REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books

‘Bad Tourist’ By Suzanne Roberts, 263 pages, University of Nebraska Press, paperback, 2020, $19.95


Subtitled “Misadventures in Love and Travel” and scheduled for an Oct. 1 release, Suzanne Roberts’ latest revelations pack more than a lifetime of experiences into a series of short essays that tackle “the juxtaposition of the beautiful with the horrible” and the blind spots, “the peccadillos – the seemingly harmless things we do in another culture that we would never do in our own – that make us bad tourists.”

On the heels of her earlier success “Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail,” Roberts recounts exotic journeys into Mongolia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and more, sandwiched between forays into the Everglades and South Lake Tahoe. She blends luminous descriptions, indoors and outdoors, “jungle love” and surviving perilous lightning storms, “middle-aged vagabonding” in Panama and the Grand Elephant Festival in India, discoveries and indiscretions, courage and confession, the risky and the risqué, “guilt, relief, and heavy sense of responsibility” towards people less fortunate than the privileged leisure class and throughout, and draws us in with observation and humor.

The piece “Three Hours to Burn a Body” walks us through a cremation ceremony in India. “Prague and the Unbearable Lousiness of the Tourist” relates a miserable pedicure and fabulous wine tasting within a few blocks of each other.

Meeting a couple near the Arabian Sea, she asks if they had an arranged marriage and learns that yes, their folks set it up using the internet, “an increasingly popular way for parents to find spouses for their children.”

Working on a writing project in a planned-community resort and desperate to procrastinate, she seizes the chance to clean the bathroom, only to accidentally poison herself by mixing bleach with ammonia.

In Florida, “We watched bald eagles steal fish from osprey. The salty sky turned blue to pink, and a mackerel jumped from the sea, glinting silver…. A hawk caught in a draft of wind, flashed a brown triangle of wing, a red tail.”

Named Next Great Travel Writer by National Geographic’s “Traveler,” Roberts handily fits the distinction with memories, images, and insights that put readers in the seat beside her or hiking up a too-close-for-comfort volcanic slope – all the while providing a sort of anti-guidebook unapologetically illustrating what not to do.

This monthly column is written by members of Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Other than during the Covid-19 crisis, meetings are held the first Thursday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ books “Scenes from Lives of Service: High Desert Veterans of WWI through Desert Storm” and “Planet Mojave: Visions from a World Apart” are available at the Historic USO Building, Jawbone Canyon, Maturango Museum, and Red Rock Books.

Story First Published: 2020-09-25