Departments

Tourism

Expanding the mind is as easy as reading; but enlarging the mind—not supplying it with new facts, or the fact of other perspectives, but opening it out to span them—is a demanding task, best and most easily done by travel, including tourism. Even shepherded tourists gain new perspective on themselves; gain the precious stirrings of what the ancients called cosmopolis—the membership of civilized human beings in, and their first loyalty due to, the community and continuity of civilization and the principle called civility or humanity. Even if a tourist does nothing but add to pictures and names known already all that smell, hearing, touch can carry; even if the tourist only comes away with nothing to remember but a sort of deepened postcard; then even that is well. For what is more bitter, than Browning's on Venice, "I was never out of England; it's as though I'd seen it all?" What is more high-handed and uncompassionate than to condemn those who hope at last to meet what they have long admired? There is nothing wrong with being a tourist, or even with being just a tourist.

A nation of tourists is a healthy and a vigorous nation. Every tourist is improved by each tour; and each community returned to is similarly enlarged, by the presence of a human connection to what before was but a source of pictures and objects. It is not logical; but it is a human truth that these are different things: to know, for example, that Japan exists; to know someone who has been there; and to have been there yourself. Each is an ascent in awareness and belief. For Japan lives in the mind beside Ruritania or Middle Earth until some human proof of it is made; for even in the most credulous there exists a deep doubt that something could exist whole and right yet different—a doubt which we must take dramatic steps to beat down, and can never fully overcome.

Tourism does impose a homogeneity of a sort, a floating country of hotels and restaurants; but its contribution to the world's homogenization, is slight and indirect. Tourists have no vices which business travelers do not cast into shadow. It is one of the only forces—in many places it is the only force—giving value to and protecting not just the particular instantiations, but the general concept, of the individuality of place. What must we think of those who encourage tourism—as if it were rainfall to be channeled—to save this natural wonder, this artificial curiosity, while they avoid disdainfully anything for themselves which might be convicted of the vulgarity of Tourism?

Consider that cities as beautiful as Venice or Prague or New Orleans have not been preserved to us by the pride or taste of their peoples; rather, each is frozen for us at the moment of the collapse of its prosperity. One may fairly suppose that cities just as beautiful as these have been torn down by their own peoples to make way, first for the brick of Progress, then for the glass of Modernity. Now that these cities have in a degree recovered their prosperity, it is their value in tourist dollars, not their people's sentiment or sensibility, that preserves them. For democracies are unsentimental; business is business; and unless sentimental wealth pays better to preserve than to tear down, the man with the sledgehammer sees only so many stones. Tourists with feet and wallets vote for the preservation of the places they visit. They may do, in aggregate, a wearing-down and polluting damage; but in the meantime they hold off ruin.

Rome died, not quickly at the hands of barbarians, but slowly at the hands of Romans. It was Romans who tore down the marble city of Augustus, breaking up pillars to wall their fields, breaking up statues to burn in their lime-kilns. Locals whine about tourists; but of all people, locals care least about their cities and environs. Such is the baseness of our kind that the same people in childhood haunted and inspired by the wonders of a place, in adulthood take a special delight in spurning and spiting them; and when you hear a slogan from an architect it is likely to translate to: "Come, the nest is ours now, let us foul it." It takes tourists—badly dressed, out of shape, gawking, dumbstruck, craning, pointing, peering, murmuring, muttering, exclaiming, picture-snapping tourists—to save the cities from themselves.