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All Over the Place

September 16, 2021

Hoping for some armchair travel during an unprecedented period of no travel, I read Geraldine DeRuiter’s All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft. After I read it I took a look at her blog, the Everywhereist, which is unsurprisingly not updated very often while we wait for travel to go back to what is going to be the new normal. I had the same reaction to her blog that I had to her book—I enjoyed the way she said some things and I often found her tone a bit pretentious. It turned me off that her ad for the book on the blog says that if you liked Twilight you’ll hate her book. Similarly, I’m not charmed by her declaration that it’s out of the question to have a relationship with someone after “you find out they think Titanic was a good movie.”

Some of the stories in the book are about travel, but not all. She really is “all over the place,” no matter where she is. I find her disingenuousness disconcerting because occasionally she says something she must have considered for a while, something I agree with, and then takes a sudden turn. For example, she says (I think disingenuously) “So in the spring of 2009, I started a travel blog. Sometimes you can’t let a complete dearth of natural talent or ability stop you from doing something.” But then she follows it with something I agree with: “Imagine where we would be as a society without open-mic night or amateur…” then when she’s got me agreeing, she takes a turn and follows “amateur” with “pornography.”

I enjoyed the story about stopping in Ashland, Oregon for lunch and not knowing it’s home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:
“Rand and I stared at one another, dumbfounded, trying to figure the reason behind the huge congregation of old people flooding the streets. Was it a meeting of the local chapter of the Werther’s Original Fan Club? A Sam Waterston lookalike contest that was admirably gender agnostic? A midterm election? Stumped, we finally asked our server what was going on.
‘The plays just got out,’ she explained.”
This time of year we’d usually be looking forward to our annual trip to the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, where if you buy a ticket for a person under 30 years old, you get a discount.

Geraldine tells stories she thinks are cute about getting lost, and I think she’s an idiot, especially because I’ve been to some of the places she describes and know that it’s not as easy to get lost as she makes it sound. Anyone visiting England who wants to go to Greenwich and straddle the Prime Meridian can look up where to go and figure out that you get off the train at Cutty Sark (where you can also see the ship). Geraldine–who I guess is not interested in reading maps but can only read signs–claims that signs are only posted “at Greenwich and not before. It’s a charming way of saying, ‘Congratulations, you cocked up.’”

When she philosophizes about travel, I sometimes agree, like when she says “all I’ve ever wanted in life is to feel that I knew what the hell I was doing. That I’m in control. And travel offers the exact opposite of that experience. Every trip is just an opportunity to screw up on a grand scale. Every trip is an exercise in handing the reigns [sic] over to someone else, or letting them go altogether.” Even her spelling mistake relates to her idea, which is that you can’t decree what happens when you’re on the road. (If you do hand the reins to someone else, in the metaphor derived from guiding a horse, then you’re letting them do the driving. I guess the extension of that here is that you can’t tell the driver where you want to go, or if you do he won’t necessarily listen.)

There are genuinely funny parts, though, like when she talks about going to a restaurant in Barcelona for tapas:
“The Spanish invented these small dishes—usually tiny snacks speared on a toothpick—presumably in order to make amends to humanity for the Inquisition.
‘Sorry we murdered and tortured everyone in the name of Christ. Here, try this ham. It’s made from a pig that spent its life drinking port wine while being read the works of Cervantes.’”

I like what she says about why bucket lists of places to visit aren’t an especially good idea (in a chapter entitled Bucket Lists Are Just Plain Greedy): “for some reason demanding to see Angkor Wat before you died was too much for me. Too demanding. Too morbid. I figured you got what you got.” And I like her self-deprecating humor, as when she sees herself “wallowing in self-pity, in a way that Joan of Arc and Susan B. Anthony and Tina Turner and so many other heroic woman [sic] before me had not.”

I absolutely agree with a few of the things she says, like what she says about traveling with friends and relatives. I’ve written about this myself, in fact, in Postcard Poems, that travel, as Geraldine puts it, “helped me make sense of those closest to me.”

I also agree that “art museums have always been a place of solace and contemplation for me. Other people meditate, or visit temples of worship, or take a hike in the woods. I wander the modern art wing. It requires less repentance and less cardio, and there’s usually a café with cake.” I don’t, however, agree with her claim that seeing the Mona Lisa in person is disappointing, or that the Musee d’Orsay is a relatively little-known art museum.

The book is published by PublicAffairs, which is an imprint of Perseus Books, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, so I’m not sure why it’s so poorly edited that in a brief review I’ve already had to indicate that two errors are in the published copy I read. Even if this is a book by a blogger, it seems like it went through traditional publishing channels, so why wasn’t it better proofread?

Anyway, there are some good armchair traveler stories in this book. Like travel, I guess, there’s much to like and much to laugh about afterwards, from sharing the ups and downs.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2021 2:21 pm

    Hmm, interesting but a little too idiosyncratic? The Musée d’Orsay mayn’t be as well known as the Louvre but, honestly, not well known? The two occasions we’ve visited in the past it was chockablock with worshippers of High Art and you had to queue for simply ages, m’dear, for a table at the café underneath the clock.

    • September 17, 2021 1:09 pm

      Possibly a little too idiosyncratic. I’m getting schooled this fall, first with how the personal approach can backfire and now with how a too-idiosyncratic point of view can turn some readers off. Sheesh.

  2. September 18, 2021 9:10 pm

    I generally don’t think it’s a good look for someone asking you to read their book to begin by insulting another book – chances are you’ll lose a lot of people who liked that book. Also, it’s snobby. I never read Twilight, by the way. 🙂

    • September 18, 2021 10:01 pm

      It is snobby. I skimmed through Twilight and had fun watching the movies with my then-teenaged daughter.
      Also I watched Titanic when it first came out and liked it as much or more than any other movie I saw that year. I don’t know why people are so snobby about it.

  3. September 20, 2021 10:34 am

    The comparison to Twilight seems off-putting because really, what does the vampire series have to do with this “travel” book? Nothing it would seem, unless she’s visiting places in Meyer’s fictional world.

    Thanks for the honest review and perhaps someone should have edited this book a little more closely. It also seems like her tone is a bit off-putting.

    • September 20, 2021 10:46 am

      To be fair, she lives in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s hard to take a step in some places without falling over some piece of Twilight tourism.
      Sometimes I was charmed by her tone, and other times put off by it. I think she’s counting on being already known to the readers of her blog.

  4. thefutureishappy permalink
    September 20, 2021 12:16 pm

    If one is going to scorn a book or movie, make is one of deep worth. Titanic was excellent entertainment without a snip of Bergman or Antonioni. Twilight, again pop in and out in all versions. If she wants to compare the novels with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, well, of course Frankenstein wins. From what you describe the author is something of a bully – picking easy targets that can’t fight back.

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