The Constantly Troubled Tourist

Gershom Gorenberg

And from The American Prospect:

All year long I write about tribal conflicts. In August, when Israeli tribal customs dictate vacation, I want to get away not just from e-mail but also from news, politics, and insistent national claims. But I’m not terribly good at it.

A few years ago, we decided to splurge on taking the kids to Crete. Until then our usual getaway was a farming village in the green hills of the Galilee. But Palestinian suicide bombers were blowing up all over Israel. My wife and I decided that vacation should include time off from bombings. My wife found a bargain, a cottage in an up-country Cretan village surrounded by olive groves. The best part was that when I spotted a newspaper in the village grocery, it was written in letters I’d last seen in college math. If the headline said that the earth had swallowed Jerusalem, I wouldn’t have known it.

One day we drove down to see the ruins at Knossos, the capital of the Minoan civilization nearly 4,000 years ago. At the entrance, we hired a Greek guide named Pavlos. As he led us through the excavated palace, Pavlos found evidence that every enlightened idea began among the Minoans. The low benches in one courtyard, he said, proved that it was a pre-school — and that Minoan education followed the Montessori method. The shape of a throne showed that it was designed for a female behind — and that the Minoans practiced equality between the sexes. Before a famous Minoan mural of dolphins, he recounted that just recently dolphins had saved some Cretan fisherman whose boat sunk. This proved, he said, that “dolphins are genetically programmed to help Minoans.” The fastidious dolphins would have let lesser humans drown. In Pavlos’ telling, the four-millennium gap was erased: Cretans were the very same as Minoans and therefore, the crown of creation.

If I didn’t learn much about Minoans, I did realize that tour guides are the ultimate purveyors of national narrative, able to put even public-school history books to shame. Travel is so broadening, I thought. It shows you other nations’ narrow-mindedness, so that when you get home you can see your own more clearly.

Read the rest here.

5 thoughts on “The Constantly Troubled Tourist”

  1. Thank you for these examples of primitive “narrow, parochial” interpretations of history by the natives of Crete, the Jews on the Golan, the Circassians and the Turks. These no doubt grate on your superior “universalist, pluralistic” view of things. I hope in future articles you will also include the Arabs/Palestinians/Muslims as also being “primitive, narrow and parochial”. For some reason, you left them out of this article. For example, you could tell us how they say that “Jesus was a Palestinian” (Arafat told Pope John Paul II that one), or how Arafat lectured Clinton at Camp David saying that there never was a Jewish Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem, or how the Canaanites were actually Palestinians, or how Abraham, Isaac , Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon were Palestinian Muslims.

    Since you have pointed out that Harkabi’s book points out how nationalist passion is not a good base for the Jewish “settler movement”, I suggest you should distribute the book among the Palestinians, since although you left out examples of their “narrow parochial nationalism”, you no doubt want to bring them up to your high , universalistic, multicultural level no less than the settlers.

  2. Here’s a way to look at the bright side of it: at least you had a creative tour guide. Since he had the Minoan civilization as his subject, you might say he “took the bull and ran with it”.

    The worst guides are those who are bored to mindlessness by the job and end up sounding like robots reciting the exact same phrases for the umpteenth time.

  3. It’s boring to have a text-recite guide. It’s as well poor to have a guide offering mistaken information, objective information I mean. Tour guide is an important source for travelers to know a place. So I think they shall provide accurate objective facts. Yet the opinions or entending stories are more or less subjective. And sometimes with local prides. That’s the interesting part of travel, hearing different voices, isn’t it?
    local guides, local wisdom

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