Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Survey of Cities I Will Likely Never Visit


Sometimes when I have exhausted, or been exhausted by, my usual rounds of internet reading and cannot think of any other search possibilities that are likely to turn up anything that will excite me, I cast about for blogs by old graduates of my alma mater, not because there will almost always be a sympathy there--in fact this is almost never the case--but because the likelihood of finding one is still much greater than it is around any other association. With me it is perhaps a sympathy rooted in the sadness of having entrusted one's impressionable mind and youthful enthusiasm and affections to the influence of a cult whose relation to the outside world, insofar as it can be positive, was however always well beyond the capacity of one's understanding. Still, a sympathy is a sympathy. Anyway, such sites as I am referring to in this roundabout way are naturally scarce. The most common type of St John's blogger seems to be an ecclesiastic of some kind whose deepest concerns are with arcana of biblical scholarship and religious doctrine such as would not have been out of place in the 17th century (minus the enthusiasm, expressed at least, for having their theological adversaries put to the torch). There are comparatively few post-Great Books lifestyle bloggers such as myself. One I have found that was pretty good, though the site appears to be defunct now, is the Carfree Family blog, which was about a pretty diehard St John's couple with children who lived in Santa Fe for seven years without a car. Recent circumstances seem to have forced them to reluctantly rejoin automobile culture, which transition also has had the effect of ending the blog by stripping it of its governing theme. I do not know these people, as they are a few years older than I am--3 or 4, it looks like--and they went to the Western campus. Their environmental consciousness and dedication to an anti-corporate diet and overall lifestyle are a lot more thorough and strident than I would probably be able to endure, even if my wife had turned out to be the kind of person who demands such things, which one never thinks about as a desperate 20 year-old; but still, if I strain my antennae for the identification of fellow members of the brotherhood, there is a recognition of some faint and highly subtle--highly--kind, whether of taste, or thought process, or comparative restraint/ underdevelopment of the ego, that suggests a relation.

The object of this extravagant introduction is a rather minor observation that this writer made about being forty-five and therefore considering himself to be at about the midpoint of his life. This struck me as remarkably optimistic. It is impossible for me to imagine myself living to anywhere near the age of 90, and even 80 seems a stretch. It is not that I am particularly unhealthy, but I am a large-framed person who probably has a larger than average heart (this was true even when I weighed 160 pounds) and men like that often drop at some point before their mid-70s, and I don't think I have ever seen a 90-year old with my body type. And even if I were to live until 90, I know of very few people who have been able to live either physically or mentally in a manner that I would find at all tolerable much past 75, and almost all of those people were 1) considerably wealthier than I am, and 2) very intelligent, and very educated, in both cases much more than I am. I am sure there are exceptions, but one cannot count on the likelihood of his being an exception in any situation where that is what will be required of him to attain it.

Obviously then, I consider myself to be well past the midpoint of my own life, and as such, reveling as I do in a state of endless anhedonia, I often muse on the rapidly-dwindling number of days that remain to me and the various that it is increasingly likely I will never do and never will have done. For example I have begun of late to think on all of the famous cities I will probably never see, as well as those I have seen but likely won't see again. I decided to make a post estimating my chances where various of these are concerned. I have not taken the time to develop or research a formula that would provide more statistically accurate figures, so if you are wondering how I came up with a probability of 30% for such and such a place, that is based on nothing but a comparison with other cities and my perception of the ease and expense of getting there and indulging in tourism there. Below the 50% threshold I suspect my numbers here are much higher than a professional statistician would determine them to me.

99%+--Boston

Unless I am killed in a car crash or murdered or drop dead of a heart attack within the next couple of weeks, I will probably make it to Boston again, as it is only an hour and a half away, and I even often have a practical excuse or even necessity to go there, though the advent of online shopping has certainly curtailed these occasions from what they once were too. Indeed my son just went there today with his school on a field trip. So assuming I live a normal life span, I should still have many trips to Boston left me. Perhaps one of my children will even go to college or live there at some point, which thought actually cheers me up a little bit, though perhaps this is a pipe dream in the new economic reality--between the relentless bad news on that front and the New York society papers I have started to become resigned to the idea that my children will likely flunk out of community college, never leave home or have a career and take crystal meth all the time; but even in the harshest foreseeable reality that probably won't be the case for at least a couple of them, right?

97%--New York 

I usually drive through several times a year, though of late I have had intervals of 3-4 years without making it out onto the streets. I always plan at least one annual multi-night trip, even if I don't make, and really I should go down 3 or 4 times a years. It is kind of a disgrace to live this close to one of the super cities of the planet and have been in it as little as I have over the years. I have often lamented that when I have gone there that I have never quite found, I wouldn't call it peace, but a sense of contentment at being in the moment. I have not connected with the great New York themes and experiences. Something has always thrown me off just a little. I have never felt that I had enough time, or enough money, or found a hotel, a neighborhood, a bar, a restaurant, a theater, or any kind of scene where I have been able to feel like I was fully involved or taking part in the life going on around me, which is a level I feel I have gotten to in some other relatively cosmopolitan places. All this said, the likelihood that I will be back at least one more time is overwhelming, though I am getting to the stage of life where taking two or three year intervals between visits begins to become a real risk.

