You read a lot of things in a day. The news, your email, books, magazines, websites. For the most part you just absorb the information. But every so often you come across a bit of writing that makes you pause. This is rare, but when it happens, it feels as exciting as discovering a new galaxy must to an astronomer. And for me, it always happens in the very first sentence of a piece.
When I began leafing through the current issue of Travel + Leisure last week, I was vacillating between travel lust over a list of top cities for the arts and eye rolling over the top travel agents of 2011. By the time I got to Peter Jon Lindberg’s ‘Ode to the Never-Ending Packing List’ halfway through the magazine clearly geared toward ritzy travelers with budgets much larger than I could ever dream of, I wasn’t necessarily expecting a journalistic masterpiece. Then I read the lead sentence: ‘People extol the virtues of a concise packing list, but after years of trying, our columnist is ready to throw in the towel (and five pairs of shoes, three hats, two cameras, binoculars, a travel steamer…).’
I giggled. Out loud. While those who know me might not think this is any kind of significant indicator, as I will giggle at pretty much anything, giggling out loud while reading alone is something I almost never do. I sat up straight and pulled the magazine closer. Could it be? Was I about to encounter some real, honest-to-goodness good writing? I had to cover the rest of the page to stop myself from speed reading through the rest of the article.
Peter Jon Lindberg is Travel + Leisure magazine’s Editor-at-Large, and his work has been featured in New York, Food & Wine, Men’s Journal, Details, and the New York Times. After finishing the article and researching some others online, I loved his writing so much that I felt suspicious. Who was this Peter Jon Lindberg? And then I came across a piece he wrote on London, where he had lived and worked for 9 months in his 20s. Ah, there it is, I thought. It all made sense. Like Bryson before him, Lindberg’s writing had been infused with a certain something irresistible to an Urchin, some indelible English brand on one’s heart that somehow shapes everything they do, say, and, apparently, write, for the rest of their lives.
Here are some of my favourite excerpts from Lindberg’s work:
From Ode to the Never-Ending Packing List:
I’d like to say I was different in youth, carefree and light on my feet. But I was a terrible backpacker, too, just pathetic at the job. For a Eurail trip in college I basically stuffed my entire dorm room into three—count ’em: three—giant Eagle Creek duffel bags. None of the bags had wheels; for all my failures I was determined to stick to the spirit of backpacking, which seemed to be about Suspending One’s Belongings From One’s Person. And so with yards of strapping and considerable effort I secured all three bags to my body, front, rear, and side, until I resembled a lopsided bomb-squad technician, or a human battering ram. The simple act of entering a train compartment was like giving birth to myself.
From Revisiting London:
Today’s London is far more interesting, I won’t deny that. Yet still I feel—is betrayed too strong a word? Because honestly, the way I see it, we were mates once. Best mates. We liked the same music, liked the same clothes, followed the same football clubs. We even talked alike. And inevitably, we drifted apart. When we did reconnect—once a year at most—it wasn’t the same. His quips and puns eluded me. He developed a ponderous regard for wine, expensive cars, and increasingly slim-fitting suits. Instead of our usual night at the pub he’d drag me out to champagne bars and Alan Yau restaurants.
From Europe’s New Grand Tour:
Along with the instant friendships (add rail pass; stir), it was the impulsiveness of rail travel that thrilled me. The dumb luck of arriving in Madrid, finding no place to stay, and hopping a midnight local to Zaragoza just to catch five hours of sleep…then falling in love with Zaragoza. Or wandering Budapest without a map (they cost 90 forints!) only to stumble upon a jazz club I’m still trying to remember the name of.
Now I’m at an age where every journey is plotted like a corporate takeover. Rarely do I see something without planning to. I found myself missing the wide-open feeling of riding the rails, not just for the places I’d been but for the person I’d been: swooning along the Ku’damm, the Strøget, and the Champs-Élysées, unfettered and alive, as the song goes.
Stay tuned for my all-time favourite Peter Jon Lindberg quote in this Saturday installment of That’s What He Said!