Skip to main content


Locked down but not out in Italy

Singing from the balconies! One nice thing about this crisis ... solidarity! “Guess you’re not living like a tourist anymore,” was the funny, truthful and somewhat gut-wrenching message of a friend the day the lockdown in Italy began. Today is day 6. My beloved Italia has been hit hard with the COVID19 epidemic. With the second largest elderly population in the world, the epidemic has meant a disproportionate amount of deaths in the country. So though I haven’t been worried about contracting it myself, this isn’t about me or someone like me who, if contracted it would probably have a sucky couple of weeks and then recover. It is about if someone like me contracted it and then spread it to a person with a complicated health history or an elderly person with a weakened immune system. Eerily orderly: Lines for the grocery store, each person one meter apart In a country with no concept (and no physical room really) for personal space, and in a city with reproachable hygie


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.