June 7, 2009

How travel prepares us for The Crisis

Honestly, not many people seem to care about the plight of vacationers in these times. Why should they? Even the word smacks of arrogance. Who are these people whose single purpose is leisure?

Though I became a travel writer, I did not grow up vacationing. My family spent vacations visiting my mother’s family in rural Quebec. We never stayed in hotels but occasionally ate out at the kinds of places that also served pancakes for dinner.

Yet I became a traveler and a travel proponent. And I’d like to say that travel prepared me for today’s crisis.

Travel can go beyond vacationing. Yes, it can teach you to live skinnier. Becoming a traveler meant the usual—dining on crusty bread and cheese, rickety buses, moments of extreme penury and mild discomfort exchanged for raw experience. And then, a moment of insight, chatting with child buskers who cleverly tackled the impossible task of hustling religious trinkets to atheists and convincing tourists to shine their (unfortunately nylon) shoes.

But beyond what happened to me, your average American used to a full cupboard at home, there was what was happening to them.

I returned to Buenos Aires, a city I’d taught in, in the middle of their Crisis. The discord and desperation were palpable. My memories were of cinemas that served champagne.

But people kept going about their lives. The cafes were full. True—beverages were deftly nursed—but there were the Argentines, rain or shine, communing with one another. As if it were indispensable. I found El Salvador similarly pluckish. For every headline of gang wars, I witnessed numbers of grandmothers who donned a pressed floral dress every Sunday in the pursuit of anonymous goodness.

When The Crisis spread like a virus a few months ago, an Argentine friend commented, “You Americans talk like the world is over. But we have been through this many times. So maybe it’s easier.”

Seeing how people around the world function through dysfunction can teach and sustain us. Don’t get me wrong—I can’t tell you that goodness lies in poverty. The fact that money can provide solutions, well, that’s obvious. But in the absence of it, how do we go about our lives? That’s something worth figuring out.

1 comment:

Ralph said...

Carolyn McCarthy continues to be our favorite travel writer! We love her insights and way of looking at things from new and often surprising angles.