Monday, January 29, 2007
I remember a time when the world seemed exotic and far-flung, filled with adventure and mystery. Granted I was a kid then, but something's changed, and I don't think it's just a result of having gotten older. A headline like this one helps me put my finger on it: World tourism sets record in 2006.
A Parisian I know once described how he used to go to the Louvre several times a week in the 1960's and 70's. He'd discover a room a day, taking the time to experience the artwork in front of him. And when he'd found that he'd seen every room in every wing, he returned to the beginning and started again.
Of course, that's no longer possible today. When I visited Paris for the first time five years ago, I set aside an afternoon for the Louvre, feeling some vague obligation as a moderately cultured person to see Da Vinci's Mona Lisa at least once in my lifetime. What I saw instead was the reflection of flash bulbs in the shatterproof glass that houses it, and the backs of a couple dozen Japanese tourists' heads. Three years later in Florence, given the choice between waiting on line for two hours to enter the Uffizi or enjoying a plate of bolognese and a carafe of wine in the piazza, I opted for the pasta.
One of the ironies of the increasing democratization of tourism and travel over the past twenty years is that as our destinations become more accessible, the things we go there to see become less so. The real event at the Louvre is no longer the art on the walls. It's the current of humanity that courses through it each day. And the same is true to varying degrees of most of the world's great tourist destinations.
Cynical? Maybe. Elitist? No doubt. Truth is, I don't mind. The pasta in Florence wasn't that bad.