Dinner With Tibor

Tom Swick: Contemplating and celebrating the world of travel

01.07.09 | 1:37 PM ET

Drove down to Coral Gables last night for a dinner my friend David was giving for the English novelist Tibor Fischer. (We had met him at Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2006.) His new novel, Good to Be God, is set in Miami.

I picked Tibor and his wife Esther up outside Books & Books, then took the long way to David’s house—down Coral Way, a left on Columbus, through the tunnel of ficus trees (less fantastic in the darkness; they will be more impressive this Saturday when I give my Polish neighbors my Miami tour), the tower of the Biltmore lighting up the sky.

David’s house sat a few blocks away. A Christmas tree stood in the living room, Maria Bethania sang on the CD player, a candelabra flickered on the dining room table. Tibor presented us each with a signed copy of his book.

Over garlic chicken and rice, we drank red wine and talked of writing, teaching, working. “Jobs,” said Tibor, “are so 20th century.” I complained about freelancing; he said you have to send work out and not expect anything. Then you may be pleasantly surprised. I said that was the secret of Danish happiness: low expectations. This reminded me of Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss, and I mentioned that he visits a town in England that’s famously miserable. “That could be any place,” Tibor said.

He talked of his book tour, and the small audiences. He told of writing students who don’t read. “It doesn’t look good,” he said.

I mentioned that my friend Javier complained about the meager Spanish section at Books & Books. Tibor said they have two of his books in Spanish, both of them signed. I said I’d tell Javier.

At 10:30 I drove them back to their hotel in South Beach, taking the scenic route—hey, I’m a travel writer—Miracle Mile, Coral Way, Brickell Avenue, through downtown, past the American Airlines Arena. “Who won?” I asked two young men crossing the street. “The Lakers,” one of them said, after a few seconds thought. (This morning I read in the Herald that the Heat lost to the Spurs.) Tibor attributed his fondness for Miami to the novels of Charles Willeford, a writer he put in the same league with Updike and Roth.

I dropped them off and headed back to Fort Lauderdale. At home I turned on the game—James Thurber’s alma mater losing in the final seconds to the school that owns Evelyn Waugh’s library—and flipped open “Good to Be God.” “I saunter into Books & Books,” I read, “which I assume is a bar with an odd name, as a bar is what greets you in the courtyard, until I see they also do books.”

Tom Swick

Tom Swick is the author of two books: a travel memoir, Unquiet Days: At Home in Poland, and a collection of travel stories, A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler. He was the travel editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 19 years, and his work has been included in "The Best American Travel Writing" 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

5 Comments for Dinner With Tibor

Antonia Malchik 01.07.09 | 5:39 PM ET

So glad to hear Tibor came out with a new novel! Can’t wait to read it.

I’m tending to think his view of jobs and work might be right on. Being a travel-loving full-time mother makes you realize there ain’t no way you can walk the conventional road and produce anything creative at all, much less anything worthwhile.

Say hi to David :-)

John M. Edwards 01.08.09 | 4:26 PM ET

Hi Tom:

Slick Swick does it again: a column geared for travel writers rather than just travelers. This is important, because if you don’t write about your travels, no one will know anything about them, except you, and even then only as an amorphous series of Rorschasch images rather than as travel narratives that makes sense.

I look forward to reading Tibor’s new book.

John M. Edwards

Marie 01.09.09 | 11:07 PM ET

Thank you for sharing this wonderful site with all of us. Your writings are always inspiring, informative, and leave us feeling like we were there with you. That’s the best part of all.
Keep them coming!

Vera Marie Badertscher 01.12.09 | 12:50 AM ET

Thanks for giving me a more cheerful way of looking at the tragedy of The Ohio State’s Last Minute loss. But I still prefer James Thurber.

john Dolen 01.13.09 | 6:26 PM ET

Boy, in a short distance, this column took me to lots of places. And reminded me to check out Charles Willeford—after all these years of living in South Florida.

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