"The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers" by Eric Hansen
Usually, traveling brings great pleasure, and acquiring information about a destination is vital for planning a journey. Great travel writers invite their readers to participate in journeys through varied sites beyond mere comprehension of the eye. They take readers through a psychological journey, and the captivating presentations in a travel book are what can lead a person into developing interest in visiting some destination. Thus, Eric Hansen in The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers understands this, and he does just that to his readers. This is a marvelous book since it entails the explorations of the writer through his ages, making a memorable combination of imagination and reality in his narration.
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The presentation of the research is going to focus on this book mainly while comparing it to three other books from renowned travel writers. Thus, the writings of Matsuo The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, and Fridtjof Nansen’s Farthest North will serve as a backdrop for the analysis of Hansen/s book. All the four travel writers loved traveling and took suicidal escapades in touring the world, which made them become auspicious writers full of breathtaking experiences and lessons any reader would love.
Excitements of Traveling
The encounters presented in Eric Hansen’s book cut across a lifetime of the author from his 20s to his 40s, making the book full of information presented from an experienced point of view. The book is a compilation of his encounters with people from different backgrounds, skills, and experiences. Just like its title, the book is about new experiences. Hansen talks about the development of a friendship with an elderly Russian dancer and later, with a homeless woman from France. As expected from any writer, there is time for learning new cultures, and it is reflected in the old Russian woman’s stories as told to Hansen.
Eric Hansen enjoys traveling, and he pays attention to odd facts during his journeys. He is always willing to go anywhere and do everything while he travels. This makes it easy for him to gather the most lucrative stories for his books, which gives him the chance to present each moment in his books. Particularly, Hansen talks about the moments of drinking in Vanuatu and even his volunteering time at Mother Teresa’s Home in Calcutta. It is obvious that he wants to experience all aspects of his destination, and reflecting it in his writings provides the reader with ample information regarding what to expect during their journey.
Hansen’s book presents the need for being open-minded while on a journey since there nobody can expect what might happen during it. For instance, he encounters a grieving man who has just lost his wife in a crash and finds it necessary to help with the search for the dead wife’s wedding ring. It is a crazy encounter but a phenomenal aspect that shapes his emotions and leads him to the realization of the reality of the love the man has had for his wife. While on the north coast of Australia, Hansen encounters Cyclone Tracy and survives it miraculously. This shows the dangers of traveling and the impending possibility of losing one’s life while in a far land. It is a horrifying experience that would make someone quite worried about going on a journey. However, for an enthusiast of traveling, the presentation of such an encounter serves as a preparation for the variation of encounters to expect while on a journey. This only makes this book even more valuable for travelers as it offers life insights that occur during traveling.
Traveling is always accompanied with the thought of finding food. Eric seems to be a sharp traveler when he befriends a Russian woman who offers catering services. She also offers him a safe home away from the scares of drug dealers who have just shot each other in the lobby of a Manhattan kitchen. This is just another wonderful aspect of traveling, but safety is always paramount. Eric Hansen knows that he needs to stay away from danger and looks for a safe haven during his journey. His book acts as a handy guide for travelers; thus, Hansen offers tips about means of planning and staying safe during his journeys. Any traveler would find Hansen’s book interesting and resourceful since it does not offer its instructions in a boring and strict manner but instead, guides them through the various encounters presented by the author.
The diaries of Fridtjof Nansen present his experiences on a journey to the North Pole. His ship Fram freezes in the ice cap that helps her withstand the crushing powers of the ice and assists Nansen in drifting to the North. Experts claim that the mission is extremely dangerous and term it as suicidal. However, Nansen is adventurous enough to fulfill his curiosity by taking the journey and making a historic voyage. He struggles against ice floes, scurvy, polar bears, hunger, snowdrifts, and endless lonely polar nights. He says that the struggles made Fram become a "cold prison of loneliness" (Nansen 66). His perseverance can be compared to that of Hansen who has to finish his journey while traveling on foot for 15 months. He uses a rotting reindeer fur as a sleeping bag. Nansen is able to realize that Fram cannot take it far and he sets on foot led by dogs. As a survival tactic, he feeds weaker dogs to stronger ones. The narration is full of visualization and sensational fulfillment of a traveler that would encourage anyone to start a journey.
