It had been a great two weeks, traipsing around Eastern Europe with my three closest friends. It has been the trip we all needed, we needed that break from the intense, overwhelming enclosed space that was Nativ. To be perfectly honest, most of what I needed was just a break from Israel. The first part of the year there had been great, meeting people, perfecting my Hebrew, and truly enjoying myself. But there were also negatives, never being alone, the rudeness of so many of the locals, the schoolwork, and the drama… needless to say, we were all ready for a break. We started off strong in Vienna, loving our hostel, trying every beer, seeing every museum, walking everywhere, then came Prague where we just sat all day and enjoyed the break. We ended in Berlin, a crazy whirlwind of a city. Full of life, but also so full of difficult historical memories. We saw every holocaust site, reminded of our own experiences through Poland and the struggle of our ancestors. We spoke at great length about reconciling our joyride of a traveling experience along with the pain we were supposed to feel being in Germany.
Along with the difficult emotional ties to our trip, there were also just the strains of living together. While two of my friends were roommates and I had roomed with both of them on separate occasions, the most difficult experience of all was living with the boy in our group. While he is one of our closest friends, three girls and one boy is a difficult living situation. There was one day in Berlin when he went off on his own, because none of us wanted to go to the museum he wanted to. Plus, he snored like crazy. So there we were, saying goodbye to our two-week vacation in our freezing cold paradise. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to Israel, I felt ready to be home, in California, in a comfortable place, away from all the drama and sheer mass amount of people that I had to see when I got back. I just wanted to be back in my isolated world at home.
We boarded the plane and started to mentally prepare ourselves for what was waiting for us back in Israel. The ride went pretty quickly, I can’t remember what we talked about, but it doesn’t really matter. We were just keen on savoring our last few moments to be only us. When we touched down in Tel-Aviv, we were all just ready to be sleeping, but something changed for me when we were on the highway back into Jerusalem, I saw the signs and the lights, and something changed within me. I truly felt like I was returning home, and even to this day, I still consider myself a partial resident of Israel. It was in that moment that I for once felt completely at ease to be returning to Israel. I guess it was something I had always known, but never let myself say or feel before. I was truly home.
Upon re-reading The Comfort of Strangers, it seems like the characters should have known all along that they were treading a dangerous path, there are only clues that the characters choose not to recognize. Even while the protagonists are in the clutches of the odd and slightly unsettling locals, Robert and Caroline, neither Mary nor Colin truly comprehend what danger they are in. Neither of them have experienced the epiphany, the moment when they realize that something in their current situation is not normal and should be revisited and reconsidered. It is only after their blissful, almost drugged, few days together that it registers in Mary’s head exactly who they’re dealing with, and even then, she was only at the beginning of understanding the danger they were in.
Mary seems to awake out of a haze, “with a shout and sat upright in bed” (The Comfort of Strangers, 85). And as with any common epiphany, the sensory imagery fits the mood, “the first light of day was penetrating the shutters” (The Comfort of Strangers, 85). The epiphany struck Mary as the “first light” was able to pass through the shutters, the very tool used to shut out the light. An epiphany is often compared to coming out of the dark into a realization, Mary literally did come out of the dark into her epiphany. She was sleeping, in a dark room, and it was only when she realized exactly what she had been neglecting, did the light begin to enter. It was as if the light bulb that went off in her head was reflected by the scene in her bedroom. The first light is also especially significant because the “first light”, could also be the first part of the epiphany. She does not fully come to terms with what her discovery means, but the light does begin to shine and it begins to dawn upon her, pun intended, exactly what had been going on. In this way, Ian McEwan makes especially clear that this was an epiphany, and is to be taken seriously. However, Colin doesn’t get the memo, and is unable to stay awake through Mary’s realization. Something finally clicks in Mary’s head, and she realizes that “the photograph at Robert’s is of [Colin]”, (The Comfort of Strangers, 87). After Mary shares her epiphany, it is as if she never said anything. Colin falls asleep during her revelation, and they proceed as business as usual.
