Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DFW on tourism

"I confess that I have never understood why so many people's idea of a fun vacation is to don flip-flops and sunglasses and crawl through maddening traffic to loud hot crowded tourist venues in order to sample a "local flavor" that is by definition ruined by the presence of tourists. This may (…) all be a matter of personality and hardwired taste: the fact that I just do not like tourist venues means that I'll never understand their appeal and so am probably not the one to talk about it (the supposed appeal). But, (…) here goes:
As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it's only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way though, but rather in a grim, steely eyed, let's-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way - hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way of spoiling the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of pure ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in times and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing."

This is probably not the best place I could think of to put this, but I guess that right after Calafate is good enough. This is a quoted passage from a footnote to David Foster Wallace's article "Consider The Lobster". DFW's ability to put vague feelings or complex ideas into words in such a precise manner is uncanny. Several times, while reading him, he either pinpointed an idea I had in me but could've never articulated, or gave shape to a feeling I barely knew existed. I should look into reading more of his writing...
In this case, he's writing about tourism. It's meant to be more about tourism inside the US, but most of it applies to the rest of the world, too. I've always felt repelled, and somewhat uneasy, by mainstream, commercial tourism, and my part in it. Try as I might to avoid being part of the tourism machine, I would be lying to myself if I claimed to be outside of it. I will get to several entries I wrote about the whole tourist/traveler/backpacker conundrum, and where I stand on the spectrum, soon enough. Until then, this passage is a good entry point, I think.

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