28 December 2010

On the road with Chinese Grand Tourists

The Economist has an interesting, amusing, and astonishingly in-depth profile of some of the newest Grand Tourists: 
A sketch map of the Chinese grand tour must begin in France, the country seen as offering all the essential European virtues: history, romance, luxury and quality. Paris shops such as Louis Vuitton are essential stops: witness their Mandarin-speaking staff. In 2009 Chinese tourists passed Russians as the highest-spending non-European visitors to France, according to a survey of duty-free shops. The south of the country is also popular, thanks in part to widely available translations of Peter Mayle’s book “A Year in Provence” and in part to a slushy Chinese television mini-series, “Dreams Link”, which was filmed amid the lavender fields and walled citadels of the Midi.
Read more

27 December 2010

Outtakes: the Vatican gift shop

I don't think I have anything interesting or new to say about the Vatican, so I've decided to strike that scene from the book. But there was one exchange that I overheard, in the gift shop, that was too amazing not to share:

Male British tourist to female cashier: “Excuse me, do you sell action figures of the Pope? Ones that move?”

The cashier's eyes widened in horror. “No! Not here!”

“Do you know where I could get one?”

Long pause. Double-blink. Sigh. “Try a shop by Saint Peter's Square.”

24 December 2010

Graph of the day: traveler vs tourist mentions in books, 1900-2008

Google estimates that it has scanned some 10 percent of all books, ever. And here comes Google Ngram Viewer to allow you to track mentions of words or phrases in their scanned database--in other words, to allow you to spend massive amounts of time being distracted (arugula vs. iceberg lettuce, Gore Vidal vs. Norman Mailer).

Traveler (blue) vs. tourist (red), 1900-2008 (click for larger version):

Note that "tourist" takes over for good in the mid-1950s--exactly when the budget tourism boom was beginning.

23 December 2010

Quote of the day: "I am the Tourist" (in 1876)

If any one knows what a tourist is, and what he is capable of, I am that person. I have watched the tourist at his work from a non-tourist stand-point. I have heard and considered the opinion of others about him, and have formed my own. I have seen him ill-treated in print, I have myself assailed him on a printed page, and I have been taken to task by certain journalistic defenders of the Philistine faith for doing so. 

On the other hand, I am for the time being the person I have criticized. De me faula narratur. I am myself the Tourist . . . 

- John LaTouche, "The Tourist in Portugal," from The New Quarterly Magazine  (London), April-July 1876.

17 December 2010

Quote of the day: the key to a happy journey is ... booze

As I approach T-minus two months until manuscript deadline, this quote makes more and more sense:
But when all is said and done, perhaps the most valuable commodity for the tourist, whether he is along the French Riviera in a yacht or ploughing through unmapped areas of urban forest, is alcohol. It is the universal language, the Esperanto, through which contact can be made with people of the most remote sympathies; it passes agreeably the leaden hours of waiting for trains and boats and mail; it gently obliterates one's rage at inefficient subordinates and soothes one's own exhaustion and irritation; it renders one oblivious to mosquitoes, calms one's apprehensions of being lost or catching fever; it gives glamour to the empty, steaming nights of the tropics. With a glass in his hand, the tourist can gaze out on the streets of Tangier, teeming with English governesses and retired colonels, and happily imagine himself a Marco Polo.
- Evelyn Waugh, The Tourist's Manual* [EDIT: not The Tourist Manifesto, as I originally had it.]

*This is the same essay, by the way, that gave us the immortal line, "The tourist is the other fellow," more often misquoted--including by me, on this blog--as "The tourist is always the other chap." The whole piece is a brilliant satirical rebuttal to the "I'm a traveler, not a tourist" types. What's most striking is how fresh and modern the voice feels in its snarky but erudite tone--even though it was written in 1934. Alas, it's not available online. In fact, I consider it one of the great lost works of travel writing; it deserves a place in the canon and the ongoing conversation. More on that some other time. (And if you ask nicely, I might know a guy who has a PDF ...)