Tuesday 21 May 2013

May 21, 2013

            On Saturday a young couple and their smiling baby sat down in front of me for a few songs. I assume that they were tourists because they were smoking cigarettes and drinking open beers in a comfortable, casual way that lacked the guilt-ridden defiance that typically accompanies these activities if you are native to Vancouver. The scene made me pretty homesick for Montreal’s more relaxed European climate, where a beautiful piece of legislation called “the picnic law” stipulates that open alcohol is permitted in public so long as there is both food and a comfortable sitting implement (such as a blanket) present. It also made me happy to see that these tourists had brought bits of their home with them on their travels. As I watch tourists climb on and off of the big shiny tour buses and go in and out of the equally shiny souvenir shops, I am often reminded of P.K. Page’s “The Permanent Tourists” and its description of tourists as bland, personalityless beings, trying to somehow fill out their identities with snapshots and souvenirs of the places they have visited. My momentary glimpse into this family’s Saturday afternoon broke through this jaded view I’ve been holding and reminded me that the world really is made up of all different kinds of people, and while that may include mindless frequenters of junky souvenir shops, it also includes people so driven by their curiosity about the world that they will go through the trouble of taking their infant daughter on a long plane ride just to enjoy a Pacific Pilsner and listen to a young girl play her ukulele in the sunshine.

Oh, and if any of you are interested in that P.K. Page poem, here it is!

The Permanent Tourists
Somnolent through landscapes and by trees
nondescript, almost anonymous,
they alter as they enter foreign cities—
the terrible tourists with their empty eyes
longing to be filled with monuments.
 Verge upon statues in the public squares
remembering the promise of memorials
yet never enter the entire event
as dogs, abroad in any kind of weather,
move perfectly within their rainy climate.
 Lock themselves into snapshots on the steps
of monolithic bronze as if suspecting
the subtle mourning of the photograph
 might later conjure in the memory
all they are now incapable of feeling.
 And search all heroes out: the boy who gave
his life to save a town; the stolid queen;
forgotten politicians minus names
and the plunging war dead, permanently brave,
forever and ever going down to death.
 Look, you can see them nude in any café
reading their histories from the bill of fare,
creating futures from a foreign teacup.
Philosophies like ferns bloom from the fable
that travel is broadening at the cafe table.
 Yet somehow beautiful, they stamp the plaza.
Classic in their anxiety they call
all sculptured immemorial stone
into their passive eyes, as rivers
draw ruined columns to their placid glass.

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