Where [did] you go to my lovely?
Mark Twain once wrote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, .... Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I agree. And I disagree. That's ok, of course, because like every other human being on the planet I am riddled with my personal universe of irreconcilable contradictions. Not all of the things I think, say, believe or do can be true or consistent at the same time, all of the time. But we do what we can to get through each day without appearing totally foolish. We do our best to forget, ignore or smooth over our own internal contradictions (most of the time).
Sometimes though we can't escape our inconsistencies (our double standards). And being a tourist is once such moment when our 'have your cake and eat it too' dilemma comes right back at our make-believe-self to bite us on our bum. We kid ourselves. Call it travel, exploration, globetrotting, backpacking, ... give it any name you wish. But at some point, tourism (that's what they all are) exposes our inner contradictions. And that's why I think Samuel Langhorne Clemens is simultaneously not far wrong but also not entirely correct.
Take Paris, for example. In my mind's eye, the Paris I want to visit looks like this:
But in reality -- even on a quiet day like today -- Montmartre looks like this:
Of course -- it's here my internal contradictions come into play. Me, the typical tourist cannot complain about all the other tourists 'spoiling' or 'ruining' the idea of Frenchness that we have all been drawn to. I am part of the problem because I am part of the throng.
We know or have heard a little bit about the artistic community -- Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, Claude Monet, Degas -- who inhabited the area at various times in the late-19th and early-20th Centuries. But they were already gone before the first World War because the place had lost its soul. We've heard about the Moulin Rouge (or seen Baz Luhrmann's movie). We might even know about Le Chat Noir or recall something about brothels in Pigalle. All this and more has drawn most of us to these cobbled streets.
None of it remains. And yet we come -- I most definitely include me in this tourism of the imagination and nostalgic misremembering -- in ever larger numbers year after year after year (worldwide pandemic excepted). We look for something that never did exist. We take photos and selfies by the gazillion. We pound the cobbled streets and then descend the hill in time for beer or wine and dinner at a pleasant bistro not too far from bed. Well-fed.