Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Search for Bliss?

OK, if you have to go looking for it, do you think you'd recognize it if it hit you between the eyes? I normally steer way clear of "self-help" books that try to tell you how to live a certain way or adopt a persona that doesn't come naturally. In this case, though, I'd heard from friends and co-workers about Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss; One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. I appreciated that Mr. Weiner (pronounced "whiner" by the way, in the proper German vernacular) was inciteful enough to admit that he's a "grump" and I love travelogues, so I popped the first CD in the car and began.

It takes a little investment in time. I'd guess it started to grab me around disc 4; just when I was going to trade it in for something darker like Tree of Smoke, which is up next. The problem was that Eric was just taking himself and his "research" a little too seriously. It wasn't until he landed in Moldova that I really got interested. His sense of humor evolved as his travels progressed, so by the time he arrived at the most depressed country of all he began to lighten up. Go figure. His description of communicating with his dour Modovan landlady is hilarious and heartwarming as they actually grow to enjoy eachother's company. Still, as his plane lifts off from this most disheartening country, Weiner says he understands how the last soldier airlifted out of Vietnam must have felt. Unlikely, but a great metaphor nevertheless.

Weiner loved the enigmatic Thais. How can you not enjoy a people whose country has a "Gross Domestic Happiness Index?" His time in an Indian ashram had me laughing out loud. No coffee for three days? Yikes! And certainly the Berkshire village of Slough was the catalyst for several jokes at the expense of the Brits. I grew to like Eric Weiner more as we traveled together and began to wish that his search had taken him to some of the commoner countries, ones I've actually been to and found happiness in. As I was putting the finished Weiner book back on the shelf I picked up Mediterranean Summer; A Season on France's Cote d'Azur and Italy's Costa Bella. Now that's bliss!

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