One of the first things that I’m going to do once this pandemic is over is travel. I’m not talking about going on a day trip, but traveling out of state to somewhere that I’ve never been before. I’ve been fantasizing about this for a while, and I blame this on two things. One is on the honeymoon I’ll take next year. The other is on reading Around the World in 80 Days with Michael Palin by Sir Michael Palin – a wonderful travelogue written by a member of Monty Python in 1988.
Around the World in Eighty Days with Michael Palin is the book companion to the 1989 BBC series of the same name. In the show, the comedian-turned traveler circumnavigates the globe in the same amount of time as Phileas Fogg – the protagonist of the famous Jules Verne novel of the same name – and using the same modes of transportation that were available in Fogg’s time. Along the way, he describes his joyous and sometimes chaotic experiences.
Pandemic or no pandemic, seeing pictures of places like Venice, Cairo, Shanghai, and Aspen, Colorado make me want to travel even though they were taken over 30 years ago. Palin offers hilarious insights into them. For example, in Venice, a photo depicts an older man face down, and he muses that he was a possible Mafia victim.
I also like how every page indicates which part of the world Palin and his Passepartouts (the film crew) are in. For instance, on one page, it lists Day 5: Corinth Canal in Greece as the author talks about going through it. On the next page, it lists Day 5: Athens as he talks about his experiences in that city. It’s good to know that Palin wants readers to know where he’s at all times (in the book of course). This also makes sense as Phileas Fogg too had to keep track of the amount of days spent traveling to ensure he circumnavigates the globe in precisely 80 days.
Speaking of Fogg, Palin makes a lot of references to the famous Jules Verne novel when prompted. At one point, as he’s crossing the Atlantic Ocean, he talks about how in the book, Fogg and Passepartout burn the wood parts of a boat in order to get to Liverpool on time. This shocked me because I’ve never read the novel even though I’m familiar with the story through the Three Stooges and Looney Tunes adaptations. Another thing that I have to mention is that Palin gets to do the one thing that is commonly associated with, yet never done in the book: traveling via hot air balloon while he’s in Aspen.
Since he’s also a member of Monty Python, he alludes to the comedy team when appropriate. One of those references (and easily a high point for me) occurs when he encounters a cockatoo in Hong Kong, who ends up doing some damage on his pants (I mean trousers). In the photo caption, he claims that the bird had mistaken him for John Cleese. He also jokes about teaching one of the birds in the Bird Market to say “John Cleese is rubbish” (p. 133-135).
The travelogue makes me want to watch the 7-part BBC series, which is available in its entirety on Amazon Prime. However, I’m aware that the book offers more details of the journey than the show does.
Much as I enjoy reading this travelogue, there are two things that need to be acknowledged. The first is that this book was clearly written by a Westerner with a lot of resources. This is not an insult. It’s something that some reviewers noticed while reading it, and I happen to agree. At one point, he calls someone an Oriental. While I was disappointed with that, I was delighted in reading the sections, in which he mingles with the locals and getting to know them. This is especially true when he bonds with the crew of the dhow that takes him from Madras, India to Singapore. This became something that Palin would do in future travel documentaries and books, so the positives outweigh the negatives. In addition, what would have happened if Palin didn’t have the backing of the BBC? I don’t know if he would’ve traveled the world in 80 days, considering the delays he encountered.
The second thing is that the book is a time capsule for 1988. The clearest examples of these are the talks about how China will regain control of Hong Kong in nine years, glasnost, the press for the film A Fish Called Wanda, and the acknowledgement that George H. W. Bush just won the American presidency.
All in all, Around the World in 80 Days with Michael Palin by Sir Michael Palin is a great travelogue that marked the beginning of the author’s second career as a travel host. His observations are pretty funny and sincere, and he genuinely wants to get to know the people that he encounters on his travels. Although the book does scream 1988 at some points, it still remains pretty timeless. I would recommend this travelogue to not only Monty Python fans, but also to travelers itching to go on vacation. As for me, I’m going to watch the BBC series to continue fulfilling my travel wishes for the time being. Thank you Sir Michael!
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