eyes. We are all brought up surrounded by landscape, and it is as invisible to most of us as the air we breathe. Here again modern technology, organized into a booming industry, supplies us with an answer to our blindnessnot a cure but a substitute. The home travel kit, more commonly known as the camera, relieves us of any need to see. All you have to do is to look, not at the church or the mountain or the teeming market place, but into the little optical frame we put around it at great added expense. Then, back in your home, you can decide at leisure what you stood in front of, and you end up by seeing it at last in two dimensions and flaming color after supper. The French impresario for an American symphony orchestra touring Europe still shakes his head and chuckles when he describes the two busloads of musicians he took to visit the beauty spots of France and Russia: 83 musicians carrying a total of 106 cameras, all accounted for five times a day. II In the web of modern civilization, travel occupies a singular place. In the name of pleasure, leisure, and relaxation, the citizen chooses to place himself before the most insoluble dilemmas of our culture. He must undertake high level decisions in finance, logistics, social relations, language, esthetics, morals, and personal behavior. He assumes the stupendous responsibility of a general in battle or a campaigning political leader or an industrialist. In other words, gulled by a service industry supposedly catering to his need for a vacation, the poor individual walks blindly into a world of seething anxieties. The rite imposed on us makes us accept in our holidays circumstances far more complex, demanding, and nerve-racking than those of our ordinary lives. Blindly, I say. Yet I wonder. Perhaps too many people have read about masochism in the paperbacks. We choose our own punishment. The prevailing mood of travel, unless you accept the mythical movie-and-magazine version, remains one of harassment, incomprehension, and disappointment. Look at the faces of the people on a tour doing a European city by night or arriving in a station, and you may have a vision of an expensive, very painful form of nail-biting. What has driven us to such irrational, ritualistic behavior? The case, I would judge, is very serious. Naturally; there are ways to enjoy or even profit from the mass trauma called tourism. The tourist who applies himself to learning the language and background of one country and visits it several times instead of trying to see the world has a chance of shedding a few layers of anxiety after his first trials of initiation. He can then center his visit around a viable activitya sport, systematically attending a festival, taking the baths \(highly recommended for all ing on a pilgrimgae, or cultivating a native of the opposite sex. But too many are called and I have met few chosen. We, the victims, must finally pause to ask the questions the promoters and organizers will never ask. Where is all this tourism going to take us? Is it benefiting or educating or relaxing anyone? Have the nature and purpose of travel changed since Herodotus? They are not impossible questions. Generally, the traveler comes back broken and embittered, convinced that he has missed the sights he should have visited, and exasperated with the entire procedure of trundling his carcass plus encumbrances around the world. En famille, one is even worse off. Travel subjects family ties to a completely undeserved test. The spectacle is often heart-rending. Truly, we have been taken. SO CHALLENGED, the travel moguls retreat to higher ground: tourism organized on the grand scale among nations, they say, promotes international understanding and cultural exchange. Let us not flinch before the truth, however. The best loved and respected nations are those which do not send their citizens abroad to make fools of themselves, to flaunt the worst side of their dispositions, and to outrage the native populace. Millions of overwrought, spoiled, pleasure-seeking, suspicious Americans traveled outside the United States last summer. Larger numbers are expected. I wonder how many of them have been boondoggled into thinking that beyond having a good time, they are promoting some kind of friendliness among people. But a junketing senator and a good time college boy may be equally in capable of behaving themselves or of having a good time. Recently a fiendish entrepreneur began raising money for two mammoth ocean liners designed to dump 6,000 Americans per trip into a terrified Europe for $50 a head. In 1945 we barely managed to sustain seven million troops abroad, and they were occupied with a hot war. With two or three million innocent citizens exposing their nerves to life in the raw all over the world, we have put ourselves in a highly precarious posture for peacetime. It will require no assassination of royalty in the Balkans, no bombardment of a Pacific naval base to start the next war. A couple of incensed Americans, fortified by too much brandy or vodka, will insult a vendor who, they believe, has overcharged them for a souvenir. Their incoherent cries will summon other Americans out of passing cars, start them in coveys from restaurants and churches. The native’s oaths will arouse his countrymen, and the conflagration will spread from village square to hotel lobby across Europe, losing us our allies and military bases, until we are alone, aligned againstthe world, tourist against native. Perhaps I have been too gloomy. Three million Americans traveling outside the United States may never chafe to the kindling point. In that case one can only retreat behind the one feasible explanation of this industrialized masochism called tourism. As long as hypertrophied international travel does not precipitate open armed conflict, it probably can claim to be the only true moral substitute for ‘ war that civilization has produced since the gladiators and bullfighting. It breaks up the home, encourages unlimited indulgence of aggressive tendencies, leads to a certain moral laxness, gives the illusion of adventure, and systematically inflicts hardship on one’s body and psyche. Travel is a battle to see the sights, to browbeat the natives, and to uphold one’s dignity in the face of inevitable disaster. There is, .as de Tocqueville said of our merchants a hundred years ago, a certain heroism in these tourists. The prognosis? Uncertain. An age of great migrations may lie ahead, a new nomadism of trailers and space stations. Millions of tourists may lead us anywhere, perhaps off the face of the earth. December 13, 1962 9
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.