In the past week I’ve begun making plans to go to Mexico in November, and doing so brings to mind other trips I’ve made abroad. I’m thinking that one of the potential benefits to such travel is to expose us to other cultures, other ways of seeing the world, other ways of thinking.
Back in 1980 I made a trip with my brother to Paris, often seen as one of the cultural capitals of the world. I believe it was there that we both tried snails for the first time. We were in Paris, so we had to eat snails. And I know for certain that it was there in a Moroccan restaurant that we first tried couscous. For a long time we both had a feeling of couscous as something Parisian.
A couple of years ago I wrote a poem about that trip and about our cultural adventures. We went to Paris for two weeks and lived very cheaply. If I remember correctly, I found hotel rooms near the Panthéon—arranging it by mailing actual paper letters from West Virginia, as there was no internet then—that cost $13 a night, total, for four people. It was not fancy, but I was proud (and relieved) when we walked in with our suitcases and they said, “Ah, oui.” There it was, we had a reservation.
In the Elysian Fields
My brother and I were pleased with ourselves.
We sat drinking beer
in a small bar
on the Champs-Élysées,
We probably talked of nothing much,
because that’s what we would talk about in those days.
Later, we walked along the boulevard,
realizing we had a sociobiological predicament.
There were nowhere convenient to release the beer back into the world.
Which of us was the first
to abandon any pretense of culture?
Which of us had even pretended in the first place?
Thus, on the Champs-Élysées,
we found bushes to piss behind.
Much later in the evening,
African men were selling sausages
cooked on a small grill set up on the sidewalk.
We were hungry, we bought sausages.
What a splendid evening,
in the heart of the City of Light,
to piss in public and eat sidewalk sausages,
before we returned to the civilization
of our wives at the hotel.