'Holidays In Heck': Traveling With P.J. O'Rourke When he retired from his job as a war correspondent, P.J. O'Rourke decided to take on a new kind of globe-trotting challenge: traveling for fun. In Holidays in Heck, he explains how touring the Galapagos Islands and horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan left him questioning the merits of recreational travel.

'Holidays In Heck': Traveling With P.J. O'Rourke

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. P.J. O'Rourke spent decades reporting from unpleasant places. After the Gulf War, apartheid-era South Africa, Somalia, the West Bank and the invasion of Iraq, he decided he was too old to be scared stiff and too stiff to sleep on the ground.

So the now-former war correspondent decided to try pleasant places instead: Disneyland with the family, the ecological wonderland of the Galapagos Islands, Venice for the famed Biennale. And some less conventional journeys, too: a horseback trek across a mountain in Kyrgyzstan, a voyage down China's Yangtze River - excursions that left him yearning for his days spent under artillery fire.

Clearly, terminal grump P.J. O'Rourke is looking for fun. So where should he take his family next? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program: Italy's turn in the eurozone crisis bull's-eye. But first, P.J. O'Rourke joins us from New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord. His latest book is "Holidays in Heck." And nice to have you on the program.

P.J. O'ROURKE: Hi. Hi, Neal. Long-time listener, first-time caller.


CONAN: Well, thank you for that. But maybe even the most adventurous of our other callers will hesitate to recommend ski Ohio.


O'ROURKE: Yeah. That was scary.

CONAN: I bet.


O'ROURKE: It was - I grew up in Ohio. So I'm allowed to make Buckeye jokes. No offense out there. I grew up in Toledo. It doesn't get any more Ohio than that. We used to - and I did ski as a kid. We skied - we didn't have any up, though. Ohio has no up. And so we would ski - we skied down into a quarry.

CONAN: Down into a quarry.

O'ROURKE: Down into a quarry. We skied down - except in Mansfield, Ohio, where there was skiing on the old town landfill, Mount Garbage, as it was known.


CONAN: I bet that put some interest in mogul skiing.

O'ROURKE: Yes, yes, exactly. The - but it was - you know, it was something I called my editor at Ski Magazine, and I was kidding around with him. I said, oh, you're always doing these posh places, these beautiful places, you know, that half your readers can't afford to go, and the other half, you know, can't find because they're so obscure. Let's go Ohio. Let's, you know, go ski where the readers are.

And I was just kidding. He said great idea. And the next thing I knew, you know, I was in Cleveland.


CONAN: The next thing you knew, you were on a plane to Cleveland. Yeah. So...

O'ROURKE: Yes, exactly.

CONAN: But you did find a couple of places to take your family that were, for family places, if you're not interested in the black diamond course down at Park City, pretty good.

O'ROURKE: They were great. I mean, first, they're filled with Ohioans. You know, so, I mean, it's all - you've got totally friendly and drug-free and Aspen-idiot - no Paris Hilton showing up, no matter what. So it had that whole aspect going for it. The other thing was that for the first time in my life, I felt like I could ski, because I was surrounded by Ohioans.


O'ROURKE: Some of them, in point of fact, were - actually were better than I am. But, I mean, the great run of Ohioans. And I realized after a while what the problem was, was that Ohioans do know how to ski, except they know how to water ski. And so when they get on snow skis, they ape and emulate the technique and the posture of the water-skier, putting their hands way out in front of them and hoping that gravity will be the Evinrude.

And - so by comparison, I looked, you know, positively like Jean-Claude Killy.

CONAN: Ohio, you wrote, exposes the id of winter sports: Secretly, we'd all be rather sitting down.

O'ROURKE: That was the tube, that the real excitement, what my family loved most - and, hey, frankly, me, too - was riding the great big inner tubes. You all get in the inner tube, and you get spun around and bump into other people in the inner tube - other inner tubes who are quite good-natured about it because it's Ohio, and people are good-natured. And, yeah. What a ball. We would all rather be sitting down. And of course, the way I ski, I spend quite a bit of time sitting down, anyway.

CONAN: Now your book "Holidays in Hell" and a bunch of your other books have focused on your experiences covering, as you mark, note, shell-pocked other countries.

O'ROURKE: Right.

CONAN: You learned that traveling for fun is - well, at least in your experience - not a whole lot better.

O'ROURKE: Well, I'll tell you what. The one thing that's terrible about traveling for fun is writing about it. And that's for - the very simple reason is that the reader instinctively wants to kill you.

