For my last birthday, I was given a copy of The Decadent Traveller by Medlar Lucan and Durian Gray, a highly entertaining guide to holidaying in the most outrageous style possible, following in the hallowed footsteps of icons such as Wilde and Zola. Sadly, both Lucan and Gray – along with their adventures – are largely fictional. Nonetheless, it is a highly entertaining read. We follow the errant pair on their clandestine adventures through what they define as the most decadent cities in the world: St Petersburg, Naples, Cairo, Tokyo, New Orleans and Buenos Aires.
One particular passage had me shouting “Yes! YES! Exactly!” at the book, inviting very strange looks from my fellow train passengers. The extract consists of Gray’s description of the nine circles of vacation hell, and goes as follows:
” I suggest that those condemned to the first circle of this contemporary Hell would find themselves in the departure lounge of Gatwick airport, where shrieking infants are trapped in harnesses, boorish drunken louts lurch menacingly, husbands and wives are at each other’s throats with murderous intent, all are condemned to an eternity of delayed flights.
In the second circle they would be trapped in a renovated Tuscan farmhouse where the overweight host, a North London lawyer dressed in a ludicrous straw hat and brown ribbed socks, endlessly extols the virtues of a local wine which is only fit for clearing drains and forces it down the poor sinners’ throats.
In the third circle, wretched souls are lashed to deck chairs beside the pool of a hotel in Barbados where they are surrounded by witless blonde harridans from Wilmslow with leathery skin who consider deep-fried camembert the height of sophistication and whose golf-playing husbands lie bloated and scarlet in the noon day sun.
The fourth circle is not a circle at all, but an endless narrow side street in a small Spanish coastal town. It is always four o’clock in the morning and lost souls, in search of a hotel that does not exist, are compelled to step over numberless bodies of pasty English youths who lie groaning in pools of their own vomit, watched over by their moronic, bedraggled girlfriends.
The fifth circle resembles the Valley of the Malabolge, or ‘evil wind’. Here sinners are buried up to their necks in the sand of a beach in Thailand, listening to a macrobiotic adolescent with a backpack reciting his vapid, self-obsessed verse while the tide of a shit-rich sea laps around their chins, threatening to engulf them.
In the sixth circle one tries in vain to escape from a bar crowded with enthusiastic yachtsmen.
The seventh circle is my own personal hell. I sometimes wake with a start at night, bathed in sweat as I recall the horror. I am walking through the garrigue in Southern France. The heat is intense and I am surrounded by a chatty and lively group each carrying an easel under their arm. Yes, I am on a water-colouring holiday.
In the eighth circle the damned are forced for all eternity to take holiday snaps of coach parties of grotesquely obese Americans as they stand with their backs to the glorious west front of Chartres Cathedral and whine about the price of some vile trinket they have just bought.
The final most excruciating punishment is reserved for only the basest of humankind – the bigot, the sanctimonious and the pious. They will navigate the seas ceaselessly aboard the most grotesque Ship of Fools – a cross-channel ferry.”
(The Decadent Traveller, pp. 22-23)