Leave only footprints, take only selfies is the new moral maxim of the tourist. At the Trevi Fountain, the battle of the selfie sticks is waged daily.
It is said that when you visit the Trevi Fountain and throw a coin in it, you will one day return. More precisely, you need to stand with your back to the fountain and toss a coin over your left shoulder. The spell of this magical act must be quite useful because every visit in the past I have thrown a coin into the fountain, and here I am yet again at this hot-spot of global tourism.
The fountain was partially closed for tourists because the maintenance crew were sucking up all the coins. The city of Rome donates the thousands of Euros it retrieves from the fountain to the Caritas charity.
More impressive than the 80,000 cubic metres of water that pass through the fountain every day or the fact that it is made from Travertine are the hundreds of tourists that gather around the monument. Jostling for position to take the perfect picture, waving their selfie sticks like a horde of barbarians wielding their swords.
The Battle of the Selfie Sticks
The moral imperative of the contemporary tourist seems to be to “leave only footprints, take only selfies”. The selfie is the irrefutable evidence that you have been to this magnificent place—it provides the selfie taker with ultimate bragging rights. The selfie is the ultimate narcissistic act. No longer do we need to ask a fellow traveller to take a photo of ourselves. The stick has replaced an act of kindness with an act of self-gratification. On the positive side, it does reduce the risk of somebody sprinting away with your camera.
The battle of the selfie sticks was more amusing to watch than the fountain itself. This time, I didn’t throw a coin in the fountain. Whether I will return, depends on the goodwill of the gods of tourism.
Transit airports are strange places. They exist outside space and time – places where people gather, but rarely meet. Hordes of travellers engaged in a zombie lurch through the tax-free shops, waiting for their next departure.
The pleasant anticipation of flying to Europe is quickly squashed once you enter the virtual and bizarre world of the transit airport. Entering the airport is a battle in itself—first you need to participate in the security ritual to ward off the evil demons we call terrorists, then deal with the Australian Border Force, which must be the most unfriendly name for an immigration service. When you then finally enter the airport with a sigh of relief, you run the gauntlet of the duty-free shops. And then, the waiting starts …
The inimitable Douglas Adams expressed the special nature of airports beautifully when he asked himself why nobody ever says that something is “as beautiful as an airport”. Airports are functional structures with the sole purpose of moving as many people as possible along as many shops as possible towards their gate.
We flew from Melbourne to Rome and had a brief stop in the navel of the world, Dubai International Airport. DXB, as it is known to the initiated, is one of the global hubs where people from all seven continent, bar Antartica, gather on their journey to further destinations. Thousands of travellers waggle through the terminal reminiscent of a gigantic zombie lurch. Travellers are like the living dead and exist outside place and time—jet lagged and tired, but full of anticipation about their final destination.
Philosophers have written insightful books about airports. As Roy Christopher put it: “The airport is a place made up of on-the-ways, not-there-yets, missed-connections. An airport is a place made up of no-places.” Alain de Botton spent a whole week at Heathrow as ‘writer in residence’ and wrote an insightful meditation about the people that occupy this place. Airports are places where thousands of people gather, but rarely do they meet. De Botton tells the story of these anonymous soles that we see, but never meet.
Finally, after thirty hours of travel limbo, we arrived in Rome. The feeling of being freshly showered, lying on a cool clean sheets after a very long day can only be described in one word, a ‘bedgasm’.
But not for long, time to battle the time difference, overcome our tiredness and explore the eternal city. Ready for the tourism zombie lurch past ancient monuments …