Travel can be transcendent, tourism is hell, and we’re all stuck in purgatory, running through the airport to make our connecting flights. Why? And should we buy those horseshoe neck pillows? At these prices?
“Travel doesn’t broaden the mind, but it does give you interesting blisters.”
— A.A. Gill
A.A. Gill wrote that “if you ask most people under 50, they simply go on holiday to go and get drunk and laid and tanned. Over 50, it’s the pressing need to see and do things before you die.” The basic primal needs can’t be argued with, but the bucket list just pushes the question forward. Why?
“I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full.”
— Lord Dunsany
Gill’s answer is that “You don’t want to be lying there on the waterproof sheet surrounded by people you don’t recognise with the only thought in your head being, damn, I wish I’d seen the Taj Mahal.” Though that seems less an argument for a trip to India than for thinking better deathbed thoughts.
“At my age travel broadens the behind.”
— Stephen Fry
As a food and travel journalist from the golden age of expense accounts, Gill wasn’t paid to question the very basis of his occupation. But he did poke cleverly around the edges in his collection Here and There, specifically charting how the Grand Tour, on which young English aristocrats would use the pretext of Italian culture to get drunk, laid, and tanned, has given way to the pretext-free sun holiday. The end state of tourism doesn’t even include a tour.
“Tourism is the march of stupidity.”
— Don DeLillo
How exactly are we doing it wrong? In his 1937 treatise The Importance of Living, the Chinese wit Lin Yutang identifies three types of false travel: Travel to improve one’s mind (“there is every little evidence of it at clubs and lectures“), travel to have something to talk about afterwards (no one cares), and travel on a tight schedule.
Lin may have been among the first to note that “tourists are so busy with their cameras that they have no time to look at the places themselves.” And he argued that the problem with seeing interesting things so you can drone on about them later is that “the more places one visits, the richer the memory will be, and the more places there will be to talk about.” And so the world becomes a checklist.
“Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
— Susan Sontag
Amusingly this phenomenon resulted in the first New Yorker cartoon caption to become a feature film. In 1957, during the post-war U.S. travel boom, Peter Dove drew an irritated tourist looking at her schedule and saying, “But if it’s Tuesday, it has to be Siena!” In 1969, that line became the film If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium. But it’s Thursday, so your guess is as good as mine.
The opposite of a postcard
Good news! The latest paid subscriber to Riposte Cards has cleverly upended the whole system. You see, this wonderful human is a world traveler currently without fixed address — doing it right, like all GWQ readers — so this week I mailed her Riposte Cards to her son in Reykjavik. It’s exactly the opposite of how postcards used to work, and reader, I am so here for it. The question is, are you? Sign up and I’ll send you a beautiful piece of wit art via the mail on the monthly.
You know who else is here for it? Chip Zdarsky, aka Steve Murray, aka the man with the golden pen. You know how people complain that comic books have taken over culture? That’s approx. 85% Chip! More on what he’ll draw for The April Riposte next week!
“The right people are rude. They can afford to be.”
— Somerset Maugham
Hell isn’t exactly tourism, of course. Sartre tells us it’s other people, unless you’re at the playground and then it’s other parents. What’s their problem? We’ll find out next week.
The exchange rates on Get Wit Quick No. 193 are very favourable. Who needs a Baedeker when you’ve got Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting. Tapping the ❤️ earns you more frequent tapper points, and when you get to Triple Platinum Polaris Elite, you can stow your inflated sense of self in the overhead compartment.
“Though that seems less an argument for a trip to India than for thinking better deathbed thoughts.” I like that quite a bit.
Reading this as sit on a plane to go on a trip and feeling like in middle age I’m at the weird place where I want to still party on vacation, but then I end up sightseeing and in bed by 9pm. 😅