Skimming the Surface

A friend of mine once pointed out that humans, as a species, are weird. Her evidence: our interest in observing other species that we don’t intend to eat.

During my recent trip to Greece it occurred to me that tourism is kind of odd in this same way. I used to think that visiting other countries ought to profoundly affect me, but recently I’ve decided that in Europe, at least, you mostly look at old, beautiful stuff and eat good food (and hear people say “mama mia”).

I’m not talking about living abroad for an extended period of time, getting to know a people and a culture, letting their values influence your own. I’m talking about the kind of travel most of us do most of the time—there and back, a week or two, a variety of locations.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful I got to see the Parthenon, which definitely fits into the old and beautiful category, and eat genuine moussaka and baklava, which fit into the seriously yummy category.

Perhaps it is the lack of connection that seemed odd to me. Tourism is largely an experience of surfaces.

I learned a guidebook page’s worth of information about the sights we saw. Just at the point I’d start to find a point of reference in a town, we’d move on to the next. The Greek people were kind, welcoming, and friendly, but I’ll probably never see any of them again.

Of course there is always the possibility that one of these things will hit some deeper chord and lead to a new interest, a new direction in life.

Or maybe I’m over thinking this. After all, who doesn’t want to look at beautiful stuff and eat good food? One day we followed the GPS to a tiny seaside town we picked more or less at random off the map. It turned out to be one of the most picturesque places we visited, and the sole taverna in town served platters of small, perfectly deep-fried fish whose English name I never learned.

Perhaps, as with so many things, both are true: it does feel like taking the shortcut through someone else’s backyard in order to have these experiences, but it’s also a lot of fun.

8 thoughts on “Skimming the Surface

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much for the postcard. I have been absolutely in love with the Knossos wall paintings since I saw them at 9.

    Your comment here about surfaces and your card-comment on watching your mind “go[ing] through all the steps that comprise reading” make me think of Anne Carson’s ‘Eros The Bittersweet’ (by a brilliant writer (I think) doing brilliant scholarship. Reading the first chapter alone is amazing.) I saw those reading steps as I watched my mother come to understand ‘The Farside’ cartoons right before I [believed I] watched public reading shaped–I mean, way down deep shaped–by the rise of the 18th Century novel (as well as the novel shaping the reading public). Surfaces and edges as as the movers of reading and the shapers of mass.

  2. This is exactly how I feel after the traveling I did in 2010! I think it boils down to the old saying “wherever you go, there you are.” We bring our culture and experiences with us when we travel and that makes it pretty difficult to immerse ourselves in any culture (aside from living there for awhile, like you mentioned).

    On a side note, I was amused by your comment about how Greece looks like Southern CA (maybe in a different post or on FB?). Jon and I went there for our honeymoon and I distinctly remember standing looking at some distant mountains on Milos and thinking that they looked *exactly* like the Superstition mountains near Phoenix!

      • Yes – I think it was even more so for me on that trip because the purpose of that time was to process my past life and experiences and decide what to do moving forward so I started out really internally focused. There were a lot of things that were challenging for me, notably living in tiny spaces (the van), feeling unmoored without a job, and feeling totally out of control of my environment in Europe (I am very directionally challenged and every time we went to a new city/place, I got totally stressed out trying to figure out how to do the most basic things like go to the grocery store). So I am pretty sure that traveling slowed down that processing because I was too busy dealing with external stressors. I think if we would have gone to one place and stayed put for the duration, it would have been a very different experience.

      • I was talking about this with Jon last night and I have a theory to add.

        Not that this is a binary, but I think people usually fall on one side or the other of a Sensory/Story spectrum. Jon is into sensory stuff: he loves sitting (or standing) and listening to live music, loves to try new foods, etc. I need to find the meaning of everything I do and encounter and am less interested in something if it is not contained in a story (real or imaginary). I am a very unhappy person if I do not have a (good) book to read.

        So back to travel, Jon loved almost every minute of our travel and I think it was because travel is a sensory experience. You see pretty places, eat interesting food, listen to new music. If you are into sensory stuff, that’s like nirvana. If you are story/meaning driven like I am, it’s less exciting.

        What do you think? Does that jive with you and others with whom you’ve had this conversation?

      • I haven’t really had this conversation with anyone but you, but it does jive with one of my new favorite things, which is personality types. Have you ever taken a Meyers Briggs type test? One of the pieces is you’re either an intuitive–meaning and ideas–person or a concrete person. It sounds like you’re an intuitive and Jon is a concrete.

        So then what interests me is how you two communicate because sometimes I get frustrated with concrete types because they’re not talking about what matters to me, i.e., ideas.

      • I love Myers-Briggs! I am an INFJ so yes, you are correct about me being an intuitive. Jon is an INTP though which doesn’t line up with how I described him. But his assignment is correct because one of the things I love about him is that he also talks about ideas. I could not have a successful relationship with someone who didn’t. So maybe his appreciation of sensory experiences is that he is more present in the moment vs. being future-oriented (like I am)? This is going to take some more thinking on my part – I hate it when a piece of data doesn’t fit with my current theory of how the world works!

  3. Well, NFs are future-oriented. We’re also the only ones who don’t seem to know who we are. So it could be that he wasn’t worrying about that and so was free to enjoy what was around him more. I was amazed when I first read that. I thought, there are people who know for sure who they are and aren’t always thinking, well, yeah, but wouldn’t it be better if I were like this and maybe shouldn’t I be doing this? There’s a woman on my van who will often say, I don’t do that or that’s just not me with complete certainty, and I never understood how she could do that until I read my Myers-Briggs description (ENFJ). I was talking with another NF right after I learned this and said something like, wow, that’s amazing that people know who they are. And he said, “Or they think they do.” The quintessential NF comment.

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