I mean, I cannot be alone in my feeling each week when I open the Sunday Times travel section of, oh, shut up, you know. Because it's, like, oh, we went to this island you never heard of in some - you know, where the climate is extraordinary and the food, which is fabulous, and the service was great. My wife took the photographs, and, oh, what a lovely time we have.

CONAN: And we got paid for it.

O'ROURKE: And you're home. And we got paid for it, right, and you're home, you know, reading the Sunday Times. And so the - you know, the readers, when you're a war correspondent, the reader is for you because the reader is saying, gee, I wouldn't want to be doing that. Of course, the war correspondent is saying neither would I. But never mind.

And - but basically, they're on your side, whereas when you're doing anything for pleasure, they're not on your side. They're full of envy and resentment and wondering why you're taking up space in the culture, and - whereas their cleaning up the yard, putting away the porch furniture and raking the leaves is not getting equal attention, even though it's much harder work.

And so you have to make sure that horrible things happen to you. And my wife is pretty easygoing. My kids are cute - so I think. And, you know, sometimes it's hard to engineer the disasters you need.

CONAN: Though you manage to.

O'ROURKE: Well, yes, with the help - I mean, I am married, and I do have children. And so disasters do ensue.


CONAN: We're talking with P.J. O'Rourke about his new book "Holidays in Heck: A Former War Correspondent Experiences Frightening Vacation Fun." Where should P.J. take his family next? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Steven's on the line, calling us from Palmer in Alaska.

STEVEN: Yeah. Hi, Mr. O'Rourke.


STEVEN: Steven Patterson(ph), here. Yeah, I was a former war correspondent, photojournalist. I did Bosnia for three years with...


STEVEN: ...with Nic Robertson and Christiane Amanpour and that crowd. I came back, and I took my family to Argentina, to - down into Patagonia, out of Esquel and Trevelin. And we rode horses up in the Andes, on the border with Chile, on the old Butch Cassidy escape trail. We met a man down there...

O'ROURKE: Oh, that must have been a ball.

STEVEN: ...he's since passed on, Reggie Hammond(ph). He's the cousin of Anthony Hopkins, and he showed us around.

O'ROURKE: Excellent.

STEVEN: We had a wonderful time, and it - you know, coming out of Bosnia, I needed to relax a bit, and my wife said, let's go. We took the beautiful Criollo horses up into the mountains, up into the Andes, and lovely people, lovely gauchos, lovely country, wonderful wine, wonderful barbecues, asados. So that's a place that you might want to think about.

CONAN: I think you got him with the food and the wine there, but...

O'ROURKE: Absolutely, and the horses. I had a - I write about in the book, and I try and de-emphasize the wonderful part, but I had a wonderful time...


O'ROURKE: ...you know, to keep from annoying readers. I had a wonderful time in Kyrgyzstan. I took this ride through Kyrgyzstan quite by accident. I'm in a bar in London with an old buddy of mine, and he - I'm saying to him, yeah, I'm going - I'm headed off to Kyrgyzstan. I want to write about, you know, the post-Soviet republics and, you know, the struggles they're having with democracy, and so on.

And my friend says: Kyrgyzstan? Funny you should mention Kyrgyzstan, because some friends of mine and I are taking a horseback trek across Kyrgyzstan, and you'll see parts of Kyrgyzstan that the Kyrgyz haven't seen. And I said: Great. I said great, except I don't know how to ride a horse. He said, oh, he said horseback treks, it's just like a backpack on somebody else's back. And I go okay.

STEVEN: Can I ask you a question, Mr. O'Rourke?


STEVEN: Do you miss the work? Do you miss being in the field? I miss being in the field. I miss the action.

O'ROURKE: Remember, you were a photographer.

STEVEN: And I email to Nic Robertson every once in a while, to his wife, and, you know, the comments are: When are you going to get back in the game? I miss it. Do you miss it?

O'ROURKE: No, to tell you the truth, I don't. Now, remember, you're a photographer. So you actually saw a lot more action than me because I'm a writer, so I can duck. You know, I get down behind things, you know. So, you know, you had - you were busy being brave, and I was idle while being cowardly. So that's part of it.

CONAN: We should point out one of the last essays in P.J.'s book, violating his own rule, is about a trip to Afghanistan.

