2009-09-06

Innocents Abroad

This weekend, wifey and I decided to take the tribe to the Omni, a nice resort about an hour and a half from our home. This particular Omni has been a favorite of our family's for several years now as a weekend getaway spot, complete with a selection of three pools including a large 2-story water-slide, kids activities, golf, nice restaurants, a Starbucks, and beautiful grounds and rooms.

As is my custom, I planned on spending most of my time in a cabana by the "grown-up" pool while reading, smoking cigars, and enjoying whatever libations and sights the Good Lord sent my way. The cigars necessary for the weekend's enjoyment were already waiting in my humidor at home; some very nice Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur Maduro No. 1s (7.5"x54). My humidor at home is now bereft of any quality sticks, now only containing a few thin Connecticut wrapped Don Linos which are more suitable as humidity regulators than after-dinner smokes. I don't get to smoke that often, so when I do, I want a great cigar, not something that is aimed at old men in West Tampa mowing their lawns. I was at a loss, however, when it came to reading material for the weekend, with no unfinished books of fiction or non-fiction and being at point of pause in my Ruby on Rails book which I refuse to read further until I can find an appropriate project to use it on, lest I forget what I read.

While gathering cigars for the trip, I was reminded however of some anecdote I had read about Mark Twain decrying the low quality of cigars to be found on his travels thus accounting for the thousands he reportedly took with him on all of his lengthy voyages. The Mark Twain anecdote came to mind again the next day when I strolled into Books-A-Million looking for something to read over the weekend, so I went straight for the fiction section to the T's. That's where I found the book that I didn't know existed, "Innocents Abroad" (ISBN: 978-0-8129-6705-0). I hadn't wanted any of is classics, and here this one copy of this gem awaited me. Excellent!

The book itself is a construct whose materials are a series of articles Twain wrote for the Daily Alta California and the New York Times. Twain, at the age of thirty-two, had gotten the Daily Alta Californian, a San Francisco based paper to pay his passage on the worlds first organized tourist cruise. It was a first of the kind concept, a pleasure cruise crossing the globe and seeing the greatest sights of Europe and the East and returning. The trip marks the point is his career where he evolves from the pugnacious quick-hit humorist to the more philosophic commentator on human nature who used humor as more of means than as an end itself. This is where he went from writing well to writing for the good.

Innocents Abroad is informative, funny, and thought-provoking. In Twain's own words, he wrote this honestly. In my opinion, he wrote this book so honestly as both a man and an American that it affects a great deal of introspection as one reads it and identifies pieces of himself in the brief though sharp caricatures Twain draws of his fellow passengers, the natives of foreign lands they meet, vendors and servants they do business with, foreign official/diplomats, and fellow Americans met far from home and observed at a polite distance. His observations are of wonder, kindness, derision, humor, and self-remonstration.

I highly recommend the book, though, I do warn that you should not underestimate the time it will take to read it. Between the introspection, the time my mind takes to map Twain's caricatures to the characters in my own life, and the time to decode and ponder Twain's wondrous turns of phrase in the near limitless metaphorical style of his period, the book, whose size is suggestive of an afternoon read, has lasted several afternoons. It's not the reading, but the digestion.

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