Michael Palin is my favorite Monty Python. This is not something I discovered as a teenager — I’d seen Holy Grail, but that’s about it — but as an adult. See, I married a Monty Python Fan. He uses two of their movies in his classes (“They’re full of great philosophical points,” he says). We own not only the entire series on DVD, but also every special that they have come out with. We have books on the Pythons. And, being the loving, devoted wife that I am, I’ve watched it with him (he’s working on getting the girls hooked), and yes, have gotten sucked into it (well, it is funny…). In the process, I’ve come up with my own Beatleesque descriptions of all of them: I don’t get Terry Gilliam, I find Terry Jones often unfunny, Graham Chapman is the straight man (yes, I get the irony), Eric Idle is just smarmy, John Cleese is a great physical comedian, but Michael Palin is my favorite.
So, what does all this have to do with a Jules Verne book?
Well, way back in 1988, when I was 16, and Michael Palin was 45 (I know, he’s older than my dad!), the BBC got him to see if he could do what Phileas Fogg did in the Verne book: travel around the world in 80 days (or less). I’m sure he didn’t know when he started that this would become a second career of sorts for him — he’s done six of these, and is working on a seventh — and that’s how I came to this book. I’ve long wanted to watch these travel documentaries (being a fan of both travel documentaries and Michael Palin), but they were never to be seen in the video stores of Jonesboro and Macomb (same with Bollywood movies, but I digress). Along came Netflix, and I found that they really do carry everything. We’ve watched Sahara — good, but the ending was too abrupt — and are 2/3 of the way through Himalaya (which has been really good so far). And watching those got me curious about the earlier ones.
He’s written a book to accompany each of his travels, and I reserved a copy of the first one. The gimmick was to follow the Verne book as closely as possible, without using airplanes. The book’s basically his diary of the trip — broken up into little segments for each day. And it’s fascinating. He’s an engaging, funny writer (favorite part: the initiation he got for crossing the International Dateline on a merchant ship. At one point, he commented that it was worse than being in a Terry Gilliam film). I loved seeing the world through his eyes. He really is a people person, making friends with whomever will talk to him, searching out the unusual and unspectacular, and he’s genuinely curious about the world. I was saddened by the lack of respect for the earth that many people had in 1988 (but I had to keep reminding myself that it was nearly 20 years ago) — and it made me wonder how much the world has changed, if at all (I doubt he’d do it again, but I’d be to see what it would be like now, 20 years down the road). There was also the constant pressure to keep up with a fictional character. He was lagging way behind Fogg for quite a while — over sea travel isn’t nearly as easy as it was in the 1880s — but caught up from Tokyo to Los Angeles, and across America, so he ended up on time. But only barely. I liked his descriptions of culture shock going from country to country — a realization just how different we really are.
I also realized that there was a lot more information in the book than would or could appear in the BBC series. So, I’m curious and need to get the tape and watch it. And conversely, I should probably get the books to all the other ones, too. And I probably will. Eventually.