Hansen’s time with the ornithologist introduces him to banana slugs and their sex lives while also taking him through the lives of endangered ants. He has the chance of attending bird-watching expeditions, with topless dancers evoking the curiosity of travelers. Just like all travelers, Erick Hansen wants to experience the good, the bad, and the crazy things about his destination, and he does just that. He takes each opportunity and plunges into his journey without fear. He has a passion for experiencing life and presents what he has seen during his journey, narrating his stories in a strong voice, which pushes potential travelers to make journeys of their own.
Compassion and Humanity
The people, whom Hansen meets during his journey, are the ones who leave an outstanding memory in the mind of the reader. The author offers great prose that relates human generosity in the strangest scenarios. Humanity is an aspect that cuts across the world, and it is amazing to go on a journey and find people with so much care and love. For example, a retired ballerina dancer gives shelter to an old homeless woman and becomes friends with her. The book contains varied accounts of sojourns made to isolated islands that present Hansen with freedom for experiencing the Western culture in the South Pacific strip. Hansen can experience the journey in its extremes and learn about love, sex, and life. When he briefly sojourns in Calcutta, his initial intention is to find a place for shipping his worldly goods as he waits to continue with his journey. However, he manages to learn a new aspect of life while volunteering as a barber at the home of the destitute. This stop is not as short as his initial intention since it turns into months of continuous struggle with impending bureaucracies that deny him the chance of shipping his goods to the USA.
Even though some of the stories are set in Europe, he also makes escapades right out of distant places like the South Pacific and Asia. He goes for night fishing and even explores life in the Maldives contrary to his Muslim belief, where he finds a dancer who teaches him how to make love and the tricks about fishing. Here, he gets lessons on the smuggling of fish from the island. The life on the island is full of exploration of varied experiences, such as sexual encounters, and even drinking with local men at the Grand Hotel. Hansen makes a poignant account of the happening at the hotel that leaves a hilarious presentation of a unique era combined with vast information and experiences. At the same time, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo is a presentation for the search for spiritual peace. This introspective piece is about his journeys and the manner, in which they have connected him to the world. It is a detailed presentation of landscapes and people whom he meets along the way and finds a connection to those he meets; for example, he says in the end: “So I must take to the road again, farewell, my friends” (Matsuo 4-102). He is able to give a simplified presentation of the world in his Haiku poems by trying to detach himself from worldly things and introduce spiritual enlightenment
Political Understanding of Destinations
Obviously, Hansen is a risk-taker in his escapades, which makes him a great traveler. He seems ready for the journey regardless of the challenges he experiences along the way and always tends to find a solution each time things seem tough. When his readers progress with the story, they suddenly realize that the book offers instructions, preparing them psychologically for the possibilities of encountering difficulties while on a journey. For instance, when Hansen intends to ship a large package out of Calcutta, he realizes that it is not an easy task as he has earlier thought. Instantly, he knows that he must learn about the area for some time to be able to get through the bureaucracies involved. Thus, he goes to Mother Teresa Hospice to get time for studying the area and finding a way for maneuvering through the shipping requirements. At the same time, in Persian Letters, one can also find a presentation of political powers, religious hypocrisy, and comparison of the Eastern and Western cultures. It also presents new identities of women through the intrusion of harem and evocation of passion and jealousy. This novel has opened the oriental world to Western visitors and vice versa (Montesquieu 4-88).
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The title of Hansen’s book offers an interesting provocation to the mind of the reader, which leads to the curiosity that can only be satisfied by reading the book. Talking of an encounter with a lap dancer offers a presentation to the questioning of stereotypes surrounding stripping. As expected, there is the need for offensiveness to lap dances, which lacks on the encounter of Hansen with Layla. Instead, his presentation of the woman shows the capacity of charisma and intelligence she possesses, presenting an awesome depiction of a lap dancer. Hansen presents a reality of the lives of lap dancers, auspiciously left out through the negative stereotyping of their industry by illuminating the industry and combining its beauty with the friendliness of the neighborhood. The book is witty and straightforward, with the prose presented in a winsome manner. The title given to the book is provocative in its presentation of a Californian wildlife biologist who loves strippers, thus making The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers a book that evokes the readers’ curiosity and urges them to read it.