O'ROURKE: But I really - I went there because I heard that the lamb chops are extraordinarily good, and they are - and also the conversation, as we Irish would call it, the crack in Kabul. The Afghans are some of the funniest people on the face of the Earth. I mean, they are great storytellers, and they put on a wonderful dinner party. And of course, the local wine, not only bad, it's nonexistent.


CONAN: The crack in Kabul occasionally high-velocity cannon fire, but...

O'ROURKE: Well, there is that, too, yeah, you know. But, I mean, that simply sauces the - but, you know, the truth is, I was watching Arab Spring happening and thinking, why am I not - because I am nostalgic for the camaraderie. There was something about being in the field with people where - I mean, you know, your little petty differences, one round of mortar fire takes care of those, and all of a sudden it's we few, we lucky band of brothers, you know - and sisters, of course, we lucky band of persons.

And I do miss that, but I was watching the Arab spring, and I was thinking: Why am I not feeling like I should be there? I did this stuff for so many years. And part of it was all the screaming, all the screaming and yelling. And I felt like I'd heard everything screamed that I ever wanted to hear screamed in my life, and that I was ready to go home and hear new things screamed by my kids, who were at least screaming because their hamster died, not because they wanted to kill all hamsters everywhere.

And it was - yeah, I looked on that, and I thought, gee, you know, I don't miss that a bit.

CONAN: Steven, thanks very much for the call.

STEVEN: I wanted to thank you, and enjoy your retirement.


O'ROURKE: Will do.

CONAN: Steven calling us from Palmer, Alaska. We're asking listeners to suggest places for P.J. O'Rourke next to take his family. His new book is "Holidays in Heck: A Former War Correspondent Experiences Frightening Vacation Fun." Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. When P.J. O'Rourke gave up reporting from war zones to focus on more pleasant places, he realized he had no experience with pleasure travel. In his new book, "Holidays in Heck," he offers that: I hope at least I'm being crabby about it. You can read his rules on traveling for fun in an excerpt from the book at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

P.J. O'Rourke is with us, and still looking for fun travel spots. So where should he take his family next? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at that aforementioned website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's go next to - this is Jerry, Jerry with us from Jackson in Louisiana.

JERRY: Yeah, hey. I want to say I appreciate Mr. O'Rourke's humor. He reminds me a lot of Lewis Grizzard, another great humorist. And I would suggest that Mr. O'Rourke go to Gibraltar. I pulled in there on a submarine one time, and just thought, man, after 102 days underwater, this would be a place to go. Not so much. No matter where you go...

O'ROURKE: Oh, bingo, I was just there. I was just there, just too late for this book.


O'ROURKE: It combines all the worst aspects of British pubs, open-air tourist traps, and then at the end of it, there's a mountain full of dirty monkeys.

CONAN: The Barbary Apes.

JERRY: Yeah, who threw their feces at you. Did you go - do they still have the gangs of mopeds? They're like motorcycle gangs, only...

O'ROURKE: Only slower.


JERRY: ...they all rode mopeds.


O'ROURKE: Yeah, I saw a little bit of that, too. So it was - yes. That was one of the most awful places I've ever been, and I so wished that I'd brought the kids so that I'd have a terrible story to tell.


CONAN: Jerry, thanks very much for the suggestion. Here's an email from Gabriel in Chesterfield, New Jersey: A great place to visit is Trenton, New Jersey. You will go home knowing you did not miss a thing.

O'ROURKE: You know, I - good point, but I'm from Toledo, Ohio...


O'ROURKE: ...sort of the Trenton, New Jersey of the distant West. And so I've kind of done that. I've kind of been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

CONAN: I did want to ask you, though, about your trip to the Galapagos Islands, where you were on an entire ship chartered by fellow Republicans - not a place, as you note, Republicans, well, are often thought to go.

O'ROURKE: Well, you see, there's this idea, you know, that Republicans don't love the environment. And that's just because we don't call it the environment, we call it the outdoors. And actually, we're very fond of the outdoors, except what we like to do is go outdoors and kill things. I don't mean other people, of course. I mean game birds and deer, moose, antelope - you know, whatever's in season.

So there was this group of friends I have in Texas that spent - they spent a couple years, really, getting all their friends together, getting everybody's schedule coordinated so that we could all go to the Galapagos at the same time. And we got the largest cruise boat that goes through, Lindblad Tours, wonderful tour people, that goes through the - but it was all filled with us. It was all filled with friends or, at the very least, friends of friends.

