Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.
Where we are: After a few days in Bologna (because I’ve been wanting to see the Eataly mothership ever since it opened a few years ago), we arrived in Florence last night. I’ve gorged myself on Italian food, and now I’m going to gorge myself on Italian art. We’re making up for lost time over here. (Note: I wrote the following about a month ago, in Reykjavik.)
The tourists are returning. Droves of them. Plane loads. Even—and forgive me for sounding disappointed—the cruise people. The breakfast room in our hotel is suddenly packed with Americans going on cruises or returning from cruises.
This morning I listened to a uniquely American conversation—one I’ve heard a hundred times, but had kind of forgotten—about who has been on more cruises, and where. One woman said she’s going to China next year, or maybe Japan—she’s not sure, because she doesn’t really know the difference. Between China and Japan.
I find it difficult not to be judgmental.
There is a simplicity to being in a place where I can’t understand a word anyone says, and during the pandemic, that was everywhere. There were no American tourists—no foreign tourists at all, actually. Everywhere we went, people spoke in their own language. English skills got rusty, and that was fine by me. I didn’t have to tune anything out, because it all went over my head.
Now, though, I can suddenly understand everything—people say hello in the elevator, or speak to me from the next table, or jump in with chummy chit-chat when they hear our American accents.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m just as likely to engage in Yay, someone to talk to behavior. But after eighteen months of hearing American accents only on the phone, this onslaught is a little overwhelming. I’ve always been hyper-aware of the stereotype that Americans are loud, and I’ve tried for years to train myself to speak quietly. These Americans? They’re loud. It is, frankly, a little uncomfortable.
I know this all sounds a little judgey. I’m trying to relax and remember that these are people who’ve been through a much more difficult pandemic than I have. I have to remind myself, every day, that everyone is doing they best they can (thank you, Brene Brown). I remind myself that the shuttering of the tourism industry has devastated families, communities, and countries, all over the world.
A number of years ago, we spent a month at a small, family-owned hotel in a little village in Bali. The whole family pitched in, aunties in the kitchen, younger brother at the front desk, uncle driving the minivan/shuttle into Ubud. We loved it, and were grateful for the insight we gained into Balinese culture.
As far as I can tell from Instagram, they’re all now selling home-made potato chips on the side of the road, from the back of the minivan.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the last year and a half about how to rebuild tourism to be more sustainable, more respectful of local communities, more pleasant for everyone involved. A couple of months ago, I read that New Zealand is making big financial investments in some communities that had become overly dependent on tourism, hoping to enable these places to be more resilient.
In Iceland, the government pitched in with significant unemployment relief while the borders were closed. But Iceland is a very wealthy country; in much of the world, businesses have just collapsed and people are going hungry.
I would love to see global tourism come back slowly and thoughtfully, but that’s probably selfish on my part. While I’ve enjoyed near-empty flights and hotel-room bargains, the industry as a whole has been devastated, and that means people are hurting.
If I get judgey, someone please remind that I can tolerate a few loud voices.
From my writer’s notebook:
An Italian genealogical study has identified fourteen living relatives of Leonardo da Vinci. The family tree they constructed goes back 690 years (to 1331, more than a hundred years before Da Vinci’s birth), detailing 21 generations of his father’s descendants.
I’m less interested in the idea of being related to Da Vinci (although, how cool is that?) than I am in the research that went into this effort. My geeky research brain would love to work on a project like that.
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