Category Archives: Travel

‘We Love Europa But Europa No Love Us.’

Refugee camp graffiti

Travel writer David Farley spent a month volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece. He wrote about it for Afar. It was not exactly an introduction to the world of good will towards refugees.

Souda briefly gained prominence in November 2016, when it was reported that a right-wing mob stood atop the old city walls and launched large stones and Molotov cocktails down into the camp, setting tents ablaze. Tensions were such that one of the rules of the NGO I was volunteering for stated that once I left the camp, I had to remove my fluorescent green vest and volunteer badge for fear locals would attack me for helping the refugees.

Farley’s piece includes the voices of people we perceive as a generic mass with unified motives.

One day while serving lunch—a tomato and chickpea stew made by a Basque NGO—I met a Syrian named Dallal. He was a new arrival and was aware he might be at Souda for a while. “I don’t understand why we have to wait so long. Some people have been here for nearly a year,” he said. “Our collective goal is that we want a new future, a good future, a safe life. I have a degree in mechanical engineering. My friend here,” he pulled over a 25-year-old from Iraq, “he’s a veterinarian. We’re not poor. We just want a normal life. We are here for survival.”

Read the story

‘I felt dirty, a lesser person somehow than when I had left a week before.’

Rafia Zakaria᾿s essay in The Baffler on flying while Muslim is an important read that exposes a long list of things that most white, non-Muslim Americans never have to think about while traveling — what language they’re speaking, what books they’re reading, or who’s sending them text messages.

After landing in Boston, I put away my book and took out my customs form and my passport, my courage and my patience. As our herd of hopeful entrants was separated—as it always is between U.S. passport holders and Legal Permanent Residents, and the lesser “everyone else”—I reminded myself that I was the less vulnerable. The white and real American couple in front of me considered their dinner options. I sweated and deleted all the texts from my family members, every one of them having a Muslim name.

Read the essay

Pittsburgh, Listed

Pittsburgh and the Duquense Incline

You know the drill — your city is included on some top ten destinations list and you can’t resist. You click through and the Space Needle is touted as a can’t miss site as opposed to home to a dated museum with a view that might be worth it if the day is clear, but you could just go to …

Plus, the character is all wrong.

In Pittsburgh’s City Paper, Alex Gordon surveys 150 years of writing about his city and whether or not this type of boosterish frivolity helps the city’s residents — specifically people of color.

In 2014, Damon Young, editor-in-chief of the digital magazine Very Smart Brothas, penned an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled, “Oblivious: Black people love Pittsburgh, too, but can’t help but wonder how much Pittsburgh loves them.” In it, Young expressed his ambivalence about the growing trend of Pittsburgh praise.

“Even as we boast about living in America’s ‘Most Livable’ or ‘Most Welcoming’ city, we question whether it is truly livable for and welcoming to us,” he wrote. “This is largely due to the fact that Pittsburgh’s relationship with its Yinzers of color has always been, for lack of a better term, complex.”

There’s also mention of a WPA project that ended up on the cutting room floor:

“The Negro in Pittsburgh” is not travel writing, but it includes one component that is routinely omitted from travel writing: the perspective of residents in their own words. The final chapter, “The People Speak,” offers a fascinating insight into what life was like for black Pittsburghers in the 1930s.

While it wasn’t published at the time — the FWP was shut down before the piece was completed — it’s pretty remarkable to consider a government project that documents the brazen inequality of an American city.

I still kind of want to go to Pittsburgh, preferably with a thoughtful local guide.

Read the story

Themed for Success

The theme cafe is one of the more viral-friendly aspects of Wacky Random Japan, and there are three major subcategories within it. First, and perhaps the most popular theme cafe export, are the animal cafes, most of which are less cafes than indoor petting zoos. The beverages are an afterthought, and an awkward one at that — it’s actually pretty hard to sip your Hitachino Nest Ale, the owl logo pointed out toward the camera, when you have an actual owl on your shoulder, no matter how on-brand. Second are theme restaurants, which are full-service restaurants where the decor, the menu, and the servers’ outfits all revolve around a certain aesthetic, and usually a pretty mall-goth one at that: the Vampire Café, the Prison Restaurant, the (many) Alice in Wonderland cafes. Lastly, there are the maid cafes and their descendants, including the butler cafes and the Macho Café pop-up, where the servers — and their, uh, service — are the stars.

The frivolity and almost willful pointlessness might seem like a leftover from the ’80s bubble era, but the contemporary theme cafe continues the lineage of Western-style cafes that emerged in the 1920s. After “modern” hangouts with names like “Café Printemps” had established themselves in Tokyo among the intellectuals and artists, they began to diversify for a growing middle class; “Europe” was the original theme of Japanese cafes, but once Western-style eateries became more of a norm, new establishments had to step it up. “Rather than small eating and drinking places with tables set with white tablecloths and Parisian or provincial German decor,” writes Elise K. Tipton, a professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Sydney, “the leading cafés became huge multistoried buildings glittering with neon lights, colored glass windows, light-reflective metallic surfaces, and rich furnishings.”

At Eater, journalist Emily Yoshida hits some of Tokyo’s absurd, popular tourist attractions trying to understand specifically what themed destinations offer and why they’re so popular. Her answer? I don’t remember. I got stuck on the part about the owl selfie.

Read the story

Accidental Diplomats

Graffiti reading "Smash Nazism" on a concrete wall.

Politics at the Kafeneíon. The table started with three voices and grew to fourteen, a loose confederation of Greek, French, Australian, German, and American. We discussed the world’s backslide into panicky jingoism rather than tackling the lunatic mythology of late-stage capitalism. As an American, I felt an acute strain of the familiar sensation of being mortified by my country, the urge to apologize to everybody in advance. Some said this rise in nationalism was a blip, a minor rip in the fabric of democracy which could be easily mended. I stayed quiet and envied their optimism.

I spent a good deal of the 80s and 90s wandering the globe. A left coast American, I was continually asked about Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. I heard less of this during the Clinton years though I do remember a nice Austrian woman asking me if we did not have dry cleaning in the US.

It’s that time abroad answering for Republican politics — a topic I was utterly unqualified to comment upon — that made this piece resonate for me. It wasn’t my job. And yet.

Read the story