Mary’s epiphany is her realizing something she knew all along. Mary saw the picture of Colin the first time she was at Caroline and Robert’s house, however she wasn’t ready to comprehend what it was she was seeing. It wasn’t until she opened her mind, did she realize exactly what she had known all along. It was Colin in the photo, and perhaps Robert and Caroline were not who they seemed to be. Mary could not come to the epiphany until she had experienced something. Perhaps it just took time, or maybe it was the complete joy she had lived in with Colin in the previous four days. Either way, Mary was not ready to understand the danger of Caroline and Robert until her epiphany. It seems as though the illumination came out of nowhere, but really it was in her mind the second she saw the picture. It just took time and the experience of something different for Mary to truly understand just what she knew all along. Although Mary’s epiphany did not save Colin or herself from the horrific end of their vacation, it still gave her something she would not have had without it.
Travel essays used to be about foreign lands and crazy experiences that seemed far-fetched and exotic. However, just as Gabriel quotes Blanton in “Back to the unfamiliar; The Travel Writings of Murakami Haruki”, travel writing today is “post-tourism travel writing”, things are no longer written in order to inspire travel. Instead today, travel novels are meant either as collections of anecdotes, such as the books by Bill Bryson are, or as social commentary about either the society of the traveler or the new location. The fanciful, sugarcoated, awe-inspiring imagery of travel fiction is long gone. Murakami embodies this new style of travel writing in his: “concern for memory, a nostalgic sense of loss, as well as a foregrounding of the limits of knowledge and representation”.
In Sputnik Sweetheart, “K”, narrates the entire book from a place of nostalgia and wistfulness. He introduces the readers to Sumire, a character who, from an early age, experienced loss at an early age. She dedicates her life to being a writer, a profession that reduced to its most simple level, is a recording of memory and imagination. All these themes are part of what Gabriel deems to be the new foci of travel writing. He also claims “Murakami’s writing follows a repeated pattern, a path outwards that in the final analysis spirals inwards…attempt to confront the exotic and unfamiliar that ends up obsessed with the familiar.” This perfectly describes the journey that Sumire undergoes throughout Sputnik Sweetheart.
Sumire is searching for something beyond what she already knows. She is of Korean descent growing up in Japan. She seems to be searching for something larger than what she has, and then she finds Miu. Miu is new and completely unfamiliar territory. Not only has Sumier never been in love before, but also initially she is just shocked that she is in love with a woman, as that was not the direction she was expecting. Sumire begins to truly embrace the unfamiliar as she lets herself be dressed, groomed, and influenced by Miu, until Sumire is something completely unfamiliar to the reader. Sumire is continually assessing herself and the relationship she establishes with Miu, and once she and Miu journey to Greece, she “attempt[s] to confront the exotic and unfamiliar”, and finally admits her feelings to Miu. There, in a completely foreign and unwelcoming place, Samire ends up “obsessed with the familiar” once again. Not only does it seems she is back in Japan for good, but on a deeper level, once again Sumire has become obsessed with a woman who cannot be anything more than a memory to her. Sumire put her mother’s memory on a pedestal, and by the end of the novel, Miu is alongside Sumire’s mother on the pedestal. Both memories to be worshipped and obsessed over, and it seems that Sumire’s venture into the unknown turned out to be a bit more familiar than she may have realized.
“It is our first holiday together. It feels fresh. We should have done this long ago, we should have done this before we started fighting, before everything fell apart. Now I know why there are so many holidays in the west” (A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, 221)
Vacations can be rejuvenating, on a personal level and for relationships without loved ones. Family vacations can, if they go according to plan, give us memories that we treasure for years. Going away with friends can help to make you closer than ever, and taking a vacation with your partner can help you to forget some of the fights and create better memories, at least that’s what Zhuang hopes for. She brings up a valid point, why do we in the west believe that everything can be fixed by a change of location or an escape from reality? Why does it work? Zhuang and her lover go away for a holiday and suddenly they are once again at peace in their relationship. It’s interesting to note how we really do value the vacation in western society, so much so it’s become a necessary tenet to a keeping a relationship going. It also brings up the question of why is it us in the west? What is it about our culture that makes us believe that if you relocate the issue it goes away?
Zhuang also continually draws out the differences between the east and the west. Even in an era where globalization is threatening to destroy all the differences left between the world cultures, perhaps the answer lies in the differences in attitudes of Zhuang and her lover. Zhuang was raised with the need “to struggle get everything... If no need struggle then we don't know how to live anymore." (A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers). This was Zhuang’s response to the idea of heaven. This greatly disturbed her lover, for he doesn’t ascribe to the same way of life. Once again it’s a cultural difference. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is not only the diary of a Chinese girl trying to find her way, but also a journal of all the cultural differences between the east and west. Not only does Zhuang travel all around Europe, but also just navigating daily life in the west became a form of travel. Learning what words to use and which to avoid: where to shop, what is socially acceptable, learning about all the customs we don’t even think about anymore. Just learning the ways of a new land translate to a way of travel that is often neglected. The travel through what we would believe to be the expected. Zhuang takes us on her journey through the western world and helps to shine the light on aspects of our society that maybe aren’t so positive. Such as the necessity for travel to repair relationships. It is through Zhuang that we become tourists in our own culture, as well as get a brief window into hers. The Eastern/Western worlds clash and contrast to show the positives and negatives of the world we live in today.
