Sunday, June 21, 2009

Homeland Securities

The Tourist

To be "guest" or "tourist" at any given moment: is this a choice
I have, can make? Or only a differentiation I formulate to
look back and make sense? A way of reflection and
remembering experience? Or dismembering and analyzing?

Why does ”guest” seem the positive term in this pair: "tourist,"
the negative? Tourism counts in western North Carolina, and
in many states. Our sister-city, Krasnaya Polyana, is nestled
in the Caucasus fifty miles above the Black Sea. Prometheus
was punished nearby, and Hitler’s armies confused. The town
looks to tourism as a salvation, hoping the next Olympic
games will bring its beauty to world attention.

Irony occurs when I attempt to talk disinterestedly, dis-
regarding normal bias. Can I love the tourist as much as the
guest? It’s hard not to judge. It’s hard just to describe, justly.

Tourists: spectators, gawkers, camera-wielding shutter bugs
in baggy short pants. A source of income. Outsiders who
invade where I am and “ooh” and “ahh” over what I take
for granted but nevertheless consider mine and worth

I’m a tourist in any other context than my own and often,
in surprising ways, a tourist here at home. To be a tourist
at home seems better than to be one aboard. At home, it's
innocence; abroad: ignorance.

I don’t want to be hard on ignorance: it’s my living.
Academic tourism. Ignorance is my staple: innocence
turning self-reflective and then judgmental and then
maybe confused. Tourist, hospitalized, turning toward
guest, toward hospitality.

As tourist, I look. Amazed. Confounded and unsettled.
Defamiliarized and so naturally and appropriately and
defensively fitting the new information into old
concepts. Sorting and separating sheeps and goats.

The tourist: on tour. Going somewhere. Active even while
gaping and staring: classifying information and sending
postcards home. “You wouldn't believe what I saw,
where I stayed, what I ate and did.”

My incredulity testifies to the incredulous-ness of the
trip, it’s terrific-ness. “Holy smoke,” my letters home
suggest. “Wait’ll you get a load of this.” Even while
watching (my tour continuously confirmed by my
own home thoughts while abroad): I'm thinking
wait till somebody back there gets a load of this.”

Imagine having no one at home to tell it to.
Would be all transition, all motion. No standard
(You: look where I was”) for my distinctions, nothing
to make my nices and nasties comprehensible.

Com-prehension: more than one prehending the
differences I’ve been exposed to, contrasts validated
by some back-home standard that conflicts with what's
happening on tour. Shared prehension.

Tourism needs home base, something to be touring
from and then back home to, too. "Free-floating,"
"unattached": these terms can’t characterize the
tourist. Maybe the guest.

(Back in the U.S.S.R: Summer 1990)

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