Revenge travel for people who can’t be bothered to do it

Or, Geoff Dyer's slacker wit

Before you set out on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. Also, check your passport and learn a few key phrases in the local language.

Revenge travel is the inane buzzword of the moment, the pandemic bookend to social distance. (Oh, you meant to say physical distance? Too late, we’ve already printed the signs.) Airports in the U.S. have recorded their highest passenger numbers since last March. Trips are being booked. Customs agents are refilling their inkpads. White zones are being prepared for loading and unloading only.

But if we are all preparing to exact harm on someone who hurt us, who are we targeting, exactly? Mother Earth produced this virus, so we’ll choke her by septupling our year-over-year carbon emissions. According to the Washington Post, the term evolved from the “revenge spending” in which Chinese consumers indulged as their country opened its economy in the 1980s.

Anyone who has ever wheeled an overstuffed suitcase through a crowded airport might wonder who’s exacting harm on whom. For all its much-advertised soul-nourishing aspects, going places is a slog. And no writer captures that better than Geoff Dyer.

“I felt I could no longer take the roller-coaster emotions of travel,” he writes, “its surges of exaltation, its troughs of despondency, its huge stretches of boredom and inconvenience.”

The British writer is now married, in his sixties, and a California resident. When he wrote his 2003 book Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, he was single, in his early forties, and a resident of nowhere. He’d had some renown as the author of a sparkling collection on jazz and a clever memoir of procrastination, but was uncertain about what to do next. The result was a book about a midlife crisis for someone who couldn’t be bothered to have one.

Dyer travels to Amsterdam, Cambodia, Rome, Indonesia, New Orleans, Libya, Detroit, Miami, and Burning Man, “dragging the same burden of frustrated expectation from one corner of the world to the next.”

Along the way, he showcases the wit of the slacker. He’ll make a deeply considered observation and then immediately chase it with the cheapest available pun, wordplay he’d certainly be above if he could be bothered in the slightest.

He’s really into ruins, for example, because they can’t instill FOMO.

It is impossible to visit the Riviera without wishing you had been there earlier, with Scott and Zelda in the twenties; or Anjuna when the first full-moon parties were held in the late eighties, when it wasn’t raining. Ruins do not make you wish that you had seen them earlier, before they were ruins – unless, that is, they have become too ruined.

But then he just can’t resist 

“I was an archeologist only in the linguistic sense: I dug the past.”

or

“There were billboards of Gaddafi looking, as always, slightly camp (a consequence, I suppose, of spending time in his famous tent)...”

In his introduction, Dyer explains that “everything in this book really happened, but some of the things that happened in my head; by the same token, all the things that didn’t happen didn’t happen there too.” Which is really another way of saying that wherever you go, there you are.

As for vengeance, the best course of action can be found in the book’s comic set piece, Dyer’s horrible dinner at his Libyan hotel.

“A restaurant on the moon couldn’t have had less atmosphere,” he writes. Of the service: “Rarely have I seen people take their profession so literally as the aptly named waiters.” When he manages to “coax some soup from one of their number,” it was “cold, cold as the sea.” 

“There are few things in the world more dispiriting than cold soup. If food is disgusting, its very disgustingness elicits a reaction of fierce outrage. But cold soup – it saps the spirit, saps even the capacity for indignation and complaint, and so, having mumbled ‘Shoukraan,’ I simply sat and sipped my cold soup until I could bear it no longer and lay down my spoon to indicate that I was, as they say in America, done.

After that meal, he wishes he were home, with his feet up, watching television. Do you see what happens when dishes are not served at their proper temperature? Soup is best served hot, revenge is best served cold, and right now it’s best to simply chill.

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Quick quips; lightning

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.”
Paul Theroux

“They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind.”
G.K. Chesterton

“Room-service menus that don’t charge extra for cheese on hamburgers are trying to tell you something.”
Fran Lebowitz


Get Wit Quick is your complimentary weekly first-class ticket to erudition, and GWQ No. 89 never stopped being in a closed, upright, and locked position. Leave Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting in the seat pocket for the next weary/wary traveller. It’ll be extra to check that frustrated burden of expectation, but it’s free to tap the ♥️ below.