Cultural Interests of Travelers
Just like most travel writers, Hansen works towards the introduction of new and familiar places in an interesting and adventurous manner. The adventures traverse through the Maldives, Vanuatu, and Thursday Island. It also gets into familiar destinations such as California and New York. Hansen’s respect for those he meets along the journey helps him blend in and get information about new lifestyles and regions. He penetrates the new worlds and he is ready to give his readers a glimpse of his adventures in a wonderful narration. All the essays are engrossing and insightful about the destinations traveled by the writer. They are the encounters of people, places, and experiences, presenting the power of friendship and generosity as shown in the example of Madame Perruche and Arlette. In New York, Madame Zoya presents authentic Russian cuisine and always throws parties. Another compelling aspect of the book is the storytelling nature of the old folks whom Hansen encounters, making it evident that old people have rich stories that those willing to listen to can enjoy.
In his Persian Letters, Montesquieu questions social structures, human nature, institutions, and customs. These are presented in a witty and satirical manner that captivates the interest of readers. However, this is also a story with great interest in foreign cultures. The three characters of the book are capable of giving reports regarding their visits to scientific societies and theatres, where they observe and learn the flirtations and manners of other societies (Montesquieu 4-88).
The six travels in The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers cover approximately thirty years of Hansen’s life. In "Life at the Grand Hotel", he works at a shrimp trawler in Australia in 1974. He attempts to explain the life of being a shrimper, and later, the tragedy of Cyclone Tracy hits. The horrific storm killed about 16 people at sea, but it also leveled Hansen’s home at the port of Darwin. Luckily surviving the storm, Hansen finds himself washed off to Thursday Island where he is introduced to a new social life of the Grand Hotel. This place becomes his home for a few months, and Hansen delivers wild and tales of the people living there. His transition through the myriad of escapades is captivating to readers; thus, it tempts one to go traveling as well to relive his experiences.
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"Listening to Kava" takes up 15 pages and it can make a wonderful piece for a travel magazine. Traveling to Vanuatu presents lessons about the kava root that has a cultural affiliation in the area. Hansen knows that in order to learn the culture of people, it is important to mingle and become involved in their activities and economy. As Hansen writes, "The best way to penetrate culture and mingle with the people was by getting involved with the local economy" (228). In such a way, he finds it easy being involved with a rowdy man at a hotel on the coast of Australia or volunteering at Mother Theresa's Home for Dying Destitute in Calcutta while in India or being a fish smuggler when he gets to the Maldives. Indeed The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer provoke visual and psychological experiences of Washington Heights and Vanuatu by dissecting their cultures and lifestyles. The book is a success because of the insatiable curiosity of its author and his disarming personality that he uses to blend with local communities wherever he goes. He is patient and he often presents his escapades in a comedic manner that keeps the reader entertained.
All four writers have a mastery of their work and present them as if their readers are right beside them and relieve their stories with them. They present exuberant collections, where they remember encounters with fascinating and unique people. The people they encounter during their journeys are not famous, but they are of humble livelihoods, which makes the journeys interesting and memorable. Their lives are of great importance to the travels, which has a luring effect on the readers who want to travel without having to meet popular people in far lands and just take time to go out into the wild and having an adventure of a lifetime. For Hansen, an encounter with the old Russian ballerina is outstanding since it portrays the humility, with which life has pushed the old woman into living in an old Manhattan house after the experience of a lavish lifestyle in Europe. The array of stories presented by the writer prepares the travelers for all sorts of experiences as they embark on a journey. The book describes those, who have a colorful life in beautiful places such as the Grand Hotel of Australia, and those in despairing situations such as Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying Destitute. This connects to Matsuo’s search for spiritual peace in his journey. The diversity presented by Hansen and other writers through his encounters is outstanding, while his book leaves readers with the thirst of exploring the world, finding its hidden treasures, and having crazy escapades.