Ghibli Museum

The Ghibli Museum — essentially a theme park for Hayao Miyazaki movies, located in a suburb of Tokyo — sounds wonderful: Totoro’s at the ticket booth, there are Laputan robots on the rooftop garden, and the very-dangerous sounding gift shop is named Mamma Aiuto! Read Maki’s account of her visit; the museum prohibits indoor photography, but she has some photos on Flickr of places where she could take them. Too bad I don’t travel well, or speak Japanese: sigh. Via Rebecca Blood.

The endangered highway rest area

Some states, facing budget shortfalls, are closing down highway rest areas they’ve been maintaining for decades. The Wall Street Journal and Good Magazine cover what is apparently the passing of an icon of the Interstate highway system (if you really want to wax nostalgic, there’s Here’s Good Magazine:

Across the country, rest areas like this one have been losing a long-fought battle to commercial alternatives, super-sized stops with eight blends of caffeine, free wifi, burgers, and gas. Traditional rest areas cost money to staff and maintain, and aside from the odd vending machine, don’t generate any direct revenue; Virginia expects to save $9 million (much of which has gone to minority- and female-owned maintenance contractors) by not maintaining these buildings. It’s a public expense, originally conceived when the highway system was new and the opportunities to stop far between. That’s harder to justify now that there’s a McDonalds and a gas station at every interchange. The flailing economy today has only made matters worse.
Last year, Louisiana closed 24 of its 34 stops, and Vermont has already shuttered four this year. In April, Wisconsin stopped staffing its welcome centers. South Carolina, meanwhile, is closing its stops two days a week (“budget cuts” say the signs on locked doors) and North Carolina one day a week (“budget shortfalls”).

Day by day, travel keeps getting just a little bit meaner. Via MetaFilter.

Why travel writing sucks

Let’s face it: travel writing, for the most part, sucks. It’s vapid, junket-driven, cliché-laden dross in which anything remotely interesting is boiled away for fear of offending the travel industry whose ads pay for said junkets and for the travel sections of the weekend editions of newspapers in which this stuff appears. Chuck Thompson makes this point in his new book, Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer. Not even the Lonely Planet guides (“Lonely Planet is the only publisher I know of that seems to actively dislike its readers”) are exempt.

It’s an entertaining read, but it doesn’t quite make it. Attacking the clichés of the genre would make for a pretty slim volume; there are chapters sharing his experiences as a travel magazine editor, as a travel writer, and as a traveller, full stop. They seem like padding to me, but if nothing else, they explain how easy it is to become jaded by the travel industry. His realization that his dislike of the Caribbean is because of the juxtaposition of luxury resorts and endemic poverty resonates with my own ambivalence about the idea of vacationing there. His off-colour, disaster-laden travel stories are just the sort of thing that would be unlikely to appear in the travel section of a newspaper, but it’s hardly transgressive that they’re seeing print — Paul Theroux was writing stronger stuff 30 years ago.

And there’s a point there: there are two genres of travel writing, the literary sort (Chatwin, Naipaul, Theroux) and the advertorial sort; this book is about the latter (even if, in one telling passage, Thompson nails Theroux for writing the advertorial pabulum that his overall body of work seems to stand against).

Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson

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