“Now the quest for the authentic Other is one of vanishing horizons. One genuine “backstage” is penetrated, only to reveal another fake front-stage: the act of observation changes that which is observed. Hence travelers do not (indeed cannot) succeed in their quest any more than tourists. That is only too clear from the accounts of the great Victorian travelers which are riddled with gross misconceptions. If they were not so serious, as with their concern (for instance) for the ‘mysteries’ of the Middle-Eastern harem, they would be laughable.”
–David Brown, “Genuine fakes,” from The Tourist Image: Myths and Myth Making in Tourism (1996)
“The rigid distinction between romantic world travelers and a locally based, sedentary population is rapidly being erased. Cities are no longer waiting for the arrival of the tourist — they too are also starting to join global circulation, to reproduce themselves on a world scale and to expand in all directions. As they do so, their movement and proliferation are happening at a much faster pace than the individual romantic tourist was ever capable of. This fact now prompts the widespread outcry that all cities now increasingly resemble one another and are beginning to homogenize, with the result that when a tourist arrives in a new city he ends up seeing the same things as he encountered in all the other cities. This experience of similarity among all contemporary cities often misleads the observer to assume that the globalization process is erasing local cultural idiosyncrasies, identities and differences. The truth is not that these distinctions have disappeared, but that they in turn have also embarked on a journey, started to reproduce themselves and to expand.”
–Boris Groys, “The City in the Age of Touristic Reproduction,” Art Power (2008)
My friend Clark sent me this poem recently.
It was a timely delivery. My Dad and I have been discussing this very thing: the desire to live multiple lives simultaneously, our deep wish to be in more than one place at a time, the bittersweet frustration of the knowledge that we can do anything we want with this one, beautiful life, but not everything we want. Choices must be made.
And then… I found a paperback copy of Vagabond’s House laying on the end table at my friend Powell’s house, in Kailua, last week. I thumbed through the pages, ran my fingers over the ink drawing on the cover, and savoured the moment. It seemed a serendipity to receive the gift of the poem and find a copy of the book within days of landing back in North America, after 19 months away. Of course it’s just a swing through for a few months, but re-entry and time at home is always a period of rooting down in my soul and reflecting on the layers of life. Blanding’s poetry echoes so many of the conflicts that I find within myself. I thought that today I might share one with you, and perhaps you will find yourself in it, as I did:
by Don Blanding
How very simple life would be
If only there were two of me
A Restless Me to drift and roam
A Quiet Me to stay at home.
A Searching One to find his fill
Of varied skies and newfound thrill
While sane and homely things are done
By the domestic Other One.
And that’s just where the trouble lies;
There is a Restless Me that cries
For chancy risks and changing scene,
For arctic blue and tropic green,
For deserts with their mystic spell,
For lusty fun and raising Hell,
But shackled to that Restless Me
My Other Self rebelliously
Resists the frantic urge to move.
It seeks the old familiar groove
That habits make. It finds content
With hearth and home — dear prisonment,
With candlelight and well-loved books
And treasured loot in dusty nooks,
With puttering and garden things
And dreaming while a cricket sings
And all the while the Restless One
Insists on more exciting fun,
It wants to go with every tide,
No matter where…just for the ride.
Like yowling cats the two selves brawl
Until I have no peace at all.
One eye turns to the forward track,
The other eye looks sadly back.
I’m getting wall-eyed from the strain,
(It’s tough to have an idle brain)
But One says “Stay” and One says “Go”
And One says “Yes,” and One says “No,”
And One Self wants a home and wife
And One Self craves the drifter’s life.
The Restless Fellow always wins
I wish my folks had made me twins.
“A concentrated influx of tourists can be a welcome boon to an economy, or it can be a pestilence. “I have always been proud to be British, but these degenerates are dragging us through the mud,” Michael Birkett, Britain’s vice-consul in Ibiza, said, before quitting his job, in 1998, in disgust at the behavior of his countrymen on the island, which he likened to that in Sodom and Gomorrah. After EasyJet began flying to Prague, signs went up in local bars: “Please, no groups of drunken British men allowed.” In 2008, Latvia’s Interior Minister deemed the “English pigs” who had urinated on a war monument in Riga a “dirty, hoggish people.” The next year — after shopkeepers in Malia staged an anti-British tourist march — the Foreign Office distributed leaflets and coasters in old town and beach bars across Europe, printed with the reminder, ‘Don’t Be a Dick.’”
–Lauren Collins, “The British Invasion,” The New Yorker, April 16, 2012
“You are still young, free… Do yourself a favor. Before it’s too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late.”
–Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake: A Novel (2003)
“One challenge for a foreign correspondent is to figure out how much of yourself to include: If the story is too self-centered, it becomes a tourist’s diary. These days, the general trend is to reduce the writer’s presence, often to the point of invisibility. This is the standard approach of newspapers, and it’s described as a way of maintaining focus and impartiality. But it can make the subject feel even more distant and foreign. When I wrote about people, I wanted to describe the ways we interacted, the things we shared and the things that separated us. Chinese sometimes responded to me in certain ways because I was a waiguoren, and it seemed important to let the reader know this. Mostly, though, I wanted to convey how things actually felt — the experience of living in a Beijing hutong, or driving on Chinese roads, or moving to a small town in rural Colorado. The joy of nonfiction is searching for a balance between storytelling and reporting, finding a way to be both loquacious and observant.”
