ALWAYS DRINK THE WATER: The Ten Most Valuable Lessons I Learned Bumming Around South America & South Asia

A woman selling ginger root in Kerala, India. BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH Dear Phawker, when last we talked, I was roaming the far reaches of south Asia. I’m back now. Yes, it was fun, yes, it’s weird to be home, and yes, it’s been quite the experience. After two years in Paraguay for the Peace Corps and another four months backpacking across Nepal and India, I am struck by how much I have changed but you all stayed the same, aside from the fact that your devices look shinier and more magical. And you seem to be even angrier than […]

GREETINGS FROM THE ROOF OF THE WORLD: Dispatches From The Highest Man On Earth

EDITOR’S NOTE: Phawker South American Correspondent St. John Barned-Smith just completed a two year stretch in Paraguay for the Peace Corps. He is currently in Nepal, Katmandu to be exact, and you can almost see neighboring Tibet from there. Next stop is India. He will be sending intermittent dispatches as our newly deputized Himalayan Correspondent. BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH HIMALAYAN CORRESPONDENT I spent three days in Manang waiting for the penicillin to evict that pernicious bacterial infection from my lungs. It was a relief to sling on my backpack, grab my hiking stick, and shake the knots and stiffness out […]


BY SAINT JOHN BARNED-SMITH I’m not quite sure when Christian, 27, first invited me to go on a pilgrimage. But, in the spirit of “Why not,” – in which I’ve also learned how to help cows give birth, eat raccoon, and kill pigs – I agreed. I assumed we would go to the shrine of the Virgin of Caacupe, the main site of pilgrimages in Paraguay. But the shrine of Itape, located about 40km east of Potrero Pucu, is closer, and (more importantly) walkable. The night we left, I packed a couple of soggy empanadas my host mom had cooked […]

BOOKS: Glorious Bastard

ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH: The compact biography deftly recreates the scenes of Barney Ross’s life, of a striver “intoxicated by the clouds of cigar smoke hovering over the men in fedoras; the fists mummified in billiard cloth and tape; the mineral jelly smeared on gashed eyebrows; the tattoo of leather on leather….” Century moves from Ross’s early years in Chicago to his place in the history of Jewish prizefighting. More interesting to me, though, was the author’s ability to convey a life defined by strife, one that seemed to embody that of a generation. From the very beginning, “Life was a […]

THIS JUST IN: DN Pays Tribute To Swells

BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH FOR THE PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS: … But what I’ll remember most is the sarcastic encouragement Swells gave an intern for no other reason than that he believed in me. And oh the trouble he gave me. When I let slip that I wasn’t into Britney Spears or the Monkees, I was doomed. The next week, I was the target of a piece in the Guardian about his attempts to educate me about music: Undaunted by the massive task before me, I then proceeded to lecture Tad . . . on just how . . . extraordinarily […]

GOLDFINGER: Officially The Greatest Of All Time

ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH OLYMPIC CORRESPONDENT I owe you all an apology. The one day I don’t file a dispatch, all the shit hits the Olympic fan. First, Phelps won his seventh gold of the ’08 Games. Damn. But what a race! This was the 100m fly, which as you may recall, is one of Phelps weaker events – in that he is best in mid-distance events. Coming off the 50m mark, Phelps was in seventh place, and even heading into the final wall, it looked like he would lose. Then he pulled some weird half-stroke super-lunge, and ended up winning […]

OLYMPIAD: Here Comes The Strokes

BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH OLYMPIC CORRESPONDENT Yesterday, I wrote about Dara Torres and the slant-eye scandal. I promised I’d write about Crocker and Lochte today, but I’m feeling sorta “ehh…” about them, so we’re going to talk about strokes instead. For the swimmers among us, this will be Remedial Swimming 101. I apologize. Everyone else, listen up. (And double apologies for the vids, which are of course as campy as I could possibly find.) There are four competitive strokes currently swum in the Olympics today – the freestyle (i.e., the crawl stroke), the backstroke, the breaststroke, and the butterfly. Of […]

OLYMPIAD: Meet Dara Torres — Mom, Medalist, MILF

BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH OLYMPIC CORRESPONDENT Well, hopefully this is not news to you – if it is, my columns have not sparked the appropriate level of US Olympic Swimming ardor that I’m looking for from all of you. Phelps won his fourth and fifth gold medals yesterday, in the 4×200 free relay and the 200 butterfly. The relay was the fun race to watch because the US team didn’t so much as beat their opponents as they did spank them silly. USA! USA! So Phelps took the lead over the four Olympians who were tied for the most golds […]

GOLDFINGER: Michael Phelps Snags Fifth Gold Making Him The Most Decorated Olympian In Olympic History

[Illustration by ALEX FINE] BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH OLYMPIC CORRESPONDENT First things first: I want to call your attention to this amazing race, my favorite by far of Phelps and company. Phelps actually led the relay, swimming a scorching 47.5 seconds for the leg of the relay. Now, unlike other swim events, individual relay legs are almost uniformly faster than the same distance might be in a stand-alone event. There are two reasons for this – one, a swimmer can anticipate when to dive, instead of having to react to a bell or air horn. You’ll see your teammate zooming […]

DHARMA BUMMING: A Letter From India

Photo by ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH Dear Phawker, It’s been a while. After weeks of bus travel, sleeping in dingy guesthouses, avoiding tenacious touts, and gulping down Indian food ranging from the just-mildly spicy to the infernal, I had arrived at Cape Comorin, the southern tip of the country. Today, I wiggled my toes in the sand and looked out across three oceans. The sand was coarser than I’d expected. And the empty fishing village I’d been imagining seemed more like India’s version of the Jersey shore. The waves were blue and clear and the white caps were pure and foaming […]

Living In The Tibetan Book Of The Dead

EDITOR’S NOTE: Phawker South American Correspondent St. John Barned-Smith just completed a two year stretch in Paraguay for the Peace Corps. He is currently in Nepal, Katmandu to be exact, and you can almost see neighboring Tibet from there. Next stop is India. He will be sending intermittent dispatches as our newly deputized Himalayan Correspondent. BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH My Peace Corps service ended last Sunday. On Tuesday, I took a taxi to JFK airport through the ribbons of highway that look like a spider web of asphalt webbing and I boarded another international flight, this time for the Himalayas […]

THE PEACE CORPS DIARIES: I Survived A 36-Hour Psychedelic Dance Party In The Heart Of Darkness

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is finishing up a two year hitch in the Peace Corps doing health counseling in rural Paraguay. He sends Phawker intermittent dispatches of his adventures whenever he gets close enough to civilization for Internet access. BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH SOUTH AMERICAN CORRESPONDENT Paraguay’s Chaco is a forbidding plain of mesquite, baking heat, and swirling dust. The last time I visited, I promised myself I would never return. But last month, after I heard about the Arete Guazu – a type of indigenous carnaval – I once again found myself spending eight cramped hours on a bus […]


EDITOR’S NOTE: The author  just started a two year hitch in rural Paraguay.   BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH  Tesho* and I were sharing maté**, passing the guampa** back and forth in the shadows of the kitchen, an attached hut with a smoke-blackened thatch ceiling, an open fireplace and its ash-encrusted pots, and a wooden table that held a motley array of bowls, pans and enamel cups. “Santo***, you should make some mandio chiryry****,” he said. “Ok,” I said. “Are you going to eat it if I make it?” “Yea, I’m hungry,” he said. Mildly perplexed, I skipped out of the kitchen […]