Tuscany’s in the bag

Friends/LP editors/groupies,

I’m happy to announce that I submitted the last of my Tuscany work for two different LP books (Tuscany and Umbria 5 and Italy 8, both due in stores February 2008) last Tuesday, 10 full days before deadline. Now I don’t wanna brag or anything, but WHO’S YOUR DADDY??? WHO’S YOUR DADDY LP TUSCANY??? NOW BARK LIKE A DOG FOR ME!!!! NOT A SMALL DOG, A BIG DOG!!! AAAWWW YEEEAAAAAH!!! SHA-ZAM!!!

And so on and so forth.

I don’t want diminish the wicked powerful “Heartthrob, Badass Travel Writing Super Hero” mystique I’ve got going here, but I have to admit that Tuscany was about 20 times smoother than Romania and Moldova. No car accidents (though there were several close calls), no perilous blizzards, no repeatedly cheating death, no police harassment, no time spent under the hood of my car wiggling wires and impregnating my clothes with gas fumes and no word-count disasters. Indeed, I had it somewhat easy. Though I wrote plenty of new material, much of the book had only minor updates and both the editors and I agreed that large chunks of the existing text, written by my predecessor (and post-decessor) Miles Roddis, was so damn good that we’d be fools to mess with it.

I did the bulk of the final read-through on almost zero sleep last week while on the plane from JFK to Rome in the middle seat between a rabbi catching up on a month’s worth of chanting and a cute but spookily narcoleptic California girl who slept nearly every second of the flight, including the two hours we sat on the runway at JFK. I couldn’t decide what was more tempting: drug the rabbi for some peace and quiet or poke the sleeper in the kidneys so I wouldn’t have to suffer alone.

What I didn’t finish on the plane was easily handled while I was waiting in Rome’s train station for almost six hours with 364,204 other pissed off, sweating and raw-nerved travelers while the Tren Italia people took a 48 hour smoke break (which they cunningly referred to as a ‘strike’). All trains from Rome to Florence ? the most direct way to my village, Torricella – were cancelled and the long-way-’round train to Perugia that I settled for left three hours late and then parked at nearly every stop on the way for eons just to spite us. It took me longer to get from Rome to Perugia (where I was picked up by a sympathetic traveler and driven the rest of the way to Torricella) than it took me to get from JFK to Rome. I’d say “&%#%^&ing Italy”, but it’s starting to become cliché and we don’t tolerate clichés here at Killing Batteries. No sir (jackhole).

Though I doubt I’ve set any kind of record, I do believe researching and writing up the bulk of Tuscany in a scorching 11 weeks (10 if you subtract the Malta and DC distractions) is the stuff that legends are made of. Certainly at my house where the Legend Handicap has been set nice and low. Or would that be high? Stupid golf terminology. (OK, so some clichés are tolerated at Killing Batteries, but only the timeless ones that I ripped off from the Simpsons ? Best. Cartoon. To. Rip. Off. Ever.)

So where to now? That would be Mallorca, Ibiza and Minorca for a magazine assignment. In fact, my plane blasts off in a few hours. My passport hasn’t had fresh Spanish ink in it for over three years, when I left my apartment in Cadiz for my very first visit to Romania, via a 72 hour bus ride with a sadistic Romanian driver, negligible access to nourishing food and no AC, which still ranks as the worst self-inflicted travel misery I’ve ever endured.

It’ll be nice to be back in the land of sangria and tapas where, no matter what precautions I take, I mange to spill red wine on myself approximately every third day. You could set an atomic clock by it.

The heat of July and the language adjustment will take some getting used to. Though I know more Spanish than I know Italian and Romanian combined, I haven’t spoken in three years, so I’m expecting a wearisome Italspanmanian relapse, at least for the first few days. Furthermore, I will once again be truly homeless which is always a somewhat exhausting, tedious and potentially expensive state of affairs as even a bare-bones hostel lifestyle starts to add up after a week or two.

