Good evening, friends and neighbors! Sorry about the missed week- the 9 to 5 has been rougher than usual recently. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to maintain at the place, but it’ll at least have to be until I’m in a slightly more secure position.
Tonight, I’m writing from the Iron Room in Atlantic City, NJ- a place that’s becoming warmer and homier to me with every meal. An excellent beer selection, a wall of whiskey, small plates of exquisite food, and the exact kind of atmosphere I like- not too spread out and empty, but not SO intimate either. The perfect place to take the rough edges off the day with a few glasses of beer and some high-quality nibbles. If you’re in the area, I highly suggest it. My current writing fuel/ companion is a glass of Flying Fish’s NJ 350- a hoppy, yet pleasurable brew celebrating New Jersey’s 350th birthday. If you are a beer fan, and you like hops that show up in the front and then fade away to semi-sweet, malty goodness, this is for you.
None of this talks about the title though.
The Beautiful Itch has been discussed by people far more famous, influential, and eloquent than myself. It is a condition especially afflicting those who travel a lot in their work- musicians, writers, truck drivers, etc. The best way to describe it is “wanting to be home when you are away, but then wanting to be away when you are home.”
I do not travel nearly so much as I want to. I remember feeling envious when I would read the works of Kerouac (On The Road and The Dharma Bums) and Steinbeck (Travels with Charlie) and imagine myself traveling with them, only to come out of my reverie and find solace in the fact that the America they traveled and explored in the 60’s is likely no longer there- that I was born too late to miss anything. Hollow comfort at best.
(Interruption: Just had the head-on Gulf prawns with the fresh grated wasabi. Get it if it’s on the menu. They change stuff up a lot.)
I have friends that travel extensively- for work or other reasons by obscure means. I cannot help but envy them as well. The farthest abroad I have been is Israel, and that was fully 5 years ago. There is a veritable laundry list of places I want to go and things I want to see. There are a FEW tourist spots I want to see- Macchu Picchu, the Sistine Chapel, Petra in Jordan, etc. Most of all though, I want to see how the PEOPLE live. Most Floridians DON’T spend a week at Disney World (unless they work there.) Most Pisanos DON’T hang out at the Leaning Tower, either. They go to cafes. They go to local pubs, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Joe Schmoe working the ticket kiosk at the Louvre is a regular somewhere.
(Interruption 2: Korean BBQ Hangar Steak with sweet/sour Brussel sprouts and bacon. Get it.)
When you are traveling abroad, it is VERY tempting to stay on the tour bus- see what they want to show you, do the stuff that appears in the brochures, and exit through the gift shop.
Screw that. Go on your own and get lost. Listen to locals. If you stay at the hotel, don’t ask the concierge for good places to eat- ask the bellhop, or the cleaning lady. If you really want to get a feel for a city and find out where the people who LIVE there spend the time, ask them and find it.
You might encounter hostility, yes- some smaller local joints are fiercely “locals only.” You may even face some discrimination in favor of the locals and regulars. Don’t get angry, take it in stride. If the place is in with the locals, you likely will not regret it.
The quality of the food is NOT always proportional to the bill total. You may find that the best food you’ve ever had in your life came off the grill of a little shack down a Grecian alley, or a greasy spoon diner in a backwater American town.
and most important-