He always looked forward to the evening drives through the centre of Shanghai, this electric and lurid city, more exciting than any other in the world. As they reached the Bubbling Well Road he pressed his face to the windshield and gazed at the pavements lined with night-clubs and gambling dens, crowded with bar-girls and gangsters and rich beggars with their bodyguards. Crowds of gamblers pushed their way into the jai alai stadiums, blocking the traffic in the Bubbling Well Road. An armoured police van with two Thompson guns mounted in a steel turret above the driver swung in front of the Packard and cleared the pavement. A party of young Chinese women in sequinned dresses tripped over a child's coffin decked with paper flowers. Arms linked together, they lurched against the radiator grille of the Packard and swayed past Jim's window, slapping the windshield with their small hands and screaming obscenities. Nearby, along the windows of the Sun Sun department store in the Nanking Road, a party of young European jews were fighting in and out of the strolling crowds with a gang of older German boys in the swastika armbands of the Graf Zeppelin Club. Chased by the police sirens, they ran through the entrance of the Cathay Theatre, the world's largest cinema, where a crowd of Chinese shopgirls and typists, beggars and pickpockets spilled in the street to watch people arriving for the evening performance. As they stepped from their limousines the women steered their long skirts through the honour guard of fifty hunchbacks in mediaeval costume. Three months earlier, when his parents had taken Jim to the premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, there had been two hundred hunchbacks, recruited by the management of the theatre from every back alley in Shanghai. As always, the spectacle outside the theatre for exceeded anything shown on its screen.
Anybody who would like to travel as an archaeologist of mores and observe men instead of rocks could find an image of the century of Louis XV in some village in Provence, that of Louis XIV in Poitou, that of even more remote times in the far reaches of Brittany. Most of these cities have fallen from some splendor that historians, more preoccupied with dates than customs, no longer speak of, but whose memory lives on, such as in Brittany, where the national character scarcely accepts the forgetting of what this country is fundamentally about. . . All of these cities have their primitive character.
For the perfect idler, for the passionate observer it becomes an immense source of enjoyment to establish his dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very center of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world, such are some of the minor pleasures of those independent, intense and impartial spirits, who do not lend themselves easily to linguistic definitions. The observer is a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes.
The local is a shabby thing. There's nothing worse than bringing us back down to our own little corner, our own territory, the radiant promiscuity of the face to face. A culture which has taken the risk of the universal, must perish by the universal.
The traveler, however virginal and enthusiastic, does not enjoy an unbroken ecstasy. He has periods of gloom, periods when he asks himself the object of all these exertions, and puts the question whether or not he is really experiencing pleasure. At such times he suspects that he is not seeing the right things, that the characteristic, the right aspects of these strange scenes are escaping him. He looks forward dully to the days of his holiday yet to pass, and wonders how he will dispose of them. He is disgusted because his money is not more, his command of the language so slight, and his capacity for enjoyment so limited.
Okay. You are somewhere, at least in theory, between Butte and Mobile, going faster than sound in a long metal container that is not in physical contact with anything. A slight jiggling sensation at your prostate (if you have one) is, essentially, all that is holding you up 30,000 feet above something that looks like a badly distressed suede jacket, but is in fact the surface of the earth. You have been served a brown puddle with a lump in it, a rectangle of pale-yellow congealment, and some kind of mineral-based salad. There is a wheeeeengneeeenngn noise. The jiggle-at-the-prostate feeling gives way to a kind of giving-way sensation. You are swallowed by a cloud. Rule one: Maintain perspective.
The modern American tourist now fills his experience with pseudo-events. He has come to expect both more strangeness and more familiarity than the world naturally offers. He has come to believe that he can have a lifetime of adventure in two weeks and all the thrills of risking his life without any real risk at all.
Not so many years ago there was no simpler or more intelligible notion than that of going on a journey. Travel --movement through space --provided the universal metaphor for change. One of the subtle confusions --perhaps one of the secret terrors --of modern life is that we have lost this refuge. No longer do we move through space as we once did.
Modern tourist guides have helped raised tourist expectations. And they have provided the natives -- from Kaiser Wilhelm down to the villagers of Chichacestenango -- with a detailed and itemized list of what is expected of them and when. These are the up-to-date scripts for actors on the tourists stage.
Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.