And so it was a party barge, except we were going around to see all these marvelous things. But I think we puzzled the guides a little bit, because every time they'd talk about something being endangered, our first question, as Republicans, was: How does it taste?


O'ROURKE: Because, you see, our theory - it's not that we wanted to eat the poor endangered thing, but our theory is that something, if it's endangered, it must be because it's delicious, and hence other creatures are gobbling it up. And we had this one guide who was sort of shuffling his feet and sort of looking abashed and finally got around to admitting that he knew - he claimed it was his parents, when they were very young, long, long ago, had eaten a tortoise.

CONAN: And how did it taste?

O'ROURKE: The answer: delicious. Absolutely. Yes, he said with a little bit too much conviction, you know, for somebody who had merely heard about this from his parents.

CONAN: Family story, yeah.

O'ROURKE: Then, in another case, we were being shown where the habitat is being wrecked in the Galapagos, mostly by imported animals, by junk people have brought over from the mainland - pigs, and particularly goats. And so this island overrun with goats. The goats are taking up all the space and wrecking the habitat for all the precious, delightful things that people come to the Galapagos to see.

And he's telling this to a group of hunters, and we said: We can fix this goat problem, you know, especially if you have some good goat recipes. (Laughing) We can just - just leave us alone on this island for a little while and you'll be rid of your goats.

CONAN: Let's go next to Ken, and Ken's on the line with us from Modesto, California.

KEN: Yeah. I'd just like to recommend going up and seeing the Aurora Borealis from either dogsled, snowshoe or cross-country ski north of Yellowknife in Arctic Canada.

O'ROURKE: Ooh, yeah.

KEN: It's kind of neat that you can look up and see the - not only see them, but actually hear them.

O'ROURKE: Yes, upon rare occasions here in New Hampshire, we get that. We get sort of - we get light, the light version. But there is a sound, and it is extraordinary, and it's eerie. But the beauty of your suggestion of Yellowknife is that it, you know, it fulfills one of my principles of travel writing, is that you're also able to have a truly miserable experience up there. And the kids would do lots of complaining.

KEN: Well, it comes up at the tail end of January, early February. I remember going out on the land then, up on the ice road at minus-45, which I think in Fahrenheit is about minus-50. And it's a bracing experience.

CONAN: In Fahrenheit and Celsius, it's too darn cold.


O'ROURKE: Too darn cold. Or as my wife would say: wardrobe opportunity.


KEN: It is a wardrobe opportunity, and if you get the right clothing, it's quite bearable. If you get the wrong clothing, you're miserable.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much for the suggestion.

O'ROURKE: My kids go to school in rural New Hampshire, and the school has a little policy. There is no such thing as bad weather. There's only bad clothing.

CONAN: But I thought that the lights that you see over New Hampshire were generally a short-circuit over Fenway Park.


O'ROURKE: Yes, if you're staring in that direction, that does happen. That's true.

CONAN: Here's an email from Joan in Iowa: I lived in Poland in the 1980s and will never forget P.J.'s description of Warsaw at that time, a place where everything reminds you of the post office. We laughed about that a lot.

And this from Charles in Albany, California: Being a fellow Buckeye, I'm astonished you left out a fabulous Ohio vacation destination: Hinckley, Ohio and the annual celebration of the return of the buzzards. Kind of like Capistrano, except for the - well, everything.


CONAN: Then there's the longest covered bridge in the world in Ashtabula. Are you really from Ohio?


O'ROURKE: Yes, well, I got out.


O'ROURKE: You know, I escaped. I escaped from Ohio before I saw the longest covered - I mean, why don't they just cover a longer bridge, I mean, someplace else, you know, if they want to grab that away from Ashtabula, Ohio? I don't know.

CONAN: Let's go next to Susan, and Susan's with us from Trinity County in California.

SUSAN: Hello.

O'ROURKE: Hi, Susan.

CONAN: You're on the air.

SUSAN: Yeah, do I need to turn my radio off?

CONAN: Yes, you should.

SUSAN: Okay, hold on.

O'ROURKE: Especially if you're listening to Rush Limbaugh or something. I don't know, I mean, come on. This is NPR.

CONAN: The competition, yeah.

SUSAN: Mr. O'Rourke, we love your writing. Turn it off.

O'ROURKE: Why, thank you.

SUSAN: Trinity County can offer you both the best of times and the worst of times.

O'ROURKE: Good, good, best of times for me to enjoy, and the worst of times to write about - perfect combination.

