Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Statement

"Crikey, mate, I've never been there!" I call it "The Statement" and it speaks volumes in both directions of the conversation. There's appreciation for traveling to a given destination mixed in with a measure of regret and envy in never having taken the trouble. On the other hand there is the sense of having unintentionally shown up the local in their own home town, state or country. To be sure, there is also a darker side to "The Statement" as well, of the "Why on earth would anyone want to go there" variety.

Recently I was in New Zealand on vacation and had planned to explore new parts of the country that I'd not seen on previous visits. Included on this trip was a visit to Cape Reinga at the far northern tip of the Northland peninsula. The Cape is where the Maoris believe their spirits leave the country in the afterlife for their original home islands of Hawaii. It is also the place where the Pacific collides with the Tasman Sea in sometimes violent and spectacular fashion. The friends I was staying with in New Plymouth tilted their head to one side...and gave me The Statement!

San Franciscans rarely set foot in the East Bay unless on their way to a sporting event in Berkeley or at the Coliseum. Typically, though, they're passing through at top speed to the playgrounds of Reno and Lake Tahoe. In their minds Oakland has nothing that San Francisco doesn't have in spades so if for some strange reason a tourist mentions visiting Oakland as part of their itinerary, they'd get "The Look" AND The Statement. The once eager and now bewildered tourist has lost respectability just because they were curious about Lake Merritt and Jack London Square.

Even in one's hometown it's possible to receive both envious and disapproving reactions to go along with The Statement. Certainly it is never expected that anyone would travel in to questionable neighborhoods if they don't actually live there yet I can't count how many times I've heard something like the following: "You know, in all the years I've lived here (Chicago/Boston/Washington D.C.) I have never been there (the Sears Tower/Martha's Vineyard/Arlington Cemetery)!"

I have always had a hard time imagining that any place of personal interest hasn't already been explored by everybody who lives there. Visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris is a lifelong dream for millions of people yet to say one has been to France yet never visited the tower is the ultimate travel-related non-sequitur. How could you not? Then I discover that Parisians themselves avoid it like the plague all summer long because it is infested with foreign tourists and even worse, provincials from the rest of the country!

It is a tall order indeed to try and visit every landmark, attraction and place of interest in the world. I am blessed to live in a country rich in natural and architectural beauty but I admit to never having seen the Fall colors in Vermont, Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. Yet. When it's my turn to utter The Statement rest assured I speak with admiration and excitement for the traveler making the journey. Then I add a little extra, to let them know they've met a kindred spirit by simply saying:

"It's on the list!"

Gotta go!

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