One of the rituals connected to the profession of teaching is an activity I came to call “competitive tourism.” It happens every fall when teachers come together to vie with one another, bearing tales of summer travel. Many decades ago, a few weeks spent in Europe poking around cathedrals and museums was a quite distinct entry in the travel competition, but Europe soon became a clichéd way for teachers to recreate themselves.
Any poor schlumpf who showed up at a faculty party with stories about the Louvre was more to be pitied than envied. The hipper travelers were coming back from places like Kathmandu or Borneo, bragging about having eaten snakes at an out-of-the-way spot known only to the cognoscenti. One teacher I know took a tour to Africa and came back boasting about dancing with Maasai warriors. “It changed my life,” she said, and perhaps it did because soon thereafter she took an administrative job; though how that change in career trajectory could be traced to the terpsichorean experience she’d had with very tall Africans who were earning their living by dancing with tourists remains something of a mystery.
I gave up the competitive-tourism exercise long ago, but I’m writing this piece from France, and I can’t resist bragging about it. I’m proud to be here, though all I really did was plunk my butt on a stuffy aircraft and then—voilà!—a dozen or so hours later, I got off that plane and I was being driven into Paris by one of the inevitable African cab drivers who add so much local color to the City of Light.
That was the beginning of another great learning experience, of course, and I pridefully share it with you—though I know perfectly well that pride goeth before a fall.
But the real point here is that I was in France and, in all likelihood, you weren’t. I was eating the most extraordinary pastries while you were choking down your Cheerios. I was nose-to-nose with some of the world’s art masterpieces, and I was taking in the sights of a new village just about daily—some of which were graced by ruins dating back to Roman times.
You, on the other hand, were probably slogging through some godforsaken Wal-Mart before heading over to Duffy’s to drink away the summertime blues: an affliction of the spirit traceable to the fact that other people were elsewhere while you were stuck in Chico suffering through the summer heat.
À bientôt from la belle France, mes amis.