Amid scattered bit parts in episodes of Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and other sitcoms, multi-hyphenate talent Iris Bahr distinguished herself in one unforgettable scene during season five of Curb Your Enthusiasm as Larry David’s Orthodox Jewish nemesis, Rachel Heineman. After being stuck on a faulty ski lift for hours with her agnostic opposite, who’s taken to eating edible underwear for sustenance, Rachel suggests they leap to safety before the holy Sabbath sundown, to which Larry cocks his head and replies, “What are you, fuckin’ nuts?”
As it happens, Bahr has more in common with David’s fussy vulgarian than with Heineman’s prudish theistic. This became resoundingly clear throughout the first two seasons of her hilarious fish-out-of-brothel HD Net comedy, Svetlana, as well as her candid 2007 memoir, Dork Whore. The latter is a prequel of sorts to Machu My Picchu: Searching For Sex, Sanity, And A Soul Mate In South America, which details Bahr’s true-life journey through South America while she was in her early 20s and on break from a first semester at Brown University. (A Bronx-born transplant to Israel, Bahr spent her late adolescence enlisted in her adopted country’s military.)
As a writer and first-person storyteller, Bahr has a more bracingly intimate voice than her televised personas allow, although Machu can ostensibly be read tidily as three acts: her admission into and early days at Brown; the decision to trek across Peru and Colombia with her narcissistic childhood friend Talia, and their resulting misadventures; and the final, most charming segment, Bahr’s flirtation with true love and her father’s brush with death.
Throughout the book’s initial two motions, Bahr is almost relentlessly explicit, both in terms of her language and confessions of insecurity: She introduces countless digressions on topics ranging from masturbating on airplanes and anal sex to “mosquito-bite” breasts and bloody tampons. The material is intrinsically engrossing, and Bahr’s uncensored tongue is a highlight, but her wordplay and metaphors can often lack flair or originality. (She describes the meows of her cat Porsche as channeling “Woody Allen after a bar fight.”)
Still, Bahr’s fundamental perspective makes her reflections and tragicomic sexual and romantic interludes funny and sweet. From start to finish, she communicates her global experiences with a curious, nonjudgmental, appreciative insight that’s fomented after 20-plus years living across different continents and according to various belief systems, simultaneously sheltered from new experiences and more worldly than most of the people she encounters. During the final hundred pages in particular, she descriptively, candidly relates her summer fling with sensitive male escort Idan in a way that evokes tales of forgotten camp romances, awkward oral sex, finite gushiness and all. At moments like these—as she did in the past moments she’s describing—Bahr trades her guarded neuroses for touching humor, and gets it just right.