Reading about the birth of mass tourism during the depression was incredibly fascinating, especially the part about the start of paid vacations. We had an interesting discussion in class about how paid vacations weren’t even on the radar of unionized workers (who were fighting for higher pay, protection, etc) and how absurd it is that paid vacations are so standard to us now. What I find absurd is how much Americans currently work in comparison to the rest of Europe; we have less paid vacations, work more hours each week, and so on. In contrast to the union workers of the Depression, paid vacations are often foremost on our minds. Many of my friends and peers muse about moving to Europe after college to be able to live a life free of the American work-mania. But it seems almost as if the desire to have time off has reverted back to its Depression-era priorities, or similar; it is possible to get a job with weeks and weeks of paid vacation in America, if you’re lucky and/or hardworking. That isn’t exclusive to Europe. But it is nearly impossible to avoid the long days and long weeks of the American workforce if you aren’t working in Europe or living check to check etc. The priority seems to have shifted from leisurely travel back to wanting time to do “life” activities – in other words, live a life outside of one’s work.
This is far from exactly the same desires of the Depression era workers. But it is a desire to have a life AND a job, rather than just a job. It is a shift in lifestyle rather than a shift in how one spends one’s leisure time. And this shows: the travel industry is suffering, white-collar workers are having a huge number more clinically recognized mental health problems, and so on. So as we distance ourselves from the constructed, hyped travel-all-the-time-get-all-your-relaxing-done-in-one-week desires, we’ve been re-realizing how nice it would be to have a life and a job, rather than a job with a week of life once a year. It makes me wonder how American work habits would be different, and how the infrastructure of America would be different, and even how the mentalities and priorities of Americans would be different, if the travel habit hadn’t been pushed and successfully promoted. (Despite my love of driving, America, diners, the road, travel, photography, and so on, I think it might be a little better. A little more relaxed, a little less obsessed with money, a little more home and family focused.)
Anderson’s Hungry Men is so much like the other readings we’ve had this term that I turned to the present to find some sort of connection. The scenes of train riding reminded me of a film that came out this summer, and now DVD called Sin Nombre. The story is about a young girl’s exodus from Honduras with her family, and the hardships of life on the road. She must ride a freight train much like those in all our readings, and must endure robberies from gangs and boarder patrol agents. The plight of the illegal immigrant is very relevant to the traveling tales of the bums from the American depression. Not only are they down and out, but they must deal with constantly being looked down upon as inferiors with no means of picking themselves up. They are taken advantage of from all angles, from law enforcement and punks. In the movie, our heroine ends up making friends with an ex-gang member, who soon becomes her sole companion. As the movie shows, it’s hard to invest your trust or love in those that you’re on the bum with, because you never know when your course will have to differ from theirs. It is such a highly individual journey, to take flight while hiding, that it makes for some gripping cinema. The film also shows a lot about Mexican gang life, particularly in the MS13. The gangs take advantage of the travelers, much like how Acel must keep a close eye on his companions in Hungry Men. Sin Nombre is a fantastic watch—both in it’s relation to the 1930’s time of travel and in it’s modern day context as a tale of struggle and perseverance.
The other day I was talking to a boy in Sigma Phi Epsilon and he told me that they went on a weekend retreat to Connecticut. Now, I live in Connecticut and don't see it as the perfect retreat place. Sure, if you want to hang out in sketchy New Haven or creepy Bridgeport, or hang out in the woods in the middle of nowhere, or hang out with the rich people in Greenwich. Living in Connecticut, I just don't see it as a vacation spot. So when deciding what WPA guide to read for this blog entry, I picked the one on New England particularly because it included parts of my home state, Connecticut.
What I really found interesting about the WPA guides as a whole was the tone. For instance, the New England one is quite dramatic and begins with "serene old cities, quiet elm-shaded villages, rocky coasts, sandy beaches, friendly wooded mountains, crystal lakes and streams - everywhere you will be greeted with New England's warm hospitality." While I don't deny that Connecticut and New England in general have lakes and streams and old cities, the description on this was highly exaggerated. Connecticut definitely has a air of history surrounding it, being one of the 13 original colonies, but it is definitely overplayed in these guides. While Connecticut is pretty during the autumn season, it isn't as spectacular as the WPA guides are making it out to be. Though, one must look at the WPA guides as a marketing tool and it is very effective marketing. The language and the sense of happiness and peace one gets from reading these guides would make you want to travel.
