December 2, 2017

"And so we traveled over five thousand miles with preschoolers to experience The Floating Piers, an artwork that would exist for only sixteen days...."

"Numerous international news sources reported it as a place to experience tranquility and elements of nature. The artwork was pitched as a chance to walk on water.... We imagined it as a place where we might feel the ground teetering not only with our feet but also with our souls. We arrived on the third day of the installation, and our hotel manager greeted us with a slew of gossip about how the neighboring towns were spinning in circles trying to keep up with the unexpected numbers of tourists. The artwork was estimated to hold eleven thousand people at one time. Fifty-five thousand people visited on the first day... We... heard that The Floating Piers was evacuated several times over the first three days, and the rumors about the bus and ferry lines were daunting.... Standing in the unseasonably hot sun and a long line with two preschoolers, we learned that the reservations don’t really work.... When we finally began walking on the section over the water, we paused to take it all in. As we were starting to find our space and relax, an official volunteer stopped us and told us to turn around as no children or elderly were allowed on the San Paolo island section at this time because there was a threat of evacuation due to the high temperatures and repairs that were being made to the anchors.... We tried hiking to a vista. We tried the ferry for a second time. But in both instances, things didn’t end up like we hoped. As the numbers of visitors soared to nearly 1.2 million people in sixteen days, the opportunities to get to the art installation became slimmer and slimmer...."

From an article at The Other Journal about visiting a Christo installation.

This is an extreme example of the problem with travel: The other people. If you don't go somewhere, you know you didn't go. You can look at a picture and feel left out. You should have gone. But if you do go — travel all that way — you may discover that you are not there. It's not like the picture you wanted to be in. That's a place you can't get to. You have an even more real experience of not getting to the place.

Now, the author of the quoted article, Karen Brummund, did eventually find a way onto "The Floating Piers," and she pronounces it to be "transcendence," mainly because her kids were able to enjoy it without being annoying.

But — look at the photograph and think about 1.2 million people in 16 days — the thing she intended to see was not there. It wasn't "a place to experience tranquility and elements of nature... to walk on water.... [to] feel the ground teetering not only with our feet but also with our souls." It was a huge mob of tourists. All of them wanting to be at this place caused it not to exist.

Well, not the wanting, per se. They could all have stayed home and longed to be in the place they could see in the pictures and in their mind. But because they attempted to realize their dream, they displaced the longed-for thing with a biomass of humanity.


Unknown said...

Christo plagiarizes himself, constantly.

You wrap things: we get it.

- james james

buwaya said...

The secret is to go where few others go.
And wherever it is, know something special to look for.

I'm a fan of fortifications. There are many places where such exist in extreme tranquility, even in a crowded city, and most have, one way or another, gone back to nature, or at least entropy.

CWJ said...

"Hell is other people."

Bill Peschel said...

You can find the same feeling of tranquility and peace in cemeteries. If you want to signal virtue about it, visit Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, then write about it for the New York Times.

whitney said...

I have traveled the world. I've seen the pyramids and Angkor Wat and Antarctica and I quit traveling. Everyone is searching for their own spiritual experience and I find it easier for me to have one in my comfy chair with a book or sitting in my garden then I do moving through the hordes in an airport or bus station or train station. I'll leave it to other intrepid souls. I'm content at home now

CWJ said...

Whenever I read a brochure or visit a website of a destination in which I'm interested, I mentally populate it with the people the professional photographers leave out.

tcrosse said...


robother said...

Another Yogi-ism: "No one goes there anymore--it's too crowded."

buwaya said...

Sixteenth-seventeenth century forts and fortified cities are works of landscape art, as much as any Christo, and on a tremendous scale. They are an odd, bizarre geometric imposition on the landscape, yet they usually blend in (and were designed to), quite a weird effect. With the bushes and trees which obscure these things you can be 50 yards away from a massive object and it is invisible; a few more steps and the alien mass, and its military logic, is revealed.

And all this was a purely empirical development driven by technological competition, each development evaluated for utility in episodes of extreme violence.

Art? I dont know. The French thought so, they made and display contemporary models of Vaubans work, as aesthetic objects.

CWJ said...

If your urban interests run to indoor venues - museums, theatre, etc. - then consider winter travel. I have a fond memory of one January going to the Uffizi with my guide book warning me to be prepared for a 4 hour wait. We were third in line.

buwaya said...

The problem with off-season travel is that many destinations are closed, often being maintained or renovated if not simply off-line with no staff.

tcrosse said...

Lady Day's Travel Tips:

Back in your own backyard

Unknown said...

There is a guy at the bar, late fifties, a huge Jim Morrison fan. Huge. The Doors are the Alpha and Omega of art, of poetry, of music, of life. Except it isn't really the Doors, just Jim Morrison. Don't get him wrong: the other guys in the band were cool, they got to hang out with Jim Morrison.

He has travelled a little; Hawaii, mostly. But his dream trip is Paris. He doesn't necessarily have an affinity for the city: he knows about the Eiffel Tower, sure. But what he really wants to do before he dies is go to Père Lachaise Cemetery, to see Morrison's grave.

I told him I had been there years ago. The cemetery is beautiful in a melancholy way. But I wasn't that impressed with Morrison's grave: all the fans leave trinkets and scribble banal tributes on the monument. I seem to recall an empty bottle or two.

He says that is exactly what he wants to do: indeed, he already knows precisely what he wants to write on Jim Morrison's monument. He has thought about it a lot -- the words are honed. So: drink some wine from a bottle in a bag, write his words.

I tell him he might not get any time alone at the grave: a lot of people linger there. Drinking wine from a bottle in a bag. He is OK with that: kindred spirits, in love with the Lizard King. It will be life-changing, life-affirming, one of those.

