Europe vs. India

People often ask me, “So when are you going to expand into Asia?” I love Asia. I once traveled there as much as in Europe (and even wrote a book back in the early ’90s called Asia Through the Back Door). But I can’t just “expand into Asia” and do a worthwhile job.

I tell people, “Europe’s my beat.” I consider it the wading pool for world exploration. It’s where the big market is (as I am running a business). And my personal curiosity takes me endlessly back to Europe. It’s where I find both my genetic and cultural roots.

But when asked my favorite country, I say, “India.” While I enjoy the shock value of saying that, that’s not why I say it. I say India because it’s true. India wallops anyone’s self-assuredness. India rearranged my cultural furniture. My confidence that I understood such basics to life as time, joy, love, pain, and music was shaken. I was humbled in a way that made me a better person. I am thankful for India. If I weren’t on a mission in Europe, India’s where I’d be. If you enjoy culture shock, India is pure decadence.

Making my focus Europe still leaves me with a lifetime of travel options. Having returned from spending 120 days this year in Spain, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Scandinavia, Estonia, and Germany, I now look ahead and consider what’s on deck for 2010. This is the time of year that Risa, my managing editor, needs to figure out which researchers are doing what territory so we can be sure all the guidebooks are adequately updated. A perk of my position is that I get to take my pick of research chores for the coming year.

I told Risa she can count on me to update London, England, Paris, Venice, Vienna, Budapest, Greece, and Istanbul. I’m sure that will evolve, but that’s my thinking now. For TV, we’ll shoot shows on Helsinki/Tallinn, Basque Country, and South Spain (all places I learned lots about this year). And then I have a big decision: branch further afield (e.g. Morocco, St. Petersburg, Romania, etc.) or redo the big Italy destinations.

The biggest regret I think I’ve had in my 20 years of TV production was not shooting in high-definition and widescreen (16 x 9) in 2001 when we spent 30 exhilarating days making five of my favorite shows ever, on Rome, Florence, Venice, the Veneto, and the Cinque Terre. While I’d probably let Veneto be, I desperately want to redo the others, perhaps making two Rome shows and two Florence shows. Those are among our most important destinations, and those were the last of the 4 x 3 standard definition shows we did. The old-fashioned aspect ratio and definition, coupled with my old nerdy glasses, make those shows feel really dated. For the last decade, whenever I watch those shows, I ask myself, “Why didn’t we spring for the high-def gear…and a new set of glasses?” High-def was pricey and a bit exotic at the time. But now, just a decade later, the old standard definition has become the new black-and-white, and high-def and widescreen have become the new standard.