An everlasting attempt to regress

Venice (Photo: Martin Parr)

The moment I arrived to Venice, I began cursing the city. I was young, and traveling a bit like a hobo, so many of my belongings were in an over sized paper shopping bag. Due to the humidity in the air that day, the bag had become saturated with moisture and unceremoniously ripped as though it were made of single-ply toilet paper. Once it ripped, I was left to chase my belongings as they tumbled down into the Grand Canal. Aside from the high humidity that day, I also began to detest the city for the fact that it didn't function like a real city at all, but like a stage set for tourists wanting to have their picture taken in front of a fictitious version of the famed city.

Then I remembered that I was a tourist too.

Nevertheless, I began to wonder what the city would be like without tourists or tourism. What it was like years earlier, before fools like me had chosen to stop in for the night, in order to dump their belongings into the Grand Canal. The version of the city that lay before me was unacceptable, and I bemoaned the fact that I'd gotten there too late. But others before and after me had surely thought the same, as the tourist's quest to flee what Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard refer to as "hyperreality" has always existed, accompanied by an urge to experience what some tourists now proudly refer to a "authentic".

But in the end, I believe Mary McCarthy was right, when she pointed out in her book Venice Observed, that the Italian city is as it always has been. She says,
"the tourist Venice is Venice...a folding picture-postcard of itself"
In other words, you can't seek out the authentic, not even through time travel, because the city has functioned as it does now as far back as the 18th century, when it began catering to tourists. Since then, it has only served to confirm predetermined notions that visitors had in their mind long before getting there. There's no discovery in visiting it, only a search for affirmation.

Venice (Photo: Martin Parr)

In recent days, I've found myself thinking about Venice, and my realization that (within my lifetime, and many decades prior) the city had always been as it is now. That there was no idyllic "before" to the "after" that I experienced. As a fan of cycling, I often idealize the sport as it was when I first encountered it, the mid 80s. The aesthetics of the time, the way races unfolded, the lack of race radios, the all adds up to an idealized vision that I try to reclaim. But as time goes by, it gets harder and harder to do so, particularly in the face of things I've come to know and realize as of late (here's one example, though not all have to do with substances and the like).

So I now wonder if cycling, like Venice, is now as it always was. If there's no real before to the current after. Perhaps I was just too young and naive to see and understand so many aspects about the sport that are clear to me now.

In thinking through this, I've come to realize that it's not cycling as it was back then that I miss. It's my youth, and the innocence that came with it that I long for, which is now painfully out of reach, putting me in an odd and everlasting attempt to regress.

So in that way, I guess my love for the sport is no different than so many other things in life. Ones that make me want to revert to an earlier time, only for me to then realize that they were always the same, but it was me who was different then.

Vive le tour! from Bear Thunder on Vimeo.