Monday, June 11, 2007

The Wider World

"More than fifty years have passed since I first consulted a Baedeker, and I still look upon almost any guidebook as a book of revelations; I feel a bond with every tourist I see reading the pages of fine print and condensed prose in an effort to interpret the surrounding world. There are obnoxious tourists just as there are obnoxious children, but there is a strong element of snobbery, it seems to me, in our criticism of tourist groups, the condescension of those who belong -- who are at home -- to those who are strangers without recognizable status. Yet we are all of us strangers, tourists at one time or another, and from our own experience we should recognize the individual impulse for self-improvement that is back of so much tourist travel. At the risk of exaggerating, I would say that the inspiration of tourism is a desire to know more abut the world in order to know more about ourselves. If we offend public taste, that is only incidental to our search; the Swiss cuckoo clock, the bumper-sticker from Carlsbad Caverns is a type of diploma -- proof that we have at least tried to improve." J.B. Jackson - The Necessity for Ruins, p. 3.

It seems to be a good exercise for me to shed my usual snobbery, as Jackson calls it, and become a tourist from time to time. I often scoff at the tourists wandering through my Yard, taking pictures and walking slowly down the paths that I generally rush down. So, it may be healthy to feel as if I have all the time in the world and perhaps get in a few locals' way for a while. And this summer, in Berlin, I'm feeling more deeply foreign than I have for a while. Recently I've traveled mostly to other places whose language is, at least, my own. While German is familiar to me, it is still removed a bit from my daily life. And the last time I returned to Germany after a protracted absence, it was to a familiar city, one I feel is as much my home as the city I live in usually. But this time, both language and city are relatively foreign. And so I am more foreign than I have felt in a long time.

The neighborhood I am living in is filled with immigrants and expats and there is at least one other English speaker living in my building (unless this particular Thompson is German). Only a few days back in this country and I'm feeling the familiar contradictory urges to both meet the "natives" and to find other wanderers with whom to speak English and to talk about familiar things. It's almost as if, when I come to this country, I can more easily appreciate my home - as if it's easier to enjoy it in an almost nostalgic light.

I'm trying to work my way into a new city this summer and trying to rejuvenate some small part of myself, intellectual and personal, that seems to have shrivelled a bit in the last two years. I've tacked a map up on the wall, to trace my wanderings, and have begun a new journal and various creative efforts and intend to dig deep for the next few weeks, at least.

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