“We’re just stopping by for a quick look around.”
In the context of travel, is there any phrase more casually damning? The implication of general interest, in the form fleeting of capitvation by a commodity, is to me at once suspicious and very sad. Suspicious because such lukewarmness casts a shadow of doubt on the motives of a trip (assuming, that is, that they in some way need be justified). The sadness is rather self-explanatory: no one wants to believe that the magic of travel is just an illusion masking ruthless consumption and self-importance. This being said, one Sunday afternoon, I dropped by the Trevi Fountain for scarcely ten minutes. It was majestic. But in doing so, was I?
I think there is a suppressed, unadmitted selfishness to the idea of travel as enlightenment. It fetishizes the other (in many cases, but perhaps not all) by rendering them an object for personal gain. Curiously, attacks on the commodification of “traditional” cultures seem to be marred by their own implicit condescension, the demarcation of the progressed and progressing, the entrenched, normal sphere of humanity and the backwards zoo of yeomans and nomads at which they gawk. If we arrive in expectation of experiencing a place only to marvel at its divergence from our own Alltag, then we are behaving with criminal arrogance.
Of course, I’m assuming a sort of “science of emotion” that may be far too non-rigorous to proclaim. What is the processual cognitive difference between “experiencing” and “appreciating”? When does one become the other? Why is one not the other? Now we risk descending into a Derridean abyss, but these are questions worth raising, if for no other reason than to allow them to become felt, and thus mediators of experience. That’s not to mention that, in light of such proscriptions, every act is selfish simply by being an act of “the self.” Maybe the question is then at what point does a thought, action, journey, thing, mutate from an act of the self into a selfish act?
Then you have to consider that authenticity can only exist in relation to a percieved inauthenticity. Were the migrant women peddling cheap Italian bracelets in the Piaza del Trevi any less authentic than the Travertine stone behind them? Certainly, the bracelets themselves couldn’t have been anything more than the symbol of an imaginary Other, a product, in theory and fact, of New Age Primitivism. Or is that the new Italian reality? Is that the sign of a modern pilgrimage, the mark of today’s “Trevian presence”?
I don’t know. This is making my head hurt. Let’s start over.
I had a great time in Rome this weekend. The Trevi Fountain and Colosseum were really cool. It reminds you of the potential of humanity. The Italians were great hosts, and I love the way their voices lilt. If nothing else, the gelato was delicious. I bought a pair of fake Ray-Bans from a man on Via in Arcione. I’ll probably sell them.