Travel Writing – Portuguese Idylls

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Preparation and theme choice: Modern travel articles should conform to one of the twelve types identified by L. O’Neil in her Travel Writing guide (2006). Of these, my article is primarily a destination piece, though it also has elements of the personal experience essay. This lack of commitment is deliberate, and it is meant to reflect my own cautious approach to my Portuguese heritage: I struggle between the identities of “cosmopolitan expat” and “uneducated economic migrant” that are often projected onto me. Initially I wanted to avoid writing about Portugal at all due to this baggage, but after some consideration, I found some unique opportunities for this project’s goal. My priority became to interest the British reader in Portugal as a historical location, and not merely as a budget holiday destination. I find that Latina persons such as myself are not only stereotyped as uneducated and parasitical, but also commodified as an extension of the reduction of Mediterranean countries to cheap holiday-making. An example of these stereotypes permeating the media is the recent advert for BT Infinity, titled Hola (Felstead 2014), which depicts sexualized Latina immigrants exploiting a British man. To counter the negative views, I played on positive cultural expectations of Portugal with vivid picturesque imagery early on to grip the British reader: The terracotta tiles, the wall fountain, and the grapevine. This was of such importance that I introduced it along with the hook. The article is then partly carried through the eyes of an Anglo-Saxon male as I felt an indigenous voice would have less impact. Despite being told in the first person, the real protagonist is Keith. Parallels are drawn between his American South cultural values and Portugal’s in an effort to familiarize the latter. Although this piece was not meant to be political, I found it impossible to untangle foreign travel-writing in Britain from issues of imperialism due to this country’s history.

Research and process: The exercise proved enjoyable, though it did bring unique challenges. In writing non-fiction entertainment, one cannot rely on metaphorical impressions and leave interpretations up to the reader. Imagery must be specific, which makes a heavier reliance on adverb and adjective use appear tempting. If handled improperly, this will encumber the text. The avoidance of run-on sentences thus became one of the biggest issues. To this end I applied tightly-packed description, particularly in the first few paragraphs. Don George’s Lonely Planet  Travel Writing (2013) proved invaluable, as the author explains how to effectively apply dialogue and sensory description. Linguistic and semantic choices also had to be carefully crafted. For instance, I was aware that the hook had to be stronger and appear sooner than what is acceptable in fiction. Because of this I presented the reader with a supernatural element in a real-world context. I also found it necessary to study similar articles in order to extract a usable formula. The Telegraph online newspaper travel writing competition provided many of my study resources. Though I did my best to emulate the published articles as closely as possible, I strayed on the verb tense. Not many travel articles use the present tense, which I find to be effective at catching the reader’s attention. As an result of this gamble, the present tense aggravated the text’s fiction-like narrative quality, which is not necessarily desirable in a factual piece.

Writing style: Of the influential travel writers I studied, Simon Calder stood as one of the most sophisticated. Although he writes primarily about holiday destinations, he is acutely aware of the countries’ socio-economic situations. This is not usually seen in amateur articles such as in the Telegraph’s competition, or even with many other professionals such as Steven Merchant. Calder’s article 48 Hours Into Malta (2013) is largely factual, but it is also subtly peppered with information about the country’s cultural values, including its national pride: “Festivities are plentiful – such as next weekend, when the nation celebrates independence from Britain in 1964.” While I did shy away from doing this openly in my article, I tried to carry the same kind of selfawareness present in his work. Although only an amateur piece, I found John Shaughnessy’s article Route 66 (2015) has particular good use of impact. The author writes about an unusual situation and the outlandish urban legend that attempts to explain it. I drew inspiration from this in my relating of Tomar’s legends of lost Templar gold.

Accuracy: Although accuracy is paramount in factual articles, I did take some liberties. Keith’s character is a blend of Thomas, a Texan family friend, and my childhood classmate who claimed to have psychic abilities. The ending quote is actually hers. Tom’s name change to Keith was due to its similarity with the town’s. I realized switching constantly between Tom and Tomar could confuse the reader. Despite this, all other events are accurate. The Portuguese ministers of economy and foreign relations really did flee in Summer of 2013 (BBC 2013), and all other potential candidates refused to take their place. I found it a poignant event to relate as it illustrates a culture of untroubledness that could be alluring to the British reader. Furthermore, I did not rely only on personal experience of the location. Some research allowed me to make sure the factual modifications present were deliberate and not a product of personal bias or faulty memory. As for the inaccuracies, I would have not abused the reader’s trust if this article was meant to be printed.

Final evaluation: While I feel I achieved the intended purpose of portraying the location in a manner that would make its history attractive to a British reader, I may have over-crafted the text due to a lack of experience of journalistic genres. As explained in an earlier in this commentary, the end result is more story-like than it should be. This is most evident in the third paragraph. This would probably have been different had I not been too ambitious in my goals, and chosen a culture better cherished by the British audience and therefore easier to represent.

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