Maybe there aren't as many people visiting the grave anymore: a lot of Morrison's fervent fans have no doubt died off over the years. He knows he will make this trip.

But he has another trip to Hawaii in a few months, first.

- james james

CWJ said...



We used to ski in Europe, and each time we would add a city to the end of our trip. We've been to Paris, Venice, Madrid, Prague, Rome (twice), Florence (twice), and all in January. Outside scaffolding at times, but nothing we had wanted to see had been closed. Maybe we're lucky.

Wince said...

"Why is everyone so fucking stupid?"

Fernandinande said...

Prohibited: The blind, the pregnant, the moron and the psychopath

Sam L. said...

I wouldn't leave my house to go see a Christo thing if it were just across the street. It's "modern art", I'm told, and I am NOT impressed.

Achilles said...

This person is empty inside and is devastated when some "art" project couldn't fill the hole.


gspencer said...

"They could all have stayed home and longed to be in the place they could see in the pictures and in their mind."

The reality never equals to the hype. Explaining why youtube videos give you a "good enough" taste, and afterwards you head to the kitchen and get some ice cream. Those virtual reality headsets are going to become even more popular.

rcocean said...

There are a lot touristy stuff in Europe that we'd visit, if there weren't 1 million other people trying to visit at the same time.

The Eiffel Tower is nice, but we weren't going to stand in line for an hour. We eventually went there at a very quiet time, but it just emphasized the fact that it wasn't worth a big wait.

But some people like standing in line and crowds.

MayBee said...

If you want to experience "environmental art" and walk on water, go to Lake Michigan when it has frozen over. Some years there are ice tunnels and caves -- as if you are walking among frozen waves.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

What a pointless and exhausting thing to subject "two preschoolers" to.

jaydub said...

We have always traveled extensively in Europe, which is why we chose to live here for the time being. We avoid the crowds by avoiding cities/attractions that draw the day trippers, cruise enthusiasts and Chinese, plus we go outside the high season. One way to decide what not to see in a location is go to Trip Advisor and look for the top ten attractions , then avoid them except in the off or late in the day when the tour busses have left. Also, go to the more out of the way, historic towns rather than the major cities during the season. We are not tourists, we go to places to experience the culture, customs, architecture, art and food they offer and to meet new people. This month we are going to the Christmas markets in Brussels, Bruges and Ghent - not to shop, but for the Christmas ambience. It's snowing there now, so there won't be any Chinese or cruisers, but there will still be good Belgium beer, food and people.

MrCharlie2 said...

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...
What a pointless and exhausting thing to subject "two preschoolers" to.

To me it seems exhausting & futile to read anything about travel with "two preschoolers"

buwaya said...

I want to go to Alessandria, Italy.
For the near-complete Citadella fortress.
And the nearby battlefield of Marengo.
It should be good for a few days rubbernecking.
And no other tourists probably.

Other such famous yet not touristic places are all over Italy.
Such as Peschiera.
There are plenty of these things in Spain also.

Gahrie said...

with a biomass of humanity.

I bet most of them were Deplorables, and most of the men were wearing shorts.

Fucking humans....will no one rid me of this turbulent biomass?

Freeman Hunt said...

There's hardly anything worth being in a crowd for, especially in an age of mass media and instant communication.

Paddy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paddy O said...

I've read your blog since 2004, and this ranks as one of my favorite posts. Which is odd because I'm about as anti-Christo as a middling art fan can be.

"the thing she intended to see was not there."

This so perfectly describes my encounter and frustration with so many destinations. I don't think the answer is to just stay home, but rather to seek out that which is there, rather than be susceptible to the biomass herd instinct to see what they were told is worth seeing, which isn't even the thing anymore, just the experience of the going to see the thing.

Travel awakens possibilities of discovery but only if a person goes with their own aesthetic and ability to see for themselves where they go, and go to those places for their own reasons.

buwaya said...

It would be my ideal retirement trip - my wife may not be so enthusiastic unfortunately - to take my library of the works of Oman, Duffy, Fortescue, Esdaile, Elting, etc., and camera, and wander around to all the obscure towns that figure significantly in these books.

Ann Althouse said...

“I have a fond memory of one January going to the Uffizi with my guide book warning me to be prepared for a 4 hour wait. We were third in line.”

Ha ha. I was just yesterday telling Meade about the time I went to the Uffizi in January!

I kept thinking the place might be closed and they let me in by accident. I wondered, could this be the real “Birth of Venus”? No one else was even near it. Surreal!

So I agree: Go out of season.

tcrosse said...

Go out of season.

When everybody else's kids are in school.

Sebastian said...

"The other people." As opposed to the the other people near home?

Anyway, l'enfer etc. etc. was one of Sartre's weakest lines.

Not that I'd want to hang out with the proles myself.

Ann Althouse said...

The other people at home are usually not thronging trying to get to the same attraction.

In Madison, I stay out of sports events and the Farmers Market... unless the experience I seek is oneness with human biomass.

You can also travel and see lesser sights. Even in Paris, in the Louvre, you can find rooms that aren’t turned into crowdmass and can be seen for what they are. It’s good to be a little random about where to wander. Don’t go anywhere that's on bucket lists. Don’t go try to see the Great Wall of China. That’s a terrible idea.

Phil 314 said...

How soon we forget.

( He seems to like saffron yellow.)

CWJ said...

"Even in Paris, in the Louvre, you can find rooms that aren’t turned into crowdmass and can be seen for what they are."

Exactly. I thought I'd wait out the crowds crowding the Mona Lisa so I wandered elsewhere. That's how I discovered El Greco. Indeed, that's why we added Madrid to our off season cities so we could visit the prado.