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The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers
Synopses & Reviews
Eric Hansen is an intrepid traveler with an appreciation for the odd and unusual: he will go anywhere, try anything. Through it all he manages to capture the most revealing conversations and the most transporting moments — all of which he relates in these wonderful essays, taking us from the Maldives to San Francisco, from Cannes to Borneo and far beyond.
Hansen writes about the mind-altering experience of drinking kava in Vanuatu, about heartrending moments working at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying Destitute in Calcutta. He joins a grieving husband searching for his dead wife's wedding ring at a crash site in the Borneo rain forest. He recounts his miraculous survival of Cyclone Tracey on a fishing boat off the north coast of Australia, and he befriends an elderly Russian woman who used to prepare catered dinners for George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky in her tiny Manhattan kitchen, while drug dealers were shot to death in the downstairs lobby. He spends time with an ornithologist who studies endangered ants and the sex lives of banana slugs — and who takes topless dancers on bird-watching expeditions.
Each essay is a passionate experience refracted through the eyes and voice of a singularly evocative and original writer.
"The best, most enduring travel writers don't invite readers to merely view vistas through other eyes, but take the trip further, deep into the psychology of place. Hansen (Stranger in the Forest; Motoring with Mohammed) does just that in this lyrical collection that is equal parts travelogue, memoir and anthropological treatise. He details explorations from his 20s, 30s and 40s (he's now 57), all of which are compelling, surprising and utterly memorable. Though some are set in Europe, most take place in distant, alluring places in Asia and the South Pacific. 'Night Fishing with Nahimah' recalls Hansen's extended 1977 trip to the Maldives Islands near Singapore, where he journeyed to smuggle fish from the islands to the mainland. In the Maldives, he encountered an island paradise awash in contradictions, devoutly Muslim yet devoid of sexual inhibitions. (Hansen also nearly died there from severe hepatitis.) 'Listening to the Kava' takes him to the outer islands of Vanuata, where he partakes of a hallucinogenic drink with local men. 'Life at the Grand Hotel' evokes Hansen's months-long stay on Thursday Island in the Pacific after the prawn trawler he was working on nearly capsized in a storm. The wild goings-on at the seedy little hotel are hilarious, poignant and distinctly of another era. But Hansen's most enthralling tale is 'Life Lessons from a Dying Stranger,' about how, while negotiating Calcutta's bureaucratic maze for shipping large packages, Hansen volunteers at Mother Teresa's 'Nirmal Hriday' (Home for Dying Destitutes). This haunting vignette alone makes this magical book worthwhile. Agent, Joe Spieler Agency. (Oct. 12)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This extraordinary collection of short essays may leave readers disoriented as it leaps from the French Riviera to the South Pacific, India, Manhattan, California, Borneo, and back to California. But the characters Hansen meets along the way anchor themselves indelibly in the reader's imagination." Booklist (Starred Review)
"These skillfully crafted pieces are void of the usual commercial travel flackery; Hansen conjures romantic adventure not by proclaiming it but letting it creep up and tingle on the back of your neck....The rare traveler who senses the reason why we travel in the first place." Kirkus Reviews
"Readers will finish this book before they know it and will find themselves wishing for more of Hansen's world, full of hidden treasures revealed through vivid prose. Highly recommended." Library Journal
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