NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
Travels in Europe
Having groused his way across America in The Lost Continent (1989), Bryson (The Mother Tongue, 1990) now turns his attention to Europe. If it is any consolation to Americans, Bryson, an ex-midwesterner who has lived in England for the past 15 years, finds almost nothing to praise between the Arctic Circle and the Bosporus. Bryson's crankiness could have proved amusing--after all, Mark Twain's did in Innocents Abroad--but the humor here is meanspirited and juvenile (in Copenhagen, a hung-over Bryson notes that "I needed coffee the way Dan Quayle needs help with an I.Q. test"), with defecation, flatulence, and eructation far too often figuring into the comic repertoire. Nor do original insights abound as Bryson retraces the steps of a journey he took two decades before, traveling from Norway to Istanbul, stopping at many of Europe's capitals (Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, Rome, etc.) along the way. He offers such comments as: "Parisians are rude," "Swedes are heavy drinkers," and "the Swiss are dull and conventional." Consistency is not Bryson's strong suit either. While in Naples, for instance, he complains, "I found...mean, cavernous, semipaved alleyways with...washing hung like banners between balconies that never saw sunlight." Yet when he reaches modern and manicured Milan, he pines, "I wanted pandemonium and street life...washing hanging across the streets." Meanwhile, lines like "let's be frank, the Italians' technological contribution to humankind stopped with the pizza oven" are also no help. Smart-alecky and obvious, with the wit of Bryson's first two books curdled into waspishness.