The salutary effects of my regular exercise program are only matched in value by my subsequent attendance at the regular locker room colloquium, participated in (I am told) by mature, educated adults. Yet, after many years of being trapped within earshot of these exchanges, occurring in the 7A.M. locker room, in the interest of aesthetic and intellectual accuracy, I am obliged to file these erudite dialogues under the category, “stool culture”. One is fully confident that if so informed, these educated know- nothings would solemnly accept the fact that the Emperor of The Holy Roman Empire, next succeeding Constantine, was Gluteus Maximus.
Consistent with such experience, a conversation was overheard which proceeded in this fashion, question, “How was Prague?” Answer: Aw, it was a bore, nothing to do.” Vraiment! Really! Prague! Nothing to do? Astounding, especially since it was Prague.
In Prague’s Old City alone, there is the medieval astrological clock, several striking Gothic and Medieval Churches and Castles, the sculpture- adorned bridge over the historically important Charles River, the oldest Synagogue in Europe, architecture of every style, Gothic, Rococo, Baroque, New Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, Cubist, Neo-Classical and even, Ultra- Modern.
Prague was a strategic site during the Thirty Year’s War featuring successive defenestration’s, is famous for its classical music history, has underground restaurants and cafes, concert halls, so very much to intrigue the tourist. We were especially entertained at the anachronistic sight of modern, well dressed Europeans going to work in buildings of ancient vintage.
One is confidently assured that our disappointed tourist did take notice at least, that Prague is the venue of some of the world’s best beer.
But, to the point, our subject is not Prague, as such; yet the quoted comment relating to that destination was not only astounding, but also most illustrative of the point we wish to make.
When one arrives at the airport and then boards his plane, he is entering into a “twilight zone” of sorts, leaving behind all that is familiar, his three cats and a great many assumptions and folkways. The destination seems exotic at first, which perception is somewhat mitigated following the completion of unpacking in the designated hotel room. The important benefit of the excursion is now up to the tourist. At least some rudimentary knowledge of the place visited, its history, geography, culture, is a vital requirement to the achievement of a successful and satisfying tour. If the destination, for example, were Prague, is the intended tourist aware of the division of Czechoslovakia into two independent countries, The Czech Republic and Slovenia, of the term “Velvet Revolution,” with the name. Vaclav Havel?
In an earlier blog we have observed that a collateral benefit can be derived from travel. It is the discernment of practiced folkways and cultural behaviors of our own, as well as, as expected, the cultures visited. Observing folks eating exclusively with chop sticks may cause us to take particular notice of the fact that we ourselves dine with knife and fork. The slight bow of the Japanese citizen at a first introduction followed by deeper bows at subsequent meetings or on significant occasions is analogous to our introductory handshake and thereafter our subsequent employment of hearty vocabulary. The Hispanic omission to pronounce the “h” in Hola can be contrasted with the resounding pronunciation of the letter “h” in Hello. We might take note of the fact that the French have not yet invented the letter H.
Of especial importance is the experiencing of other points of view and differing belief systems. This serves to enhance our objectivity and Insight and sometimes tests our assumptions.
One needs some background information to derive meaningful benefit from the travel experience. What would have been our judgment of an oil painting in which sunflowers alone fill the entire canvas, if we did not previously know it was painted by Vincent Van Gogh?
The Eleventh Commandment directs the tourist to be sure to pack some knowledge in his suitcase, in addition to the socks and toothbrush.