polish, politics, place

we’ll start on the lighter end of the topic spectrum: nail polish. it is grayish. it is purplish. it is chinchilly. it is great.

i like politics.  i like reading about politics.  i don’t head to The Daily Show for my main source of political info (and am always a bit puzzled when someone says they consider that their one source of news) but politics and comedy often make such great bedfellows, so i head on over there when i just know stewart will have an interesting take on something.  i have thoroughly enjoyed his recent treatment of the GOP debates (if they should even be called that) here and the mind-boggling current defense appropriations bill here (constitutional amendment 6, anyone? and a few other amendments, too).  crazy stuff, people.

place.  The New Atlantis has a series on their site about “Place and Placelessness in America.”  this is fascinating.  the first article in the series, GPS and the End of the Road by Ari Schulman, is about how GPS and similar technologies have changed how we travel and experience our own and foreign lands.  i mentioned here before that i can experience destination/new experience letdown. like when i first flew over mt. rainier and i actually said to myself, “that’s it?”  but now i can shamelessly talk about this odd problem of mine because those like walker percy, alain de botton, and others of the literary world have evidently suffered from this, too:

The idea…is that places and points of interest have some set value, as it were, that can be entered into a data bank, used to inform our choice of destination, and received by us on our arrival.

Among the greatest of these destinations, especially from the perspective of the American traveler, is the Grand Canyon. The sight is awe-inspiring in a way that centuries of recounted visitation to it have never adequately been able to put into words. And yet some visitors to the canyon have discovered there a certain crack in the guidebook façade. Take, for example, the recent account of travel writer Henry Shukman, who admits that he was “disappointed” the first time he saw the canyon: after enduring a long traffic jam in the drive from Los Angeles, “When we eventually managed to park, and walked to the rim, the scale of the sight off the edge was so great it was hard to muster a response. It was so vast, and so familiar from innumerable pictures, it might just as well have been a picture.”

…Alain de Botton, in The Art of Travel (2004), claims that “where guidebooks praised a site, they pressured a visitor to match their authoritative enthusiasm, and where they were silent, pleasure or interest seemed unwarranted.”

…What Percy and these other writers are getting at is that just as important as what we see in the world is how we go about seeing it. We are adept at identifying points of interest, but pay scant attention to the importance of our approaches to exploring them; our efforts to facilitate the experience of place often end up being self-defeating. What Percy’s strategies aim to do, in part, is to put the traveler into a state of willingness and hunger to encounter the world as it is, to discover the great sights with the freshness, the newness, that is so much of what we seek from them. Alain de Botton also describes this attitude as the solution to the guidebook problem, and identifies it as the mode of receptivity.

this makes so much sense.  and perhaps explains my excitement of one place versus the letdown at the next.  i was high in an airplane when i saw mt. rainier.  i saw it for a few minutes, flew on past, made my insightful remarks, and that was it.  but take petra, as another example.  i visited jordan when i was fifteen.  i hadn’t studied it.  i didn’t know much about it (other than what i had gleaned visually from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), but when we walked through the gorge and then found ourselves standing before the truly awesome treasury carved into the cliffs, i was awestruck.  and i have never seen a picture of it since without remembering the sights and smells of all of it.  i didn’t just stand above it and see it from afar.  i was in it.

the essays are good and thoughtful and will definitely beef up your to-read lists.


3 thoughts on “polish, politics, place

  1. what a coincidence….
    We got my daughter’s 2nd grade teacher a little gift basket today & I included that EXACT nail polish. Her sweet teacher is young and cute as she can be….and I picked out that shade of polish on a whim.

    And now I read your lovely blog post and see it featured. What are the odds?
    It looks so pretty—thanks for tipping the scales for me. Now I’m 100% confident on that purchase instead of 98%.

    merry christmas to you and yours, Kate!

  2. “i don’t head to The Daily Show for my main source of political info (and am always a bit puzzled when someone says they consider that their one source of news)”

    I know right? I mean honestly. I balance out my Daily Show News source by also watching Weekend Update on SNL. That’s what you mean, right? Getting your news from different sources. I’d say I’m covered pretty well. (my parents, meanwhile, are horrified)


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