Following the route of ancient generals from Pompeii to Egypt.
Every week there seems to be an addition to the travel books currently adorning the shelves at the local bookstore. It occurred to me that this was a bizarre phenomenon. Especially since these books not only recount the travels, but also describe the “personal journey” experienced by the author. So it was with some trepidation the I read Route 66AD by Tony Perrottet.
Perrottet starts out by telling us about his grand plan to recreate “The Grand Tour” as pursued by many wealthy Romans in the heyday of the Empire. This trip took in the sights of Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt and is still a must for anyone with a penchant for ancient history. However, the thought of a wealthy Australian, living in New York emulating the upper classes of Rome might seem inspiring to some budding travellers, but let’s face it, the story has be done before – for at least 2000 years. This modern twist on an ancient theme fails to add a lot.
Perrottet begins the book in Pompeii. Here he relates the obvious that Pompeii is crowded in summer with tourists. How insightful. Then Perrottet moves into New Pompeii in search of food for his hungry, pregnant girlfriend. The seedy underside of the modern city is tantalisingly dangled in front of the reader, with Perrottet stating that New Pompeii is generally left out of modern travel guides. The potential for an insightful parallel between the ancient and modern cities is left out in favour for their trip to McDonald’s! Even Perrottet’s admission that this golden arch encounter is a defeat (akin to his stay in the Katmandu Hilton?), fails to extricate this anecdote from the fact that readers of travel literature generally don’t need a recount of walking into a McDonald’s.
Maybe one of the most annoying things about this author is the continual whining about how this is going to be his last trip, as he is about to start a family. The true irony in this continually repeated and painful assertion is that the author is happy to tell us that Germanicus (the Roman general), who he purports to emulate, managed to do the same trip with a wife and 5 year old child approximately 2000 years previously. Let’s just note that Germanicus would probably have killed for a bus, train or plane. The author misses the irony.
Tony drags his pregnant girlfriend along for the journey, and despite the potential for this situation to provide some comic relief, she becomes a stereotypical character who adds little to the piece.
The part of the book devoted to Turkey really leaves one wondering if the author bothered to visit the place. The section has more ancient anecdotes than a Russell Crow movie and while giving an interesting historical background, fails to provide any particular insight for the modern traveller. And how many times must travel book readers endure the story about the fact that there is a 5:30 am call to prayer in Muslim countries? We know – not funny after the 10,000 time!
The section on Egypt is by far the most interesting section of the book beginning with the promise of stories of diving on the lighthouse at Alexandria. Unfortunately this turns out to be a “Fawlty Towers” styled anecdote with the obligatory run-in with inept bureaucracy. So the promise of romantic stories of diving one of the ancient wonders of the world is never fulfilled. Instead the reader must be content with the second-hand account of a grumpy Welsh archaeologist emerging from the shit-laden cesspool that is Alexandria Bay. This is probably the most amusing part of the book and the closest the reader gets to a meaty event – pardon the pun.
It seems that Perrottet sets out to write both a travel log and an account of his personal journey towards fatherhood. If he had set out to do one or the other, it may have resulted in an interesting read. Unfortunately, he does neither well. One gets the feeling that we have read all this before – or seen it on sitcoms or perhaps on Oprah. Perrottet tries to make it clear to readers that he has been to other, more difficult destinations, such as Zanzibar and Pago Pago. Perhaps if he had written about these destinations, rather than trying to pander to the latest fad, then he probably would have produced a more worthwhile read. This book will sell well to the mainstream armchair travelers (think Vogue Travel). But those looking for a slightly more insightful account of a potentially interesting journey will be disappointed.