92%--Washington, DC

The frequency of my visits here is dwindling with every decade, but I still make it down to the area every couple of years. It's near where I went to school, and I am familiar enough with it that it's more likely than with some place I've never been to that I will make a pointed effort to get there sometime in the next few years to show my older children the monuments before they are out of high school. The last couple of times I have been there, during which I spent a combined time of about four hours, I have not been able to escape without receiving expensive and to my mind dubious traffic citations in the $200-300 range. One was for parking on the street near the mall in a space which was marked "2 hour parking 8AM to 4PM". In most of the rest of the country, this would indicate that the parking hours were unlimited outside of those hours unless specified but in Washington apparently this can mean that there is no parking after 4pm. Since every car parked on the street at ten minutes past four had a ticket on it and the towing was commencing apace--I was lucky in this that I happened to have parked in the middle and they hadn't gotten to me yet--I am confident that the signs were deliberately deceptive, which is very low policy, and whoever's idea it was to implement it  ought to be ashamed of him or her self. On the second occasion I made the foolish decision to cut through town on 295 on my way to Florida to enliven the journey a little--about a 20 minute detour--and about a month afterwards received a notice that my car had been recorded traveling 68 miles per hour or some such speed by a camera that is doubtless expertly positioned to catch speeding violators. I find this to be a very dark and bad practice. Part of being a civilized society is to recognize that in certain matters having the ability to do certain things does not mean that we ought to do them, and I think it is very telling that it is in our capital cities, where, supposedly, the very smartest and most qualified to wield power of the entire nation are concentrated, that these types of oppressive technologies seem to be most enthusiastically utilized.

89%--Montreal

I haven't been now for three or four years. I have the impression that the whole family, including the children, need passports to drive into Canada now, though I haven't bothered to take the time to investigate the matter thoroughly. My older boys who fondly remember our former visits there ask from time to time if we are ever going to go back. We used to stay in the "family room" at the youth hostel there, which is a very nice one, with a excellent cafe (craft beer on tap!) and lounge/game room. I fear I am starting to get old for youth hostel bedding, but the atmosphere at this particular place is pretty cosmopolitan, which I like the children to be exposed to.

75%--London

Maybe I am being overly optimistic, but as it is still quite easy and relatively inexpensive to get to from where I live, and the odds are that if I ever go anywhere overseas again, this is likely to be the first or second stop.

73%--Chicago

No reason, other than that it is big, not terribly far away, and seems not implausible that if I live another 30 years I might at some point have a reason to go there.

72%--Paris

Maybe a few points high, considering that I have only managed to get there twice, and one of those occasions only being for a day and a half, in 42 years, but like New York, I have only had a handful of in-the-moment Paris epiphany type moments, though the source of my dissatisfaction with these, which all came on my second visit, is that my time there was necessarily so brief and harried. I was I think starting to tap into some real Paris type thought and sensory reception motifs, but I could never linger over them as I would have liked. And my poor first visit when I was twenty was just sad (that is to say I was even a sadder excuse for a person at the time than I am now, and Paris dealt with me as such).

66%--Prague

Also probably too high, but it still does not seem real to me that I would never go back again.

60%--Rome

I'm pretty optimistic about making it back to Rome, as it is a (probably deceptively) agreeable and easy place to visit. Because of the age and layout of the fairly large tourist area, and the apparent lack of a charmless and overwhelming area dedicated to mega-business in the same, the city seems smaller and its pleasures more accessible than they probably are. Plus I threw a coin in the Fountain when I was there before on a suitably romantic and beautifully unhurried evening, so I have to make it back, don't I?

55%--Venice/Florence

If I can make it to Rome, there is no reason I can't make it back to these places again. I am rating my chances of returning to cities I have already been to higher because I am already familiar with the logistics of getting to and moving about in them, so it is easy to imagine getting back to them. I have not been to Spain, for example, so all the warnings about language barriers and gypsy thieves and the need to be assertive with waiters and hoteliers that the guidebooks are full of tend to be, not daunting to me, but a cause for mild consternation; however the same books give similar warnings with regard to Italy and France and other countries I have been to and I have generally found myself able to cope with such situations as have arisen; and if I can cope with something, you can be assured it must not be any very serious matter to begin with.

43%--New Orleans

I don't know why. I feel like I keep getting closer to it, and someday I am just going to take the final plunge and go there. It doesn't sound like a place where I would have very much fun, as I am generally an inhibited person who is uncomfortable around gregarious 'character'-type people--in other words, I am unfriendly--and I don't know how much I would be able to partake in and appreciate the food and other aspects of sensual culture, which seems to be essential to the experience. But I think it is possible I could enjoy myself if  my time there progressed in a certain course amenable to my being able to relax some of my learned habits of despair and hopelessness and the like in the face of other people engaging enjoyably in life.