I also found it interesting how they promoted each particular town and city within Connecticut. Westport, for instance, is made out to be this writers town where boatmen used to stay. New Haven, on the other hand, is portrayed as this amazing city, home to the prestigious Yale University and having a fantastic green that the city is placed around. For the record, today, New Haven isn't so nice and one should really only stay on the Yale campus. Fairfield is a quiet village with a green, facing the tavern where George Washington spent the night once. Old Lyme "slumbers beneath a towering white church spire." While I can see the affect of this writing on people who have never been to Connecticut, for someone who lives there Connecticut might not be so great. Though I have a modern perspective in this whole thing, and Connecticut has changed a lot over the last 80 years with urban sprawl and urbanization, the descriptions in the guides are far too dramatic and unrealistic to me.
When one is travelling, identity is something to be examined. In The Sheltering Sky, it is said of Port, “Whenever he was en route from one place to another, he was able to look at his life with a little more objectivity than usual. It was often on trips that he thought most clearly, and made decisions that he could not reach when he was stationary,” (98).
Bowle’s ideas about identity might be summed up nicely by Port’s exclamation that “I don’t have to justify my existence by any such primitive means. The fact that I breathe is my justification. If humanity doesn’t consider that justification, it can do what it likes to me. I’m not going to carry a passport to existence around with me, to prove I have the right to be here! I’m here! I’m in the world! But my world’s not humanity’s world. It’s the world as I see it,” (88). This is a very existentialist view on identity. “Existentialism believes that self-identity, in every case is a matter of choice. Jean Paul Sartre believed that there were no set standards for self-identity, either for individuals or for people in general. There is no such thing as "human nature" and what we are-and what it means to be a human being-are always matters of decision. There is no correct choice, there are only choices,” (Solomon). Port seems to hold the belief that self-identity is a choice.
In The Sheltering Sky, there is a loss of identity. This begins very literally with the loss of Port’s passport. At first Port is upset. He says, “ever since I discovered my passport was gone, I’ve felt only half alive. But it’s a very depressing thing in a place like this to have no proof of who you are, you know,” (154). Later on he decides that “it rather suited his fancy to be going off with no proof of his identity to a hidden desert town about which no one could tell him anything,” (163). Eventually Port loses his identity altogether by dying and therefore surrendering to nothingness. This could be seen as a choice, considering that he did not get vaccinated against any diseases. Port seems to be attracted to the unknown (“the abyss”) and in the end surrenders to it, losing himself.
After Port’s death, Kit also suffers an identity loss. She also appears to make a conscious choice to lose herself when she leaves Port’s dead body and walks into the desert. Her views also switch from superstitious to a more existentialist outlook; “instead of feeling the omens, she now would make them, be them herself. But she was only faintly astonished at her discovery of this further possibility in existence,” (263). In the desert, Kit eventually loses her identity. “She had no feeling of being anywhere, of being anyone,” (294). Kit’s loss of identity isn’t synonymous with death as it was with Port, but rather becoming “savage.” One can conclude this from Miss Ferry’s reaction to Kit in the end of the book. She says of Kit’s clothes (which were more like the native’s) that “her own cleaning woman, bought better looking ones in the Jewish quarter,” (309). Miss Ferry concludes about Kit that, “My God, the woman’s nuts!” (312).
The Sheltering Sky takes on a very existentialist approach to the idea of identity, and shows the loss of identity through its main characters. Port chooses to cease existing by giving in to death and Kit chooses to stop existing by disregarding society and becoming “savage” or “uncivilized.”
In an interview Shirley Hazzard says in regards to criticism: ““Max Beerbohm said, when a very old man, "They explain because they can't understand." We're getting shorter and shorter on understanding. Not to generalize too much, but one still goes to Europe for that, for ready understanding, not having to explain. A relief, don't you think? You meet a person, you don't have to explain everything. And they don't look at you with that sort of assiduity, that concentration, as if to say "Well, what on earth does this mean?" Too much explication deadens the intuitions, deadens some shade of irony, perhaps; some sense of the absurdity of life.” (A Conversation with Shirley Hazzard)
Perhaps, this is what Evening of the Holiday is all about – and I’ll try not to explain this to the point of deadening the intuitions – but it seems as if Sophie’s love affair with Trancredi is so meaningful because it’s never fully realized. In their relationship, there was never a need to explain and even in the end, Hazzard leaves one with unanswered questions about Sophie and Tandredi – their intentions, the way the relationship ended, the authenticity of their feelings toward each other, its importance to both characters.
