March 16, 2003
Looking for trouble on a holiday? Read on...
Holidays in Hell
by P.J. O’ROURKE. Grove Press. $20 (Singapore). Pages 272.
you want a guided tour of he world’s most desolate, dangerous and
desperate places, then P.J. O’Rourke’s bestselling Holidays
in Hell is just the book for you.
From Warsaw to Managua
to Belfast, O’ Rourke takes his readers around the globe on a
fact-finding, fun-filled mission. The result is a no-holds-barred
romp through politics, culture and ideology. His several adventures
and misadventures include storming student protesters’ barricades
with riot police in South Korea, interviewing Communist
insurrectionists in the Philippines, and going undercover as an Arab
in the Gaza Strip.
He also takes a look
at America’s home-grown horrors as he braves the media frenzy
surrounding the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Washington, uncovers the
mortifying banality behind Jerry Falwell’s Heritage USA, and
survives the stultifying boredom of Harvard350th anniversary
Packed with his
trademark rip-offs on just about everything from Polish nightlife
under communism to tips for driving in the Third World, Holidays
in Hell makes for a compelling read page after page.
Here are just some of
the rip-roaring quotes from a chapter aptly titled ‘Third World
Driving Hints & Tips’: "One thing you can always count on
in third world countries is trouble." "Dangerous curves
are marked, particularly in Christian lands, by white wooden crosses
positioned to make curves even more dangerous. Thus, when you come
through a curve in a full power slide and are suddenly confronted
with a veritable forest of crucifixes, you know you’re dead."
"As a rule of thumb you slow down for donkeys, speed up for
goats, stop for cows and watch out for chickens. Third-worlders are
particularly fond of their chicken and also their children
(population problems notwithstanding). If you hit one or both, they
may survive. But you will NOT!!!!"
If this and a whole
lot more is anything to go by, there’s no doubting the fact that O’Rourke
has a bizarre sense of humour and fun. Forget Hawaii, Langkawi or
the Bondi beach, this writer even has fun in war-torn Lebanon where
he is greeted at the border by a gun barrel staring him in the face.
But everywhere in the face of adversity, his sense of humour shines
through. A Philippine army officer is "powerful-looking in a
short, compressed way, like an attack hamster," and the Syrian
army is described as having "dozens of silly hats, mostly
berets in yellow, orange and shocking pink... The paratroopers wear
shiny gold jumpsuits and crack commando units have skin-tight
fatigues in a camouflage pattern of violet, peach, flesh tone and
vermilion on a background of vivid purple. This must give excellent
protective coloration in, say, a room full of Palm Beach divorcees
in Lily Pulitzer dresses."
His sarcastic style
may not be everyone’s cup of tea but love him or hate him, there’s
no doubting that he knows how to tell a good story. And if you like
your travel writing to be more than just one covered in five-star
comforts, this would be just the book you’ve been looking for.