The desire to travel is a relentless longing, just when you think you’re finally safe, you’re dragged back into that listlessness that comes from sitting still for too long. Ibn Fattouma is the ultimate example of the unfulfilled traveler. As soon as he establishes roots, he uproots himself in search of an unspecified apparently utopian place. Where is this utopia of Gebel? No one has ever heard of anyone who has been there or who has returned. Could it be that Gebel is just a symbol of Ibn Fattouma’s chronic dissatisfaction? He finds himself making a home in the land of Mashriq with his wife Arousa and his sons, when he is arrested for his religious beliefs. While this seems to have nothing to do with his dissatisfaction, upon his arrest Fam consoles him saying, “you must know that a traveler should not strive after a permanent relationship,” (The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, 49). While this seems completely unrelated it furthers what the reader already knows about Ibn Fattouma, he is never going to find a permanent place anywhere, he is unable to hold onto “permanent relationships” and always will be. The cycle continues in the land of Halba. Ibn Fattouma once again attempts to have a family and a typical life, however once again he sabotages himself with his own selfish desire to travel.
“The hidden desire to undertake the journey awoke in splendor, springing to the fore and searching out the morrow with firm and unrelenting resolve,” (The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, 110). While Ibn Fattouma seems upset to say goodbye to his wife and soon to be born child, he still goes. Once again after he leaves another country breaks into war. However for the second time, Ibn Fattouma does nothing in the way of returning to his settled lifestyle to find his family. This unattainable concept of Gebel keeps him pressing forward, forgetting all that he claimed to hold dear.
This idea of Gebel, this far away land, is never truly realized. The reader does not know whether or not Ibn Fattouma truly makes it. The reader barely knows anything about the land of Gebel in general. The point is not to know anything about it. The point of Gebel is to remain as an untouchable, unreachable location, this way Ibn Fattouma always has an excuse to keep sojourning on and leaving the typical lifestyle he attemps to set up. The idea of Gebel is present in our daily life as well. That far off, unattainable place that we would love to go, but know we’ll never truly get to. Some might call it paradise, some might call it relaxation, and either way that unattainable goal is what keeps travelers from fully settling in and becoming a part of the masses. Ibn Fattouma is traveling to Gebel, but more important than attaining Gebel, as we see by the ambivalence of the ending, is that he is traveling. Gebel is merely another name for the inaccessible that all try to reach; it is the impetus to travel that true explorers can never satisfy.
In “The Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences”, an important point is raised about traveling. Sometimes the most basic aspect of traveling is the one which we truly forget about. We must remember, “tourism is a recreational activity”, this is the initial point that Cohen makes. Many travelers in the most recent novels we’ve read have forgotten that aspect of travel, Port- from The Sheltering Sky- searches desperately for meaning in his travels, all the stress that he creates surrounding travel begs the question, are you having any fun? While the secondary effect of travel can mean learning things about others or ourselves on our trips, the point is to enjoy ourselves. It “only remains functional so long as it does not become central to the individual’s life-plan and aspirations”, (“A Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences, Cohen), a lesson we all too quickly forget. Herein this quote we can see Port’s downfall. He centered his entire life on travel and waited in each place expecting inspiration to come to him instead of just enjoying where he was for the time he was there.
For all the criticism she may receive, Daisy Miller- in Daisy Miller- took advantage of tourism as a recreational activity. Putting aside the “types of tourists” that Cohen describes, simply having the recreational aspect of tourism as a given, Daisy Miller truly takes advantage of it. It is made clear by the context of the Grand tour that this trip isn’t forever, but just a visit. Therefore, the idea of travel is not central to her whole life. For Daisy Miller, the desire to travel was still “functional”, and had not yet become her sole mission in life. There was still the idea of transience the idea that she wouldn’t be staying in Europe forever.
