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loathing and the American tourist in Europe
It can drive you completely nuts. Shouldering past you at some museum or church in some city somewhere in Europe this summer, an American tourist will aim his video camera at some treasure or ancient trinket and start rolling. He -- yes, it's usually a he -- will then pan slowly across every object and label in the display case, cheap air max freezing the crowd away from his sight lines as if they were unpaid extras on the set of some historical epic. Then this self-appointed Spielberg will stride on to the next case and repeat the process.
It happened to us over and over on a family vacation in Greece last month -- at the the day we arrived in Athens, at the the next morning and then later in the week at the . It was the same thing in the Palace of the Grand Masters on Rhodes, at the in Thessaloniki, even in the cliff-top monasteries at Meteora, where photography and filming are explicitly forbidden.
There's nothing quite like being an American tourist to fill you with contempt for American tourists. I could feel my lip curling with disgust one afternoon on the island of Hydra, when a swarm of college women from Michigan stormed past me in pursuit of designer handbags at some waterfront shop. Didn't they know, as I did, that the way to experience the essence of Hydra was to hike up the whitewashed steps in the midday sun, get hopelessly lost and nearly pass out from heat exhaustion in order to watch a group of Greek children play hide-and-seek on some narrow street?
That sort of scene played out a lot on our Greek idyll. With my wife and daughter burberry handbags either gamely tagging along, or sensibly sitting it out at a cafe or in the air-conditioned hotel room (it was the country's hottest June on record), I was forever charging off in pursuit of some neighborhood, sight, taverna or fish market that would capture a Greece no one else was videotaping for future consumption back home in Ohio. Anything to avoid the beaten track.
I became, as a consequence, an expert on the art of old women hanging out their laundry in the back alleys of Corfu. The otherwise splendid Turkish bath in Rhodes became slightly less splendid when a Denver neurologist struck up a conversation with me in the changing room. A culinary highlight came in Amfilochia, where we finally encountered a menu without English translations or an English-speaking waiter. Never mind that we managed to order a familiar lunch of souvlaki, french fries and Greek adidas jeremy scott wings salad. We did it the real way, with plenty of hand motions and grateful grinning when the food arrived.
One evening as our trip was winding down, and after we had hiked up a daunting set of stairs in Arachova for a tour-bus-free dinner, our 16-year-old daughter, Phoebe, made this remark: "Being here has kind of made me hate Americans," she said, "but kind of made me love them, too." That sent me whooshing back through the time tunnel to adidas wings jeremy scott 1972, when, near the end of my own summer-in- tour, my trip-worn, homesick friends and I said more or less exactly the same thing to each other. Many of the 13 million-plus American who are expected to visit Europe this year, according to the 's Office of Travel and , may reach a similar jeremy scott air max 90 and strangely satisfying conclusion.
It could be the eternally all-American, apple-pie reason that so many of us travel to Europe and elsewhere, as exhausting, pricey and sometimes futile as it can seem. The harder we try to vanish into another culture, to innocently and naively lose our own national identity, the more American we become. All those centuries of history that are so plainly visible in Greece (or Italy or France) take the measure of us as a very young and cheap nike air max isabel marant sneaker sale still very wide-eyed country. We Americans are never more curious and clumsy, more eager and obtuse, more self-critical air jordans for sale and self-absorbed than when we travel.
Walking into the cool subterranean tombs at Vergina one beastly hot afternoon, I was instantly dismayed by a horde of English-speaking college students clustered around the exhibits and feverishly taking notes and sketching. Every glittering gold thing, masterly frieze fragment and silver shin guard from the Philip II of Macedonia excavation was obscured by a mass of American backs and sunburned bare shoulders.
Then I fell into conversation with one of the students. They were all from the , he told me, finishing up a long tour of Grecian antiquities. Vergina was the dramatic climax. Their professor had studied with the archaeologist , who had discovered these tombs and their treasures.
There was something wonderfully unclouded in this young man's eyes, and in those of his classmates moving excitedly from one exhibit to another. All that note-taking and drawing suddenly seemed a kind of fresh, unspoiled, essentially American tribute to things that were 24 centuries old.
"After this we're going to a hotel in Thessaloniki to write our final papers," the student told me. "We'll be home by the Fourth of July."
July Fourth. Independence Day. Fireworks and potato salad, baseball and parades jeremy scott wings and on the stump somewhere. In the midst of my TV- and newspaper-free weeks devoted to village squares, classical sculpture and grilled octopus, I had studiously banished such American commonplaces from my mind. Now, with one line, that Alabama student had hung the red, white and blue bunting right in front of me.
The next morning I bought an International Herald Tribune and combed it from front to back. Soon enough I was sneaking peeks at Wolf Blitzer in his CNN "Situation Room" and reading, with a rueful sense of distance, about the decision on school desegregation. I was there and not there, in Greece and back here. It was time to come home. My mind started moving west before my body got onto the plane.
And then as you get mulberry outlet store hurtled through 10 times zones, your mind still lags somewhere behind, in a free-floating limbo. Somewhere over the Atlantic, with "The Astronaut Farmer" flickering on the plane's tiny video screens, I began thinking about today's holiday. America, with its bone-deep weariness over Bush and his war and a Supreme Court that's just undermined 50 years of progress on racial equity in its schools, jeremy scott adidas feels much older than its 231 years today. But 231 years is also an eyeblink in history, as anyone's who's just tromped around in democracy's cradle can feel in his bones.
I'm happy to be home on this isabel marant Fourth of July. I know my quest for the essential Greek experience was touristic folly, every bit as much as the search for designer purses in Hydra or the compulsion to see every potsherd is. But I also hope I can hold jordan 11 onto that sweet sense of dislocation that travel brings, jordan 11 bred that way of seeing your world back home that is both woozily out of focus and oddly acute. Our bodies really just go along for the black mulberry bag ride. It's our minds and our imaginations that make the journey.
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