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NEITHER HERE NOR THERE by BRYSON
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NEITHER HERE NOR THERE (original 1992; edition 1992)

by BRYSON

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4,380631,125 (3.77)77
Member:madeleinescott
Title:NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
Authors:BRYSON
Info:MINERVA (1992), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Non-fiction

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Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson (1992)

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Whether you’re thinking of traveling to Europe on $5 or $5,000 a day, this is the book you first have to read to prepare for your trip – and possibly re-think it. Whether you’re a casual tourist or – as I once was – a SERIOUS student, this is the book you first have to read. I wish I’d possessed Bill Bryson’s sense of humor during the decade I spent in pre-post-graduate studies at several universities and language institutes in Western Europe and the (then-) Soviet Union, but I didn’t. Instead, I had to wait almost 30 years to learn what I obviously never missed by not going to Lichtenstein – and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a more enjoyably vicarious non-experience or un-urge to take (in) a Valduz.


This is the third work of Bill Bryson’s I’ve read (the other two being the monumental A Short History of Nearly Everything and the quite amusing A Walk in the Woods), and I suspect that Bryson is going to turn out to be my favorite (English-language) non-fiction writer. Yes, he’s that good. Why more textbooks for American high schoolers aren’t written by folks like Bill Bryson is a mystery to me, although I suspect that public school boards wouldn’t know what to do with the certain revolution in learning that might result – namely, that most kids would look at most parents and teachers and think Why can’t you think, talk and write a little more like Bill Bryson and little less like yourselves?


As if to underscore my point, Bryson has this to say on p. 64 about why he learned (or at least retained) virtually nothing from his junior high school French courses: “How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say: ‘It is winter. Soon it will be spring.’ In my experience, people know this already.”


Litotes – or understatement – is a literary device Bryson excels at, quite possibly thanks to his nearly two decades in the U. K. And although this book is primarily about traveling in Europe and rendering observations of – and judgments on – things Continental, Bryson is not too bewildered or bewitched by the mystique of the Olde World to deprive us of some of his more New Worldly nuggets, almost all of which are couched in what I’ll call, respectfully and affectionately, “Bryson-speak.”


As an example, we find on p. 66: “(t)o my mind, the only possible pet is a cow. Cows love you. They are harmless, they look nice, they don’t need a box to crap in, they keep the grass down, and they are so trusting and stupid that you can’t help but lose your heart to them. Where I live in Yorkshire, there’s a herd of cows down the lane. You can stand by the wall at any hour of the day or night, and after a minute the cows will all waddle over and stand with you, much too stupid to know what to do next, but happy just to be with you. They will stand there all day, as far as I can tell, possibly till the end of time. They will listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends forever. And when you get tired of them, you can kill them and eat them. Perfect.”


‘Sounds a bit like my idea of an ideal girlfriend – except, perhaps, for that last bit.


But back to Europe and things quaintly European, Bryson observes on p. 68 that “I have been told more than once that one of the more trying things about learning to live with the Germans after the war was having to watch them return with their wives and girlfriends to show off the places they had helped to ruin.”


Ah, yes. The Olde World. Makes one downright grateful to have been born in the New – unless, of course, one was summarily called to task in Vietnam.


And I suppose Bryson’s two-decade residency in the U. K. also permits him to make this rather bold (not to say impertinent) observation on p. 145: “(t)he town [Sorrento, Italy] was full of middle-aged English tourists having an off-season holiday (i.e., one they could afford). Wisps of conversation floated to me across the tables and from couples passing on the sidewalk. It was always the same. The wife would be in noisemaking mode, that incessant, pointless, mildly fretful chatter that overtakes Englishwomen in midlife. ‘I was going to get tights today and I forgot. I asked you to remind me, Gerald. These ones have a ladder in them from here to Amalfi. I suppose I can get tights here. I haven’t a clue what size to ask for. I knew I should have packed an extra pair….’ Gerald was never listening to any of this, of course, because he was secretly ogling a braless beauty leaning languorously on a lamppost and trading quips with some hoods on Vespas, and appeared to be aware of his wife only as a mild, chronic irritant on the fringe of his existence. Everywhere I went in Sorrento I kept seeing these English couples, the wife looking critically at everything, as if she were working undercover for the Ministry of Sanitation, the husband dragging along behind her, worn and defeated.”


Bryson has no particular bone to pick with Brits, however, as we see from an equally trenchant observation about some of our own, delivered with equal parts pith and punch, just a few pages earlier. While touring (solo) the Vatican City in Rome, he spotted and hitched up with an American tour group, but was quickly spotted and discarded “because I wasn’t wearing a baseball cap and warm-up jacket and trousers in one of the livelier primary colors.”


