I once met a sailor. He was a commercial sailor. He was retired. Although he spoke clearly in English he had a delightful Irish/Scots brogue. He said he spent most of his career sailing the Baltic Sea. I was particularly tickled by the way he pronounced it “Baaaltic”. I found listening to his stories a most pleasant way to pass the time.
Part of the allure of being a sailor is the opportunity (open + portal + fortunate) to visit the most exotic ports of call. Sailors, adventurers, and traders were the worlds’ first tourists.
The urge to travel flows in part from innate curiosity – the desire to see something new, something different. For myself, after many years, I no longer subscribe to National Geographic magazine. After reading article after article about the disastrous degradation of the natural world and the relentless destruction of native cultures, I found it to be crushingly depressing.
But mostly, I’ve lost any real desire to travel on the basis that I already know there’s a McDonalds’ waiting in Beijing.
Capitalism, industrialization and global trade destroys all cultures and the uniqueness that draws the curious traveler. You might save up your money for years in order to visit a place you’ve only read about, make a long journey to the other side of the world, only to find yourself in an overpriced, hypocritical, superficial tourist trap where the natives, who don’t normally do so, run around naked just for the sake of the tourists and their dollars.
(And that exotic fare they serve? They don’t live on that crap. That’s just a running gag to see what kind of bugs they can trick the stupid tourists into eating.)
The concept of making a pilgrimage predates modern tourism and has a higher purpose than just curiosity. The pilgrim may seek enlightenment, a blessing, or the discharge of duty. More often though, the pilgrim seeks forgiveness and atonement for sins. How the idea of the pilgrimage first came about is lost in the mists of pre-history. A great historical event at a specific locale might draw the curious traveler to the very spot of its occurrence or a rumored miracle or other reported supernatural event would draw people in the hope of witnessing its recurrence.
The Holy City
In following the news for many a year, there is an expression that “sticks in my craw” if you will: the phrase “Holy City”. While not all journalists use it, with so much recent turmoil in the near and middle east, it crops up with increasing frequency.
“The holy city of . . .”
I include a news article from some time ago as an example of its use.
If a city is esteemed “holy” it just begs the question: “To whom is it holy?” Furthermore, if a city is “holy”, does that include the latrines? Does this “holiness” entail the midden (the garbage dump), the sewers, the charnel house (grave yard), the slaughterhouse, the whorehouse (and other ‘dens of inequity’); and what of those myriad commonplace things (gas stations) one might find in any city, ancient or new?
The fact is, no city – no place – no shrine – no icon or other religious objet d’art can be, or is, universally considered to be “holy”. That which is consecrated by some can be desecrated by others. You can call a city holy but to most it simply is not. You can call it “The Holy Grail” but to me it’s just a cup.
Only a man can be holy: Jesus sat among publicans and sinners and sinned not himself. To be holy means to be separate, to be set apart from the rest for a special purpose.
Touching some sacred object or visiting a sacred place or performing “sacred rituals” will not make you holy yourself.
The Unholy Cities
While the argument might seem jaded, if you still insist on traveling as a tourist, I would urge you to stick to the unholy cities and avoid the holy ones, simply because, from all the news accounts published over the years, you’re more likely to die a violent death (a high statistical probability, even being blown to stewmeat, perhaps) in a “holy city” than an “unholy” one.
It might even be more appropriate to use an English expression: “The bloody city of . . .”
The Tourist Trap
There is no discernable difference between the coin of the pilgrim and that of the common tourist. But the pilgrim is motivated by the fear of God and the hope of attaining Gods’ blessing and approval. It is manipulation and extortion on the part of these self-appointed ‘holy men’ – these intercessors, who take God himself hostage, to say you must do this or that, come here or go there, drop coin, pay an entry fee, and, if you fail to do so, you cannot get into Heaven.
I’ve been hearing reports on the Middle East conflict my whole adult life, and frankly, it’s downright tedious. It is as if Jerusalem was the center of the universe. To most of the people on this planet, including this author, it simply is not. In its historical perspective, many were (and still many are) convinced that whosoever controlled Jerusalem would have God by the balls.
Nothing could be further from the truth.