The similar fates of Daisy Miller and Port prove that there is not just one type of tourist. Cohen tempers both Boorstin and MacCannell by claiming that there is not just one type of tourist. Instead of only the superficial tourist, like Daisy Miller, or only the tourist on the search for authenticity- who would most likely call himself a traveler- they both exist. This can be further seen in the fact that both characters die in the end of their respective novels. We can then see the similarities between two characters with very different travel styles that share the same unfortunate fate. Neither is immune to disease and both perish at the hands of a country they were merely visiting. Cohen argues that MacCannell and Boorstin are stuck in their sole perception of the tourist and are unable to see the other idea as a possibility. We’ve encountered many different types of tourists in our texts, which fit the 5 categories that Cohen discusses, but no characters are more opposite than Daisy Miller and Port. Daisy pursues all that is fleeting, love with a local, fun, and could not care less for fitting in or convention. Port is desperate to fit in every place he goes, although he continually misses the mark. Both, however, are tourists.
The role of the woman is addressed often in Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers. Mary and Colin are both forward thinking individuals and Mary clearly has a strong idea of how women should be treated. The first instance we see a tension between the different views regarding women is when Colin and Mary happen upon posters announcing punishments for crimes, (The Comfort of Strangers 23-24). Mary has clear convictions in the severity of the crime, while Colin has his doubts. The punishment for rape is castration, which highlights the almost violent gender struggle in the novella.
While this is the first time the gender struggle is referred to in the text, in the beginning of the book there is a quote from Adrienne Rich, “ How we dwelt in two worlds, the daughters of the mothers in the kingdom of the sons”. I thought this was kind of weird when I first read it before reading the novel, but afterwards it seemed topical. Adrienne Rich is a famously, feminist author and poet, focusing on women’s liberation. She seems to be somewhat a model for Mary’s character, taking a strong stance for women’s rights. Mary even worked for an all female theatre troupe. It’s interesting to see Mary in contrast with Caroline as they serve opposite roles. Caroline is the typical, docile housewife, willing to do anything for her husband, even be brutally beaten. Mary, however, is forging her own path, “insist[ing] in response to repeated questions, that it had never been her intention to marry Colin,” (124); she raises her two kids without being married to her husband. When Caroline and Mary were in brief dialogue about gender roles in theater, Caroline so simply dismisses the idea of an all female cast being interesting. She believes they characters, just as she, are “probably waiting for a man,” (67). Caroline is the picture perfect, just baked a pie version of a wife. Mary is the independent woman disregarding the typical path.
The typical female stereotype is challenged in the twisted, surprising, end to the novella. Initially, it seems that Mary is in danger; she’s been drugged and is alone with a clearly demented woman. If the novel played into the stereotypical gender roles, Mary would have been the one to be violated and ultimately destroyed. However it is Colin that is taken advantage of and violently disposed of and Mary who is left to grieve over his absence.
In Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice, the main character Gustave von Aschenbach is smitten with an adolescent boy Tadzio. More than once in the novel, after seeing Tadzio, Aschenbach rants to someone named Phaedrus. I was unfamiliar with that name, so I looked into who exactly he is and how he might lend some insight into Aschenbach, Tadzio, and their complicated relationship.
Phaedrus was a character in several of Socrates’ dialogues, written by Plato. Most notably, Phaedrus had a conversation with Socrates regarding the subject of love. They both give their own interpretations of what is love and what the course of action should be once under the spell of love. Socrates refers to the madness of love as a gift from the gods that must be celebrated. The example he uses to be the representation of true beauty is a boy that is being pursued by a, clearly older, lover. It’s no accident that Aschenbach chooses to use this analogy, not only is the pursuit of an adolescent accepted in this discussion, but on top of that the madness that comes with love is celebrated and accepted. Aschenbach engages in completely mad behavior due to his obsession with Tadzio, “he paused by his beloved’s chamber door in the second storey… remained there long, in utter drunkenness, powerless to tear himself away, blind to the danger of being caught in so mad an attitude,” (Death in Venice, Thomas Mann). Aschenbach has been driven crazy by Tadzio, but instead of castigating himself, he harkens back to a conversation written by one of the greatest, classical philosophers that approves and encourages his illogical behavior. Socrates claims that some of the best things in life flow from madness. And madness is what Aschenbach embodies. In his monologue/dream, he states, “since knowledge might destroy us, we will have none of it… our concern shall be with beauty only,” (Death in Venice, Thomas Mann). And with these words Aschenbach practices exactly what he preaches. He fully embraces his madness, throws caution to the wind and dives into his weird, most likely pedophilic relationship.
