There is so much for free on the internet, from pictures of spaghetti-covered toddlers in high chairs to 429,000 macaroni-and-cheese recipes (I counted) to statistical analyses so arcane they put their own authors to sleep, that there’s a natural hesitation to pay for anything internetish, even the occasional Thing of Value. Who needs Hulu Plus when there’s YouTube? Spotify Premium? No, thanks; I actually kinda like Flo prattling on about Alexander Graham Bell action figures every other song. A digital subscription to The New York Times? That’s okay; I’ll just keep dumping article titles into Google and emptying my cache.
Then I got a subscription to the Times online. Oh. My. Word. What a smorgasbord of travel-writing goodness. There’s the herring and the little meatballs and the aquavit, all polished to wordy near-perfection by the highly skilled editorial machine that remains the Times, and you can take as much as you want.
Listen; we all fancy ourselves to be travel writers, because it is absolutely the most enjoyable way to make money. (I’ve recited this many times before, but again: You get to travel to amazing places, meet interesting people, stay in cool places, see breathtaking scenery, eat unbelievable food, write about it, and get paid for it. ) But there’s a difference between being a travel writer and being a New York Times-caliber travel writer, and you can’t grasp the distinction unless you subscribe to the Times and really dig in.
Also, there’s something essentially satisfying about being a subscriber to something that arrives more-or-less daily. Like every other legacy print enterprise, the Times struggles to find the optimal delivery form, but it’s never less than entertaining along the way. (Especially the “Cooking” newsletter.)
Here are four cases in point from the past week that will either burn through almost half of your monthly article quota or force you to get creative on Google.
First, a piece on the changes in Boulder’s bike culture forced by this year’s flooding and mudslides that goes beyond the standard go-here/do-this approach to wrap in subplots involving a rare-book collection and – the New York angle! – Brooklyn.
Then, a piece on eight great Portland (Ore.) meals for $8 or less that not only destroys most of the travel-list articles out there but also makes you want to hop a flight to Oregon, line up every one of those meals, and go down the line scarfing merrily.
After that, another personal journey, this one to the Adirondacks and its summer lake culture – a perfect story for the end of lake-and-cottage season, a time we’re all too familiar with here on the fringes of Wisconsin’s lake country.
And finally, a deftly crafted sojourn through Sigmund Freud’s Vienna that’s a rarity among travel stories in the sense that it’s not afraid to call places “scruffy” or “dreary” – fightin’ words in the everything-is-beautiful world of travel writing.
Speaking of which, and escaping the Times’ gravitational pull for a couple of grafs, what could be more beautiful than the last secret Italian island? It evokes images of Sophia Loren and heart-healthy diets that are practically holographic in their realism. Fathom (via Yahoo Travel) goes to Pantelleria, begging the question with a rather large wink: If Fathom (via Yahoo Travel) goes to the last secret Italian island and writes about it, and catches a ferry to it after the airplane to it couldn’t land, how much of a secret is it really? And for how long?
Finally, leave it to the British newspaper the Telegraph to supply the definitive guide to Jack the Ripper’s London. The gent – most recently assumed to be a 23-year-old Polish immigrant named Aaron Kosminski – definitely got around, and not to the better parts of town. As long as he described them obliquely he could have been a travel writer, but it’s pretty obvious he had a skewed idea of what constitutes a dream job. And I’ll bet he didn’t have a digital subscription to the Times, either.