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April 28, 2008

Introducing Renaissance Man

Mark Schatzker
Actual photo

Starting May 1, the Daily Traveler will be featuring Renaissance Man, a noble attempt by resident Conde Nast Traveler stuntman Mark Schatzker at Da Vinci-like mastery of the arts (and golf, for some reason), all in the space of a month's stay in Europe. If you know anything about Mark, you know how difficult this task will be (see here, here, and here). Below, Mark lays out the plan.

by Mark Schatzker

Once again, it is time. For reasons incomprehensible to me, my friends, and even my enemies (you know who you are), the beneficent powers at Conde Nast Traveler magazine have decided to send me on another trip. The timing couldn't be better, considering I've only just recovered from my last excursion.

The theme of this new adventure is self-improvement. But before you get too excited, there won't be much in the way of assertiveness therapy, optimal thinking or auto-hypnosis. No, the idea here is decidedly retrograde, but in a good way. I'm going to become a Renaissance Man.

For those of you unclear on the subject, a Renaissance Man isn't a guy with long, well-conditioned hair who plays classical guitar in the hopes of impressing women. That's what's known as a Troubadour, and there's currently a dude reprising that shtick on American Idol.

A Renaissance Man is someone who's good at a lot of stuff. Impressively so. In the noble words of Wikipedia, which might well be described as the Renaissance Man of Web sites, it is someone who "excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields."

In case you haven't noticed, people aren't like that anymore. We live in an age of raging specialization. Some of us excel in medicine, others in computers, athletics, engineering, acting, marketing, investing, snapping photos of celebrities--and so forth. Everyone is very good at something, but hardly anyone is good at more than one thing. It's a wonder we have anything to talk about at dinner parties anymore.

There is one among us, however, who is good at nothing: Me. Despite more than three decades in this world, I have shown no inclination towards specialty in any subject or field. My editors believe this shows an inclination towards becoming well rounded. I lack the specialty to say whether they're right or wrong.

The theme being the Renaissance, the place I've chosen to transform myself is Europe. (For one thing, there was no such thing as a weak dollar in the Renaissance.) I have precisely one month. The schedule is as follows: I'm going to learn to play golf in Scotland, garden at the oldest botanical garden in London, cook under the direction of some of Paris's finest chefs, take piano lessons at Vienna's State Opera, learn Italian in Florence, and apply paint to canvas--in a non-random manner--on the shores of Lake Como.

That's the idea, anyway. If all goes according to plan, by May 31 I will be brilliant. If not, I'll have spent a lot of money trying. And that is sure to make for good dinner party conversation.

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