Remarkable travels, remarkable life
July 25, 2005
“Been there, done that.”That was once the motto of those who wanted to seem like world-weary travelers who had been everywhere and tried everything … and were bored with it all.Fortunately, you don’t hear that phrase much any more; so maybe now we can use it in its proper sense to describe Paul Fabry – a man who seems to have truly been everywhere and done everything … and isn’t the least bit bored by any of it.Fabry recounts his travels – and, along the way, bits and pieces of his remarkable life – in his book, “Detours, the art of uncommon travel.”
Let’s be clear from the start, this isn’t the kind of travel guide you turn to like a Fodor’s or a Lonely Planet, to get extensive, detailed listings of sights to see, places to sleep and the hottest new restaurants in town, complete with prices, phone numbers and the like. Instead, reading “Detours” is more like sitting down to listen to a trusted friend recount his most recent adventures, as he traveled the world. You get the flavor of places seen and experienced, the flavor of Paul Fabry’s personal voyages. And, since Fabry seems to know people everywhere and speak every language on the planet, you get to eavesdrop on wonderful conversations wherever he goes.Take, for example, his visit to Budapest, where he spent his childhood.Fabry stops at a still-superb pastry shop where his mother bought him sweets when he was a child. Then he meets with a distant cousin who still lives in Budapest, now a prosperous attorney, after scraping by through 40 years under Soviet rule. The two men briefly recall the days at the end of the Second World War, when the Americans and British bombed Budapest, as the Soviet Army fought the Germans in the streets. He stops at the Parliament building where, on a recent visit, he met with the president of Hungary, an old friend from the days when they fought together against the Nazis. Fabry reminisces, very briefly, about his own election to the Hungarian parliament in 1945, in a brief moment of freedom before the Soviets took over. Then he races off to be a guest of honor at the 15th anniversary of the Hungarian Pulitzer Prizes, which he helped to establish.Been everywhere, done everything.
And, although, as I said, Paul Fabry doesn’t offer exhaustive lists of hotels and restaurants, he mentions, among his Budapest adventures, his own great accommodations and great meals.In fact, I chastised myself for not reading his chapter on Budapest until after my own recent visit there – I am very certain that his restaurant recommendations would have been far superior to the advice I got from the concierge at my hotel.But make no mistake, it isn’t just in Budapest where Paul Fabry seems always at home and always among friends. It’s the same in France, Austria, Switzerland, Istanbul and, of course, New Orleans, where he has lived (on Bourbon Street (of course) since the 1960s. When he visits New York, shortly after 9/11, he visits the Empire State Building, where he had an office in the 1950s, when he worked for Radio Free Europe. He remembers, with sadness, his office in the World Trade Center, where he worked as one of the founders of the international World Trade Centers Association.When he visits Istanbul, Fabry returns to some of his old haunts from the days when he lived there and worked for British intelligence, after fleeing Hungary, before moving to New York.
And when … but, stop. Enough. I’m sure you get the idea.Paul Fabry must be an extraordinary traveling companion. And, if you can’t travel with him, this book must be the next best thing to, at least, sitting and chatting with him about his experiences and journeys all around the world.Just think of him as an old friend who’s been there, done that … and can’t wait to go back again.