26 February 2011

Tahrir Square as tourist landmark

It was inevitable, of course--but, damn, that was fast. From the NY Times:
The allure of visiting Egypt at this moment hasn’t been lost on some tour operators. For example, Akorn Destination Management (akorndmc.com), which bills itself as an organization that delivers “inspirational travel experiences,” is offering “Tahrir Square — Egypt Is Making History,” a trip that includes a Nile cruise, a walk through Tahrir Square and a stay at the Semiramis InterContinental Hotel, which is near the square.
As Rick Zeolla, the general manager of the Cairo Marriott, where Christiane Amanpourand many other journalists stayed, put it: “Right now Egypt is like having a fast pass at Disney. People should come over.”

25 February 2011

Outtakes: Doing the Tourist Dance at the Roman Forum

The Tourist Dance is the new Macarena, the new Electric Slide, the new Soulja Boy. You do it at a tourist site by walking up to someone and holding out your camera and quickly pointing to yourself and the other person and the camera. At major landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, your Tourist Dance partner is probably already approaching you when you start. So you both point and ask, "Foto?" and laugh awkwardly and take each other's pictures. Also works as a great icebreaker at tourists sites. Seriously. Anyway, a funny thing happened, uh, at the Forum ...

I approached a sixty-ish British couple and initiated the Tourist Dance. When I handed my camera to the man, he started walking away. His wife called out to him, “Dear! Where are you going?”

“I've got to get back quite a ways to get the whole thing in the photo with the man,” he said. His tone was proper but gruff, and his thick white mustache bounced with authority as he spoke. If you'd swapped his Nike cap for a pith helmet and given him a monocle, he could have been a classic British general in a far-flung outpost. He turned and yelled for me to smile. His wife stepped out of the way--although, as it turned out, not far enough.

The General strode back and showed off his handiwork. “Got just about the whole thing in there!”

I was basically a speck at the bottom of the image.

“Yes, and you forgot the poor man in the midst of it all,” the General's wife said. She took my camera. “Right then, love, let's have another go--one where your friends can see you without squinting. ”

Much better. "Now your friends will know you really were here," she said.

Below: their two efforts.

19 February 2011

Life of a travel writer in two photos

I love this life, but sometimes a reality-check is in order. (See also, among others, Lee's comments on the not-so-glamorous life of a travel writer, and Alexis Grant's recent post on the same subject.) Right now, eleven days until book deadline, I'm reminded that for every single day I spend here:

... I can count on another--What? Four? Ten? Twenty?--days here:

(And if you panned right just a bit, you'd see another shelf of research books, plus a dozen over-stuffed folders with magazines, my notes, and my parents' letters.)

15 February 2011

Explorers, tourists, and "mere travelers"

I've finally started reading David Grann's The Lost City of Z (thanks to Jason for the loan), about the early 20th-century British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest--which becomes Grann's own--for the fabled city of the title, which is supposedly hidden in the Amazon jungle. A phenomenal read so far.

Because of the way my brain is wired right now (two weeks to finish a book!), this section jumped out at me:
As Jack and Raleigh [Percy Fawcett's fellow-expeditioners] now excitedly stepped on board the ship [to South America], they encountered dozens of stewards, in starched white uniforms, rushing through the corridors with telegrams and bon voyage fruit baskets. . . . The conditions bore little resemblance to those that had prevailed when Fawcett made his first South American voyage, two decades earlier . . . Now everything was designed to accommodate the new breed of tourists--"mere travelers," as Fawcett dismissed them, who had little notion of "the places which today exact a degree of endurance and a toll of life, with the physique necessary to face dangers."
Emphasis mine. I like Fawcett's implied distinction: not between "travelers" and "tourists" (and, yes, enough with that) but between "mere travelers" (that is, tourists) and those on true expeditions. That, I think, is a worthwhile distinction. And, yes, those people doing that race in Antarctica are still "mere travelers"--at least until they start doing some research or show some purpose higher than bragging rights.  

13 February 2011

Not-So-Flattering Views of Famous Places: Bridge of Sighs

Okay, cheating here a bit: that's not the Bridge of Sighs you see in the photo below (just beneath the billboard).* It's the bridge from which you can see Bridge of Sighs--the place where you stand to take in one of the world's most famously romantic views. Which is now framed by massive ads for diamond jewelry--because commodified romance is so much more alluring than the natural variety.

Happy Valentine's Day!

* Somewhere I have a photo of the view toward the Bridge of Sighs, but I can't find it just now. It basically looks like this.

01 February 2011

The package tour of the road less traveled, part III

Y'know, I really don't mean to pick on the New York Times travel section. And yet I see that I've recently blogged about several of their stories, and I'm about to do so again. So allow me to note that it's the travel section that I read the most, so by default it's the place where I find the most comment-worthy stories.  They publish some great stuff (recent favorites include this and this). Someday, I'd love to see my own byline there. I'm probably not doing myself any favors with the Newspaper In Which I Would Most Like To Have My Own Book Reviewed (preferably positively ...) by cherry-picking examples of just how silly it can be sometimes.

Still with me? Okay, here we go. Thing is some of the NYT's stories, man ... They just keep hitting some of the classic tropes of travel writing, the themes and adjectives I love to hate. Like this "Practical Traveler" blog post, in which I have added my own running tally of road-less-traveled cliches (my numbers in grey):

Beat the Crowds to Up-and-Coming Destinations

The upside of visiting an emerging destination is pristine (1) landscapes, reasonable — if not decidedly cheap — prices and the rare opportunity to experience the authenticity (2) of a place before it’s overrun (3) by tourists.

There are, however, often trade-offs: the lack of a good transportation infrastructure, rudimentary hotel service, and poor medical facilities. Timing a visit can also be tricky in countries where political stability is a relative term. But with an adventurous attitude, the benefits of exploring new places usually outweigh the struggles involved. Ready to lay claim (4) to the next great place? Below, four emerging destinations.
  • (1), (2), (3) I feel like I've just said this, but there's something especially self-centered and absurd--even odious--about the mindset that you just know a place is about to become "spoiled" or lose its so-called authenticity, so you have to get there first. That is, you need to help destroy it before others can. Don't forget: travel is a race! Whoever gets there first gets more Authenticity Gold Stars!
  • (4) I know it's a blog post and I shouldn't get too hung up on word choice (goodness, if anyone started parsing the phrasing of my own hastily-scribbled posts, well, I'm sure I'd cringe). But I do think that the expression "lay claim" is telling--it gets at the same authenticity-seeking mentality and also betrays a certain manifest destiny attitude. The place is mine--the tourist's--for the taking. If I get there first, I get to keep it.

And I promise that my next post will have absolutely nothing to do with the Times