The soul is not a tourist.
Travel is more than bragging rights. I think it’s soul growth, a way to live your life more deeply by seeing more wholly what the world is. Participation is key, I believe. Actually learning the language of a different culture is a deep dive into the vision a culture lives by.
Its language has the imprint of history and how those people took hold of their surroundings, how they saw, judged and felt. It embodies a vision. It may not be an all-encompassing vision, but it’s definite and sees things invisible to other cultures.
It establishes a shared vision and sets it to the song of the common speech of those who speak that language.
I’m a traveler, not a tourist. I want to do more than just go and take a documentary photograph of myself there. I want to live in the foreign place and get the deepest experience I can of the food, the ambience, the mindset and the ways of communicating. I want to learn the song those souls are singing.
I may sing it a bit off key, but I want to feel as close as possible what they feel in their version of humanity. I want to somehow drop my cultural suit and try on theirs for a time.
Of course it’s an impossible project and I know that but that’s what I try to do. It’s a kind of method acting of travel.
I’ve only gotten where I wanted to go with this method once, with France, and it took blood, sweat and tears — and four decades. The French are not as welcoming as some peoples, Italians, for example. They are rightly proud of their language and traditions. They can have a certain inflexibility, but they have created a culture to be proud of.
For some reason I happen to love them, in the same way the method actor loves his impossible characters — the rigid bodies, received wisdom, categorical thinking and all.
They have incredible olfactory talents, those people. They still love their cheeses that smell of the barnyard. Out in the countryside they have an earthiness and enviable sense of community.
Their roots to the land they live on go back into the mists of time. Most Americans can’t say that.