Alain De Botton wrote the following post, over on Facebook, and I had to share it here.
Share it because it touches on my goal, to offer travelers a behind-the-scenes experience, while attending one of the photography workshops I organise, here in Italy.
My goal ... is all about opening doors and introducing people to one another. Closing the distance between the tourist and the locals.
I fell in love with Genova back in 2008. I've been returning ever since, and finally moved here in the summer of 2016. No regrets, just an ever-deepening passion for the city.
And I have this ever-growing list of favourite bars, restaurants, and secret places that are off the tracks beaten by tourists.
But here's Alain ...
THE LONGING TO TALK TO STRANGERS ABROAD
The tourist industry has been spectacularly successful at opening up foreign countries and introducing us to their most important and worthwhile attractions.
Except for one extraordinary omission: the people. By some unseen, undiscussed but all-powerful rule, tourism tends to separate us from the inhabitants of the countries we’ve come to visit. They remain shadowy, occasional figures: the guy by the pool, the taxi-driver from the airport, the nice lady who took us on the trip through the forest. But the real focus is always elsewhere, on the culture and the monuments, the natural spectacles and the food.
This is a source of serious sadness. Most of the places we want to travel to are associated with a distinctive way of being: an implicit personality. In New York, it might be confidence and modernity; in Amsterdam, the dignity of daily life; in Melbourne, a welcome directness and warmth. It’s a range of human virtues that draw us to places, but we’re normally only permitted to encounter these via their external, cultural expressions. We don’t really want to shop or see pictures; we want to talk.
Yet we remain - painfully - outsiders. We pass a big family celebration at a long table on a cafe terrace. Someone is singing a song everyone knows the words to. We scan the properties for sale in the windows of estate agents. We observe people after work catching trains and buses home to areas we know nothing of. We’re continually noticing interesting faces, styles of clothing, the gestures friends use when they greet one another. In the evening, we hear the sounds of a party filtering down from a brightly-lit third floor flat. We may have explored every painting this country made in the eighteenth century and become experts at the late medieval style of its temples, but we’re only scratching the surface of its being. The genius loci - the spirit of the place - is eluding us. We want to know what it would be like - if only for a few days - to join in and belong; and to try out for ourselves the nicest aspects of the attitudes and point of view of the people who live here.
In the travel industry of the future, we’ll regard booking a local friend as no different from booking a hotel room or a flight: just another essential, normal part of organising a successful trip.
Until then, we must develop our skills at courageously going up to strangers and sharing a thought on the weather or the state of local politics. Or else we must remain in our shy lonely cocoon, but can at least grow able to interpret our melancholy feelings as symptoms of an industry-wide failure, not a personal curse.