In this month’s issue of Vanity Fair, James Wolcott had some interesting things to say about the emerging cash-cow that dying has become. It’s indeed a sales-pitch that seems to envision a reversal of our sullied senses in the face of a global recession. For awhile now, I’ve been a vulture in bookstores waiting to devour some newly discounted books and recently, I could not help but notice the increase in titles intending to make people aware of their mortality so they might decide to indulge in a Bacchanalian spree–because life is so short. Imagine seeing rows and rows of books in the travel section determined to convince us all to break away from the drudgery of the commonplace and embark on our own, “preplanned” adventures. What with an entire aisle dedicated to the one hundred places one must see and the one hundred songs one must hear–heck, I wouldn’t doubt the existence of the one hundred dishes to consume before one dies!–the list goes on. One hundred is in vogue and in a dark-humored sense, I manage to giggle thinking of how absurd it is to enjoy a hundred destinations when we hardly even live to be a hundred these days.
Whoever made 100 the new 20 must have been lonely or at least selfishly inclined to promote a lifestyle that would undoubtedly add more misery to a person’s life that a true sense of accomplishment. The absurdity of lists doesn’t always lie in content but rather in the motives behind them. I’d like to think that the profound sense of peace people attain in life (and face in death) is not some trivial pursuit of places or things that have no inherent meaning in our lives than to be crossed out of some silly list. Sure we can have our hopes and dreams tallied on a sheet of paper kept under the pillow each night but there is no sincere end to the mass proliferation of random places and things under the title: Places/Things everyone must see. I imagine travel writers like Paul Theroux must be outraged. What kind of real adventure is left in the wake of these lists? The way I remember adventure when I first learned about it involved a chosen initiative or the more often-used-sometimes-trite: journey. In these quests the characters embarked on adventures under the auspices of great ideals. From the pursuits of knights to save their princesses to the search for land in uncharted territories, adventure was a inevitable step but never the end goal. Even then, the accomplishment that was coupled with one’s exploits ceased to be narrowed down to a vapid collection of random conquests.
The commercialization of travel thanks to low-cost airlines and the internet might have subdued my dreams of discovering the unknown but it hasn’t dried out the wonder inherent in places I have always dreamed of visiting. As for the 100 places/books/dishes and songs to see/read/taste and hear–let them cater to those who have to be pushed out of their indolence to see the sublime inherent in their routines. And let those who really travel and explore never forget the pleasure of discovering one’s path and taking it one step at a time.