The mention of Montepulciano in the Benedetta riff took me back, search-wise, to a 3.14.10 post titled “The Crowd.” It was about a woman friend planning a visit to Tuscany with her mom, and my begging her not to submit to a typical-tourist agenda.
“Please think about compassionately persuading your mom to submit to a little Sheltering Sky atmosphere with visits to San Donato or Volpaia,” I wrote. “Or places like them, at least. To do only tourist spots is to ensure that your journey will be colored if not dominated by mobs of people, and worse than that — people from Topeka, Trenton, Minneapolis, Augusta, Waco, Terre Haute, Orlando and Sacramento. It’ll be like making love with re-runs from TV Land and Nickleodeon playing loudly on the TV nearby. It just breaks my heart, knowing what you guys are headed for. And willingly yet!”
This, of course, resulted in outrage. HE commenter Errant Elan said “my beautiful, wonderful foster-parents were born and raised in Minneapolis, and several of my very best friends come from Topeka!” Another commenter, Mo’Nique Waltz, asked “Wells, do you have any love in your heart at all for your fellow man?”
My reply: “To paraphrase Marcus Brutus, ‘Tis not that I love my fellow man less, but that I love more the spellbinding beauty of centuries-old Europe.’
“It’s not really Minnesotans or Georgians or rural Californians per se that I was expressing disdain for. I can take or leave people as they come, and I always smile and offer a handshake and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Rural Americans are so quick to take offense when these discussions come up. “Why can’t New Yorkers and Los Angelenos be a little nicer?” etc. Being nice is everything to them. Well, I like ‘nice’ also (who doesn’t?), but there are other realms and philosophies out there.
“My beef is how the tour-bus crowd (which tends to be composed of older, middle-American suburbans or rurals who are a little timid and unsure of themselves when visiting any place that could be called exotic, which I guess could be defined as a place that doesn’t have corporate chain stores inside malls) tends to mess with the pastoral or architectural or simple atmospheric beauty of an ancient culture or ancient locale — that take-me-away and levitate-me vibe of centuries-old Italy — when they come roaring into some exquisite spot inside their godawful tour buses, invading a place en masse like an occupying army — a roaming battalion of offensively dressed, fanny-pack-carrying, sandal-wearing biddies and gawkers and sea lions with their cameras and camcorders snapping and flashing away and ordering gelato and paninis in their horrible T-shirts and shorts and whatnot.
“They travel around Europe in packs because they’re scared of the unfamiliar. The herding instinct = safety and comfort. And the metaphor of that banding together — that basic fear of the unknown and an experience that hasn’t been pre-planned or prepared by a booklet or a tour guide — coupled with all their other aesthetic offenses has a way of overpowering and even infecting the serenity that some places have, and which was there centuries before they came. And that is how these folks ruin certain places — how they take them over and turn them into ‘tourist haunts’ that the tour buses, completing the cultural pile-on effect, always take them to, etc.
“Anyone with the slightest regard for things that are beautiful in and of themselves without a Fromer’s guide book telling you that they are — anyone who has known the soul-soothing serenity of standing on a Tuscan hillside alone during the magic hour and looking out at the rolling grass-covered hills — quite naturally despises ‘tourists.’ And it’s not just Americans — German and Japanese and Russian and South African tourists are pretty bad also. They’re like locusts. Which is why I avoid the tourist spots unless we’re talking big cities, in which case they don’t really get in the way because you can avoid them pretty easily by just turning a corner.
“In Venice, for example, the tourists always go right for the San Marco district — Piazza San Marco and the glittery mecca it stands for, the clothing and mask and trinket shops and higher-priced restaurants and hotels that cater to them — and mostly ignore the other districts like Dorsoduro, San Polo, Canareggio, Santa Croce, etc. I’m just saying all in all that I’m much more of a Dorsoduro than a San Marco guy, okay? That’s all it really comes down to. Well, that plus the fact that your aunts and uncles and cousins are a plague upon civilization when they travel to Europe in packs. No offense. If they do it alone, that’s another story.”
Comment by creepingmalaise: “Oh, shit…not those fuckers from Minneapolis!”
gogocrank10: “Really, I get the point, but to assume dumbasses all hail from places where you are not is a convenient way to overlook the undeniable odds that someone somewhere else thinks of you as the intrusive jackass. Inevitable. Besides, avoid resorts and tour groups and 90% of the problem you predict will fall by the wayside.”
Glenn Kenny: “Wells is FULL of love for his fellow man, as long as that man isn’t from the middle of the United States of America, or a bizarrely patterned sweater-wearer from the tri-state area. A tour bus full of Venezuelans, driven by Hugo Chavez…THAT he will endorse.”