SUSAN: Yeah. We have wineries and art galleries. We have mountains and hiking trails and llamas for pack animals, fabulous fly-fishing or spin-fishing in lakes and rivers here, river rafting.

O'ROURKE: Yeah, but tell me about the awful stuff. Come on, I'm a writer.

SUSAN: Awful stuff, well, that's all of that. You just have to do it in the wrong season. But...


O'ROURKE: Oh, I see - or with the wrong people, I've noticed. You know, I mean, there's nothing - there's no experience so wonderful that it can't be spoiled by the wrong people.

SUSAN: We don't have very many of those, but I suppose if you come, that would qualify, right?


O'ROURKE: Yes, it would. I can bring my own wrong people, don't worry. I have a 13-year-old daughter, you know, and...

SUSAN: Oh, my word - perfect place for her.

O'ROURKE: Yes, say no more.

SUSAN: She'll be miserable no matter what.


SUSAN: Yeah.

CONAN: Susan, thanks very much for the suggestion. Appreciate it.

SUSAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Karen: I live in Chicago, but I'm from Ohio and was in ski club. I am visiting family in Delaware currently. Next year, you should come to the Pumpkin Chunkin' in Sussex County, Delaware, see pumpkins launch from trebuchets, centrifugal machines and air cannons. That's in Lewes, Delaware, just across the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey. And quite an event it is, shooting things for no particular reason.

O'ROURKE: I like that. You know, I actually have wanted - I've been trying - I've been sort of fishing around for a place to publish an article about pumpkin chucking. Pumpkin Chucking News doesn't pay enough, really, to - Pumpkin Chucking Quarterly pays even less. The - I asked them at The Atlantic. They looked at me blankly. The Weekly Standard, the Wall Street - maybe the Wall Street Journal's weekend section, because I noticed that those one-percent moguls just can't figure out what to do with themselves on the weekends. So maybe it's that.

CONAN: Reading the book, there were a couple of areas that you visited, and a lot of it is the kinds of stories that you're telling. There were a couple of places you visited that were kind of interesting in that they challenged some of your deeply held beliefs, among them your visit to China.

O'ROURKE: Yeah, boy, China was absolutely fabulous. And I don't know how to exactly recommend doing the trip that I did, because it was under sort of special circumstances. I have good friends in China who are engaged in business in China, and have been for a long time, since the opening of China to various commercial ventures.

I have a very good friend in Hong Kong, and she and her brothers helped bring textile machinery to mainland China, and, as a result, they know all these people in the textile - So what I did is I went around and actually visited the factories where things are made, not the factories where fancy things are made, like iPhones and stuff, but the factories, you know, the real backbone of Chinese industry. I went - I saw steel puddled and coke, not the kind that actresses snort, but, you know, the kind that - used to make steel, made in the coalmining districts and saw the textile factories and the clothes being cut and stuff.

And it was just - I was just absolutely amazed at this side of China, which is neither like the suffering people who don't get any freedom of speech or any political freedom, nor the billionaire side, but kind of the thing that is going on, that is going to turn China into whatever it turns into. And so I kept looking for political significance in this and couldn't find it.

And so, finally, I said to my friend, who had just opened a pelletized iron ore plant in Nanjing, I said - he's American - I said, what's going on here? Why am I getting no, like, political, not even sub rosa, not getting any political vibes from these people? And he said, their whole attitude is shh, the government is sleeping. Don't wake it up.

And I said, how come every time I mention Tiananmen Square, people kind of go blank? They don't get frightened like the government is going to come down on them, you know, for what they say. They just kind of go blank. And he said, every time a whole bunch of young people have gotten together at Tiananmen Square - like, first, it was the fall of the Chinese Empire, then it was the initiation of the Communist Revolution, and then it was the triumph of the Communist Revolution, and then it was Mao announcing the cultural revolution - he said, every time a whole bunch of young people gets together in Tiananmen Square, there's trouble, and very...

CONAN: And nobody wants trouble now...

O'ROURKE: Nobody wants trouble.

CONAN: ...because, all of a sudden, the prosperity there is - well, hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty.

O'ROURKE: They have. And, you know, for those of us who have to go back to our grandparents or our great-grandparents or even farther, to know that experience of being lifted from actual want and need into not wealth, but just into sufficiency, where we don't have to worry about where the next meal is coming, we don't have to worry about the thatch roof leaking on us and the pigs that are living with us. For those of us for whom that's a dim memory or just a sort of folktale, to actually see it happening is startling.

