Excerpt from an email to a friend:
I’ve been forced to realize that my new blog, however excited I am about it… really amounts to nothing more than one of those legion Study Abroad Blogs of the “this is another picture of me standing in front of something!” variety.
If I have any great gripe about tourism, it’s that pictures of one standing in front of shit are basically the perfect and honest expression of the activity. You aren’t really interacting with the place you’re visiting. You’re just visiting. Seeing: maybe. You’re just there to be there.
I can see the appeal of hiking, or biking, or, I don’t know, parkouring through the Coliseum. At least you are interacting with the Shit In Question. But it’s a rather hollow interaction at best. Making a baby, to going to a whore.
Maybe this makes you, me, no different than a medieval spice-trader sailing from port to port, doing nothing at any place but renting a straw-mat in an inn and going out at night to wench and drink. But at least that was the person’s life, and in all these places – such a life as it was – they were *living* that life. Whereas the vacation is so steadfastly a departure from life. The moment it’s declared A Vacation, it is apart.
Traveling, though. That’s perhaps a nobler little goal. Then you can hope that you will be impacted by what you see, by allowing yourself to be moved by it, by thinking about it and trying to have it affect your life and the things you do Back At Home.
It’s a goal at least. That was what troubled me so damned much upon my return from Italy: however well I’d traveled, scene thought felt, nothing was going to be of remotest use – however hard I tried – in law school. Not for years would I be able to use what I’d seen. The best I can hope for is that I have the time, not to do things on this earth, but to write a little fiction here and there… dream about people who do things that might be influenced by what I’d seen and done. And even that I won’t be able to do very much of!
…few enough jobs in this world that can be informed by such things. Bet I could be a perfectly successful lawyer and it’d have jack diddly to do with it. Have to wait until I retired to form a fundraising committee and a town referendum lobbying effort and hire an artist (by committee, to be sure) all in the hopes that one day I’d get some sort of thing built, a thing maybe worth a tourist taking their picture in front of.
There’s a line from Swinburne that runs through my head often, and buzzed in my skull almost constantly in Florence: “[we] appraise thee, adore, and abstain.” That’s what people seemed to be doing. They looked around, enjoyed themselves, even read the little guidebooks so they knew Why It Was Important… and then got a bunch of gelato and went back to their hotel-rooms. They appraised and adored… but then ABSTAINED. No real influence on their life. Because most people don’t *create* and most people don’t much *do*.
Right now, I don’t. And it tasks me like a motherfucker.