Down on her luck after the publication of her first book, Courtney Love, Queen of Noise: A Most Unauthorized Biography, veteran Weekly writer Melissa Rossi, a.k.a Babs Babylon, set off for Europe. She scraped along for two years before landing one of the best writing gigs of all time: to tour eight cities for National Geographic Traveler. Babs’ first installment, from Palermo, was published last month. Seven more will appear this year. Next up for Rossi? Traveler will send her around the United States. Seattle Weekly‘s Mike Romano caught up with her at her home base in Boston:
So, where have you been?
I’m not allowed to say the exact locations, except to say that it all started in Palermo. They sent me to eight destinations in Europe. The thing was, I never knew where I was going next. Theoretically, it was a Mission Impossibletype assignment, where I’d be in some place for three or four days, just getting a glimpse of a city, trying have some adventure there, and then I’d get an envelope that would tell me to go to the next destination.
It’s like a writer’s fantasy assignment.
Who could complain? It’s almost as good as being Babs Babylon and being paid to go out and write about Seattle’s nightlife.
How’d you get the job?
This is proof that editors do read their mail. I didn’t know anybody there. I just sent them clips. I had this wine newsletter and I kept on bugging them to at least subscribe to that. They finally succumbed [to the queries], but they never did sign up for the newsletter.
You know, the two years since I wrote the Courtney book were really depressing years, where I lived off my Visa card, traveling all over. I really developed traveling bulimia—which is the inability to stomach any one place for very long. . . . My parents were screaming at me to come back and get a real job. And right then the phone rang, and it was Traveler saying, “Do you like an adventure?”
What do Europeans think of America?
The no. 1 US television show in Europe is Jerry Springer. That’s what they think.
Have you ever been to Babylon?
No, I haven’t.
Did Courtney kill Kurt?
Not that I know of.
Are you afraid to speak freely about her?
I really was right after my book came out. She didn’t like it at all and tried to prevent it from getting on the store shelves. I was really convinced for quite a while there that every time I opened a door, I’d be greeted by her flying fist. It was an impetus to get the hell out of Dodge, travel the world, and go some place that she wouldn’t be looking for me.
You moved to Florida.
Yeah, I lived in a retirement community with my parents. That was my first hiding place from Courtney. Everyday I would wake up and say, “I’m going to die here.” Then I saved up some money and went to Italy.
How do people react when you tell them you’re from Seattle?
Well, I’ve spent more time in Portland, so at first I say I’m from Portland. And they go, “Where?” So I say, “Seattle.” . . . And they always go, “Kurt Cobain!” And I say, “Yeah, and he had a wife too.” But they never know who Courtney is. . . . It’s really refreshing. So I tell them that Courtney is Kurt’s wife, the one who drove him to it. Just kidding.
What’s your no. 1 travel tip?
That people learn to speak the language of the country they’re going to. It’s really embarrassing to go abroad, spend a lot of money, and not be able to communicate with the people who live there. . . . I’m trying to learn French now, but it’s hard. For me, a croissant will a crescent roll always be. I just can’t make the right damn noises.
Do you miss the Northwest?
I really miss the Market. I miss Il Bistro. All my phone bills are to Portland and Seattle, so I guess so.
If someone had only two weeks to live and wanted to go to Europe, where should he or she go?
If people are adventurous, I’d check out Eastern Europe. . . . It’s fascinating to peek behind the Iron Curtain. I was really, really, really moved. Americans want an airbrushed image of Europe. What I like to do is go to cities and meet people, [but] I think most travel writers are swept away by the sites. I like to have adventures with people. I like to travel and see the dark side and the people and how they’re different from we are. And they’re not all charming—trust me.
So you learned about geopolitics?
Yeah, about the positive oppression of communism. Ten years ago, people could have been shot if they were caught talking to foreigners. So as a result, in one particular country—which I cannot name—when they see an American or a foreigner they come running. . . . They’d come up to me and say, “Hi. Want to go out for coffee? I have something to tell you. You might want to take notes . . . “
Also, I gained a huge respect for Bill Clinton—my God! . . . I’m not very in tune with international events, but to realize that he’s so responsible for so much of the peace in Europe, in Bosnia and Croatia, it’s amazing.
What does Europe think about Monica?
In seven of the eight countries I was in, so many people teased me about how much trouble Clinton is in because Americans are so prudish and uptight. I also heard in Eastern Europe that Monica Lewinsky is a KGB agent.
How many boyfriends do you now have in Europe?
In every town. It was becoming a clich鮠I was trying to be very well-mannered and prudish, as is my way.
OK. I was no good in Seattle. Part of the thing about all this is that it’s about traveling by yourself and going to cultures where you don’t know the language. . . . I think everybody should travel by themselves, especially women. You end up feeling like someone could dump you on a moon of Jupiter . . . and you could somehow end up on your feet. Yes, on occasion, you do meet idiot guys. In Mediterranean countries, especially, you’re either Madonna or a whore, and guess which category I fell into.