Saturday, July 23, 2011


Oman is a remote destination: until the 1980s the country has been off limits to any foreign visitors. To get to the south of the country, into once-rebellious Dhofar region, is difficult even today. Two crowded commuter planes per day depart from the Omani capital, or one can take a 10-hour drive on a mountainous road.  From Salalah, the center of Dhofar, there is a gravel road that leads north, over the mountains, then through the desert. After two hours one would reach the ruins of ancient city of Ubar. Beyond is nothing, the vast expanse of sandy Arabian desert, known here as the Empty Quarter.

Why do people travel to places like this?

Some scholars see a desire to experience the most remote and the least accessible places on the globe as a quest for personal authenticity. “They expect, and find, rejuvenation when they 
reach a world as far as possible away from their own, which changes them not only because of its purported primal spiritual power, but also because of the 
dangers and discomfort they have gone through to reach it. Tourists of this type 
resemble pilgrims to a holy site, practicing austerities along the way to ensure
 the validity of their religious experience.” (Charles Lindholm, Culture and Authenticity).

Exact nature of this “rejuvenation” might be hard to define.  I think it is different and personal for each participant, for each tourist. For some, it is just a welcome break, for others, a kind of immersive meditation. Getting a new sense of perspective. Clearing your head, as if restarting a computer. In times like these, we all should be doing it once in a while. 

Blogger RWordplay said...

Remote is such a subjective notion. To be remote is to be removed, to move oneself from the actual or imagined company of others. To create distance—spatial, temporal, real or imaginary.

The more remote the place, the person, the more desirable: A place so far away all limits are lifted, all obligations relieved. This is why women so often seek the man whose gaze is directed furthest from her. Or, why she turns the cold shoulder to the one who approaches her. The object that is remote is hidden; the hidden object conceals the what is most desired.

Is the sacred pilgrimage akin to the profane one? I suspect only on the surface, or insofar as its distance can be measured. I disagree with Lindholm because he hedges his observation with the word "resemble." Nothing is as different as a resemblance.

The tourist only resembles the pilgrim. The pilgrim loses him/herself to find him/herself with/in God. The tourist seeks the antithesis of God: him/herself.

In the age of of "global accessibility" one is never truly remote—one can make a telephone call from the summit of Mt. Everest or from the ocean floor. One documents his/her achievement and broadcasts it. The pilgrim's quest is to rid the self of the self, to become remote from him/herself.

Rejuvenation may be a reward or an outcome of removing oneself, but a true pilgrimage exposes him/herself to the greatest risk—the annihilation of the self and a subsequent repudiation of the world left behind. The tourist searches for "validation or for "authenticity" the way a collector of badges seeks a new enamel button.

If we "reboot" only to return to our cubicle, to our circle, to our "work," the best we managed to achieve is a story to tell, a memory to preserve and as many souvenirs as our wallets can carry.

July 23, 2011 at 5:14 PM  

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