Acerbic British travel journalist A.A. Gill is also a TV and restaurant critic for London’s Sunday Times and a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, GQ, and Gourmet Traveller. But, most importantly, he’s a professional muckraker.
The Edinburgh-born, London-raised Scotsman turns astute observations into the printed word, yet his caustic, deconstructionist pen often gets him into trouble. From his London base, surrounded by proper English decorum, Gill’s Scottish directness punctures protocol and raises hackles. Or, more strategically, in the age of the internet, sells newspapers and magazines.
Gill’s collections of travel essays, mostly compiled from his English-language print markets, include A A Gill is Away, Previous Convictions, and A A Gill Is Further Away. His latest, Here & There, is a well-crafted stitch-job of his columns for Australia’s Gourmet Traveller magazine. The collection, filled with 59 hilarious, run-on sentence-filled essays, range from his thoughts on why we travel to death-row last meals to short forays into unlikely tourist destinations like Tirana, Albania and Bucharest, Serbia. Gill is a professional traveler who hones in on both the obscure and the shop-worn destination. Here & There offers unvarnished depictions of Moscow, Paris, Bombay, New York City, seaside Maryland, Madagascar, even Ghana, where citizens choose to be buried in six-foot-long mobile phones, sporty Nike trainers, and spiny lobsters.
The misanthropic Gill is dismissive of trendy travelers:
The fashionable thing now is to go to a place where there is no one…the Norwegian government is offering cheap flights to the extreme north of the country…with the teasing promise that ‘it’s the most remote place on earth.’ Except, of course, for the airport and the plane is full of gym instructors, camping-shop fantasists, extreme vegans and travel bloggers you’ll find there, all shivering blissfully in the blinkered belief that they’re on their own learning something pristine and magically true about themselves and the world.
The most caustic jabs can be found in “The holiday pitch,” where Gill dissects the travel industry:
I’m constantly amazed at how un-self-unaware travel ads are. They are presumably made by bright men in coloured spectacles with comedy face-hair and chubby girls with sagging cleavages and champagne breath who collectively call themselves creatives and have spent a year hock-deep in the freebie trough thoroughly raping and pillaging the mini-bars of the poor developing nations they’ve been employed to project and sell like a willing tart in the slave market. Their creative impressions of the country will have been rigorously scrutinised by a boardroom full of suited and aspirational indigenous civil servants, keen that the world see them in their best light. So how on earth do they arrive at so many golf courses?
This collection is not for armchair travelers who seek romance and escape from the cold, hard truth. But if you relish the satirical barbs of two American travel journalists, P.J. O’Rourke and Bill Bryson, then source A.A. Gill’s very astute Here & There (from Amazon, from Barnes and Noble).