Innocents Abroad, or Innocence Aboard?


In our travels to the east, we were afforded an amiable, native as a guide. Her demeanor was such that we were never afraid to ask questions, or prod her for more information. She proved to be an eager, energetic font of knowledge that was so happy to share information about her home state that no one could mistake her for being anything less than a proud New Yorker.

If you don’t care for the food that a waiter serves you in New York, our guide informed us, the way to rectify this is through what the indigenous people call complaining. After numerous exercises in this course, she would provide us with a knowing smile that I scoured for some sort of condescension. I couldn’t find a hint of it. She knew that our experience with her state was limited, and that we were unaccustomed to the rich traditions of its indigenous people. Her goal was to try to help us learn how to get along with her people.

NYC-1She informed us of some of the “crazy people” we might encounter in our walk through her beloved city. The best example she could come up with was a man that exited his car screaming at an inflatable female under his arm. He continued this screaming, she said, until he entered his apartment. I wondered if there were any chivalrous males on the scene, and if they felt an innate impulse to step in and prevent this from escalating.

Our tour guide then attempted to expand this characterization she was building, as a world traveler, by correcting a native Mandarin speaker on their pronunciation of a Mandarin word. The native speaker exhibited some grace by avoiding the correction and continued answering my question. I asked our guide about the exchange later, and she informed me of the various dialects of Mandarin, leaving the impression that neither party was correct or incorrect about its pronunciation.

The one thing our guide did not prepare us for, were the number of people walking around New York City. We had both already been to New York City, so she may have figured that the sheer breadth of the population had already daunted us. The second time through, however, this widened snapshot of the world reminded me how many divergent thoughts exist on our little planet, and how many divergent takes there are on humor, sadness, misery, and horror. We have all experienced these emotions, on various levels throughout our lives, and we all consider our different experiences to be individualistic.

Bestselling books took on a different light, as I encountered so many different faces. Some books become bestsellers through the sheer brilliance of the writing, and some of the times we find these books. Some of the times, brilliance finds its own way of bubbling to the surface without critical assistance or an extensive and expensive marketing plan. Some of the times, word-of-mouth has its own way of worming through our culture. Even though the internet has made it possible for us to make the world a little smaller, and easier for word-of-mouth to spread, these books are still the exception to the rule on most bestselling lists. Those written for the sole purpose of becoming a bestseller still dominate. We all know these books when we’re reading them, and for some reason we all enjoy them. I used to consider it a concession to write a bestseller for the sole purpose of writing a bestseller, and I still do to some degree, but my prejudicial disdain for those that do diminished a little when, walking among the divergence, I realized what an accomplishment it is to appeal to this many people.

In my travels throughout the museums and art houses, I discovered a number of guides that were so well-informed and enthusiastic about their subject that they were just dying to talk about it. They described the artistic pieces as if it were one of their own. They viewed each question I provided them as an opportunity to launch into the history of the artist. They did it with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but be impressed, even though some of my questions could be perceived as a challenge to the artists’ aesthetics. I could tell that some of my questions wobbled them a bit, not that they were extra-intelligent, but different from the usual questions they were asked. One guy drank from a sports water bottle, like he was dying of thirst. My thought, while watching him, was that he wanted to have something to do with his hands. I made him nervous, but nervous in a good way, almost like he didn’t want to disappoint me and fail to live up to the challenge I was offering him. I did not intend for this to be a psychological experiment, but it turned out that way when I encountered one of the few that wasn’t as sure of herself as most of the guides were throughout my visits.

My questioning of her may have appeared aggressive, but it was not intended that way. The perception may have been borne of my desire to appear confident in the face of my nervousness. This woman answered me in a defensive manner. She attempted to give me a memorized response, and her body language suggested to me that she never wanted me to speak to her again. I didn’t. I allowed her to speak uninterrupted from that point forward, but I couldn’t help but think we were both missing an attempt to reach a greater understanding of this subject. I know what I know, in other words, but my desire to know more can cause me to appear somewhat obnoxious in the face of those that don’t have the same needs.

Our travel to the east concluded in airports, of course, and I encountered an individual that began flatulating. This wasn’t one of those simple three chord structures used in modern mainstream music, this contained some complicated rhythms that the Ancient Greeks would’ve called diatonic, a complication that appears exclusive to the jazz world, with a dominant seventh chord and a sharp ninth in succession. What bothered me about this is that I’ve been hearing my whole life that the indigenous people of the east, New Yorkers in particular, do everything better. They’re smarter, more creative, and more successful. It’s bothered me because I lived with this belief that we’re all people. We’re all from somewhere. We all have different faces, divergent thoughts, and our own individual experiences with horror, comedy, and drama, but we often end up reading the same books, watching the same TV shows and movies, and listening to most of the same music. In other words, for all that a person from the East experiences in relation to what a person from the Midwest might experience, and for all the opportunities they have to experience more by way of artistic exploration, it often comes out the same when we sit down to express ourselves. What I was hearing was different, no doubt, but was it a one off from an individual that must have ingested some inartful material, or was it one of the best arguments I’d ever heard that New Yorkers are, in fact, more creative, and do everything better?  No one would’ve confused this display with a Rachmaninoff structure, but it was beyond anything I’d heard in the Midwest.

 

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