Lisa Napoli was finding her job in L.A. radio pretty humdrum, so when an invitation to volunteer (temporarily) for a fledgling station in Bhutan popped into her email in-box, she jumped at the chance. Napoli’s new memoir, Radio Shangri-La, details her experiences in the isolated Himalayan nation that values happiness over wealth. We caught up with Napoli (who has since made peace with her life in L.A.), and asked her about some of the more unusual features of the remote country that helped her find inner harmony. Namely: why do the Bhutanese paint huge phalluses on the buildings?
“Unfortunately — and I’m ruining it for people too — when you do even a couple minutes of research about Bhutan, you hear about the giant penises that you’re going to see. And then when you get there and you actually see them painted on the sides of houses, enormous, you think, ‘O.K., wow! That’s kind of trippy.’ But it’s also so ordinary there; the only people who pay any attention to it are the tourists. They recess into the background because a lot of times they’re surrounded by other pretty iconography. They’re there to ward off evil spirits, they’re not overtly a fertility symbol, which is what you would think. It’s all because, if I look at your house and see that phallus, I will be shy and turn away and thus not covet what you have that I don’t have. They’re so pretty.”