Tag Travel

Have story, will travel

I like the idea behind this map—which charts the evolution of four near-archetypal literary tales (Faust, Leviathan, Oedipus, Pygmalion) across space and time. It reminds me of the wonderful encyclopedias that academic folklorists compile of recurring motifs in folktales, myths and legends. The end result suffers, alas, from too few data-points and too many lines: the flight-tracks imply a causality and certainty of a single route that isn’t always the case from story to story.

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from “Telling Tales: The evolution of four stories,” by Haisam Hussein, Lapham’s Quarterly, Spring 2010 :: via Strange Maps

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Safety not fine? Install a shrine!

Himalayan India has a rich tradition of humorous safety signs placed along precarious mountain roads (like AFTER WHISKY, DRIVING RISKY, or DARLING I WANT YOU, BUT NOT SO FAST, or ROAD IS HILLY, DON’T DRIVE SILLY), but apparently setting up traffic-slowing Hindu shrines at trouble-spots is far more effective. I wonder if Christian shrines at highway accident sites (designed to instill caution and remembrance, but not necessarily to get folks to stop) have anything like the same effect. I doubt it.

a Freakonomics Blog post, 7 April 2009

Karan Talwar, a blogger and Freakonomics reader, writes about an interesting traffic nudge near Shimla, India. The roads into Shimla are notoriously dangerous, and traffic signs have done little to lessen the problem. So local authorities began constructing temple shrines at hot spots. The nudge worked like a charm: “Turns out even though the average Indian has no respect for traffic laws and signs, they will slow down before any place of worship and take a moment to ask for blessings!”

Originally published at culture-making.com.

The traveler’s game

I loved this gem from the lately-late Claude Lévi-Strauss, about the fruitless yet fascinating mind games the serious, studious traveler often plays, trying to decide what era would be the best time to visit a certain place or certain culture. Lévi-Strauss finds this ultimately depressing, but I suppose there’s good news in it as well: that the best time to experience culture is always, conveniently, now.

And so I am caught within a circle from which there is no escape: the less human societies were able to communicate with each other and therefore to corrupt each other through contact, the less their respective emissaries were able to perceive the wealth and significance of their diversity. In short, I have only two possibilities: either I can be like some traveller of the olden days, who was faced with a stupendous spectacle, all, or almost all, of which eluded him, or worse still, filled him with scorn and disgust; or I can be a modern traveller, chasing after the vestiges of a vanished reality. I lose on both counts, and more seriously than may at first appear, for, while I complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable of perceiving it. A few hundred years hence, in the same place, another traveller, as despairing as myself, will mourn the disappearance of what I might have seen, but failed to see. I am subject to a double infirmity: all that I perceive offends me, and I constantly reproach myself for not seeing as much as I should.


from Tristes Tropiques, p.43, by Claude Lévi-Strauss (translated by John and Doreen Weightman), 1955

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Forbidden fruits, delightful longings

cc lusikkolbaskin/flickr

A few years ago, a friend of mine was going through U.S. customs at the Blackpool Border Crossing on the highway that runs south from Quebec into New York. He said he had nothing to declare, but then, as the sidearmed customs agent ran through the list of possible contraband (weapons? cash? drugs? agricultural products?), my friend made a fatal pause and then, the question repeated, fessed up: “I have some fruit in my backpack. Is there any way I can bring it in?”

On a human plane

A Spanish novelist’s prescription for his fear of flying: learn to love airplanes as individuals. The humanizing touch is hardly absent from the history of flight: think of Howard Hawks’ classic film Only Angels Have Wings or all those pin-up models painted onto the noses of WWII bombers. And it lives on in the work of a few contemporary writers—William Langewiesche in particular—even in the serial-number world of today’s commercial aviation.

We live in an age that tends to depersonalize even people and is, in principle, averse to anthropomorphism. Indeed, such a tendency is often criticized, erroneously and foolishly in my view, since that ‘rapprochement’ between the human and the non-human is quite natural and spontaneous, and far from being an attempt to deprive animals, plants and objects of their respective selves, it places them in the category of the ‘humanizable’, which is, for us, the highest and most respectable of categories.

I know people who talk to, question, spoil, threaten or even quarrel with their computers, saying things like: ‘Right now, you behave yourself,’ or thanking them for their help. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s perfectly understandable. In fact, given how often we travel in planes, the odd thing about our relationship with them – those complex machines endowed with movement to which we surrender ourselves and that transport us through the air – is that it isn’t more ‘personal’, or more ‘animal’, or more ‘sailor-like’, if you prefer. Perhaps those who crew them haven’t known how to communicate this to us. I’ve never seen them pat a plane, as you might pat a horse to calm or reward it; I’ve never seen planes being groomed and cleaned and tidied, except very hurriedly and impatiently; I’ve never seen them loved as Conrad’s captain loved his sunken brig; I’ve never seen air hostesses – who spend a lot of time on-board – treat them with the respect and care, at once fatherly and comradely, enjoyed by ships.


from “Airships,” by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Granta 107, Summer 2009 :: via The Morning News

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Everything, everywhere

When I acknowledge to myself that I’m interested in everything, what am I saying but that I want to travel everywhere?

—Susan Sontag, Where The Stress Falls

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Six degrees of urbanization

This would be an interesting challenge: to locate a friend in a new-to-you American city using only conversations with people you meet—neither you or anyone of your informants would be allowed to consult the usual lists, maps, phone books, etc. I wonder if it’d be possible …

When I carried out fieldwork in Ghana during the 1960s, I was amazed by how migrants found their relatives, after traveling 500 miles to an unknown city of a million people. They had no addresses or phone numbers written down. When they arrived in the central lorry park, they would look for someone wearing Northern dress and ask him where they could find people like themselves. Directed to a particular district, they would seek out a leading figure in the ethnic community. They might then be directed to someone else from their home village. By all means, within an hour or two, they would be sitting with their relative. These African migrants knew that we live in small worlds connected by fewer links than most of us imagine. They used contingent human encounters and network hubs like local big men, not street maps. Their method was news to me then, but it shouldn’t be now.


from “Models of statistical distribution,” by Keith Hart, The Memory Bank, 27 January 2009 :: via Koranteng’s Bookmarks

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., by Nam June Paik

I like how the Mississippi River seems to glow extra-brightly, a nod perhaps to a superhighway of a different era.

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Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S.,” by Nam June Paik, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, photo by angela n (Flickr), 8 October 2007 :: via Intelligent Travel

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Passport census

Used to be the passport was (or became, with travel) an album of other countries’ weird juxtaposed iconography. For now, though, we can get the same without leaving home.

I also admire the State Department’s evident desire to create an Album of America—a collection of snapshots that, over the course of the passport’s twenty-eight pages, catalogues the members of our national family. And I am impressed with the diversity the State Department has achieved. Aside from (i) the distant silhouettes of the passengers and crew of the Mississippi Steamer and the Yankee Clipper, (ii) a shadowy herd of cows, and (iii) the identification photograph of the passport holder, the new passport depicts American life in the following numbers:

 Geese: 13
 Male Humans: 11
 Longhorn Cattle: 8 or 9
 Bald Eagles: 6
 Horses: 3
 Totemic Spirits: 3
 Bison: 2
 Oxen: 2
 Seagulls: 1
 Grizzlies: 1
 Salmon: 1
 Female Humans: 1

Of the eleven men, nine are white. The other two are cowboys whose race is rendered indeterminate by their Stetson hats. The lone woman is the Statue of Liberty.


from “Open Letter to Senator Clinton,” by Rudolph Delson, n+1, 18 December 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

A xerox on the face of eternity

Interestingly, its that once the Taj was completed, Shah Jahan had its designer blinded so he could never again produce something so beautiful. They tell the exact same story about the designer of St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow. That makes it doubly likely to be true, right?

from “Cloning the Taj Mahal,” NYTimes.com Ideas blog, 12 December, 2008

Architecture | Can you copyright an iconic building? That’s the issue raised by an expensively marbled clone of India’s Taj Majal built in Bangladesh by a wealthy filmmaker, who says he built it for Bangladeshis too poor to travel to see the real thing. Indian official: “You can’t just go out and copy historical monuments.” Bangladeshi: “Show me where it says that emulating a building like this can be illegal.” [Times of London]

Originally published at culture-making.com.