The January/February issue of Conde Nast Traveler has an interview with Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65) done by Francesca Babb entitled “The Globetrotter” and the headline: “The novelist and master of travel writing, who made his name journeying from the U.S. to Japan and back by train for The Great Railway Bazaar, hit the open road for his latest book.”
(The interview is on page 113 of the thick issue subtitled: THE GOLD LIST 2020.)
Theroux’s new book is On the Plain of Snakes A Mexican Road Trip.
The interviewer, however, doesn’t so much focus on the new book as ask Paul about his life and travels. While his time in the Peace Corps doesn’t come up, there are nevertheless interesting questions and replies.
A few exchanges . . .
What is the greatest train route on earth?
“Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. It was built after the Vietnam War ended. You can book a sleeper and continue up to the Chinese border. It’s a really interesting coastal route, with nice people and a sense of forgiveness, which is a very big thing because so much was destroyed in the war.”
How has your love of travel evolved?
“When I started traveling I was a self-involved smarty-pants. I thought that a travel book was about the traveler: I like this, I don’t like that. At some point I put my ego in check and realized that it isn’t about whether you’re having a good or bad time; it’s about the stories people tell.”
Do you have a favorite city?
“I find city life nasty, but if I had to choose one, I would say London. You can still live in a house in London; my kids, Louis and Marcel, live in houses there. You can’t do that in Manhattan. People in Lonon are friendly, and it’s a lovely place to visit.”
What made you want to write a book about Mexico?
“When I was working on an earlier book, I went to Nogales, Arizona, which is right on the border with Mexico. I had never seen the 30-foot rusty steel fence that divides the two before. It’s a strange, beautiful object, like a sculpture running through the landscape. It had a door in it, and it was fairly straightforward: I parked my car in Arizona, went through it, and suddenly I was in Mexico, with Mexican food, people, beer, tacos. I met migrants who were trying to get into the U.S., people who had been kicked out. Then Trump became president. One of the reasons for travel is to destroy stereotypes, so I thought, I’m going to write about Mexico and see what it is, every bit of it.”