A Real Travel Writer Is A Bigger Badass Than You

So far so good with the website. It’s a nice platform for my ideas and has been drawing in a humble but steady trickle of traffic. But I’m still working hard to get published in the major travel writing websites, and one of the things I’ve been checking out are the personal websites of some of their contributing writers. What I’ve found has been interesting.

In her “About Me” section, one travel writer boasts about illegally entering a country, being detained by the police, and getting kicked out of a famous landmark. Another boldly proclaims his mission to visit every country on the planet (possibly the most original idea I’ve ever heard), and is also immensely proud that he owns only a few things. A third is for some reason very eager to describe how readily he sunburns.

Is this impressive? If you try to get arrested, you can do it. It won’t be hard. What is difficult or cool about that? I am also still unclear on the literary merits of sunburning easily.

So I thought to myself: how can I leapfrog these people? There is of course only one answer. These travel writers are all such badasses, the only way is for me to out badass them. Hence, I have fashioned a new and improved mini-bio for myself, one that ranks me up there with the best of them. Enjoy:

Frank Izaguirre has been to more countries than any other travel writer ever, including all nine continents. He’s been arrested seven and a half times, abducted twice, auctioned off once, and there was this other time when he illegally crossed the border to go take a whiz real quick, which is also something definitely worth writing about. He has contracted five diseases while traveling, two of them venereal, and keeps all his worldly possessions in a fanny pack.

OK, looks good. Am I famous yet?


How To Pronounce Izaguirre

Once, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, I for the first and only time met two Basques. They spoke both Basque and Spanish. Izaguirre is a Basque name. It was my chance to find out what it means.

“What does Izaguirre mean in Basque?” I asked in Spanish.

“Ah, Izaguirre,” one nodded knowingly. “It’s a last name.”

There are great benefits to having a rare and unusual last name. First is the fame.

“I’m the most famous Frank Izaguirre,” I recently said at the dinner table. I was referring to how the first Frank Izaguirre hit on Google is actually me, Frank Izaguirre. Even though we were in the middle of a meal, my sister immediately got up, went to her room, and brought back her laptop. I enjoyed watching her humiliation when it turned out I actually am the top hit. In the Images search you can see several pictures of me trying to look like a traveler or a writer.

A strange last name is renewable source of entertainment. One of my best friends, someone I’ve known since freshman year of college, still doesn’t know how to spell Izaguirre. Every time I’ve seen him try it’s been wrong. Izzaguirre. Izaguire. Izaguirie. I keep his name misspelled in my phone too.

I also remember submitting a very clear phonetic pronunciation to be read during my college commencement, but the lady calling the names still said something like, “Iza-meh-meh-meh.”

And I know there’s still more fun to come. One of my great motivators for breaking into the travel writing market is meeting other travel writers with a complete ineptitude for pronouncing Izaguirre. Travel writers almost by definition pride themselves on being worldly. Meeting such people and listening to them stumble is a major professional ambition.

To avoid such embarrasment, they could journey to the Basque country on a quest to find out how to pronounce Izaguirre. For late-career travel writers scrambling to come up with an idea for their next well-compensated travelogue, maybe that’s not a bad idea.

So I’ve Decided I’m A Huge LeBron Fan

Sports? On a travel writing blog? Yes, because half the reason I started a blog was so I could rant about whatever topic has most recently moved my spirit. Besides, just wait for the end of the post, when I sneakingly (absurdly?) link my LeBron James opinion back to travel writing. Don’t skip ahead and spoil the surprise.

First, I need to disclose I’m from Miami, but since James joined the Heat, which I should also disclose have always been my favorite sports team (I grew up in the glory days of Alonzo and Timmy Hardaway), I’ve been reluctant to get behind him. Of course I was excited when he came to Miami, but I cringed at how he did it. When they fell apart in the finals last year, I was sad, but somehow a little relieved. Losing a championship meant they burned off their bad karma, and they didn’t deserve to win anyway based on how they played in the most important games of their lives.

This season I’ve been watching much more of their games. They’ve had a little time to come together as a team, and I love the additions they made, especially Shane Battier. Pretty much everyone’s playing great.

Somehow though, I’ve still been a little reluctant with James. Obviously, he’s an absolute joy to watch, and my Dad and I have had tons of fun together catching practically all the games this season. Despite that, I can’t help wonder if he’ll leave Miami the same way he left Cleveland. And as much as it seems he’s matured, why does he still say absurd things about possibly returning to Cleveland (even if he were secretly planning that), among other things? Can’t he see how badly he damages his recovering image and how much needless distress he causes people when he talks like that? Can’t he be just a little more careful with what he says?

But I see James differently now, and it’s largely because of the insight of an old high school friend of mine I recently met with for lunch. He told me how he considers ESPN the worst journalistic institution in the US because they essentially make and then report on their own stories. Example #1 is of course “The Decision,” which was something they totally set up, and then mercilessly used as an opportunity to trash him.

And by trashing him, they were also cashing in on him. Ratings soared. Everyone profitted from his missteps. It’s in every sports journalist’s best interest for LeBron to continue saying outrageous things and then not winning a title. They have more to comment on, more opportunity to make money for themselves by bad-mouthing him. The closer he comes without sealing it, the better.

Frankly, the whole thing kind of disgusts me. It disgusts me much more, in fact, than the naive arrogance of a young man who became very famous very quickly. Those people owe so much of their livelihoods to James. If sports journalism were the world, James would be Atlas.

So, in my view, by being the overdog, the absolute best player in the world today, and possibly ever, James has become in at least some sense the underdog. Nearly everyone wants him to fail, and to keep failing. Realizing that has made me respect him more. I want him to overcome and quiet the critics, who were all too quick to turn on him when it suited them. So when I begin my travels again, I look forward to proclaiming myself a huge LeBron fan.

Besides, a big part of the success of many of the most popular travel writers is having unpopular opinions. Just think of VS Naipaul and the absurd things he said last year about female writers.

So I’m definitely a huge LeBron fan. We’ll start with that.

A Nice Exchange with Eva Holland

One of my favorite sites is World Hum, a page dedicated to publishing all kinds of insightful and interesting stories, profiles,  links, and lists about travel and travel writing. Possibly my favorite thing about the site is that I’m able to easily post contrarian viewpoints on the nature of travel writing and be in dialogue with some of the industry’s top voices. Open forums make that possible.

Recently, Eva Holland, the senior editor, posted an excerpt taken from a recent Harper’s piece written by Robert MacFarlane which she really liked.

Here’s the excerpt in question:

He saved travel writing by changing its mandate: After Chatwin, the challenge was to find not originality of destination but originality of form.

Among those who have followed Chatwin, the most interesting have forged new forms specific to their chosen subjects: thus Pico Iyer’s sparkily hyperconnective studies of globalized culture and William Least Heat-Moon’s “deep maps” of America’s lost regions. Perhaps most important were W.G. Sebald’s enigmatic “prose fictions”—particularly “Rings Of Saturn”—that likewise hover between genres, make play with unreliability, and fold in on other forms: traveler’s tale, antiquarian digression, and memoir. What Sebald, like so many of us, learned from Chatwin was that the travelogue could voyage deeply in time rather than widely in space, and that the interior it explored need not be the heart of a place but the mind of the traveler.

I disagree with the implications of what MacFarlane’s saying, and I said as much in the forum. In my reading, MarFarlane’s postulating that because essentially every destination had already been written about in Chatwin’s day, Chatwin shifted the dynamic by creating new forms and making that the emphasis of the genre.

What bothers me about this is that people and places aren’t static, so it’s not like every place on earth had or has been written about. Once even a little time has passed, the destination will be different, especially in our rapidly changing world, which means that it is in effect a new place and worth writing about for that reason alone. New forms can be great, but I don’t believe they’re inherently necessary because the fact that people and places are always changing means that there’s always new places to write about.

In fact, I believe an emphasis on constantly creating new forms puts travel writing on a dangerous uphill trajectory, where it becomes increasingly difficult to come up with these new forms. The result may be a race to gimmickry. Check out the rest of the conversation and Eva Holland’s response here.