From China to Ireland to Tunisia: Catching Up

Apologies to you, my devoted readers! For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been traveling in China (partly for the Times, partly for Saveur), where Twitter, Facebook and WordPress are blocked, leaving me mostly incommunicado. But despite my absence from the United States, a lot of Matt-related stuff has been going on back here.

First, my most recent “Getting Lost” story came out: “Lost in Ireland.” As usual, this was an interesting challenge to write, because it was not one of those “happy 24 hours a day” kinds of trips. Actually, those easy, happy trips are pretty hard to write up, too; where’s the drama? But the challenge for “Lost in Ireland” was to convey what’s valuable about a trip that was often fraught with loneliness and disappointment. Or rather, how you find a different type of pleasure within (and outside of) those emotions. People seem to like the story, so I guess I did alright.

At about the same time, the new issue of Afar magazine hit the newsstands, and inside was “Stereotyped in Tunis,” my “Spin the Globe” contribution. This was another challenge to write, though in a completely different way. Tunisia was a ton of fun, really easy to get around in, with excellent food and interesting people everywhere. What was tough, though, was the nature of the assignment. For “Spin the Globe,” Afar sends writers to a mystery location—in my case, I didn’t know I was going to Tunisia until I was on my way to Kennedy Airport. This seems like a brilliant idea, but as a writer looking to produce a story from my experiences, it eliminates one crucial factor: Usually, I have some goal, some reason, for going to the places I go. I want to hitchhike from one end of an island to another, or trace the life of a famous novelist, or eat as much Japanese ramen as possible. In Tunisia, with no time to research or plan, the experiences were bound to be random, unconnected, and almost impossible to assemble into a coherent narrative.

But this, then, is when travel writers earn their dough (however little that may often be). What you do here, when you get back from the trip, is turn on a filter and see what emerges. Really, the questions are: What can I discard, and what’s left over? Can I see the trip through the lens of art, and forget all that nonsense about nightclubs? Sure, I may have spent two days getting away from my main location, but maybe those were the two most important days and I should focus on them exclusively? For the Tunis piece, I chose to look at how the city’s fun and easy façade both contributed to stereotypes and made me eager to penetrate them. And the odd corollary of this was that many of my eating experiences made it through that filter, too. Alas, the article is not online, so go buy a copy of Afar right now! It’s a great magazine, and needs your support.

Coming up next week: A Q&A with my friend Jeff Wise.

2 responses to “From China to Ireland to Tunisia: Catching Up

  1. Matt
    I really enjoyed your artilce on Lost in Ireland that was Published in the NY Times on Oct 24. I just returned from a trip to Ireland on Sep.19th. I travelled with ten family members. It was my third trip and some had traveled there several times. We always return to “The Farm” on our trips. It’s the farm that my grandmother, Nora Cronin grew up on. That wonderful picture you took of the road in the article was the road leading to “The Farm”. My niece and son both subscribe to the NY Times and immediately reconized it.
    I did forward the article to my cousin Kathleen and she confirmed it was the road leading to the Farm. It is located in Killoraglen County Kerry. The Cronins yard you refer to is a distant relative of mine.
    Cronins yard is located at the footof Carrantuohill the highest mountain in Ireland. One can also access Carrantuohill from my grandmothers farm but the walking distance is much further.
    My cousin Jeremiah still lives on the farm and he will turn 60 in November. I plan to send him the New York Times from 10-24. I’m sure he will be impressed.
    Thanks for the great article.

    Kate Fabrizio

  2. Matt,
    I too really enjoyed the Ireland piece from NYT. There aren’t too many journalists covering how difficult things are economically in Ireland at the moment.. and you really captured some of that frustration/disappointment/loneliness in your article. In my mind, that makes discoveries all the more pleasurable, such as finding the country pub with a local band that is finding a way to get best their troubles with music. Thanks for sharing.

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