Probably the most fascinating part of the trip to Italy this fall was the city of Matera. It’s an ancient city carved into the side of a magnificent limestone ravine. The homes are actually caves, although from the outside you might not realize this. The town was forcibly vacated — that is the residents were forced to leave — in 1954 because they were living in such poverty and in caves after all. But now it is revitalized as a historic marvel and tourist destination — although still a bit off the beaten track.
Although this was a highlight, the entire trip was somewhat like this. There were tourists but they were mostly Italian, occasionally German, only rarely American. It was early fall, so passed the summer crowds, some rain, always a bit moody and isolated, but beautiful.
I traveled with a group of women roughly the same age but all quite different – no other philosophers, no other college professors — lawyers, teachers, women employed in or running various businesses, retired women like myself.
And, of course, traveling is separates you from the mundane. It is addicting I think. I have traveled a lot in 2015 and have thought about it a lot as well. One thing that I find rather disturbing about it is the way it becomes a topic of conversation among a certain class and people of a certain age (my age apparently). People “collect” places that they have been as a kind of marker of their — their what exactly? Sometimes it seems that their trips are a mark of their worth – I have been to x, y, and z — more exotic is better — greater worth of course. Is this a way of illustrating one’s wealth? One’s refinement? One’s open mindedness? One’s adventurousness? All I think. A certain amount of travel allows you entry into the conversation and then there is a little dance as people gauge to what extent you are worthy of further comparative travel talk. Some of this talk is a means to find out new places to go and new ways to get there –this is when it is at its least obnoxious I think. But then there is sometimes a desire to trump others — better travel — and the standards by which it is better may vary so the conversation can get tricky.
I don’t really like these conversations but then I do like to travel and puzzle over my own motivations. Some of my travel has been just for the sake of movement — exotic places haven’t mattered that much as just breaking routine and being elsewhere (this is another topic) — but lately I do find that there are things that I just want to see — places that I haven’t been that I just have a desire to go to. I could do without the conversation though.
But then at least there is something to talk about at holiday parties where you don’t know anyone.