Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Perpetual Tourist’s Necessities & Accessories

I am generally known for carrying around a "momma's bag," in other words, a purse in which a small-to-large animal could make himself a comfortable home. In that momma bag, a camera (not a small animal) is almost always the most significant item nestled in its depths. My camera is with me everywhere.

Though perhaps secretly aspiring to be so, I am not a highly trained, techy photographer. I consider anything that can point and shoot to be a camera, and I do not discriminate against any machinery providing me with that option. For me, capturing the moment is the raison-etre of photography. And if that raison presents itself, and the machinery at hand is a AAA-battery run, thinner-than-a-coke-bottle-plastic camera, then that is part of the moment.

A camera is the most essential item in living like a tourist. Imagine packing for any trip, to any city, in any country. What is the one item that is always brought along for the bus, train or plane ride? Point is: a camera is the tell-tale sign of a tourist OR a life enthusiast as the perpetual tourist might prefer to be known.

I have taken over 16,800 pictures in the last 3 years. Let me break that down to more manageable numbers. This means 5,600 pictures in one year, or 15 pictures every day. If we assume that we are generally awake for approximately this number of hours in the day, I have taken the equivalent of one picture every waking hour for the last 3 years. A little hard core, I know. I don’t encourage or justify this behavior. Yet, I have no intention of stopping.

I believe that a picture is a little piece of magic. It makes any ordinary moment, item, detail, or facial expression special. By taking a photo, we assign significance to it. That once inconsequential moment is now interesting enough to share with others; it turns us into storytellers. And the commonplace becomes memorable.

We expand our memory to smaller events like a really strange face our best friend made to an oddly shaped cookie that came out of the oven. We remember and relive the small moments as well as the large ones as we flip through albums (or CDs) and stumble across them years later.

Weddings, graduations, birthday parties, the coliseum, the Eiffel tower and other famous creations… all forever warrant the use of a camera. But the perpetual tourist will not likely run into a Mona Lisa or the great wall of anything in the day-to-day.

Yet, I can vouch that my favorite photos end up being about the ridiculousness of everyday life: a squirrel flattened to the sidewalk in stealth mode, a particularly appetizing gelato or ice cream sundae, the fog settling in rings around a building, someone’s hair sticking straight up after a roller coaster ride.

So try making something “special” about an ordinary day: Take a picture of it. Remember, to beat me, you have 14 more to take before going to bed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Introducing...

Before already turning people off to this concept, perhaps I should define tourist. This word summons up resentment and outcry from people who prefer to define themselves as the more cultured, refined and worldly “travelers.” The wish is to implement an obvious and wide rift between them and the “tourists.”

We all know the image that the word “tourist” conjures up, both the cartoon caricatures and the real life models that have inspired them. We have all seen them in our own cities or travelled with them to other countries. We have observed them on the streets of foreign places, and have sighed with relief or even a little bit of hesitation and thought “Thank God, I don’t look like that.”

Do you need more of a description? If I said fanny pack, would that help? Yes, it is the slightly overweight, shorts, sneaker and brightly colored shirt -wearing, camera and guide book -toting, and for the worst of sinners, fanny packing -sporting tourist. Thus you understand the chasm that exists between those of us who seek to transform and enhance ourselves through a foreign culture and those who prefer to, knowingly or not, stand in stark opposition to it.

But here is where I will defend the tourist. What type of person is more enthusiastic, more inquisitive, more energetic than a tourist? It is the one role that people don that reawakens our child- like instincts. Tourists are easily amused by everything: a stop sign in a different language, a cow statue wearing a beret, a supersized, plastic Dutch shoe that you can climb into. Stop to observe a tourist at any given moment and just see what they photograph; you’ll get the idea.

Industries have been built on this notion; the world’s largest or smallest anything will attract visitors. Not to mention replicas- replicas of people, places or things are sure to have a following. Take as an example the world’s largest peanut monument or America’s smallest churches. Roadside America also features a variety of Stonehenge replicas.* Everything is interesting again to a tourist. The world is not mundane; it is fascinating.

This is the primary feeling that draws us to travel. We miss seeing the world like we did in our youth. We appreciate being in an environment that can once again easily entertain us. It is not like our normal lives where TV shows have to be increasingly dramatic, movies increasingly high-def and 3-D and video games increasingly hyper real and interactive. The goal of marketing is now to wake us up. They attempt to open our eyes and engage our interests again, and they try to do this by giving us MORE.

We are immune, unconscious to the average world around us. The monotony of our routines has made us sleepwalkers.

But a trip… A trip wakes us up! We rub the sleep from our eyes and put on the clothes of a tourist, and we see the world again.

In this light then, being a tourist really isn’t so bad, is it? My hope is that even “travelers” then retain that part of the tourist within him. Because a traveler, who may spend more time in different cultures than his own, can just as easily fall into a coma of local design; he can find himself somnambulant just as easily in France as in Macon, Georgia.

So this blog is my toast to tourism, to keeping our eyes open wherever we are, to exploring whichever city we inhabit or visit, to noticing the odd, interesting, off-kilter things in our own world as in others, and to staying awake for life. Here is to being a perpetual tourist, and this is a blog about how.

*http://www.roadsideamerica.com/


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