Even from the beginning, Tandcredi and Sophie are mysterious and unexplained to each other. When they meet for coffee it is said that “it was the most natural thing in the world that they should sit there without speaking, making no attempt to discover one another,” (33), suggesting that they want to remain mysterious to each other. Hazzard also continually gives us both Tancredi and Sophie’s points of view, displaying to the reader the misunderstandings between the two. On their first drive to the country, Tancredi finds Sophie “cold and unaccountable,” (44) while Sophie is thinking “It isn’t that I am unapproachable; it is the circumstances,” (44).
Throughout the relationship there is always an air of mystery and confusion. And at the end of the relationship, Tancredi and Sophie seem to be left without closure and explanation. Soiphie proclaims out of the blue to Tancredi that she’s leaving soon. Then when she comes back for Luisa’s funeral and stands by Tancredi’s car without encountering him. Luisa talks about how we all long that kind of mystery without explanation: “’...sometimes experience is like that, and that it matters to have committed to yourself at one moment, even at great cost and disorder, and to now that you have that capacity. We can’t be orderly all the time without becoming bores,’” (114). This suggests that experiences that cannot be completely explained in an orderly way are in a way more significant; or at the very least necessary in order not to become “bores.” It almost makes Tancredi and Sophie’s affair inevitable – adding to the kind of mystical mood.
This idea of the unexplained in Sophie and Tancredi’s relationship is further shown by their misunderstandings Sophie “always wanting to go home,” (43) and has “the solitary pang of the expatriate,” (42). Tancredi never feels as if Sophie is ever fully experiencing the situation. Tancredi says she is “following the score instead of listening to the music..” (53). Tancredi likewise can’t understand Sophie or her culture. “His forthright Italian sensuality found her behavior neurotic an absurd,” (59).
Hazzard says that one goes to Europe so one does not have to explain everything. This seems to be why Sophie retreats to Italy – for a break, a “holiday.” Because there’s a certain mystery about being in a new place, like “a traveller who stands one morning on the deck of a ship in a strange harbor, stuyding the country where she is to live; who wonders which of these grouped houses is to grow familiar, which of these streets most travelled, whether those parks, so attractive in the early sunshine, will become perhaps sinister by night,” (59).
None of the natives do ask Sophie to explain. This can be seen in the way she interacts with the natives. During the festival she observes them from afar and “from time to time someone, glancing upward, stared curiously at an unexpected detail – the foreign-looking woman in print dress, sunglasses, and sandals, her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands – on the otherwise deserted steps of the baptistery. The curiosity, however was brief; the crowd, engrossed, had no real interest in her judgment,” (60). Also, the family on the farmland that Tancredi owns also does not ask the two of them to explain their relationship.
In the same way one can never fully grasp a place one travels to, one can also never fully understand any love affair. One can ponder it forever and never really be able to explain it completely. Perhaps, that’s the point.
After reading Lorena Hickok's One Third of A Nation, I began thinking about who these people really are and whether or not they should actually be traveling during this time. Hickok described the men, women, children and families as "individuals. People, with voices, faces, eyes. People with hope. People without hope. People still fighting. People with all courage squeezed out of them. People with stories."
The first thing that really struck me was how many different places the author of this place mentioned - West Virginia, New York, Nebraska, California, Ohio and many more. Not only do the people of this time have their own traveling experience, but the author has one as well. Traveling and actually meeting these people allows for a deeper insight and understanding of their lives and more realistic ability to portray them in writings and reports.
What I found most interesting about the piece was the criticism of the relief effort in New York City. While it is surely an admirable effort that the city was undertaking at the time, it seemed to not be wholly effective. Hickok wrote, "the city of New York...is struggling today with the biggest community relief job on earth...these are skating along on thin ice, barely existing, undernourished, in rags, constantly threatened with eviction from their homes". New York City was not prepared to undertake this massive relief effort during the depression. The report went on to explain that people would wait hours in line for an interview with a potential employer, until to have the job given to someone else based simply on "need". But everyone was needy. The city simply didn't have the funds to help out all of these people, no matter how much they actually wanted to. It just wasn't possible. New York was "dazed, only half awake to the situation."
Furthermore, one particular part of the piece described Florida as being a prosperous place, somewhere the unemployed could potentially travel to for employment. "Everything right now is going full speed in Florida - tourists, truck gardening, citrus...there are 6,800 on CWA and 10,000 registered for reemployment. And yet they talk about not being able to get labor!" So the question ultimately remains - what do you do? Do you travel down to someplace like Florida, or do you stay in New York? Is it better to travel or not travel in this situation? I think it ultimately comes down to chance. An unemployed person in the 1930's could either stay in New York and hope for federal relief to come his or her way or they could take a chance and go down to the South and attempt to find work. Clearly many Americans chose to uproot their families and travel, but were they as successful or as lucky as though who stayed in the cities and collected federal relief? What would you do?
