Traveling With Virgin Eyes

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 15 2011 @ 8:00am


Jessa Crispin critiques the way most Americans travel by quoting Andrzej Stasiuk, from his book On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe:

It is good to come to a country you know practically nothing about. Your thoughts grow still, useless. Everything must be rebuilt. In a country you know nothing about, there is no reference point. You struggle to associate colors, smells, dim memories. You live a little like a child, or an animal. Objects and events may bring things to mind, but in the end they remain no more than what they are in fact. They begin only when you experience them, vanish when others follow.

He’s right, though, to add “a country you know practically nothing about.” It’s so easy to discard your daily routine in a country you know from art and film and literature and just pick up one of their storylines. They practically sell them vacuum-packed at duty free, next to the VAT-less booze. The most traveled-to, the most postcard-ready of the European capitals suffer under the weight of so many photographs, so many young people waiting for their transformation. “Observation irons out objects and landscapes,” Stasiuk writes. “Destruction and decline follow. The world gets used up, like an old abraded map, from being seen too much.” 

(Image from James Bridle's, as he describes it is "cartographic navel-gazing, a reframing of the map. It will not help you find anything.")