Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Travel and tourism

One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one's own and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism - Freya Stark, Riding to the Tigris

Takoradi, Ghana
If you were browsing in the bookstore and saw a section labeled "Travel and tourism," you would probably not give it much thought.  In casual terms, they seem like more or less the same thing, and in practical terms, for many people, they are.  But they are significantly different.  The difference is not where you go, how you get there, or who you go with, at least not entirely.  The differences are in the nature of the expectations you bring with you and how willing you are to relinquish the comforts of what you know.  I don't mean just the physical things, like drinkable tap water and a soft bed.  I mean the "healthy private patterns" of our lives into which we try to fit everything that we see, or everything that happens to us, in order to relate them to what we understand.  Our patterns are like an index of familiar causes and effects, and when we come across something foreign to us, we turn to that index to find the key to make it familiar.  And when we find the familiar pattern, sometimes after much straining, we are comforted that we've turned the foreign into something recognizable.  At least to us.  In this way, even the brightest tourist comes home blissfully untouched, unchallenged, and unchanged by what he's experienced.

What am I driving at?  I'm pretty sure that in my life I've been both a tourist and a traveler.  I lay no claim to virtue for being either, and I don't like travel snobbery, either.  One can come home just as deeply changed by a week in Paris as one can from a week in a Kolkata slum.  Or just as deeply unchanged, for that matter.  What I want to do with this blog is to write about places I go and about what these experiences stir up in me.  Like a lot of people with the writing itch, I've stumbled and tossed about for inspiration for a long time.  In the end, I realized that the answer was in my daydreams.  If I add up all the hours I spend daydreaming about travel while I'm supposed to be working, I am a well-paid traveler indeed.  I realize that places I've been to have offered so much more than backdrops; they've been party to spirituality, love, learning, maturity, sex, friendship, nobility, peace, and, of course, countless stories.  

I think it's too narrow a reading to limit Stark's comment to geographic journeys; I think she also means the interior journeys that outward journeys inspire.

Anyway . . . that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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