The French have a lively (and accurate) little aphorism: “personne n’est prophète chez soi.” Perhaps it’s time someone in some language came up with a suitable way to describe your run-of-the-mill mass tourist – as in, “a tourist is never more lame and out of step than when he or she is on tour.” If this sounds both vaguely tautological and roundly condemnatory of the species ex situ, it’s meant to.


But before we leave Sorrento for parts unknown, Bryson treats us to a smidgen of what much of his Short History is all about – in short: here today, gone tomorrow. Some part of Calabria could blow (once again) at any time. And when it does, it’s hasta la vista, baby.


Let it never be said, by the way, that Bryson is above a product placement. On p. 185, after an exasperating experience inside a Union Bank of Switzerland office in Geneva to get some replacement travelers’ checks (for those that had been stolen by a gypsy posing as a child posing as a gypsy in Florence), we find: “(b)ut from now on it’s American Express travelers’ checks for me, boy, and if the company wishes to acknowledge this unsolicited endorsement with a set of luggage or a skiing holiday in the Rockies, then let the record show that I am ready to take it.”


Of course, Bill Bryson is a writer of unimpeachable ethics. And so, on p. 196, we have the following: “Perhaps the people at the hotel just didn’t like the look of me, or maybe they correctly suspected that I was a travel writer and would reveal to the world the secret that the food at the Vaduzerhof Hotel at number 3 Stadtlestrasse in Vaduz is Not Very Good. Who can say?”


The potential reader of Neither Here Nor There will, I trust, allow me the inclusion of a lengthy paragraph from p. 201 to this already lengthy review, but only because I find it so compelling. “One of my first vivid impressions of Europe was a Walt Disney movie I saw as a boy. I believe it was called The Trouble with Angels. It was a hopelessly sentimental fictionalized account of how a group of cherry-cheeked boys with impish instincts and voices like angels made their way into the Vienna Boys’ Choir. I enjoyed the film hugely, being hopelessly sentimental myself, but what made a lasting indent on me was the European-ness of the movie background – the cobbled streets, the toytown cars, the corner shops with a tinkling bell above the door, the modest, lived-in homeyness of each boy’s familial flat. It all seemed so engaging and agreeably old-fashioned compared with the sleek and modern world I knew, and it left me with the unshakable impression that Austria was somehow more European than the rest of Europe. And so it seemed here in Innsbruck. For the fist time in a long while, certainly for the first time on this trip, I felt a palpable sense of wonder to find myself here, on these streets, in this body, at this time. I was in Europe now. It was an oddly profound notion.”


“Austria was somehow more European than the rest of Europe” indeed! – as we discover on just the next page when Bryson and Katz (his erstwhile traveling companion here, but also in A Walk in the Woods), discover what’s being said about them by a couple of local yokels. In fact, it’s not until the squalor of Sophia (on p. 238) that Bryson “…realized with a sense of profound unease the Europe I had dreamed of as a child.”


One parting note by way of exit from this review… If Bill Bryson’s no-longer-so-youthful traveling experience is any reliable indicator, you now have a better idea of how the Western world was won, lost, and won again on the strength of many dreams, fantasies, erections, demolitions – and three essential lubricants: beer, wine and coffee. While the first two might well have given, uh, rise to the dreams, fantasies & Co., it’s clearly the last of these that keeps us in Wheaties. Lord help us if the bean farmers and pickers of the developing world ever decide to cut off our supply!


