Perhaps, I will again change the topic of today’s post a little, and write not about adventure books, but about tourism.
Of course, I love to travel like most of you. But now I’d like rather to dwell on the fact that for me, as well as for many other Russians, tourism is generally something more than just staying in a hotel, swimming in the pool and the evening opportunity to have fun at discos.
In Russian culture, and more percisely – in the Russian verbal space, there is such a well-known phrase (we would nowadays call it something like “meme”): “A poet in Russia is more than a poet”. These words were said by our poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (who lived and lectured his last years in Tulsa, Oklahoma), who was continuing with this phrase the Russian tradition of reasoning about the proper place of a poet in society – for example, the Russian classical writer Nikolai Nekrasov discussed this in his poem “Citizen and Poet”. And now I will paraphrase this statement of Yevtushenko and say this way: “Tourism in Russia is more than tourism.”
Several months ago, I re-read Orhan Pamuk’s “Black Book”, and while learning the details of the life of Turkish inhabitants of the middle of the 20th century, I discovered a lot in common with the life of the Soviet people of the same period. For many years, we, the Soviet people, lived with the feeling that all the most interesting was happening somewhere out there, behind the border of our tremendous country, and we lived in a kind of backyard of civilization. Judge for yourself: Soviet people understood that the furniture of domestic production was not so fashionable, and the plumbing was not so modern as abroad, and there were much fewer types of sausages in the grocery store, and only those pop stars used to come on tour to Russia whose popularity had long been on the decline, and censorship in our country was raging, meticulously inspecting too bold masterpieces of western cinema and literature.
When, finally, the Iron Curtain was destroyed in 1991, the Russian tourists flooded overseas countries, which we learned before only from books and from films about the “sweet life” of the local bohemia, in which we, for example, might see some offspring of a rich family or a stylish beauty sipping casually some next drink from a fashionable glass on the edge of the pool, with a boring look talking about something very different from the values of the era of developed socialism …
At this very point, I will take this opportunity to post my own photo by the pool, taken in Turkey:)
But still, in order to fully understand the driving force of Russian tourism, you need to take into account another point. In Russia, for example, some architectural styles are missing that are widely represented on the streets of European cities. And, perhaps, even in the most ancient cities of Russia there are no streets associated with such an ancient, and most importantly, with such famous and popular historical facts as there are in Europe.. And well educated Russians are very susceptible to this interest in history.
Here is what one of the heroes of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Teenager” novel, published in 1875, says about this (in this case, I will not dwell on the fact that the hero eloquently contrasts Russia, full of spirituality and suffering for the whole world, and frivolous Europe, leaning into atheism):
“For a Russian, Europe is as precious as Russia: every stone in it is dear. Europe was our fatherland just like Russia. Oh, even more! It is impossible to love Russia more than I love her, but I have never reproached myself for the fact that Venice, Rome, Paris, the treasures of their sciences and arts, their whole history is dearer to me than Russia. Oh, these old strange stones, these miracles of the old world of God, these fragments of holy miracles are so dear to the Russians; and this is even dearer to us than to themselves! They now have other thoughts and other feelings, and they stopped cherishing old stones … “
Perhaps, Russian tourists have a special inclination to visiting Italy with its majestic cities filled with history. And all this fascination, this kind of pleasant intoxication may even not be completely understandable to the locals, who are simply parasitizing the tourism … What I suggest you see in this seven-minute fragment of a Russian-Italian film from 1993 …
If you are lucky enough to know Russian or Italian, then you can even make out what exactly the characters are talking about in this fragment. 🙂 Well, otherwise, you can just enjoy the beautiful views of Venice and let your imagination run wild. 🙂