Travels as a Brussels Scout

Nick Middleton, Author George Weidenfeld & Nicholson $35 (304p) ISBN 978-0-297-81793-2
Overturning the stereotype of the staid, stay-at-home geographer, Oxford geography instructor Middleton (The Last Disco in Outer Mongolia) takes readers on an irreverent tour through Western Europe in 1995, with the ostensible aim of gauging Europeans' support of, or indifference to, the European Union. Mostly, his wisecracking journey is a lark, filled with witty, shrewd observations on cultural contrasts. The egalitarian, law-abiding Swedes' civic discipline seems worlds apart from Rome's deranged traffic snarls, which the author considers symptomatic of Italy's borderline-anarchic disregard for authority. Middleton, who was underwhelmed by the Louvre's Mona Lisa, Copenhagen's Little Mermaid and the Lisbon metropolis (""the closest a European capital comes to the Third World""), is a wry traveling companion, and his intellect is wide-ranging. He seems equally at home explicating Austrians' obsession with death; the sanitized pseudo-reality of Paris's Disney park; Belgians' allegiance to their regions and cities rather than to the country as a whole; and the benefits of the E.U., for which Middleton expresses measured support. Despite the author's lighthearted tone, his serendipitous journal speaks volumes about the state of Europe today. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
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