Before I read Michael Palin’s Diaries, I only knew him as a performer, and in that regard, chiefly for his work in Monty Python. But just as there was more to the comedy ensemble than their TV show and movies, Michael Palin is much more than a performer. There’s Michael Palin the family man, Michael Palin the entrepreneur, and Michael Palin the creator. As a writer, I enjoyed reading about how he constantly turned his mind to new and interesting challenges. Using his fame and prestige from Python, he tries his hand at all kinds of creative endeavors, from writing and directing his own TV shows, to acting in nonPython feature films, and writing stories of all kinds, including children’s stories and novels for adults.
In addition to his creativity, Halfway To Hollywood reveals his perspective on life in the 1980s. We see London through his eyes, and glimpse other places he visits, from other areas of England, to other cities in Europe, and even to the United States. These insights function as a mirror, reveal how we often disregard what is immediately in front of us, praise what seems new and noteworthy, and reject what seems too different to be desirable.
Recently, I chatted with a friend about his business trips to England. His initial perspective on English cuisine was that he didn’t like it. But then, as we talked further, it became apparent that he had enjoyed many pleasant meals there. This jibes with my own trips to England, where I tried many of the delicacies I had seen or read about in English fiction. While I ultimately decided that Black Pudding and Kippers weren’t my favorites, I loved Cornish Pasties, Steak and Kidney Pies, and many of the cakes and tarts I tried.
In his entry for October 27, 1980, Michael Palin writes of a trip to Ireland, in which he ate “eggs and bacon like it used to taste before it was sealed and suffocated in cellophane packets, and home-made bread and toast too thick and generously cut to fit in any toaster.” Cuisine in England must have changed since the early 1980s, for his appreciation of Irish breakfasts sound akin to my appreciation of English breakfasts. I certainly never had eggs and bacon that tasted mass-produced. In fact, the bacon there was far better, in my opinion, than what we get in America. Also, the rich flavor of their breads made me appreciate our varieties all the more upon my return to the United States. I never enjoyed dining at Panera Bread, for example, until we visited England. It has since become one of my favorite lunch spots.
There’s only one problem with appreciating cultural differences. For, while travel can broaden the mind, it can also broaden the hips.