Thursday, October 27, 2011

What's Travel Lit Really About?

Once upon a time, sons of European nobles set off on road trips to hack, skewer, and drive people of other faiths from "holy lands." We call those travels crusades. Many "holy warriors" embarked with the same gleaming eyes and clueless grins now seen on kids of American elites joining the Peace Corp for somewhat vague do-goodery. We call these travels "noble causes." Commoners, like me, usually travel for unspiritual reasons like finding a job, scoring a babe, or escaping the law.

Back to my point. I'm almost sure I had one. Oh yes, the road to hell, Asia, Africa, and Latin America is paved with good intentions. Yet, during rainy season, this clearly isn't enough. Still, folks often travel for the journey and what it means to them, rather than the destination and what they plan on doing for or to someone else. Today, we say people are on a crusade when it seems their zeal for a quest stems from its enhanced personal significance.

The destination does matter, of course. I try hard not to be a been there, done that, stayed there, ate that, travel author. You know those surfer dudes and traveler bimbos who write about places they barely visited much less understood. Who needs more of that? At least, racist colonial writers spent enough time observing the darkies to make hateful condescending remarks one can laugh or cry at, but can anyone explain why Rolf Potts' famous article on chasing Leonardo DiCaprio around Thailand is travel lit not celebrity gossip?

Consider the film The Eagle of the Ninth. Celtic lands and ancient culture are not surveyed in detail. Yet, bleak windy ridges and damp mossy ravines almost seem to justify harsh lawless decision-making that could never be explained to olive-oil-annointed senators back in a Roman garden. Physical terrain partly defines moral terrain.

Likewise, The Eagle's bloody pilgrimage for a gilded Roman icon is unjustifiable to a ridiculus extreme. Nevertheless, this is a pilgrim most guys (especially fatherless ones) can relate to. The quest isn't really about re-erecting a fallen standard of Rome. It's about re-erecting the limp pole of a wounded young man. Me thinks the man doth protest too much. He claims to be defending his father's honor, but looks more like he's desperately asserting his own.

That's why most guys can enjoy this silly BROmance and overlook much of the nonsense. We truly need to find the holy grail of manhood - to hell with the details. If we can't find ourselves at home in the metrosexual present, we'll trek to the end of the earth in a fictionalized past. Travel is partly about the destination, even more about the journey, but mostly about the migration and transformation of the soul.

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