condé nast knows the world?

it’s not often i post from another blog, but this missive from chris roper needs to be shared.

he describes the seriously sad writing of one nick fraser of the supposedly-reputable condé nast traveller magazine in the uk. it is just a pity i don’t have a copy of the article to see it for myself…

read at your own risk.

You colonised the world…
10/12/2008 12:32 – (SA)
Chris Roper

Incredible as it is to believe, the fine tradition of patronising travel journalism is still alive and flourishing at an allegedly reputable publication like Condé Nast Traveller in the UK.

In the December 2008 issue of this glossy publication, there’s a travel story about Cape Town, whimsically entitled “Shine on”, which contains at least seven factual errors, and a host of disgusting, neo-colonialist assumptions about, yep, you guessed it, “Africa”.

The writer’s basic contention is the same moronic framing of Cape Town that we’ve had to endure since time immemorial, or 1994 to be precise. Ooh, look, there are “bizarrely English-looking suburban houses”! Yes, you colonised the world you cretin, have you forgotten? Of course you built your crap houses everywhere, or rather, got your slaves or labourers to build them. We’d love to knock them down and put up some authentic mud huts, but it’s not really economically practical.

Then there’s the incredibly, incredibly original “Cape Town doesn’t look out at Africa. Instead, it offers a view of its own bays… In Cape Town, you are always looking away into nothingness”. Could somebody please explain to the facile travel writers who grace our luxury hotels with their pimply egos, that we don’t look out at Africa because we are in Africa!

That precious European ocean you think we’re staring at – that’s called the sea, it’s not a metaphor, it’s a place we fish, swim, and hungrily wait alongside for the next cargo boat to arrive so we can give your precious sailors STDs, take their money, and send them on their way.

‘Unassertive Australians’

I also love this bit: “Except when it comes to rugby, white South Africans can seem like unassertive Australians.” How about next time you’re over here, I do one of two things. I either introduce you to the thousands of white South Africans who are passionately a part of building our country, or I can kick you in the balls, in an unassertive, Australian way. I know which one I’m choosing.

I urge you all to go and read this travel story. Share my anger. The thread that runs through it is a familiar one – Europe is judging Africa, and Africa will only succeed when Europe decides that Africa has succeeded.

For example, the writer, one Nick Fraser, talks about JM Coetzee’s emigration to Australia, and then, presumably based on the same extensive research methodology that has resulted in his piece being riddled with factual errors, tells us that Capetonians don’t like Coetzee, and especially Disgrace. But fear not! “Maybe the new film of the novel, starring John Malkovich, will reconcile Capetonians to Coetzee.”

It’s breathtaking. This nitwit is actually telling us that we aren’t capable of judging a book by a South African author, without a foreign film actor bringing it alive for us. Perhaps if Mr Fraser spent more time reading, and less watching movies, he might have slightly more analytical nous to bring to the task of crafting words into a story.

Misnamed

And the errors… Oh my. Condé Nast Traveller, don’t you have copy editors, or access to that handy little tool called the internet? Kingklip is not spelled Kingclip, there isn’t a street in Cape Town called “Buitekant” – it’s Buitenkant – and it’s not the What if the World market, it’s called the Neighbourgoods market.

After helpfully telling us it’s fine to eat kingclip (sic) because it tastes like halibut, the writer also says that “there is something called cod but very different from the UK version”. No, no, no. Not everything in the world is a variation on your limited lexicon of UK experiences. Try actually listening to the natives next time, and you’ll hear the word kob. Short for kabeljou. Different fish. Different country. Different sea, out of which we pull fish on the rare occasions we aren’t staring longingly out and wishing we were English. Or Scottish, or whatever a Fraser is.

For more insight into how the naïve travel writer is always crippled by his cultural assumptions, consider this passage: “In late afternoon, go to the misnamed Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, in reality a huge piece of wilderness turned into an African image of Eden”.

Huh? Misnamed? One of the most famous botanical gardens on the planet? And is the writer really suggesting that Africa must forever remain wild, and that it can never be tamed? Does he realise that that’s the same as saying “you can take the Bantu out of the bush, but you can’t take the bush out of the Bantu”? No, he doesn’t.

And while we’re on the subject of misnaming, any Condé Nast Traveller reader who takes anything in this magazine seriously is going to be dangerously handicapped when visiting a featured city. Our writer tells us not to “waste time on the National Gallery, still full of unflattering apartheid-era dioramas of Zulu pre-colonial life”. Please, ignore this, visit the National Gallery, which is in fact home to a fine collection of South African art. I think Mr Fraser has confused it with the South African Museum, which is situated about 200 metres away from the National Gallery.

Primitive tastes

I could go on… Hey, I will go on! Because there’s so much more! Let’s give out some tips to copy editors. Dear Condé Nast Traveller copy editor – it’s always important that you read both the start and the end of stories. So this one, for example, starts by telling us that the best time to see Cape Town is in the morning, hanging around the docks. It ends (well, it’s close to the end) by telling us that we can reach Robben Island from “the otherwise missable waterfront”. Uh, the docks and the Waterfront (note spelling) are the same place.

But luckily for tourists who embrace the same facile ideological quirks as the writer of this article, there’s always… ta da! Gugulethu! Or Guguletu, as Condé Nast spell it. You need to go with an escort, Mr Fraser tells us, but he also tells us that “It’s good to walk through the low streets… you’ll be welcomed warmly”. Then why do you need your escort?

He also tells us “There is nothing at all depressing about Guguletu.” Well, yes, there is. For starters, we’re so poor we have to pretend to like supercilious, patronising tourists like you, because we desperately need your money. Moron.

So there you have it. A collection of clichés, asinine moralising and blatant errors. No wonder the dead-tree industry is doomed to extinction. Mr Fraser, by the way, recommends the food at Mzoli’s in Gugs, but also tells us to avoid the Table Mountain Cableway, because it is crammed with “long queues of outsize, Afrikaans-speaking tourists in shorts”.

It’s funny to realise that if the same Afrikaners invited him to a braai, and fed him the same crap meat charred over a fire that he relished at Mzoli’s, he’d probably be writing dismissively about “primitive tastes”.

Chris Roper is editor-in-chief of 24.com, and the 2008 PICA columnist of the year. He blogs at Chrisroper.co.za

’nuff said

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