So Phaedrus is the perfect allusion for Mann to use in this story, it gives Aschenbach a credible source that approves of his indulgence in this behavior. It also fits with the way Tadzio’s body is always described, he was as “beautiful as a tender young god”, (Death in Venice, Thomas Mann). Not only does the content of the story of Phaedrus apply to the novel, but also the allusions to Greek mythology and culture that are woven throughout the novel further draw attention to the implied acceptance of Aschenbach’s madness. Aschenbach is truly crazy in love.
The inevitability of arriving, the inevitability of being. These are the things that Dean and Sal confront daily, they’re on a quest, while it’s not exactly clear what they’re truly looking for, they know they’ll get there. There’s a freeing feeling in knowing that no matter how you get there, you’ll get there. There may be snags in the plan, you may end up running for your life, breaking hearts, feeling lost and disappointing everyone. But you will get there. Everyone “worries, [they count] the miles… thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there—and all the time they’ll get there anyway”. (On the Road, Kerouac) Everyone worries about the journey, it’s been said so many times that life is about the journey, not the destination. But the element that people forget, the destination still exists. It doesn’t matter if you get completely lost on the way, you will find your way. On the Road is a whole novel written about the journey, and yet buried in the coming of age, even though you think they already would have come of age by now, story is the simple wisdom that none of it matters. It doesn’t matter how you get to your destination, the point is that you will. When looking back upon Sal’s journey, the end is not what first comes to mind. The incredible stories that Sal has to tell are what stick with you, so this brings about the question. Is it the journey? Or is it actually the destination? I think it’s both, I think it’s the difference between what is perceived and what is felt. By the end of the novel, we can feel that Sal has grown, has changed, and has healed. But what we would perceive, if we were to interact with him, are the stories he has to share. The stories provide the context for the growth. It is what you go through that makes you who you are, this is a given. So then it is both the journey and the destination. There is the inevitability of arriving at a given destination of growth and change. You cannot have one without the other. It is being on the road that allows for the changes to take place, and yet there is a feeling that Sal would have gotten there anyway. Sal would have healed from his nasty break-up and his unfortunate illness, there is inevitability that time will heal all. And yet it is the being on the road that we attribute Sal’s growth to. So the truth is, Sal got there. Does it matter the journey he was on? Probably, considering it was the point of the whole book… but he got there. And by the end of a novel, just like in life, you find yourself at the end, regardless of how you got there. And you are changed.
“He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly… he claimed, another important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking” –The Sheltering Sky
Port Moresby considers himself a traveler, he belongs nowhere, to no one. He is not only a traveler of the world, but also a traveler of life. He cannot commit to belonging to Kit, he has nowhere to call home, so he is never returning to one place, only bouncing around to anywhere that strikes his fancy. His inability to belong hinders his personal relationships, could it be that his status as a traveler impedes the rest of his life? Is being a traveler an identity, or the lack of one? His morals are flexible; his allegiances to friends and loved ones are transient. Port just moves slowly over time to each new place and approaches it as thought it could be his new home. Kit however wishes to return to New York, eventually. She believes she is not cut out for this traveling lifestyle and will one day find a place to be settled. And yet, interestingly enough, she is the one who proves to be the ultimate traveler. She makes a life for herself in Africa, where Port only makes his own death. While that might seem harsh, it is true. Kit runs away from the tourist location of a hotel, and she makes a home for herself with a native, Belqassim. She marries him, becomes attached to him, and then eventually leaves him. She establishes herself as a part of a native community as a tourist could never do. While she is doing all of this, Port has died and proved unsuccessful at really forming a connection with any place he traveled to.
Port’s desire to be a traveler prevents him from ever forming connections like Kit did. He is unable to become attached to anything, even the people he meets in his travels. He meets people but runs away from any real relationship of any permanence. Kit however has lasting memories both good and scarring that came from her experience in Africa. Port believed one could contrast societies and those that had elements that were less favorable, could be discarded. This also defines Port as a tourist. A traveler would realize that his opinion is not important, and that his responsibility in this situation is to simply observe. Kit, for better or worse, sat back and let things occur without really judging them. In this way, she let herself be more of a traveler, just going with the flow and letting this play out how they would. So in the end, the woman we would expect to be the tourist, proves herself the traveler.