Friday, July 14, 2017

Paris Journal: Totalitarian Tourism

photo: Benh LIEU SONG
Totalitarian tourism has taken the place of the old-fashioned romance that used to accompany travel to far away places. “Only connect” are E.M. Forster’s famous words from Howards End, but it’s a far cry from today’s traveler infected by a new form of imperialism that turns places into that favored word of travel agents,"properties." Chasing the bulls at Pamplona is a far cry from what too often happens today, i.e.,  “doing the chasing of the bulls at Pamplona.” Hemingway wouldn’t have been happy. On the other hand he wouldn’t have been any more happier to find more than one Hemingway living in such an outsized way that they were moved to write To Have and Have Not or For Whom the Bell Tolls. But what are our modern days tourists after? In the absence of the possibility of being a lost generation, they have done to travel, what the business of art has to great bursts of energy in which great works have been created. A generation of collectors have emerged, who tally up sites the way hunters once did heads. The gap between the business of art and the making of art has widened the more art became a business that created its own markets. Similarly, the inspiration for travel, at least from the imaginative point of view, has radically changed the more the uniqueness of travel as way of seeing the world anew has buckled under the constraints of a universe in which nothing is new. Now there's not so much a rage to live as a desire to accumulate and control, to itemize, record and categorize—all elements of the attendant sensibility to collecting, connoisseurship.  2014 might have been deemed the year to do Petra, in the same way that another year might have produced a good Petrus. 2013 was a bad year for Kenyan travel with the Westgate mall shootings, but perhaps a better one for Iceland, as the financial crisis passed and the proximity of the destination began to attract American tourists. Portugal has had some devastating fires, but raise a glass to Lisbon, which is fast becoming the place for a new generation of tourists seeking out reasonably priced hotels and great, but still reasonably priced restaurants.

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