July 11, 2013

"What do you think the difference is between a tourist and a traveler?"

"I think a tourist is usually someone who is on a time budget. A tourist is out to see sights, usually which have been enumerated for him in a guidebook. I think there’s a deeper degree of curiosity in a traveler."

So it's a continuum, and if you want to move to the extreme good side of that continuum, perhaps you ought never to leave your home town. The quote is from Philip Caputo, author of "The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, From Key West to the Arctic Ocean," and he's dialoguing with William Least Heat-Moon, author "Blue Highways: A Journey into America."

Heat-Moon reframes the tourist/traveler distinction in terms of destinations: "let’s pick Arizona — those tourists are likely to head for the Grand Canyon, whereas a traveler in Arizona might light out for Willcox. Why somebody would want to visit Willcox, I don’t know, other than to see what’s there. Ask questions: Who was Willcox? What kind of place is it? A tidy little place, by the way."

You go to all that effort to drive way the hell out somewhere, and then you just check out some little towns? Why didn't you just go to all the little places within a close radius of your hometown? That's what doesn't make sense. Heat-Moon comes right out and admits he sees no sense in his own idea.

Here are these 2 big travel writers, and they trash the tourism and hew to the old cliché that one ought to be a traveler, not a tourist. But they can't really explain the worth of this travel that isn't tourism. Unspoken is the reality that for each of them, travel is their work, if they are travel writers. Those who get paid for a particular type of work may find it hard to explain the value of the activity to someone who isn't getting paid but must in fact pay.

They do recommend writing as a way to "deepen the travel" — but writing is a way to deepen whatever it is you do, wherever you are. How do you decide what it is you will do? Let's say you buy into the importance of depth. Is traveling around, going slowly, going to small places, journaling, really worthwhile? Most of our depth comes from the life we live at home, and if we were really observant we would never run out of things to perceive and contemplate at  home.

2 of my favorite quotes are on this topic. First, from my favorite movie "My Dinner with Andre":
I mean, you know, there was a time when you could have just, for instance, written, I don't know, Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen! 
Talk about close observation, sharp writing, and sticking within a short radius at home.
And I'm sure the people who read it had a pretty strong experience. I'm sure they did. I mean, all right, now you're saying that people today wouldn't get it, and maybe that's true, but, I mean, isn't there any kind of writing, or any kind of a play that--I mean: isn't it still legitimate for writers to try to portray reality so that people can see it? I mean, really! Tell me: why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality? I mean...I mean: is Mount Everest more "real" than New York? I mean, isn't New York "real"? I mean, you see, I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! I mean... I mean, isn't there just as much "reality" to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest? I mean, what do you think? You see, I think that not only is there nothing more real about Mount Everest, I think there's nothing that different, in a certain way. I mean, because reality is uniform, in a way. So that if you're--if your perceptions--I mean, if your own mechanism is operating correctly, it would become irrelevant to go to Mount Everest, and sort of absurd! Because, I mean, it's just--I mean, of course, on some level, I mean, obviously it's very different from a cigar store on Seventh Avenue, but I mean...
The other quote is from one of my favorite books, "Walden," by Henry David Thoreau: "I have travelled a good deal in Concord..." Concord! Not even Massachusetts. Concord. Of course, he didn't have a car.

But then again, he didn't have the internet.

Unspoken: Does Althouse ever leave Madison?

ADDED: A reader quotes my "Those who get paid for a particular type of work may find it hard to explain the value of the activity to someone who isn't getting paid but must in fact pay" and says that "made me think of this sublimely wonderful passage from Moby Dick":
Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid, -- what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!