Singular game! Where the goal changes places;
The winning-post is nowhere, yet all around;
Where Man tires not of the mad hope he races
Thinking, some day, that respite will be found
The Voyage, Charles Baudelaire
“Baudelaire was a secret agent – an agent of the secret discontent of his class with its own rule…”
Walter Benjmain’s notes to his first essay on Baudelaire.
“If I was in – say – Peru I wouldn’t miss out on Machu Pichu. Yes, I’d be trying to make connections with the people, of course. But it is a balance.” Because she has travelled all over the world, often alone, she knows the shifting rhythms that the “journey” brings: “the achievement you feel if somebody really understands you, for instance in China, when it takes hours: that’s amazing.”
Her parents came to France from Morocco thirty years ago, separated now; she went to college in Dublin, has been to Mongolia and Bolivia and most places in between. This summer is Laos, Morocco, “Hungaria”.
In a Lyon apartment, or a café, a “political” meeting, the people change but the type of travel being discussed is always the same: backpacker, alternative, resourceful. It has few limitations of horizon, is of a budget, uses technology for routes, a bed, a hitch, a cheaper ticket. But is about the experience more than the “pleasure”.
There is the Swiss-French (with a bit of Irish) puppet maker, the French-African “Elvis” with his “deals”, the Chinese-Canadian, the Irishman, the Vietnamese chef…the sons of daughters of the first back-packer generations whose family backgrounds are as much about global movement to find work, gain citizenship, or simply change “lives” as about fun. These are people with a recognition that Lyon is a very cool “nodal” point for their travels. A balance of size, scope, culture and budget.
“Globalization isn’t the problem,” Connie says, “I’ve worked in big business [for Yahoo in Hong Kong]. The problem is when it loses, or never finds, its social responsibility.”
“People have done what you did,” the French-Moroccan woman says. “A lot of people.”
“I know, that’s part of the issue for me, what’s left? I want to leave a snapshot of a time, and that means making connections as well as visiting museums. It’s not always easy. Because I want to give back as well.”
“Yes,” says Connie, “I agree. You have to make choices. When we were last in Paris it was for music, three concerts in three nights. We saw one big thing: Jean Nouvel’s library, inside. It was fantastic. But you can’t see everything.”
The chef and computer musician who wants to talk about his rock and roll “Manhattan”, Connie on “Hong Kong,” John about Ireland…”Elvis” who has those familiar, competitive, stories about Asia. He is a type:
“Yes, even Hampi?”
“Really? Sure Goa, and Kerala, Mumbai. But Hampi?”
“What did you see at Malibaripurim?…
…How did you get to Nepal, did you drive, or fly….
…Kashmir? Easy. I have friends there, they get me in and I have a house and a boat up on the lake. You have to know people…
…Burma? I get great stones there, nice pieces.”
Elvis is the other side of alternative travel: if the French-Moroccan seeks out the solitary and remote, he is about the new silk roads that lead to raves, to endless beach-summers, and nice profits for somebody. Elvis is the wheeler-dealer who always has a new angle. He can’t be impressed, it’s not in the job-description: he’s the man who “knows” travel.
It is a travel about cheap food, drink, drugs, pleasure; taking something home that says: exotic travel. Except that Elvis’s Asia destinations are the new Spain, commonplace, part of growing up. If part of good travel is connection then isn’t Modern Northern Europe more of a challenge than remote packed beaches in India or Lombok?
“Look, I know these boys, they just want fun, you’re too serious.” Elvis says. Connie and John first met at “Burning Man” in Nevada; there are no easy right and wrongs in all this.
Tom Coryat is always fêted is the first “Grand Tourist”, but he was also a kind of “alternative” traveller. Balancing high and low, sights and people; going to places that were remote from normal life, a little dangerous, Thomas is the archetype of the “old” alternative.
In the end Tommy “walked” to India, of course: I wonder what the seventeenth century “Elvis” would have sold him in Jaipur? A bootleg CD of Shakespeare Songs, remixed by Ben Jonson, perhaps?