RRB
11/12/14
Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Bill Bryson is great! I just can't stop laughing. Although it's decades old and somewhat outdated, in many ways it still is very up to date. I don't understand all the whining going on about this book, perhaps you should just let go and laugh a little?! I found this tremendously funny but then again, I am rather mean and an admitted exaggerator so suits me well, sir. ( )
  Iira | Aug 3, 2014 |
I love travel books and I can't believe it has taken me so many years to get around to reading this one! What a great trip, the odd flight here and there, but mainly place to place by train all over Europe. Bill Bryson was recreating a trip in this book that he had first experienced as a student, with his friend Katz. His observations include the hotels he stays in, what to see in different towns and cities as you wander around and what the restaurants and museums are like. It was a four star read, not five star for me purely because it was dated. This is no fault of the author - the book was first published twenty three years ago! But I did wonder whether some of the observations are still accurate - there were two oppostite views which stood out for me. One was the description of Rome - 'the Romans will decorate it with litter - an empty cigatette packet, a wedge of half eaten pizza, twenty-seven cigarette butts, half an ice-cream cone with an ooze of ice-cream emerging from the bottom, danced on by a delirium of flies, an oily tin of sardines, a tattered newspaper and something truly unexpected, like a tailor's dummy or a dead goat'. I was in Rome a couple of years ago and cannot relate to this image of rubbish in the streets - hopefully this means the city is a cleaner, tidier place now! However, the observation I agreed with wholeheartedly was this one about Liechtenstein - 'restaurants were thin on the ground and either very expensive or discouragingly empty. Vaduz is so small that if you walk for fifteen minutes in any direction, you are deep in the country. It occurred to me that there is no reason to go to Liechtenstein except to say you have been there'. Spot on! We went last year and came to exactly the same conclusion.
It would be fascinating, I think, if Bill Bryson were to recreate this trip for a third time and republish this book with an update. The sections on Yugoslavia and Sofia would be very obviously different but I wonder what else would change - the ease of ticket bookings given the availability of mobile access/wifi would undoubtedly be something that would have to be significant. ( )
  Elainedav | Jun 13, 2014 |
Summary: Bill Bryson travelled around Europe as a young man. In the early 1990s, he decided to retrace his steps. He starts out in Norway, hoping to see the Northern Lights. He then makes his way through the rest of Scandinavia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Turkey, reminiscing about his previous trip, and reporting along the way about the hassles of transportation, the odd accommodations, the highlights and lowlights of the various cultural attractions, and the attitudes of the locals he encounters.

Review: Not his best. From reading his other travel writing (Notes from a Small Island and In a Sunburned Country, and to some extent A Walk in the Woods), it's pretty clear that Bryson is, at best, a grumpy traveler. I've occasionally wondered why, if seemingly everything about travel irks him so badly, he continues to do it. I suspect that he's not really as grumpy as he puts on, but instead is dealing with the same minor inconveniences as any traveller, just amping up the curmudgeonliness for comic effect.

But the thing was, in this case, the grumpiness outweighed the humor, although there were some parts that were relatively amusing. But Bryson didn't seem to enjoy much of anything about Europe except Italy, and also ogling the asses of every young European woman he saw. (Seriously, he comments on women's bodies a lot, enough that I not only noticed but was also grossed out by it.) The biggest problem was that not only did Bryson not make me want to visit these places, it's that he didn't give me a particularly good feel for most of them, either. He doesn't really talk to the locals (other than station agents and hotel clerks and the like), and he doesn't include much of the type of history or tangents that mark some of his other travel books. So for all that he tries to point out how much cultural diversity Europe contains, all of his destinations tended to blur together, and it makes it hard to remember if this rude waiter or that crowded museum or the really terrible traffic was in Copenhagen or Vienna or where. And given how dated this book is at this point, it's hard to say how much of the impression that he does give is still accurate at this point. (So maybe this book did make me want to go to Europe after all, if for nothing else but to compare!) 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It's not terrible, but it's out of date, and it's not Bryson at his best at any rate. I think it might actually be better for those with some experience traveling in Europe already, who can impose their own experiences over Bryson's grumbling. ( )
1 vote fyrefly98 | May 21, 2014 |
As the name suggests, I thought this book would be about traveling across Europe. I made it through the first chapter. The author was attempting to be so overly comical that it was difficult to tell if some scenes and dialogue were real or fiction interjected for comic effect.

If anyone is looking for a book describing the authors travels across Europe, they should look elsewhere. ( )
  jamesfallen | Feb 7, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cosimini, SilviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holzförster, ClaudiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McShane, MikeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mehren, HegeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pendola, SoniaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rinaldi, GiorgioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rogde, IsakTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schalekamp, JeanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was 'A smell of petroleum prevails throughout.'" [Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy]
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to Cynthia
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In winter Hammerfest is a thirty-hour ride by bus from Oslo, though why anyone would want to go there in winter is a question worth considering.
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"We used to build civilizations.  Now we build shopping malls."
"I had a hangover you could sell to science..."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0380713802, Paperback)

Like many of his generation, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe in the early seventies -- in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. Twenty years later he decided to retrace the journey he undertook in the halcyon days of his youth. The result is Neither Here Nor There, an affectionate and riotously funny pilgrimage from the frozen wastes of Scandinavia to the chaotic tumult of Istanbul, with stops along the way in Europe's most diverting and historic locales. Like many of his generation, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe in the early seventies--in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. Twenty years later he decided to retrace the journey he undertook in the halcyon days of his youth. The result is Neither Here Nor There, an affectionate and riotously funny pilgrimage from the frozen wastes of Scandinavia to the chaotic tumult of Istanbul, with stops along the way in Europe's most diverting and historic locales.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:21 -0400)

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Bill Bryon backpacks across Europe, retracing the same steps he took 30 years earlier.

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