Looking for the forbidden

Looking for the forbidden
Photo Credit: Outlook Traveller

For his book --The Devil--s Picnic--, Taras Grescoe travels around the world looking for illegal substances. Read at own risk!

Nayantara Patel
August 19 , 2015
01 Min Read

The thesis of The Devil’s Picnic (Macmillan; £12.99) is not immediately prepossessing, just a little bit silly – travelling to various corners of the world to seek out and sample illegal substances, chiefly because they’re illegal, “because when you can’t have it, you want it”. So, Taras Grescoe searches Oslo for hjemmebrent (96% alcohol, banned in Norway); smuggles epoisses into New York (‘the world’s stinkiest cheese’, made from unpasteurised milk in France, banned in the US); pursues a dish of criadillas (bull’s testicles) in Madrid; sneaks in Cuban cigars into the US; sniffs out ‘smoke-easies’ in New York City; chews gum in Singapore and so on. But the faintly adolescent adoration of “those who choose to cross the line—the born rebels, the ne’er-do-wells, the independent thinkers” turns remarkably quickly into a more nuanced exploration of the complicated business of moral policing (and the elaborate ways people find to side-step state-imposed restrictions). At its most serious, the book is a piece of competent journalism – both sides of the ‘case’ are thoroughly researched and presented. At its most fascinating, it’s a set of outspoken travel essays about lands interesting (the cheese-making village of Epoisses; morbid and manic Madrid; smoke-free but less-than-judgemental San Francisco) and stultifying (unredeemed Singapore).

Nayantara Patel

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