Monthly Archives: September 2010

Relativity and Travel

“Every day, people are moving; they are doing things like climbing stairs. It’s interesting to think about — are frequent flyers getting younger [because they move so much] or aging faster [because they spend so much time in the air]?”

James Chin-wen Chou, physicist, MIT, quoted in Wired

What Does ‘Getting Lost’ Look Like?

One of the coolest aspects of doing this new “Getting Lost” series is that I get to shoot my own photos. Now, I can produce a decent image or two now and then, but I’m not the greatest travel photographer in the world, so frankly it’s a real privilege to be able to do this. I’m always kind of floored whenever my photo editor accepts what I’ve shot and it runs on the cover of the friggin’ Travel section. Amazing.

Shooting a cover story, though, is not exactly the same as writing one. When you’re out reporting a story, you have a ton of random, often unconnected experiences, some of which you take notes on, others of which you forget until, when you finally sit down to put the article together, they suddenly become important events. All of which is to say that, as my friend Tom Bissell has written, travel writing is so artificial, so intricately constructed from anti-chronological fragments, that it resembles fiction writing more than any other nonfiction genre.

But travel photography doesn’t work that way—not exactly. While an unexpected or almost-forgotten experience can be re-created in writing, in photography if you didn’t shoot it at the time, you missed out. You can’t just go back and catch that same moment again (especially if you don’t have the time or budget). Someone whose job is solely to shoot can have his camera out and running constantly, but if, like me, you’re also trying to have those write-aboutable experiences at the same time, that strategy won’t work. The camera gets in the way of the actual experience.

Those are all just technical issues to be overcome. When you’ve got to both write and shoot, you find a way.

What is trickier, however, is figuring out what to shoot. With a conceptual series like “Getting Lost,” the challenge is always to find one great image—the kind of image that belongs on a section front—that communicates lostness. And that is not an easy thing to do.

For the Tangier story, I’d imagined going into the medina at twilight and finding someone standing stock still amid a whirl of moving people in robes. With a slow shutter speed, I could get a great iconic picture that would convey the feeling of being lost in the medina.

The problem was, that never happened. The crowds just didn’t move that way, and people just didn’t stop that way, especially not in the settings that would otherwise communicate the message “You are in a big medina!” Instead, the Tangier medina was often a lonelier place, quiet in parts, with single people often strolling through forgotten corners. I took a lot of such shots, and that’s what my editors eventually chose.

But there was another one I loved that they didn’t use. Or rather, they used another version of it on the spread. It’s the one you see above, of the rooftops of the medina, with a girl sitting in the corner. I love the image, but I also understand why it didn’t work for the cover—it’s the wrong shape. Here you’re seeing it in full (though small), but the cover is an actual, tangible thing: a piece of paper that will be folded in half. And when you fold this image in half, you lose the already small girl entirely. All that’s left are rooftops—the photo’s meaning itself is lost.

Currency Events

Almost as soon as I retired from the Frugal Traveler column, I started hearing from a lot of editors asking me to write for them. Yay! I thought. On to the next big thing! Turns out, though, that most of them wanted me to write about, you know, budget travel—a subject I know pretty well but about which I’m a little ambivalent. Writing 200 or so articles about budget travel will do that to you.

But when my friend Todd Pruzan came calling, asking me to contribute a few pieces to Currency, a new personal-finance Website for youngish people, I caved. The site is still in beta, but several of my pieces—about street food, credit cards, and booking flights—are up. If you’re feeling “Matt Gross the Frugal Traveler” withdrawal, you might want to check them out.

Tales of a Post-Frugal Traveler

When I announced in May that I was retiring as the New York Times’s Frugal Traveler columnist, a lot of people got the wrong idea. They thought maybe I’d been fired, or that I wanted to spend more time with my family, or that I was simply tired of traveling. None of those theories—which I still hear from friends and acquaintances—is true, however. Especially the last one. I love traveling—it’s what I do. To give that up would be like giving up breathing.

And in fact, I’ve had a busy summer of travel: Costa Rica, Tunisia, Austria, Morocco, Maine, almost all of which were work trips. (The week in Maine was my first real extended vacation in four years.) And starting this weekend, you’ll be able to see the fruits of my labor, when my new series for the Times travel section debuts.

It’s called “Getting Lost,” and I won’t say too much about it here—yet. Let’s allow the premiere piece to speak for itself over the weekend, and then, on Monday, I’ll start to address right here some of the issues the article brings up.

Or rather, I’ll try to address them. See, Monday afternoon I’m off to Ireland on another work trip, and I can’t say how regular my Internet access will be. But I’ll do my best to maintain my presence here—as long as you do your best to read each and every word I write. Deal?

A Slow Start

I’m Matt Gross, a food and travel writer who works for publications such as Saveur, Afar,, and the New York Times, where I wrote the Frugal Traveler column from 2006 to 2010 and where I’ve recently begun a new regular series, “Getting Lost.” This blog, “The Minor Glories,” is supposed to be a kind of supplement to all of that, a way to talk about the zillions of interesting things that, for one reason or another, don’t make it into my longer articles.

(The blog’s name comes from an article I wrote for WorldHum, “The Minor Glories of Constant Motion.” Also, it sounds like the name of a band, and since I’ll never be in an actual band, I’m going to use it here.)

What will you find on “The Minor Glories”? Well, not much straight-up travel writing, probably. The big stories of international adventure and intrigue are generally the kinds of things I get commissioned to write for newspapers and magazines, so you’ll find them there, not here.

Here you’ll get something entirely different: the leftovers and cutouts, the interstitial moments, the behind-the-scenes sausage-making that produces those glossy, polished features. Here I might post beloved fragments of stories that didn’t make the final draft, or I might elaborate on my strategies for “Getting Lost.” I’ll probably discuss my researching, writing, and editing techniques, most often as a way of procrastinating the actual research, writing, and editing. And I’d like especially to answer questions about the travel-writer life from you, my beloved readers. (Post them in comments or e-mail them to worldmatt at worldmatt dot org.)

Frankly, I have no idea where this whole thing is headed. I write a lot—my travel and food stories, plus the parenting blog—so I don’t want to promise that this site will be updated constantly. But it might be! Lately I’m enjoying not knowing what the future will bring, so I’d like to invite you to join me on this minor-key journey into the not-yet-known.