Monday, March 06, 2006

What becomes of the broken hearted?: Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner

What becomes of the broken hearted?

When love goes south, two brothers hop on a plane and head east (and west and north and south).

By Edward Nawotka
Sunday, March 05, 2006

In 2000, Franz "Wiz" Wisner was sitting on a rooftop of an Istanbul, Turkey, hotel when he thought, "Time to think. This is the greatest luxury of travel. Hard-core, maharishi-meditating, clear-all-the-cobwebs-away thinking. One thought, one subject. An idea, an emotion. Pry deeper and deeper and — lo and behold — sometimes find something there."

Fair enough. So what does Wisner, a successful 36-year-old red-blooded American male, think about while in Turkey?

Women? Food?

No. Bob Dole at the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996.

Sure, it might not be the first thing to pop into your mind while on vacation, but Wisner was unwinding after a stressful career as a press aide for Sen. and Gov. Pete Wilson of California and as a lobbyist for the Irvine Group, a posh real estate developer.

So what was Wiz doing in Istanbul other than dreaming of Bob Dole? Spying for the Bush administration?

No. He was mending his broken heart.

In his unexpectedly entertaining book, "Honeymoon with My Brother," Wisner explains how he was dumped by his on-again, off-again fiancée five days before his lavish storybook wedding.

Instead of sending his far-flung friends and family back home, Wisner threw a party anyway, sans bride, and then persuaded his recently divorced younger brother, Kurt, to join him on his prepaid honeymoon to Costa Rica.

There, they discover that they're more than just siblings — they're compatible travel mates — and Franz soon persuades Kurt to join him on a two-year trek around the world.

To pay for the trip, they sell off their belongings — cars, houses, even Kurt's giant-sized wedding photo (Price: $1. They joke that Kurt's ex-wife will get half). They travel to Europe and buy a Saab in Sweden to travel through Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey. In a move that was bold even in a pre-9/11 world, they persuade a border guard to let them cross into Syria by brandishing a fundraising photo of Franz posing with George W. Bush.

After a quick return trip to California to recharge, they head to Asia. It's on a remote island off the coast of Bali that they discard their middle-class mores and fully embrace the backpacker persona, opting to sleep in cheapo beach shacks rather than in comfortable hotels.

Overall, their trip took them to 53 countries throughout Europe, Asia, South America and southern Africa.

Unlike travel books that strive to reveal the secrets of obscure, out-of-the-way places, the account of this thirty-something globetrotting duo mostly hits spots that are familiar from Sunday travel supplements, such as Prague and Bangkok. That's not to say the Wisner brothers don't also fall off the beaten path often enough to keep things interesting. But the focus is less on sightseeing than it is on their evolving relationship.

Throughout the book are letters Franz wrote to his 98-year-old step-grandmother, LaRue, who has tacked up a world map in her nursing home on which she tracks their travels. She, unlike the Wisners' parents, encourages them to keep moving, reminding them that life is short and they'll never regret their adventure. The Wisners' honeymoon ends when the brothers return from a five-month stint in Africa to attend her 100th birthday party.

The Wisners' travelogue might remind you of the movie "Sideways," with its male heartache, bonding over booze, frolicsome skirt-chasing and introspective epiphanies at scenic overlooks. There's even a moment much like the one where Paul Giamatti's character, Miles, rants about how he won't be drinking any merlot: After finding a Vietnamese café recommended by the Lonely Planet guide filled exclusively with other Lonely Planet-toting tourists, Franz Wisner tosses his guidebook into the garbage. He fumes, "(Enough with) that thing. I'm sick of the cult of the Lonely Planet. And I'm sick of hanging out with Lonely Planet groupies. Plus, how can this planet ever be lonely if we all congregate in the same cafes and youth hostels sipping our teas and patting each other on the back for avoiding tourist traps?"

In spite of occasional frustrations with guide books, larcenous taxi drivers and belligerent border guards, Franz Wisner remains such an upbeat advocate of travel as a transformative experience that he'll have you logging on to long before you finish the book.

P.S. It has all ended well for Franz. Not only has "Honeymoon with My Brother" been optioned by Hollywood, giving him a welcome financial windfall, but he found a new love, the actress Tracy Middendorf. They married in January 2005, though, according to Wisner, they have yet to take a honeymoon.

Kurt, 38, is single and still available.

Austin writer Ed Nawotka contributed the books section to Lonely Planet USA and recommends using any guidebook responsibly and in moderation.

No comments: