I put this on facefuck but no one really seemed to notice, so I thought I’d post it here in my lazy ass bedroom where I should be posting more often. Oh well, here you go. A thought or two on traveling and people being kind or not….
I’m in Italy today on my first visit to this country. We are in the Ligurian region called Cinque Terre, five small villages on the northwestern coast that overlook the tranquillo azure Mediterranean. I have kept up with my online “friends” as my darling BooBoo* and I enjoy the resplendent luxuries of a wonderful well-earned vacation. After a few days in the warm and well lit French city of Nice where I appointed myself the new village uncle, we caught a gritty regional train that swayed and lurched its way through Genoa and on to points south.
As we arrived at our destination we were stressed and exhausted, a bit snappy with each other but still laughing about our little inside joke. The Hotel Windsor that we lodged at in Nice was staffed all night long with a front desk, a bar, a pool and a foyer appointed with a collection of dark blurry photographs and Tin Tin posters up and down the walls of the ancient marble staircase. My equally jet lagged Boo awoke at 4 a.m. – I had yet to sleep – and she suggested we Skype call a hotel in Vernazza called La Mala, to see if any rooms were available. She presumed the same, that it was a place staffed round the clock, which we realize now not to be the case. The first call was a pickup and hang up, so she dialed again and got a sleepy voice on the line.
“Excuse me, hello, do you have any rooms for tonight?” she asked.
“Do you know what time is it?” was the musically Italian but exasperated retort.
“Oops, sorry,” Boo said, as the line clicked dead.
Feeling a bit bad that we had awakened a sleepy hotelier, we waited until later in the morning to place another call and were pleased to be greeted warmly and discover that a room was available for one night. We were in, and on arrival, though after dark, Jean Baptiste, a young and charming gentleman met us at the station and hoisted our bags up dozens of narrow stairway passages to a room high above the town overlooking the small harbor. The view is stunning and we have yet to reveal that it was us who awakened him much earlier that day. Jean has been a very kind and helpful host in a town that we now realize thrives on a steady stream of tourists. Sound familiar Ojai? I wonder, as a community, are we grateful or irritated by the fact that Ojai is a tourist trap?
I’d like to suggest that we are all tourists, no matter where we find ourselves. It’s something I can say about my life for the past 3,902 days as a resident of the Ojai Valley. Despite a few off days, my life feels like a vacation.
Now I see we have emails circulating to vote for Ojai as the best place to visit on a budget travel website. We too in Ojai acknowledge often that we’re indebted to the tourist coin, am I right? Two edged, this realization appears. For us that consider ourselves locals may at times give thanks for the revenue and also feel trampled by the visitors that pour coarsely through downtown clicking pics of the arches and tower, grabbing a meal, falling onto a hotel bed, flushing a morning toilet and then pressing onward to the next memory.
This past evening we restaurant hopped. We spent much of the day hiking through the terraced vineyards and along the cliff-side path La Via dell‘Amore, from Riomagiorre to Manarola. Here couples inscribe their names on pad locks and fasten then to the fence to secure their love. After making New Zealand friends in Corniglia and catching the 5 minute train back to Vernazza we were tired and hungry and stepped out for a bite to eat. At the first restaurant we left before being served because a nearby group of sporty Americans were loudly proclaiming the similarities of Rome and New York. Of course Rome is a little older, one noted with cunning intellect. At the next place, where we had dined the night before, the meal the of Trofie al Pesto (this is the land of pesto’s origin) had been excellent but we didn’t get a table we liked, so we left. We’re picky like that. Then we waffled between two restaurants in the town square, sat down in one and then moved to an adjacent one only to be served by a grumpy and visibly exhausted waiter. We were his last table after a 14-hour day, so we gave him a pass.
This morning we were insulted by a young man as he stepped out of the kitchen of one of the places we hadn’t eaten at the night before. I was being a genuine tourist, snapping a picture of a busy morning kitchen and he shooed me away like a pesky bug and glared menacingly at my BooBoo. At first I got paranoid. Am I a bad visitor? Then I felt kind of angry and sort of indignant. I mean, don’t they live off the hundreds of Euros we’re dumping into their local economy? Then I brushed it off and thought of all the ice cream-slurping bozos I’ve witnessed ambling through the Arcade. We are all in the same boat, rocking between waves of ambivalence and gratitude. All I want to do is strip away my isms. I thought “what am I?” Am I my race, my place, my age? None of that really truly matters unless I create, place and attach meaning to it.
And therein my mind went back to a recent podcast I heard from comedian Marc Maron on his show “WTF” that I was listening to while washing windows a few weeks back. It was an interview with old school impressionist and improv superstar Jonathan Winters who is now 85 and living alone in Montecito. Winters was talking about maintaining a positive outlook on this thing we call life on Earth. In spite of the difficulties we perceive as we go through our days, he dropped a nugget of wisdom that’s been knocking around in my head a bit lately and makes me want to remember to treat visitors kindly.
“We’re all just passing through,” Winters said. “Let’s make sure we don’t mess up the visit.”