Last Trout In Venice: The Far-Flung Escapades Of An Accidental Adventurer, by Doug Lansky
The titular story of this particular generally enjoyable travel book shows the author in Venice learning how to steer their famous gondola boats and ending up drinking some of the horrible water in the lagoon where he finds himself slapped by a fish, quite possibly the last trout in Venice. That story, expressing the incompetence of the author in seeking to master the tricks of the tourist trade around the world, his reveling in the humiliation of trying and failing a difficult task, and the interaction of mankind and creation, is in very brief what this book is about as a whole. I must admit that I enjoyed this book, beyond the fact that the author sets himself up for failure by being so ambitious throughout that it is very evident that he is no more an accidental adventurer and world traveler than I am. Perhaps he did not go about in life deliberately setting to be a travel writer until he was already far along the process, but he clearly started traveling consciously and openly at some point and writing about it, as tends to happen to people who want to share the comedy and tragicomedy of their experiences abroad to others.
This particular book is about 250 pages long and is divided into several sections. The author begins with a plea to the reader not to read this all in one go so as to keep the humor a bit more fresh as well as some acknowledgements (and blame) and a discussion of the basic aspects of tourism and the tension between the desire to attract people and the undesirability of the people who are attracted to tourism. The author then writes a variety of stories about near-miss adventures, renting cars in Italy, going to a notorious Berlin sex club, learning cricket, going to the Price Is Right as a member of the studio audience, fishing for marlins off the cast of Kenya, and so on. There are a variety of essays where the author seeks to learn in other countries, be it gondolas in Venice, sumo in Japan, Muai Thai in Thailand, Swiss yodeling, or polo. The third part of the book looks at some relatively hard core adventures like luging in Norway, sailing to some African islands not far from Somalia, cross country skiing in Norway, and pony trekking in Lesotho, something I would like to do. There are a few essays on world festivals, including the Ascot races, a Karneval in Sweden (as well as the more familiar Carnaval in Brazil), and the running of the bulls in Spain. The fifth part of the book covers various freestyle employment the author engaged in around the world at various hotels and resorts and even a Swedish glass factory. There are also some relaxing experiences covered in the book’s last section including going on a Sound of Music tour in Austria and watching and falling asleep to a Vietnamese water puppet show.
In general, if you like travel, there is a lot to enjoy here. The author does make a bit of a fool of himself, but one can see that in many ways as a defensive mechanism to addressing the envy that others may have of his travel experiences. Those who travel are well acquainted with the way in which their stories are often viewed with a high degree of negativity by those who simply do not value saving up for travel but simultaneously wish to heckle those who do it. So the author sets himself up for failure by making himself look like a schlub. This book even contains the author’s wife commenting that the author is not an ugly American, but rather someone who is both culturally sensitive as well as politically incorrect, which is a combination of traits that I think I happen to share with the author, in addition to writing about my own occasional travels. This book is written to people who have traveled enough not to be too envious of the author and who appreciate the way that the author is setting up the reader for laughs, or at least wry grins of mild amusement. If you happen to be the sort of person who likes to see someone travel to both odd and familiar places and events and generally write about them as if he was a total incompetent abroad, you will find much to enjoy here.