Saturday, 24 October 2015

sentimental journey

Once Protestantism took hold in large swathes of northern Europe, particularly in England, the pilgrimage undertaken to exotic lands fell out of fashion, people of means needed to articulate another rite of passage that would fulfil this lost outlet. Almost immediately, the notion of the Grand Tour was invented as an authoritative substitute, since one could claim instant superiority in matters of taste and worldliness over one’s neighbours for having seen the masterpieces of the continent first-hand and having even brought back some art as souvenirs.

Though such deportment would have been non- permissible beforehand on the Camino de Santiago, such gap year trips were also seen as not only edifying but also the chance to discretely work whatever hot-blooded passions (associated already with Mediterranean climes) that might need to be exorcised to avoid any scenes at home. The odd and singular aspect of these sojourns was that the itinerary was squarely planted in Catholic lands, which were considered the subversive enemy for the reformed countries of the north—almost as if the most popular tourist-destination for Americans during the Cold War was Stalingrad, immersed in the culture of an ideological nemesis. Many Britons and others felt it was unpatriotic to indulge the sights of the south, but a domestic tourism industry was not developed until the French Revolution made travel impossible, and the Low Countries as well as Scotland and the fjords of Norway were discovered by people who had not previous ventured outside the capitals. After matters had settled down a bit and travel to Southern Europe was again possible, people complained of the changed character of tourism—there were just too many of them and one could hardly be enraptured by art and architecture in a pulsing, pushing crowd of sight-seers. The elite among the holiday-makers began turning away from these cultural enlightening itineraries in response and began to focus on natural destinations, like the beaches and mountains, leaving the cities and museums for the masses.