|Learning to be a Tourist
I am a terrible tourist. I’ve never relished going to “see” famous places, monuments, or museums. If I travel, I prefer to do for a defined purpose—an academic trip, or a family visit. The summer I turned sixteen, my mother decided to introduce us to Washington, D.C., where she tried in vain to interest my sister (who promptly came down with the flu) and myself (a bored teenager) in the “art,” “symbolism,” and “history” of the city.
As the weather has turned warmer and I’ve found myself in my first summer as resident of the D.C. area, I’ve become acutely aware of the area’s tourists. They stand left on the metro escalators, sport spotless white tennis shoes and the ubiquitous fanny-pack, and sail through the streets on red double-decker buses while wearing American flag shirts. Last week, prompted by a visit from my parents, I attempted to put myself again in the shoes of a tourist.
In planning the itinerary for the weekend, I felt distinctly out of my element.
I realized that I possess only the narrowest comprehension of this city. It is a realm in which I need to get from place to place, usually without appreciating anything in between. As I journeyed with my parents on a tour of the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress and sought to lead them around the monuments, the deficiencies in my typical approach to Washington, D.C. became clear. I frequently research and write papers in the Library of Congress’s main reading room, but it wasn’t until touring it with my mother (an artist), that I noticed the intricate symbolism embedded in its walls, floor, and ceiling. Although I ride the metro and walk the streets near the White House and the National Mall, I was embarrassed not to possess the first clue as to how to get to either of these landmarks.
I’ve always viewed tourism as a species of voyeurism—as people leaving their own, perhaps modest, little place for someplace important or exotic. In truth, many tourists often do not endeavor to participate in the places to which they flock. They merely view their destination as something to consume. Their experiences tend not to revolve around local color or regional history, but around the massive visitor centers and gift shops. Also troublesome, however, is my ostrich approach to locales. In treating the place I live in as an object of utility that facilitates my travel from one task to the next, I also approach my place as a consumer with her head in the sand.
I can’t help but think that my mother’s wonder-filled approach contains some element missing in the journey of the tourist and the utilitarian. She is a woman attuned to the history, art, and intricacy of any place she visits, because her habit has long been to search for these attributes in the place she calls home. At the end of her visit, I gave her the option of visiting the National Gallery of Art, or a local folk art gallery. She, of course, chose the latter. While there, she made friends with a fellow clay artist, exchanging tips and learning something new to practice when she returned home. I’m still not entirely certain of the proper relationship between tourism and place, but after my weekend as a tourist of my city, I’m endeavoring to experience D.C. as more than a series of metro stops.
~ Rachel Blum Spencer
from Les Regrets of Joachim du Bellay, sonnet 38
Lucky: the man who measures out his days
among his equals—simple, honest, free,
not gripped by cramping fears or jealousies,
ruling a farmstead kingdom peaceably.
The miseries of grasping for a place
do not obsess him. His feelings are unbound,
yet his desire, placid and passionless,
stops at the fence that guards his plot of ground.
Nor does he trouble his heart with any grand
affairs, but sets his hope on what is sure,
serving himself as master, court, and king:
Not wasting his substance in a foreign land.
Not risking his life in someone else’s war.
Not wanting more. Not lacking anything.
~Translation by Maryann Corbett
A Joke from the Bar Jester:
A boy shark and a dad shark are out swimming one day when they spot a raft on which stand a bunch of castaways.
The dad shark says, “Son, let’s go swim around that raft with about a quarter fin out of the water.”
So they do.
Then he says, “Now let’s circle that raft with about half our fins out of the water.”
Then he says, “Now let’s circle that raft with our whole dorsal fins out of the water.”
And they circle the raft with their whole dorsal fins out of the water, whereupon the boy shark says, “Dad, why are we doing this?”
And the dad shark says, “Son, you won’t believe how much better they taste when there ain’t no crap in them.”
Front Porch Conversations Online
John Shelton Reed – “Southern Conservatism”: The View from Brooklyn: The James Madison Program at Princeton often provides an unexpected breath of common-sensical fresh air in the academic fever-swamps.
James Matthew Wilson – This is my Son: Two Years Later: Two years ago this week, President Obama delivered the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame.
Mark Mitchell – Attributes of a Gentleman: Even in a democratic age, where social classes are fluid and poorly demarcated, the gentleman is characterized by these five attributes.
Patrick Deneen – The Future of Democracy in America:This week I have been lecturing at the Ignatianum Academy in Krakow, Poland. It has been a marvelous experience thus far, including time spent in the classroom with bright students…
Jason Peters- Bar Jester Chronicles 12: What to do When the World Doesn’t End: Who could believe a compilation of disparate texts adds up to the pinpointing of a single day in the 21st century when the maker of heaven and earth is going to throw a major temper tantrum?
Russell Arban Fox – Waking Up, Smelling the Constitutional Coffee: Dahlia Lithwick and Ezra Klein are a couple of my favorite pundits in the whole blogosphere. Lithwick is snarky, and Klein is wonky, but they’re both smart, opinionated, insightful, and informed.
Mark your calendars! On September 24, 2011 at Mount St. Mary’s Univeristy in Emmitsburg, MD, FPR will hold its first annual conference, tittled “Human Scale and the Human Good: Building Healthy Communities in a global age.” Make plans to join some of your favorite FPR authors and other writers and practitioners concerned with Place, Limits, and Liberty. We are looking forward to a great event.
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