My Favorite Things, April 2009

In the tradition of Outkast, the Bureau Travel Writers talk about what they’ve been into lately.

If you’d like to tell us what book you’re reading, album you’re listening to, YouTube video you’re watching, or whatever, drop us a roughly 250-word line at

Although his ideas are resonant enough that his eponym appears in The New York Times about ten times a week (and about twice a month in The Wall Street Journal), it’s not fashionable to admire George Orwell for his style quite yet. Even literary figures like Thomas Pynchon or Christopher Hitchens mostly pay homage to Orwell the critic of totalitarianism, Orwell the political thinker, or Orwell the prophet of the “cold war” (and possible inventor of the term); Orwell the defender of clear, straightforward prose gets a handful of paragraphs in comparison. For a change, someone’s substance has overwhelmed their style.

Orwell breaks the authorial fourth wall in only a few essays, the best of which is his “Politics and the English Language”. It is both a tutorial in good writing habits and a relentless attack on the political uses of stock phrases, euphemisms, and pretentious diction. Other essays showcase Orwell’s gift for subtlety (the last line of “A Hanging”) or indignant satire (“Pleasure Spots”), but “Politics” is the only one that every writer would probably find worth reading. It is doubleplusgood. – Bureau Travel Writer Darryl Campbell

Möchten Sie Birnen oder Pflaumenschnaps? (Would you like pear or plum Schnaps?)”

The post-dinner digestif is by and large one of my favorite European traditions. Granted, we have a similar custom in the States—enjoying a high-end scotch or bourbon after an expensive meal—but here the the digestif is a bit more developed. It’s also much more affordable.

Rather than a fine indulgence, it makes regular appearances in Germany after family dinners and at burger restaurants.

As a sort of cultural signifier, the drink’s range is as diverse as the countries that drink it—in Bavaria and Austria it is Schnaps. In Northern Germany it’s Kräuterlikor (something like Jägermeister), in Italy it is Grappa, and in Hungary it’s Pálinka. The list goes on and on, yet each one serves the same purpose: A simple shot of something spicy/sweet and alcoholic to burn away that last hour of gluttony.

While I have found space in my heart for all varieties of digestif, my recent trips to Poland have lead me to an unquestionable favorite: Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka (Bitter Herb Stomach Vodka). An even balance of spice and sting, this Polish delicacy definitely makes the grade. Whether in Gdansk, Warsaw, or Krakow, this golden-colored, herb-infused liquor is a present and welcome force (also good with Sprite as and after-after dinner drink).

Problematically, much like many cultural byproducts, Żołądkowa Gorzka can be found almost exclusively in Poland. If you are in the country, however, and are looking for a good drink, you can be sure this one will please. – Bureau Travel Writer Locke McKenzie

I’m not too familiar with technology slang these days, but when I hear the term “pro user,”" I think of a person who purchases top-end hardware, loads it with top-end software, and creates top-end media. If this is the case, then I am one third of the way there. And that’s good enough for me.

With my brand-new 13″ aluminum unibody Macbook (with upgraded hard drive and RAM, of course), and a big, shiny Samsung SyncMaster 22″ external monitor, I feel and look like a pro user, but without any, you know, output. So far my new setup has resulted in many lost hours of productivity, as I customize my Dashboard and find the prettiest pictures for my expansive desktop. And did you know that on a 22″ monitor, the icons in the Mac OS X’s dock are over an inch tall? You can come over and see! Just don’t expect me to show you any programs beyond the ones that start with a lowercase I. – Bureau Travel Writer Daniel Adler