The incidental tourist

November 2, 2020

The idea of seeing Europe the way Europeans live there has been a strong organizing principle in my travels, both solo and with Carol. It’s an odd choice, but among my many of choices in life, it doesn’t surprise me. It actually cozily fits my natural incuriosity concerning life. But observing Parisians as they scramble late to work, coffee in one hand, croissant in the other, or watching Florentines running for a bus with a cannoli perched between their lips like a cigar or Romans ordering veal parmesan for lunch, reminds me that ordinary life is ordinary life no matter what the fabled or magnificent backdrop may be. And that’s what evidently fascinates me. I like seeing the late-for-work Parisian not caring about the Eiffel Tower, the cannoli munching Florentine focused only on the bus stop and not a wit about the Domo. Why the Roman ordering veal parmesan for lunch catches my eye is a mystery, except that I like veal parmesan a lot, and thus perhaps suggests a kinship with the glory that was Rome. These pedestrian observations also serve to get me off the hook of standing in line for the elevators at the Eiffel tower and avoiding the lines at the Domo – just like the locals do. I can also justify to Carol ordering veal parmesan for lunch by saying, “When in Rome…” 

It occurs to me that I travel to Europe to see and experience the very things that back home would bore me to death.

But it begs a legitimate question. If I enjoy observing ordinary life, why don’t I show more interest in it at home? Back when I was scrambling off to work, I didn’t care at all that others of my countrymen were doing the same thing. Or that running for a bus might be of interest to anyone but myself. As far as ordering the veal parmesan for lunch at an Olive Garden, why in hell would I even want to go to an Olive Garden for lunch on a work day? How am I supposed to stay awake for the rest of the afternoon afterwards?

It occurs to me that I travel to Europe to see and experience the very things that back home would bore me to death. The conceit, I believe, is that Europeans are living more fulfilling lives than Americans. That working in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or the Domo is somehow more enriching than in the shadow of another chock – a – block office building, a condo development or an Olive Garden. Well, when you say it like that… 

If one of the purposes of travel is to broaden your perspective on other native cultures, why do we wind up in the same places all tourists are drawn, like the Eiffel Tower and the Domo? One of the reasons, perhaps, is because they are old and in no danger of being torn down, like everything here is. If the Eiffel Tower or the Domo would have been built in America, they would have been replaced by now with a condo development and an Olive Garden.

But at least you’d be able to pop over for a veal parmesan at lunch.

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