous. A description of an upcoming trip through China includes these highlights: “Enroll in Shaanxi Normal University for a morning discussion with students. Hear their hopes for the future. … Don’t blush when we view the lesser-known Han Dynasty naked warriors. Emperor Jingdi died in 141 B.C., but he left behind earthenware figurines dressed in silk. The clothing didn’t survive, but the troops are exquisite au naturel.” (Italics Crusoe’s, throughout.)

One of the trips in the brochure goes through Southeast Asia. Vietnam, Cambodia, and other places we Americans have left our mark. The pamphlet acknowledges that we’ve got some history in that part of the world, and the tour will visit war sites. But the past is acknowledged in a bland, chatty, empty — insipid — way that makes you wonder whether the purpose of visiting the region is to remember what happened there or forget about it. Here’s the bulk of the description, which I swear is presented in context:

Begin in Hanoi, which blasts any old associations of the Vietnam War. The 21st century city is a rich stew of influences–Asian and French colonial brand-new and Old Quarter. Our investigation goes forward as it should, by the leisurely pace of a rickshaw.

To Ho Chi Minh’s old haunts. Then poke around in the past with a researcher at the Museum of Ethnology. … See the Hanoi Hilton, where downed American pilots spent more time than they would have liked. …

Emperor Gia Long founded Hue as his dynasty’s first capital. He even created his very own Forbidden City, part of the imperial citadel. Have a look before retooling your sense of romance at dusk aboard a private sampan on the Perfume River. Also here: seven tombs for seven emperors. …

Once Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City sizzles. Its War Remnants Museum presents us with an eye-opening version of the “American War.” Passing the U.S. Consulate, experience a flood of memories–the chopper on the roof evacuating the last Americans.

Over cocktails and dinner, an economics professor brings us up to speed on Vietnam.

Burrow underground in the Cu Chi Tunnels, the very ones that helped change Southeast Asian history for good.

Then Cambodia. Somerset Maugham arrived in 1930 on a languid journey. Jackie O dropped by, too. Like them, we see the country’s light and dark sides.

Touch down in Phnom Penh to dabble in local history at the Royal Palace and its Silver Pagoda (featured in Architectural Digest). Treasures collected from across Cambodia await in the National Museum.

Cruise the poetic Mekong River at sunset on a private boat.

Those who want a deeper understanding of the unspeakable horror of the Khmer Rouge can take an option drive to the Killing Fields and visit Tuol Sleng Prison.

Consider today’s Cambodia over lunch with a journalist at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. …

Our trip winds down with some options: Enjoy a cruise on Southeast Asia’s largest lake, with a stop to see creations of artists disabled by exploded land mines. Instead, head for the finely-carved temple of Banteay Srei. Or get a view of Angkor on a helicopter ride over the complex. …”

That last “instead” is a stunner. It’s as if the person writing the copy suddenly thought, “Amputees?! Get me out of here, Mr. Wizard!” For eight thousand or ten thousand bucks, depending on whether you’re sharing a room on this 17-day extravaganza, a quick extraction from reality is the least you ought to be able expect.

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3 Replies to “The Rich and Insipid Traveler”

  1. I’m familiar with the J. Peterman stuff. You’re dead on about comparing the style–breezy, seductively romantic and ultimately vapid.
    Yet another reason I thank God I’m no longer part of the advertising industry. I know how that shit came to be. It’s the one sin (out of many) I know I’ll be held to answer for in the afterlife.

  2. Hey, I’ve written some of that stuff, too. It paid a couple bills along the way. I like the way Eudora Welty put it when describing why she didn’t advance in the world of ad writing: “It was too much like sticking pins into people to make them buy things they didn’t need or really want.”

  3. Great stuff….these travelogues. I like the part about Hue, the site of very bitter fighting in January, 1968. The place got kind of flattened. What’s next, a rendition tour of Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram? Enjoy bourbon with a splash…in a wash tub. Take in a 36 hour floor show…while chained to the floor…hope you like ABBA.
    Ah well, you know there is no karma out there, be it personal or collective, when you read this. It’s all pretty much a free-for-all. The Romans knew that much.

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