vineri, 15 mai 2009

Lowest-common-denominator civilization

I was never able to accept some habits of the people who live in the cities. I never fancied the idea that, after a week of hard work and little satisfaction, trapped inside the city’s concrete walls, I should break „prison” and devour some mountain or marine landscape, and then return and take up again the „serious stuff”.

I confess I never had nor ever will I have a tourist mentality. I trade rambling for the mind adventure. No doubt, I have my share of place I went to, I made my friends, I do have cities I’d rather live in, mountains I wish to climb (in fact, the only mountains I will ever favor above all others are the Mountains în Neamt County, România, where I was born and I live at the present time). Yet, I never spend my time calculating the remainig time until the holidays, so that I may escape the city and run as fast as I can toward some quiet place. Not having this kind of mentality, I have always tried to understand those who do. Indubitably, the deep reasons of these tendencies lie în our mentality, our desire for new, for devouring the new, for being out of the ordinary. We grow tired of ourselves and the same settings and backgrounds, of the same people we meet on daily bases, and we wish to experience something new. Of course, once we are there, otherwhere, we grasp the epidermic layer of that reality, and never really understand the places we visit, the things we see. Thus, we quench our devouring thirst for new and return home speaking about hotels, taxes, accomodations, bars, campings, ski slides. And that’s about it. A building purhaps comes up în our exposition, only if need be. Let’s face it, how many of those who go to Venice get a chance to find out that the musical titan Tomasso Albinoni was born and lived there? How many meditate on a theme of Albinoni’s adagios while executing the „ritual” clichee of gondole travel? How many give anything about this side of Venice? How many of those who get to Rio de Janeiro find out that Brasil was for a whole century empire? How many get to read one page of Joachim Maria Machado de Assis, a Brasilian classic who is în no way lesser than any of the great 19th century European novelists? How many compensate once back from Rio? Very few, I guess.There was a time when each country possesed a cultural abundance, that was enough to qench the thirst for new of her inhabitants. If someone travelled across Romania, for example, from Moldova to Transylvania, once there, they were finding interesting people, a different way of speaking the language, different customs, a different understanding of life. Upon returning home, the traveller was enchanted with his voyage. And wiser. If someone travelled from Maramures to the seaside, this voyage was a lifetime experience, something to speak about for the rest of his life. And they never even have to cross the borders (the spiritual borders of their own nation).There was a time when one city, well done and well administered, was enough for someone to live their entire life there without the slightest desire to ramble. Let’s not forget the illustrious example of Immanuel Kant, who lived în one of these places, the burg Konigsberg (actually Kaliningrad), and never leaved it.All these mean nothing nowadays. Customs are lost, tongues are made even, and if you travel from Timisoara to Iasi, from Bucharest to Cluj, you find the same people everywhere, speaking of the same things (most of them boring and taken from TV shows), knowing the same things, having the same desires. And so, one feels compelled to visit other lands, to learn foreign languages, to waste tones of money, to get to exotic places, to unclimbed mountains. And there... one finds people with the same customs as their own, who speak of the same things. It is not due, as one may suspect, to the similarity of all human beings, but rather to an imposed homogenization.Theologians stress out that for a person to actually be a person it is absolutely necessary to project on another person, to live în communion with other people, to unveil its own self by exploring alterity. Those who live în the isolation the ego traps them into wind up losing their abilities as humans (phenomenon similar to the one experienced by people who live isolated and to not know what a human being is, much less that they are themselves human beings).
The world we live în has a tendency to homogenize. The process is under way. The victim of this process, that has a bright side, no doubt, is the identity of each of us. When we have the same thoughts, the same clothing fashion, the same interesses, where will we find the other?
The process has as principle the lowest common denominator, that is the bases upon each to build mutual understanding. But, as we begin to have only basic knowledge of everything, what will become of the cultural and spiritual abundance of hundreds of nations, that they have been cultivating for millenia? Tourism bottles already these cultures în fabricated clichees that are being slipped into our luggage as we check out. On the same principle of lowest common denominator, of course. (Let’s say that when a foreigner arrives în Transylvania, he cannot shake „Dracula” off, no matter what. How many Dracula-like idiocies, dressed up as brands, are being sold to us as „souvenirs”?)
A time will come when travelling from Buchares to Rio or London won’t pay off. Why travel? Just to compare the malls? A time will come when there will be nowhere else to go to quench our thirst for new, to meet another. What will we do then? Of course, we will always have the Klingon, Vulcan, Ferengi homeworlds! Wait!!! Those are only sci-fi settings from Hollywood blockbusters...
Soon, there will be only one travel left to undertake. Travelling toward ourselves. But what do we know about ourselves? What do we expect to learn? Another topic, another blog post...

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