Traveling, honestly.

Posted on
Jan 18, 2011

Years ago, my husband made a crucial mistake when speaking to my mother.

He was honest.

I know, I know – the idiot, right? He has yet to live it down. The date of his grievous error was sometime in 2006. We had had a fantastic time visiting my dad in Germany before driving down to Italy, where we spent a few days hopping around between Milan, Como, and Venice. When we got back, my mother asked Rand how the trip was.

What he said, exactly, when he replied to her, is a subject of debate. I hold to my own, because my memory is a vast and incredible thing, and has rarely let me down. My mother (though she has yet to say it outright) believes that my account of history has been tainted by my feelings of affection towards my husband. And Rand has the memory of a goldfish, so he’s not really part of this discussion, even though he’s the reason for it.

My account is this: Rand told her, truthfully, that he while he enjoyed Italy, he was surprised by how much he loved Germany. Bavaria in particular had started to grow on him.

My mother’s account, however is this: Rand told her, to her face no less, how much he hated Italians, and Italy, and how Germany was far superior. Also, he obviously loves my dad more than her, and apparently, so do I.

Sigh.

I’ve tried clarifying the point with my mother, but trying to change an Italian’s mind when hurt feelings are involved is virtually impossible. Performing a circumcision on a common shrew would be an easier task (I just spent 10 minutes looking up “animal with the smallest penis” and as far as vertebrates go, it’s the shrew. Don’t say my blog never taught you anything. Also, for your own sake, do not attempt to replicate my search, especially if you are at work.) For as long as she lives, she’ll probably believe that Rand hates Italy. Not because he does, but because he admitted to loving another place more.

Why bring this up? Because I suspect that I may have hurt the feelings of a few folks in the last week or so with my posts about Bulgaria. I’ve received a few tweets on the subject …

I always say the wrong thing.

It’s funny, because I never said that I disliked all of Bulgaria, or that there was no part of it I liked. Just like Rand didn’t say he hated Italy. I made the same error: I was honest. It’s something that I’m compelled to do as a travel writer, but it’s something no one wants to hear about their hometown. As such, I bruised some egos. I hurt some feelings.

And I can’t blame them. It’s hard to read the faults of your town laid bare, especially from someone who knows nothing about it – someone who’s simply spent a few days there, days which might have been rotten or terrible and not at all indicative of all a place has to offer. In short, it’s hard to hear what a travel writer has to say about your home. Anything less than unconditional love and devotion to a place just isn’t acceptable.

Plus, Rand had a lovely in Bulgaria. From what he remembers.

It’s something that I can’t help but think about when I write a not-so-stellar review of a place: this is someone’s hometown. And it will pain someone to read this. It’s not that I’ve informed them of anything new: they know about their town’s flaws – they’re probably acutely aware of them, and complain about them just as much as anyone. Even I, a born-and bred-Seattlite, lament the Emerald City’s terrible drivers, its tendency to shut down entirely in half an inch of snow, and the ridiculous price of groceries.

But when someone else trash-talks my town (or when they merely say it’s “okay”)?

I want to slap them.

And not just them. I want to slap their parents, and their grandparents. I want to slap their pets and their neighbors, their co-workers and friends. I want to slap people to whom they owe money. Because, to paraphrase something I said a few weeks ago about the Seahawks, Seattle may suck, but it’s my suck.

I suspect many folks have read my posts and felt the same way. Angered, or upset, or wounded. Maybe I was way off base. Or maybe I hit too close to home (pun not intended). I feel badly about it, but I keep doing it, nevertheless. I’ve decided that writing honestly about a place, and bruising a few egos, is better than sugar-coating it and lying to myself and (both of) my readers. And you know what? Me not loving a place (or, indeed, just declaring that the jury is still out) is okay. I’m not the definitive judge on these things. I’m just an opinionated gal who sits at her computer and looks out her dreary window and reflects on where she’s been. That’s it. What I believe isn’t gospel. It’s just what I believe.

And that’s a hard thing for anyone (myself included) to accept. That our opinions of towns are simply opinions. That we’ll never know if we like a place unless we visit it – and even then, we might not like it one bit. After all, not every place can be paradise. Not every place can be the best town in the world.

Unless, of course, it’s your hometown.

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