In travel, authenticity is something that most people desire. They want their experience abroad to be “authentic”; whatever that may mean. In The Sun Also Rises, the theme of authenticity is certainly evident in the characters and their actions.
Authenticity is brought up by Bill when he tells Jake that "You're an expatriate. Why don't you live in New York? ... Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers. ... You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes." (120) He mentions “fake European standards” and suggests that Jake is an inauthentic writer because he has lost touch with his roots. By living as an expatriate, Jake is somehow not being truly authentic. It seems that Hemingway felt that many expatriates were inauthentic.
In the article “Hemingway among the Bohemians: A Generational Reading of The Sun Also Rises”, Soto tells of Hemingway’s opinion on fellow bohemians in Paris: “The bohemians to whom Hemingway refers in the article, "the scum of Greenwich Village ... skimmed off and deposited in large ladlesful on that section of Paris adjacent to the Cafe Rotonde" (BL [By-Line] 23)… they have become precious, ruined by fake European standards; because they spend their time talking, not working. "You can find anything you are looking for at the Rotonde-except serious artists," reports Hemingway. Visitors to the Latin Quarter, he continues, do not encounter "the real artists of Paris"; instead, they find "loafers expending the energy that an artist puts into his creative work in talking about what they are going to do and condemning the work of all artists who have gained any degree of recognition. By talking about art they obtain the same satisfaction that the real artist does in his work" (24-25).” The characters in The Sun Also Rises seem to fit this stereotype: they hang out in cafes, drink, talk, and don’t write although many of them are supposedly writers. The characters' fakeness is shown throughout the novel. For instance, when Jake introduces Georgette as his fiancée, the singer Georgette Leblanc, there is an idea of fakery and pretense. Brett’s hat serves as a disguise – suggesting she is not really herself. “To take off her hat would mean self-revelation and vulnerability, which frighten Brett. Whenever she is nervous in the crowd, she pulls her hat down farther over her face, indicating her fear of exposure.” (Brett Ashley: The Beauty of It All)
Robert Cohen is hated by Jake (and the other characters, for that matter), not because he is Jewish, but ultimately because Jake views him as inauthentic. “According to the logic of The Sun Also Rises, one is either a bohemian who writes (authentic) or a would-be writer who dabbles in bohemianism (inauthentic).” (Hemingway among the Bohemians: A Generational Reading of The Sun Also Rises) Cohen is the latter; he only arrives at his ideas from other authors.
Pedro Romero is the opposite of the extradite characters – he is completely authentic. In his bullfighting, he is the only bullfighter who does not use tricks. “Romero is not a phony imitation of himself, and he does not use trickery: "Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves like corkscrews ... to give a faked look of danger" (167-68),” (Brett Ashley: The Beauty of It All). Romero is also cautious of talking in English, for he views it as inauthentic and says that the people wouldn’t like it.
Jake is seen as more authentic than his other “bohemian” friends by the hotel owner because he is an aficionado. “Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights. ... Somehow it was taken for granted that an American could not have aficion. He might simulate it or confuse it with excitement, but he could not really have it. When they saw that I had aficion, and there was no password, no set questions that could bring it out, rather it was a sort of oral spiritual examination with the questions always a little on the defensive and never apparent, there was this same embarrassed putting the hand on the shoulder, or a 'Buen hombre: But nearly always there was the actual touching. It seemed as though they wanted to touch you to make it certain,” (132). The bullfighting is the one authentic action in the book. It is “real” whereas everything else is seen as “surreal.” Jake describes the fiesta as “a wonderful nightmare,” (222).
The authenticity of the novel itself can also be brought up since the novel is based on “truth.” In “Hemingway among the Bohemians: A Generational Reading of The Sun Also Rises”, it is said that “the relationship between Hemingway's novels and his "true" experiences, as well as between his fictional characters and actual persons, has been a recurring theme of Hemingway criticism. Virtually all bohemian fiction tends more toward the confessional than the merely journalistic; the genre lives up to Emerson's prophesy (later deployed as the epigraph to Henry Miller's first bohemian novel) that "novels will give way, by and by, to diaries or autobiographies-captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls his experience that which is really experience, and how to record the truth truly."” This makes The Sun Also Rises more authentic because it is more of a diary than a novel. Then again, one must wonder how much of what Hemingway “calls his experience” is really authentic and if he indeed did “record the truth truly.”