Australian travel-writer Perrottet (Off the Deep End, 1998) makes the most of an inspired notion: to follow in the footsteps of the ancient Romans who once visited with enthusiasm and wonder the far reaches of their extensive empire.
Now based in New York City, the author pens a charming, evocative account of his journeys with pregnant girlfriend Lesley, from Rome to Greece to Turkey to Egypt (down a portion of the Nile in dubious fashion) and home again, where Lesley delivers their child via an appropriate Caesarean section. Perrottet is an amiable and informed tour guide. He knows the significance of what he sees, from Pompeii to Troy to Cairo, and he recognizes as well the humor and irony in all that he “suffers”: seedy hotels operated by unscrupulous proprietors, rickety buses rocketing irresponsibly along dangerous roads, trains whose windows explode with gunfire (just rocks, a laughing conductor assures them), tiny rental cars that shake, rattle, and roll, civil servants from officious to intractable, food that defies description and challenges the constitution, a variety of illnesses and indispositions. Perrottet is not above a leer or two, mentioning at least five times that ancient Greek men enjoyed sexual pleasures with boys; neither will he decline to report the gross—nowhere more amusingly than when he watches Turks aboard a ferry from Greece gleefully videotaping one another as they fill seasick bags with the contents of their stomachs. Hidden amid the hilarity are a few more reflective moments. The Romans liked lots of crowds when they traveled, Perrottet asserts; how different from today, when extreme vacations to the summit of Everest or the dining room of the Andrea Doria attract the adventuresome traveler. The author applies no patina of glamour to ancient conflicts: war is unpleasant, he reminds us, recording a poignant moment at the grave of a great-uncle who fell at Gallipoli.
A rollicking Roman holiday.