That possible anxiety aside, to say that I’m excited for this gig ? and ‘excited’ is precisely the right word – would be an understatement. Sure I have to visit a half dozen hotels, sleuth out several restaurants that don’t suck and try to collect a few activities and day-trips that don’t involve sunbathing and shopping, but as you may have guessed, there will be nightlife to uncover and beaches to explore at absurd length. And if you’ve ever watched the E! Network for five minutes, you know that diversions on the Balearic Islands, particularly Ibiza, almost exclusively revolve around booze and nudity, subjects that I have an all-consuming interest in.

It’s gonna kick so much ass. The sun on my face, the scent of salt water, the sea breezes gently wafting through my back hair and, most exciting of all, untold thousands of beautiful, mostly naked women.

I’ve been accused of being overly perverse and objectifying in this blog in the past, which is indisputable, but for the record I have not set foot on a beach in summertime in nearly two years. Much of that time has been spent sitting alone in apartments in obscure and lonely locations, frantically writing, while coping with limited to no food options and really bad TV. In fact, apart from the wacky German woman who was on the beach in Torregrande last November and nonchalantly changed out of her bikini right in front of a crowd of caf頰atrons (God I love German women, too bad most of them are in Germany), I have not seen live nudity for longer than I care to admit. Yes, there will be awkward ogling. No I won’t be able to control it. Yes, I’m comfortable with that.

My tenuous grasp on maturity and manners aside, even card-carrying heterosexual females have to admit that an abrupt onslaught of bare breasts can be inordinately distracting for anyone, not just for an honorary member – and future Grand Poobah – of the International Brotherhood of Dirty Old Men (IBoDOM). Moreover, I’m looking at a Vanity Fair article about Ibiza from April of this year and it’s hard not to notice that about 50% of the pictures feature topless women. Now we all know that Vanity Fair isn’t opposed to a little objectifying of their own, but are they really objectifying here or is it truly that challenging to take a picture on Ibiza without boobies appearing somewhere in the frame? I intend to independently assess this to the best of my journalistic abilities. If that means lengthy interviews and testing, then so be it.

If you’re thinking “Leif, you’ve been in Europe for more than three cumulative years. Boobs are everywhere ? even bus stop posters – get over it already”, you’d be perfectly right in saying so. However, my shaky Euro-Breast Indifference has completely evaporated during my two year beach hiatus, so some renewed willpower will have to be acquired, as well as a good pair of one-way, wrap around sunglasses that allow for full-focus, 180 degree, unobscured peripheral vision. I’ll also have to track down some show-quality horse blinders ? only the best for me – for those occasions when I have to walk past the beach to get somewhere else. Finally, a bottle of ice cold water will have to be constantly at the ready for any “Sudden Redistribution of Blood Flow” emergencies, if you catch my IBoDOM drift.

After six nights on the Balearic Islands, I go to Barcelona for yet another magazine assignment. Alas, this one is more focused on business topics rather than leisure activities, so the longish trudge from Barcelona’s center to the beach is not on my task list. Though I’ll do my very best to make time for it, because some of my all-time best beach memories happened in Barcelona. Like the time two young, gorgeous, frighteningly well-endowed girls, wearing nothing but thongs were in the water right in front of my towel playing an impromptu “King of the Hill” type game on a giant inflatable banana. This screaming, cavorting, boob swinging, gratuitous spread-eagle wrestling went on for 20 of the greatest minutes of my whole life, before or since, including my wedding day. And before you even ask Adrian, this was 1994, so sadly there is no digital video evidence of the event. Just the images burned onto my retinas, which I can still make out when I squint hard.

I’ll have five nights to uncover and write about growth industries and the current political situation in Barcelona then, well, that has yet to be definitively nailed down. I’m 98% sure I’ve got a one month gig that starts virtually the very next day, but I am waiting on final-final confirmation. Meanwhile I’ve gotta go re-start my travel health insurance in case my new sunglasses don’t adequately conceal my ogling and I run afoul of some jealous boyfriends. Hasta la vista boobies.