∆∆s∆P∆Q∆R∆∆ • MMX [III]

Gate to the SOUTH

As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way.My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way—hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all.

To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful:As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

– David Foster Wallace, R.I.P.

One row behind us, to the right, sat a young woman whose hairdo alone convinced me she was US American[1], which she turned out to be, as snatches of conversation revealed as she passed us later. Then ahead, down the relentlessly banking aisle of the treno, sat an exhausted middle-aged Asian woman [that skintone between olive and gold] who was also seriously engaged in catching ZZZZZZZs, so much so that her head had dropped backwards and her trap had been flung wide open, presenting one [me] with a nice opportunity to practice my little-piece-of-garbage-free-throw-shooting-skills. Simi and I got a good laugh out of her and, inspired, went on to delineate the taxonomy of sleepers in public transport, always a fun exercise.

When the time I came, I clocked our trip through the tunnel, remembering how teachers at all levels of schooling had tried to stoke our patriotic inner fires by recounting the technical specs of this marvel of Swiss engineering. Always careful to avoid mentioning the considerable, indispensable effort of people such as the sphinx-like Imafioso dozing across from us. Something like ten minutes went by until we were flung back, to my disappointment, into bright daylight. I was underwhelmed: this was the tunnel of such great fame?  Well, later this year another miracle of engineering will be inaugurated, the supposedly longest tunnel in the world…we’ll see.

The treno snaked down the transalpine slopes, so much greener than what we had seen on the Uri side. And the vegetation too was different, denser and more attuned to the far-away presence of the Mediterranean Sea. I could imagine these trees and shrubbery on Sicily, good hiding places for flight from bloody family feuds. You could sit there in the blazing heat, chase rabbits, dream of Rome, pray to holy Mother Mary for a steady hand when the bastardi would finally show up, wait, contemplate if you should emigrate to the new world [rumors and fantasies of new york finely blended], and finally ambush the fuckers who killed your brother with your crude blunder buss. Shoot them dead in the surpassing heat of a provincial Sicily afternoon, watch their blood coagulate on the cadmium colored rocks.

For a long time the Cisalpino, now on the trans side, made its way down the mountains, past hardy alpine villages that were probably impossible to rouse from their centuries worth of sleep. I saw churches made of rocks. At long last, like a river, the view opened onto the valley. However, the plant life and the topography remained so different that it was very difficult to imagine that I was still on Helvetic terrain.

Tourist typology

I checked my watch: three hours had passed since we left Lucerne. Had that seriously been the Gotthard tunnel or was it just a mountain pass I’d been unaware of? This last possibility didn’t make much sense but I couldn’t definitely tell myself what is what until we arrived at the first station, the name of which I do not recall but which was without a doubt Swiss, the canton of Ticino. My one-time high-school geography teacher, depending on his present existential state, would be vigorously shaking his head or doing many an rpm at altitude: -6 feet. So we were still in Switzerland but visualizing the spatial separation we had just overcome and seeing, detail for detail, all those tiny differences of material, of reality that usually signal another nation, it seemed somewhat beside the point to think of this place as anything other than Italy. Irregardless of the geostrategic technicality of the border, yet to be crossed due South.

The approach to the station of Lugano was sporting, among assorted other Southern clime attractions, richly frazzled palm-tops. These, to the Northern Switzerland dweller always come off as something of a slight provocation the way I imagine Miami’s Art-Deco hotels must impress themselves upon the rain-battered sensibilities of the BOSNYWASH tourist “Ok, we know you get ridiculously more sun-hours than we do but is there any need to rub it in our faces like this?” It must have been at least ten years since I last came here, a fact that in consideration of the lovely weather and ambiance seemed very stupid. I resolved half-heartedly to make the trip to Ticino, Switzerland’s Florida, more often.

Lugano, hot damn

[1] As though, somehow, in the course of my American sojourn, I had formed an exoteric meta-image of young US females’ hairdos or dorsal appearance to which all obscurely complied…why?

[t. b. c. ]


About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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