38%--San Francisco/Los Angeles

I find it hard to believe I will never go to California, but the years keep passing, and eventually they will run out. It is plausible one of my children could live there at some point, which could provide the impetus for me to go out there; at the same time if they are successful, or trying to be, they might be adamant about cutting off all contact with me, I might be too low to move in such circles as they will have ascended to, and so forth. I understand how such things work, and that it might be necessary. I won't complain endlessly like my mother's old neighbors who slaved to put their daughter through Princeton and which daughter now won't call or allow them to visit her in Manhattan or wherever she lives.

32%--Las Vegas

I would still love to go and partake in the nihilistic partying even at my decrepit age, though I would probably not be able to find my scene. If I do ever go there, it will likely be a very short stop while passing through to get to somewhere else. It is almost assured that nothing will take place that will have to stay there.

30%--Athens/Edinburgh/Vienna/Madrid

I would put the chance of my going to at least one of these places at over 50%. These strike me as the easiest places to get to among the cities I have never been to. Maybe the figure for Athens is overly optimistic.

28%--Naples/Berlin

Similar to the group just above but a notch below in burning desire to get there (at present; desires change frequently).

27%--Munich/Amsterdam

The third tier of this general group.

22%--Budapest/Krakow

Of the places I have been, these strike me as the least likely I will ever return to, though I hope that isn't the case.

21%--Seattle/Vancouver

Again I am ranking high because of the eventual possibility of child relocation. I'd like to see these places, but it is much less clear to me what there is for adults to do as tourists in American cities than in Europe, where the path to an enjoyable day or evening with some sense of flow to it is laid out somewhat more obviously.

18%--Copenhagen

I would like to go here, but as it is very expensive, not essential, and a little out of the way, it is bumped lower down than some of the other cities.

14%--Lisbon/Barcelona

Lisbon suffers from a similar problem to Copenhagen. Barcelona is probably the great European tourist city I am least keen on visiting. I think this is because it is promoted as being a vibrant modern kind of place, with hip attractions and street life and all the kinds of things that are directly opposed to the kind of guy I am. London also tries to do this, but I know what and where all the old stuff is there, so I am usually not unduly affected by it. But especially in Spain I would be there to take consolation in the picturesque relics of a dead world. I may secretly wish to be capable of enjoying and interacting constructively with cutting edge pan-European architecture and international class fusion cuisine; but the truth is, I probably am not.

11%--Moscow/St Petersburg

Not looking good now for me to ever get to Russia.

10%--Istanbul/Jerusalem

My problem at the moment is not so much money (though I don't have enough certainly to drag all of my children around to the great cities of the world for months and years on end), as time. I do not have any in the present, and I am running out of it in the future. That is the only reason at present for my not having been to these cities.

8%--Cairo 

Number too high, but I want to stretch out the list. Tourism to Egypt has apparently withered to almost nothing since the recent revolution and continued troubles there. The place has been a mecca for visiting European types since Herodotus, so it is hard to imagine it will continue as a rarely-visited destination in the future. The demographic, political and economic situation there presently is so explosive however that it very well may for a while.

7%--Honolulu

I can't imagine I will ever actually get here--tiny tropical islands thousands of miles distant from any continent rank among the locales that hold the least general appeal to me. However, it is part of our country, I'm not opposed to going there, and perhaps someday the opportunity will present itself.

6%--Mexico City/Melbourne/Sydney/Buenos Aires

Of course I would like to go to all these places, though I don't know much about them, other than that in Buenos Aires they eat lots of steak and it is supposed to be like a cheaper mini-Paris. Psychologically they are, at the moment, very remote. My world, sadly, has become very constricted, and I am not sure how to expand it again.

5%--Rio de Janiero/Tokyo/Kyoto/Beijing/Mumbai

Same as the last group, only even less psychologically accessible.

4.5%--Shanghai/Calcutta

In my perception, the backup cities of China and India.

4%--Hong Kong/Delhi

And here the number 3s.

3%--Seoul/Marrakesh/Teheran

There just isn't enough time, unless I can rapidly figure out how to triple my income while working 3 fewer months a year. If I were to spend just three nights in every city above these in the list, that would take up 147 days. How many days do I have remaining to me, while in a reasonable state of health, for traveling of any kind? 400 maximum? The real probabilities here for everything below Las Vegas are about a tenth of what I've listed, i.e. the actual number for Teheran is more like 0.3%.

2%--Dubai/Macau/Bangkok/Perth/Singapore/Cape Town

1%--Sao Paolo/Lima/Osaka/Tianjin

Less than 1%--Lagos /Jakarta/ Manila/ Karachi/ Dhaka/ Kuala Lampur

Southeast Asia is the area of the world that I have always had the least interest in visiting. I know it is supposed to be spectacular and it is likely that if I went there, as long as nothing terrible happened to me, I would probably think it was great. My romantic imagination is not captivated by it in the same way it is by other places. The southeast Asian jungle and vegetation, I must admit, strike me as the ugliest and most unpleasant earthly landscape there is, and the climate is highly unappealing as well. I don't even want to think about what the insects must be like (in New England our modest and harmless bugs are all going away right about now and we won't see them again until April or May, which is fine with me). But none of this is to say that I would not go there, or that I would be miserable, or at least no more miserable than I am generally.

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