Paul Theroux, and so, since I’ve reviewed an interesting audiobook titled “What French Women Know,” and my favorite episode of No Reservations is Paris, I wanted to ask him some questions related to books in general, and to travel in France in particular.
You once wrote an unauthorized biography of a con man titled “Dare To
Be Great.” Then you did some reporting for The Washington Post that was
nominated for a Pulitzer, also unrelated to travel. What, then, are your
own favorite books?
Love “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” by Joan Didion, “The Professor and the
Madman” by Simon Winchester. Anything by Simon Winchester, in fact.
“Memoir From Antproof Case” by Mark Helprin, “Up In the Air” by Walter Kirn, a movie starring George Clooney. “My Secret History” by Paul
Theroux, and “Snow Blind” by Robert Sabbag.
Q: What did you most enjoy exploring France, and what
itinerary stops shouldn’t be missed by those wanting a mix of chateaux,
Paris, and wine country visits?
A: In Paris, I enjoy walking. For hours. Almost every
residential block offers architectural marvels, and commercial
neighborhoods are filled with fascinating shops, cafes, bistros, and
restaurants. Outside of Paris, I like Burgundy and the Loire Valley for a
great mix of restaurants, pastoral beauty, and chateaux.
Q: Any thoughts on package tours as opposed to just hoofing with the aid of a rental car?
A: I think there are some folks who enjoy the predictability,
organization, and simplicity of a package tour that stipulates an
itinerary and includes a guide. But my guess is on a second or third
visit, many travelers would prefer to roam about and make some
discoveries on their own. I’m in the latter camp.
Q: What’s the best time to visit France, and are there any tips on customs or culture that American tourists generally overlook?
A: I think the last half of May, all of June, and July
through Bastille Day are the best times to visit places in France that
are especially popular with visitors. The weather is more likely to be
good, and the French are still at work. August, when the entire country
takes off, is my least favorite time. Paris is empty, the south of
France is traffic gridlock. Customs? Air kissing involves one time on
both cheeks. Know the basic words in French, such as “please” and “thank
you” and “hello” and “goodbye.” I know it sounds silly, but locals in
every country appreciate Americans making an effort to speak a few words
in their language. Don’t ever touch the fruit and vegetables in an
outdoor market in Paris–just point for the shopkeeper. Only three
passengers to a taxi, please.
Q: What about safety and economy? How does France stack up against the rest of Europe?
A: I consider France as safe as any other country in Western
Europe. Probably a lot less theft in France than in parts of southern
Italy. As for affordability, well, given that it takes $1.50 to buy a
euro these days–and only $1.30 this time last year–the entire continent
has become fairly pricey. I’d recommend getting out of the big cities to
find less expensive hotels and restaurants.
Q: Paul Theroux recommends sticking to the ground when
traveling, whenever possible. Have you ever shared a bottle of wine in
some bistro with him, and what’s his best travel advice?
A: I’ve never been to France with Paul, though we did travel
together for about ten days in India. I like sticking to the ground, as
well. Paul often says it’s not the things that go right when you’re
traveling you remember the best–it’s the things that go wrong. If you’re
driving, you can always take the wrong road, which may well turn out to
be a good idea.
Q: What fun for you lately, traveling?
A: I shot a Silk Road episode in Uzbekistan for “Rudy Maxa’s
World” on public television. I had a great time in Central Asia, even
though, two days before we were to depart, a camel threw me off its back
while we were shooting a closing scene. Bottom line: Three stitches in
the back of my head and a broken right clavicle. Tip: Avoid a camel
named Catherine in the town of Khiva.
Here's my own cruise to southern France & Italy
(Liberty of the Seas) For cruise fiction go here.