–Peter Hessler, Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013)
“Herodotus — who lived 2,500 years ago and left us his “History” — was the first reporter. He is the father, master and forerunner of a genre –reportage. Where does reportage come from? It has three sources, of which travel is the first. Not in the sense of a tourist trip or outing to get some rest. But travel as a hard, painstaking expedition of discovery that requires a decent preparation, careful planning and research in order to collect material out of talks, documents and your own observations on the spot. That’s just one of the methods Herodotus used to get to know the world. For years he would travel to the farthest corners of the world as the Greeks knew it. He went to Egypt and Libya, Persia and Babylon, the Black Sea and the Scythians of the north. In his times, the Earth was imagined to be a flat circle in the shape of a plate encircled by a great stream of water by the name of Oceanus. And it was Herodotus’ ambition to get to know that entire flat circle. Herodotus, however, besides being the first reporter, was also the first globalist. Fully aware how many cultures there were on Earth, he was eager to get to know all of them. Why? The way he put it, you can learn your own culture best only by familiarizing yourself with others. For your culture will best reveal its depth, value and sense only when you find its mirror reflection in other cultures, as they shed the best and most penetrating light on your own. …Thus Herodotus tried by means of his reportage to consolidate the most important message of Greek ethics: restraint, a sense of proportion and moderation.”
–Ryszard Kapuscinski, “Herodotus and the Art of Noticing,” Lettre Ulysses Award Keynote Speech, October 4, 2003
“Good writers — travel writers or otherwise — make real and tangible a world that some readers have never inhabited. Just look at the great draw of the bizzaro worlds of “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games.” What turns travel writing into an ethical question that sets it apart from sci-fi or literary fiction is that travel writers take real cultures and erect them for readers who trust them to be loyal and accurate. But the truth is, most travel writers are only passing through.”
–Alden Jones, “Is ‘Exoticism’ A Dirty Word?” WBUR Cognoscenti, August 30, 2013
“Marrying into a culture is a strange pinnacle of interaction. All of these travelers and travel writers think they’re so “extreme” because they visited this place or that place or ate this or bungee jumped off that, but — in my experience — there is nothing more challenging than truly learning language and culture to the point that you can have a genuine relationship with your mother- and father-in-law. That is some crazy shit . . . trust me.” Thomas Kohnstamm, interview
Oh yes. There is so much wisdom in this quote I can almost feel it coming out of the screen and slap me across the face, Chuck Norris’ style.
In brief: I’m sitting at the table I sit at every day for hours on end, writing, researching and imagining the new worlds that hang before me, stylized into the colors of a world map. My fiancee has left for her training session on the benefits of Chinese tourism to the local hotel industry. I think I’ll have another cup of coffee as soon as I finish this post. I have a bunch of bills to settle, and I know I’ll have to explain myself in a foreign language that sounds increasingly less foreign to my ears. I don’t see any Himalayan peak nor any series of earthen huts with thatched roofs from my window. There is just a solitary row of damp saris and t-shirts flapping in the wind.
Today, there won’t be any exciting hike, nor any backpacker competition to ascertain who stayed on the road for longer and with lesser cash. However, I might end up running at the park, skirting the hungry monkeys in search of food to avoid getting a rabies-infected bite and spend the night at the hospital. Or, I could visit my friend at the Buddhist sanctuary, sit under an outgrown branch”stolen” from the original Bodhi Tree, and sip cardamom tea. I’ll leave the visit to my in-laws for later, during the weekend. Today, I don’t feel like making the drive.
I glance out of the metal bars affixed before my apartment’s door frame, and I see nothing that could resemble “traveling”. At the same time, I feel like I’m as far as possible from any traveling stereotype. Strange, isn’t it?
“Movies are used by cultures where they are foreign films in a much more primitive way than in their own; they may be enjoyed as travelogues or as initiations into how others live or in ways we might not even guess. The sophisticated and knowledge able moviegoer is likely to forget how new and how amazing the different worlds up there once seemed to him, and to forget how much a child reacts to, how many elements he is taking in, often for the first time. And even adults who have seen many movies may think a movie is “great” if it introduces them to unfamiliar subject matter; thus many moviegoers react as naïvely as children to “Portrait of Jason” or “The Queen.” They think they’re wonderful. The oldest plots and corniest comedy bits can be full of wonder for a child, just as the freeway traffic in a grade Z melodrama can be magical to a villager who has never seen a car. A child may enjoy even a movie like “Jules and Jim” for its sense of fun, without comprehending it as his parents do, just as we may enjoy an Italian movie as a sex comedy although in Italy it is considered social criticism or political satire.”
–Pauline Kael, “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” Harper’s, February 1969