I swirl the amber nectar around in my mouth and let it slide down my gullet. A bit on the sweet side, with a slight taste of raisin. Actually quite pleasant. Especially when served ice cold on a sweltering afternoon. Which describes almost every day on Cyprus, the Mediterranean island where I’m sipping the wine.
Had another book drop this week — The Vietnam War: The Definitive Illustrated History by DK. Quite a departure from the travel-related books that I’ve worked on over the past year. But certainly not my first work on Vietnam.
Published jointly with the Smithsonian, the book chronicles America’s military and political involvement in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s as it explores the people, politics, events and lasting impact of the Vietnam War. Filled with more than 500 photographs and broken down by year, Vietnam War tells the story through powerful words and images.
Vietnam War Pivotal Year 1968
My contribution to the book was the chapter on 1968, a year that changed the course of the war and American politics. Among the pivotal events that year were the Tet Offensive, anti-war protests back home, the U.S. presidential election, and Richard Nixon’s secret sabotage of the Paris Peace Talks. To quote the DK publicity blurb, “The Vietnam War is a stirring visual record of the suffering, sacrifice, and heroism in America’s longest and bloodiest conflict of the 20th century.”
I wasn’t old enough to get drafted and didn’t set foot in Vietnam until 1988 to undertake a cover story for Discovery magazine. The communist regime didn’t allow solo travel back then, so my wife Julia and I had to join a small group tour with a government guide. Among our travel companions was a Vietnamese refugee going back to visit her family and an American vet making an emotional return to the place that changed his life. Crammed into a minibus, we journeyed from Ho Chi Minh City to Dalat in the Central Highlands and Nha Trang on the coast. Conditions were rough, little in the way of tourism infrastructure. We ate in street stalls rather than restaurants and stayed in rundown French colonial-era hotels.
Land of Nine Dragons
But the country sparked my interest and book ideas that I pitched to publishers in New York. Out of that came two more trips to Indochina and Land of Nine Dragons – Vietnam Today — which won a Lowell Thomas Award as the nation’s best travel book that year. Photographer Nevada Wier was my sidekick on both visits. The first was a month-long drive down Highway One between Hanoi and the Mekong Delta. The second trip a journey into the northern highlands to visit Dien Bien Phu and the hilltribes.
One of our strangest encounters was with another American, a fellow clad in a starched white long-sleeve shirt sitting at the next able over in a restaurant. He invited us to join him, and a lively conversation ensued. It wasn’t until the very end of the meal that we realized we’d been dining with Jay Pritzker, the American billionaire and founder of the Hyatt Hotel chain.
Groundwork for Vietnam War Book
It also was during those trips for Nine Dragons that I got to know many of the places I would write about in The Vietnam War. The royal Citadel in Hue. The remains of the U.S. Marine combat base at Khe Sanh and U.S. Army Special Forces base at Lang Vei. The U.S. Embassy compound and Tan Son Nhut Air Base in the city called Saigon prior to communist victory. So in writing the DK chapter on 1968, I dipped into memories of my own footsteps through the places that turned the tide of war and American history.
With the latest Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sailing into cinemas next week, I’m reminded of the time that I had lunch with Chris Pratt. The venue was a tiny bakery café called La Conversation — right across the street from the unassuming bungalow where Chris lived when he first came to Hollywood.
Guardians of the Galaxy Interview
I had just interviewed him about the first Guardians of the Galaxy for Prestige magazine — mainly if he was freaked out about having to carry a $200-million “tent pole” movie for the first time in his career. And after, rather than rush off to some other appointment like so many Hollywood types, he asked me if I wanted to have lunch with him. Who’s going to say no, right?
The birth this week of a mountain lion kitten in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles brings cougars back into the news cycle once again. From attacks on hikers near Silicon Valley and a viral video car-hopping appearance in San Jose to a photo bombing cougar in front of the Hollywood sign, the big cats have become as much a part of California’s 21st century urban scene as gourmet tacos, the Splash Brothers and Tesla electric cars.
I’ve been waiting beneath a eucalyptus tree for the better part of an hour at a place called the Koala Conservation Centre on Phillip Island in the deep south of Australia. Watching a mother koala and her infant, cute as can be, lounging around and chomping leaves. When all of a sudden there’s a blur of action. Or more like slow motion. After all, we are talking koalas – the only animal that may be slower than a sloth.