CONAN: We're talking with P.J. O'Rourke about his latest book "Holidays in Heck: A Former War Correspondent Experiences Frightening Vacation Fun." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's get Stan(ph) on the air, Stan with us from Austin - in Minnesota, not Austin, Texas. Excuse me.

O'ROURKE: No. I was going to - about to ask you about the wildfires, but I suppose that's...

STAN: Well, we had wildfires not too terrible far from here. We had that forest fire up in the Boundary Water Canoe Area.

O'ROURKE: Oh, that's right. That's right.

STAN: And that's where I would like to suggest you take your family.

O'ROURKE: Oh, especially my 13-year-old.

STAN: You can leave your cellphones at home; they won't work.

O'ROURKE: My 13-year-old...

STAN: Fly in to Duluth or Minneapolis, drive to Ely, get outfitted, drive to the end of the road and get in a canoe.

O'ROURKE: Abercrombie & Fitch does sell canoeing clothes, right?

STAN: Oh, you can get them there at Ely. At the outfitters...


O'ROURKE: Oh, I don't think my 13-year-old daughter is going to go for Ely fashions.

STAN: Land's End, or LL Bean?

CONAN: Your 13-year-old daughter is not going to go for those clothes?

O'ROURKE: Not seeing it.


O'ROURKE: So she's going to show up in, like, the extreme short shorts, you know, sort of the cut-off Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt; all the stuff that you - if you figure out how much you pay for it by the square inch, you realize that you are really being ripped off. And she's going to be bitten badly by bugs.


CONAN: No matter what season you go.


CONAN: Sue in Nome writes: Come to Nome, Alaska, and catch a flight across the Bering Sea to Chukotka, Russia. Imagine you won't just see Russia from your house, you'll be there. Once there, there's a small band of Russian and Chukotka natives trying to do tourism in the most remote region in Russia, who will tour you around some spectacular country, including a boat trip to Cape Dezhnev, to a number of ancient native sites and contemporary villages and campsites, where traditional subsistence activities are still practiced. I just wonder whether that includes serving whiskey.

O'ROURKE: Well, vodka, at any rate. Actually, my wife and I, back in the '90s, we took the Trans-Siberian railroad from Irkutsk to Vladivostok five days; four days and five nights of subsistence activities, and - especially with the bathroom, such as it was, on the Trans-Siberian railroad. And then we wound up - we flew from Vladivostok and wound up on that unpronounceable peninsula.

The plane had to make some sort of stop. It was an Aeroflot plane, which really looked it was being flown basically on vodka and high hopes. And it had to make some sort of stop at a secret airbase. And we're looking out the windows, and they're all - the Russians are going, no photographs, no photographs. And I think the reason they were saying no photographs was that all the planes at the secret airbase seemed to have been made in about 1948 and had been pretty much sitting there on the ground ever since. So...

CONAN: Yeah.

O'ROURKE: So I've had a glimpse, a glimpse of what she speaks.

CONAN: And, finally, one unpleasant place you do visit in this book. I have to ask you - it's what a friend of mine described as the country of cancer - how are you doing?

O'ROURKE: Oh, yeah. I did have - I seem to be fine. You know, I mean touch wood, of course. But I'm three years out, and all the scans come back good and the blood tests. And it's not one of those sneaky, hidey cancers that tends to come. I had an - I had cancer of the embarrassment. I had cancer of the, you know, down in the bottom of one's...

CONAN: The nether regions, as I think.

O'ROURKE: The nether regions. Yeah, cancer of nether - I went to have a hemorrhoid operation, and the doctor called me in, and he said, you know, that was a malignant hemorrhoid. And I said, that's a Dave Barry rock band name.


O'ROURKE: I said, there is no such thing as a malignant hemorrhoid. And the doctor paused and he said, you know, under most circumstances, you would be right. And he was trying to be sympathetic in that doctor sort of way that they have. And he - a long pause, which turned out to be for comic effect, although he didn't mean it that way. And he said, but - and then I just broke up, you know?

CONAN: Well, glad to hear you're doing better, P.J. Thanks very much for your time today.

O'ROURKE: You're very welcome.

CONAN: P.J. O'Rourke joined us from New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord. He's a former war correspondent. Now, his latest book is "Holidays In Heck: A Former War Correspondent Experiences Frightening Vacation Fun."

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