Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Grand Tour

This entire continent is preparing for summer.  They remind me of  a bride preparing for a huge wedding.   There are preparations to make her more beautiful.  There are orders of fabulous food and beautiful clothes being delivered.  La grande fête is quickly approaching.  In Italy, the roadwork continues after dark, a policeman polishes a pay phone, box after box of new shipments are delivered to retail stores- all in expectation of the upcoming season.  In France, there are parts of the sidewalk torn up in order for repairs to be made to underground wiring, bike lanes are being repaired, fresh concrete being laid at the yacht club and the bakery below our apartment has been completely gutted with a promise from Frederique that it would be completed "dans vingt-quatre jours"(in 24 days).  The jackhammers and grinders, sheetrock dust and cardboard waste that accompany the preparations are unbelievable.  And it is important that they court their suitors.  In 2015, tourism accounted for 9% of Global GDP but in the EU tourism is their third largest industry over manufacturing, agriculture, banking and financial services.  Tourism directly accounts for over 14 million jobs on this continent.  No wonder they are working toward a deadline- I suspect it is Easter.  The high season for travel on this continent is March through September with tourism peaking in the month of August.  Even Europeans travel during these months with 25% of their travel during July and August.  The locals can enjoy the quiet from October to February but the months for these shopkeepers and restaurants to make their money are quickly approaching.  

The word tourism is loaded with negative connotations and imagery of tacky, sunburned sightseers purchasing souvenirs and clogging restaurant waiting lists at the beach.  Most travelers to Europe, tacky or not, seek to learn something about the culture whether by visiting monuments, museums, and historical sights or trying new foods and learning new languages.  In short, learning about the culture-at least a little bit.  Cultural tourism started almost 400 years ago when the aristocratic and entrepreneurial middle class families of Europe began to send their youth on the "Grand Tour".

According to a book I recently purchased,

" the Grand Tour became a pilgrimage from town to town in search of evidence of the Greek and Roman antique, classical cultures.  ...  The Grand Tour experience was intended to help the members of the new cultural ruling class gain necessary qualities such as:  spirit of initiative, courage, leadership, the ability to make decisions and also knowledge of customs, manners, behavior, and foreign languages."

We are right in the middle of spring break season.  Pete has labeled Nice the "Ivy League Panama City" with all the giddy english-speaking student groups crowding around our favorite gelato stand(in Nice, it's Fennochio) and attempting to enjoy the beach on a 14C day(that is high 50s, low 60s).  Even with all that, I see tourists reading signs, entering museums, diligently following guides and soaking up as much of the culture as possible- while also enjoying the beauty of their surroundings and the warm sunshine.  There are tours here for people to learn French cooking, to develop their photography skills while learning about the city, and a french immersion school where students live at the villa for 2 weeks to fine tune their language skills.  These are great examples of interactive, engaged learners experiencing more than the top 5 tourist sites.

This morning, I asked Camille and Pete if they felt like they were gaining any of the qualities of the Grand Tour.  Fortunately, they answered a resounding yes.  Examples of courage were sailing in super heavy wind and cold conditions, putting yourself out there when you attempt another language(that you are probably butchering) and going to the butcher to buy meat.  The cited the freedom of living in a big city with public transportation as the best example of making their own decisions- daily they walk to the market, go to the park, ride VeloBlue bikes to the yacht club -all without me.  They both gave examples of eating with their German, Hungarian and Finnish friends at the hostel as learning about customs.  The other sailors eat with hats on and elbows on the table but offer to pour water for you and serve your plate before their own.  Lastly, the knowledge of a foreign language is obvious.  Every trip to the bakery, ride on a train, or walk to the park sparks your brain to decipher signs and search for words.  We have created a french chore chart for nous appartement and take turns ordering in the markets for practice.  Food is a great motivator for a 14 year old boy so Pete's best attempts come when he wants his meal to come out right.

One of our biggest revelations has been how they address not only their successes but also their mistakes.  Obviously, we can credit the Italian peninsula with Roman advances in art, architecture, and engineering as well as the birth of the Renaissance and home to artists that shaped and continue

to shape the world.  But until last week in Northern Italy, I had never thought of how they deal with the more dismal parts of their history.  During WWII, after the Armistice was signed in September 1943, the division between the monarch, Vittorio Emmanuel III, and the fascist party and their leader Benito Mussolini divided the country.  The region of Lake Garda was the center of the Fascist party- Mussolini had a villa on the lake less than 5 minutes from where the kids were sailing.  Lake Garda was a vacation spot for Nazi leaders and Saló, a small town on the southern part of the lake, became the headquarters for the Italian Socialist Republic.   So the same small village that claims to be the birthplace of the inventor of the violin and several scientific(seismological and medical) advances must also claim as part of their history - the supporters of Fascism.  The same book that
champions the "Grand Tour" justified their involvement by stating "Fascism vanishes into Nazism and Nazi-
fascism mingles with the cause of a war that is carried on beyond any reasonable calculation or human endurance.  The battle for peace therefore becomes the battle against fascism."  They do not willingly accept any blame.  Nor do Germans when discussing the same war.  It seems to be an American custom to legitimize social guilt for history that occurred 150 years ago.

We have had Brits at church and German sailors all poke fun at the current American presidential election asking what we think and what will happen to our country.  The natural instinct is to apologize for the media circus and our lack of relevant, rational, prepared leaders to serve our country.  Good manners and our set of cultural customs has prevented us from asking about their biggest political mistakes and what happened to them?  We left the apartment the other day when we heard chanting in the Place de Palais de Justice.  It turned out to be a Young Socialist rally- mainly kids with an excuse to be out of school, lacking even the passion to remain standing(or off their cell phones) during their protest.

No country is exempt from its mistakes or its successes.  The challenge for modern learners is to take all of that information from our omniscient view whether it is 300, 100 or 70 years later and become engaged in the world we live in.  Maybe part of the courage we are to gain on this "tour" is to not only build our opinions based on a wealth of knowledge we have been lucky enough to experience but also have the courage to verbalize and defend those opinions and ideals.

For a great video see Kevin McLoud's "The Grand Tour"

1 comment:

  1. What?! No Political discussions on international historical fails ... and you call yourself a Republican. ;-) All kidding aside it sounds like you guys are getting that amazing hind-sight vision that comes from being just set far enough away from something to really get a good viewpoint. Hope your kiddos will come back and share! Love these posts! Miss you!