Ill Winds: On Fan Death

lead_960Had a nice interview with Katie Heaney for her story at The Atlantic:

Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?

When I was a kid, someone told me that running a fan too close to my face was dangerous to my health, and I’ve kind of believed it ever since. For the 20-some years since, I’ve assumed that person was one of my parents, but when I mentioned this to them recently, neither had any idea what I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d believe,” my dad said, and he’s right, it doesn’t. But I know someone in my home once told me to move my fan further away from my bed so I wouldn’t get sick overnight, and if it wasn’t my parents, then who was it? My best guess at this time is a paranoid babysitter. No matter that I never encountered any substantiating evidence; the idea of a fan’s concentrated breeze making me sick held enough intuitive sway in my childhood psyche that it stuck there. Even though I know now that it isn’t exactly true, I wonder if there’s something to the idea—it had to come from somewhere. Right?

In fact, many cultures across the globe have their own stories of wind-based illnesses, says Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness. In his book, Bures writes that some ancient Chinese medical texts warned readers of “wind insanity” and even “wind stupidity.” Variations on these beliefs persist today, too; in Italy, people wear scarves around their necks to protect against colpo d’aria (a hit of air), and in the Czech Republic, some people fear the wind from air conditioners and refrigerators, believing they cause rheumatism, among other health issues. Most (if not all) Americans have been told not to go outside with wet hair lest we “catch a chill”—a belief in a cause-and-effect model with little scientific backing. Perhaps the most extreme form of these supposed illnesses can be found in Korea, where they call it something else: fan death, or the belief that running a fan in an enclosed room will actually kill you.

Read the rest here.



From Russia, With Love

I recently got an email from a friendly woman at the Russian travel channel, “Teletravel,” asking if she could send me a few questions for the site, which she did. I sent her my answers back, and afterward she let me know when the interview was up.  Then, for fun, I ran the site through the Babel Fish translator, just to see what I’d said. This is always amusing.  For starters, “Frank Of bures – man, which it is first of all worthwhile to name writer, the secondly – traveller. It much wanders and even more greatly he writes about his adventures so that other people also could feel the taste of road.”  I’m sure it sounds, and looks, much better in Russian:  “Frank Bures – человек, которого в первую очередь стоит назвать писателем, во вторую – путешественником. Он много странствует и еще больше пишет о своих приключениях, чтобы другие люди тоже могли почувствовать вкус дороги. Frank жил в нескольких странах, прилично говорит на суахили, итальянском и тайском языках, но писать предпочитает на английском. Его рассказы о путешествиях печатали в антологиях, а также….Read the rest (in Russian) here.

Restless Legs Reading

lagos_city_scene_nigeriaIf you’re in New York this week, I’ll be doing a reading as part of the Restless Legs Series along with fellow Best American Travel Writing 2009 anthologees Tony Perrottet, who will share his story about sex museums in Europe, and Elisabeth Eaves who will be reading about the nuances of ecotourism in Central np-cover-200wAmerica.  Also present will be series editor Jason Wilson, as host.  Come down to the Lolita Bar (266 Broome St.) on Wednesday (Oct 21) at 7pm to hear all about it.  As usual, I’ll be discussing vanishing genitalia, thugs, guns and the changing face of Nigeria.

Interview: The Oregonian

DSCN5382Not long ago, I got an email from Shawn Donley, who writes a travel column for the Oregonian.  He kindly asked if I’d do an interview for his column, and I said of course.  But when I asked how he got started with his column, he sent me an article by an Oregonian reporter about his and his wife’s trip recent around the world. It’s a fantastic story and,  as you can see from their photos here, will make you want to pack it all in, quit what you’re doing, and head out for the horizon.  You can read the interview here, and Shawn’s story here.   He’s also got a great blog from their trip, which is something I don’t say lightly.


Does anybody really know how far it is?

In the November issue of Madison Magazine, there’s a fun story I got to do, inspired partly by the Experimental Travel movement,  partly by Will Self, and partly my own travel experiences. Early one morning, I set out to walk from the place we were living in Verona, Wisconsin, to Madison. It was long trek, but well-worthwhile. I think everyone should do this to get a real sense of how far things are. In an interview with my editor Brennan Nardi, she asked: “First, what the hell were you thinking? Second, what are trying to convey to the reader through this kind of travel writing versus the more conventional service-oriented “go, see, do” travel story?” More on that soon, but for now a brief answer, along with other thoughts on writing, can be found here.

Okay, Fine, Dammit

A couple years ago, I was teaching a class in Madison on freelance writing. There was a woman who sat in back named Maggie, and she said she’d never heard of freelancing before. But by the time the second class rolled around, she had pitched, sold and written her first story. Not surprisingly, these days, she’s enjoying no small success, both in her writing and with her blog, Okay, Fine, Dammit, which gets a phenomenal amount of traffic from people who’ve fallen in love with her voice. (Check it out, you’ll see why.) But also this month, she and I share bylines in Madison Magazine. Hers is a heartbreaking piece about what could be a tired and maudlin topic in the hands of a lesser writer: domestic violence. It’s been great to watch her career take off and her talents unfold, and this week, our great editor, Brennan Nardi did an interview with both of us for her blog Forward. You can read her (and my) responses here.

Small Press

Good thing for google alerts, or I might have missed the fact that I’m a “literary scholar,” according to a nice piece in Malawi’s Nation newspaper. I also got a kind mention in Stephen Regenold’s piece on where travel writers like to travel. My destination of choice, however, didn’t make the cut. Lagos isn’t quite what what Forbes Traveler readers are looking for, but I do think it’s one of the greatest cities on the world.  Which may be why I don’t usually read Forbes Traveler.