Dedicated to her craft, Shukert is just happy to be part of a cast and thinks little about the fact that she will not be earning money while in Europe. You have to admire her sense of adventure and willingness to take risks. The risk-taking continues as she meets men while abroad and dives into relationships and casual sexual encounters. As much as I could not imagine taking these risks, I couldn't help laughing at the predicaments in which she found herself. When she loses a cap and needs emergency dental work, she lands herself in one of the most outrageous scenes of all with three Italian men. Again, not something I imagine myself doing but her telling of the story is smart, irreverent and self-deprecating.
This may appear to be a travel memoir but you will find little in the way of not to be missed sights or historical highlights. The book is really more of an anthropological study - Shukert shares observations about the essence of people in the countries she visits and examines their customs with her trademark humor. I can still see the pre-Christmas scene in Amsterdam as the Dutch clamor to see Sinterklaas - the Dutch answer to Santa Claus. Here is how Shukert describes Sinterklaas:
There is no Santa Claus in Holland. Santa is jolly. Santa is too fat to ride a bicycle, and his obesity is a drain on the national health care system. Santa is financially generous for no logical reason. Santa is completely antithetical to the Dutch way of doing things.
Despite Shukert's derisive description of the Dutch holiday tradition that is Sinterklaas, she heads out to see him arrive at the main train station on his feast day and is nearly trampled by the masses as they clamor for a sighting or perhaps a small piece of candy from Sinterklaas. While being trampled, she keenly observes the Dutch - her observations, like much of the book are insightful and irreverent.
In Santa's place is a tall, thin and fastidious bureaucrat called Sinterklaas who dresses like Torquemada, the leader and spiritual godfather of the Spanish Inquisition
While not a traditional travel memoir, this book is a wonderful coming of age story as Shukert learns valuable life lessons and quite a bit about herself amid ill-advised sexual escapades and a near poverty existence. Best of all, she keeps you laughing throughout!
Thank you to Erica at Harper Perennial for providing the copy of this book for review