Let’s NOT Go Back to ‘Normal’!
When I visited the Louvre 30 years ago, there were about 30 older Japanese women standing in front of the Mona Lisa, which gave me pause for thought. If the scene was recreated in the Harry Potter universe, the rest of the paintings would be saying, “What am I, chopped liver?” The scene seemed neither natural nor optimal. Fast forward to 2019 and the situation had become dire.
If we continue to overexploit our global tourism resources like this, it will not only lead to the further commodification of the most beautiful and sacred places on earth, it will eventually lead to the destruction of what we so desperately desire to see before we die. But there is another way.
My most memorable experiences have resulted from veering off the well-trodden path. That’s why I am a firm advocate of what I like to refer to as B-side travel. If you are over a certain age, you’ll know that the B-side of a 45 rpm vinyl record was rarely as well received as the hit single on the A-side. However, if you consider the B-side of many Beatles 45s, for example, you’ll encounter a formidable anthology of classic tunes:
Baby, You’re a Rich Man
I Am the Walrus
The Inner Light
Simply put, the Beatles would not be the Beatles without these songs!
As a tourist, if you only visit the ‘hit singles’, you will probably have a suboptimal experience. If you go to Venice, the crowds are enormous, the restaurants are not all that great because they don’t need repeat customers, and to top it all off, the locals resent the loss of their community to a tourist invasion that distorts the local economy. The list goes on and on.
When I visited Egypt some years ago, I saw many of its ‘hit singles’. However, the one image that stays with me is the morning I woke up in a quaint village far outside Cairo. I stepped outside into a vast field of chamomile that was just beginning to open to the sun. This glorious experience convinced me that I was missing far too much as I tried to fit in all the ‘hit singles’ around the world. I decided then and there that I needed to change the way I travel.
As a B-Side Travel Advocate, it is my mission to deliver rare experiences that cannot be easily replicated. Join me for tailor-made, small group excursions in Japan. I currently offer winery, whisky distillery, and sake brewery tours; in-depth tours of one-of-a-kind museums; tours of historic temples and shrines; and hiking excursions to discover ancient villages hidden among forested mountains. If you are the kind of person who enjoys the B-side of travel, places that normally get overlooked by crowded tour buses, you have come to the right place. Please search my blog to plan a B-side vacation for yourself.
Here is an opinion piece I wrote about the Mona Lisa in 2016:
What do Kim Kardashian and the Mona Lisa have in common?
Ask people why they think the Mona Lisa is so great and the vast majority would have to answer that they got their opinion from someone else, some authority in the art world perhaps. By now many people have heard what made the Mona Lisa so famous in the early 20th century. She was stolen and then found 2 years later. It was a sensational story that launched her career.
Now, I am lucky enough to say that I met her a quarter century ago. At that time, there were at least 30 people crowding around the painting to get as close as possible to the famous lady. Two things struck me at that moment. First, she is so tiny! The painting was much smaller than I had anticipated. Second, I didn’t find her to be very beautiful. Now, I am no art critic, but I love art. I was stunned by the fact that nobody was looking at the paintings nearby her. These paintings were equally beautiful to me, but nobody cared. They had come to see the lady. I strolled around the entire Louvre and no other piece of art garnered so much attention as the Mona Lisa. She is the most famous, but I don’t believe she necessarily deserves all the admiration she gets.
The Mona Lisa reminds me of another dark-haired woman who gets far more attention than she deserves. That woman is Kim Kardashian. Now, I am not saying that Ms. Kardashian is the cultural equivalent of the Mona Lisa, but I do believe that the two women’s fan base is essentially the same. Why do people follow the details of Ms. Kardashian’s life with such insatiability? What did she do to deserve all this fame? Dare I say that Ms. Kardashian is famous for being famous? Isn’t the Mona Lisa famous for being famous? What draws people to these two women? Isn’t the allure almost identical? We look at the Mona Lisa because the world says she is important. If she had not been stolen in 1911, you would walk by with just a cursory glance at her immortal portrait. Doesn’t Ms. Kardashian have the very same appeal to the masses? If you didn’t know she was famous, would you even notice her on a busy street? Sure, if she were scantily clad and done up to look like a model, you would probable look a bit longer, but that is it. Now, this is not a commentary on Kim Kardashian. Rather, the point I am trying to make is that we let other people tell us what we should be looking at. I have the courage to admit that the Mona Lisa doesn’t even come close to being my favourite painting.
How many things do you like simply because you are supposed to like them? What do you really like? I have had some expensive wines that I am supposed to like but don’t care for. Alternatively, I have had inexpensive wines that I love. Have the courage to tell people what you like and you will find that you are definitely not alone. If I ever return to the Louvre, I would rather go look at a nice Monet. What? You don’t care for Monet? Well at least you have an opinion.
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