Thursday, March 26, 2009


The other day at work we received an angry, angry letter. One of those in all caps with all kinds of poor grammar and errant use of quotation marks. The kind where you know that if the writer could have typed in a font called "manifesto" he totally would have. It was that good.

An email update from my media service soon found the source of the outrage. The director of the environmental non-profit I do some work for / share office space with was quoted in an article about the nuclear industry. In it he said something about how maybe it would be a good idea to try energy conservation first before we go building any nuclear power plants. And apparently it struck a nerve.

In the letter we were called several crafty names - the very best being "GRANT SEEKING LIBERALS" and "PEA BRAINED CULTISTS."

That first one is outstanding. Because, for one, it's 100% accurate. I am indeed a grant-seeking liberal. It's kinda how I avoid living in a box down by the river. And, for two, it makes me feel so much better about myself. Because here I've been working under the assumption that I was supposed to be a "latte-drinking, Prius-driving liberal." And let me tell ya, I was failing miserably at that.

So really, this is good news.

Ah, but if he is right about that one, does this mean I could also be a "pea-brained cultist"? I don't know. Now I'm worried. Let me think...

I guess I can't deny occasional pea-brained-ness on my part. I once misread a recipe for white chicken chili and instead of 1/4 teaspoon of cloves I added 4 teaspoons and nearly asphyxiated in a giant cloud of clove gas that formed over my crock pot. Things like this happen to me on a fairly regular basis. It's probably why I have to depend on grants for my livelihood - no one would actually pay me an hourly wage to be this much of a ding-bat.

So, OK fine - I'll give him that. But cultist? I may have to draw a line there.

But then I read an article yesterday and it hit me. Like a cloud of clove gas. Yes, I am indeed a cultist.

I belong to the cult of Rick Steves.

Yes, Rick Steves, the dorky PBS travel guy. That Rick Steves.

The article was on They did an interview with him and in it he almost achieved Jon Stewartdom. All funny and smart and self-deprecating and connecting-the-dots with spot-on observations and philosophies about everything from terrorists to marijuana. (The difference being that I have too much of a crush on Jon Stewart to worship him in a cult-like fashion whereas Rick Steves wears those glasses and the shirts with the two front pockets much like a David Koresh would, making him much more cult-worthy... )

Anyway... I first became acquainted with Rick Steves when I was planning a trip to Europe - not quite ten years ago. I had planned to go with a friend and do a quasi back-packing style trip through several countries. A month out she decided not to go and in a fit of pig-headed-ness I decided to just go by myself. To aid me on my trip I had a couple of ridiculously large, travel company-produced Guides To Europe that were quickly deemed useless and abandoned at my first hostel.

But I also had Rick Steves' guide to Italy. Small, concise, well-written and actually useful. He espouses the perfect (well, what I consider to be perfect) philosophy on travel abroad. He gives you tangible and realistic advice while showing you, on an adorably hand-drawn map, directions to the perfect cafe on the perfect side street in Rome. Or a great pub crawl to do in Venice where you will be able to dine for next to nothing on delicious food and wine and hang out with locals. Or which alley to turn down in Florence to find the most delightful tiny hotel where over the front desk in the lobby hangs an enormous painting of Tricky, the crazy owner's chihuahua.

And you go to these places and not only is the cafe perfect, and not only do you spend an evening on the pub crawl drinking wine and being quizzed on jazz by a bunch of twenty-something Venetians, and not only do you actually get to meet the real, live Tricky, but you also meet other Americans along the way. Americans who believe in the same idea of travel - that you should be a "visitor" to another country, not a "tourist." Americans who believe that our way isn't always the best way and that you don't learn anything when you travel if you spend all your time speaking extra loudly in English and don't deliberately wander away from the souvenir carts.

Americans who believe - after you have all downed several bottles of vino and a plate or two of gnocchi - that Rick Steves should be declared your personal god as you start sketching on a napkin the temple you're going to erect in his honor out of focaccia bread in the middle of Piazza San Marco.

It's been a while since I've reaffirmed my devotion to my dorky, public television travel guy. (What with saving all my money for the lattes and my new Prius I just haven't had any money to travel!) But I think after reading this article that should be taken care of. Pea-brained cultist that I apparently am.

And now, I have to go back to work. I have a grant report due tomorrow.


Gert's Maw said...

Rick Steves saved my marriage!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

That is such a cool story about Rick Steves--a friend had just sent me a link to his interview and while I well recall his travel guides, I had no idea that he was so useful!
Ah, from one liberal lunatic to another (hahaha) cheers!

Carrie said...

You always make me smile.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that was so funny and now I have to go and check this guy out!