Monday, January 14, 2013

I am willing to be persecuted

Gilda.  Of the Stone Rooster.

Until recently I didn't know that what I am doing here is travel writing. When I first began writing here, meaning the internet, I was interested simply in recording the story of backpacking the Appalachian Trail. As the years have worn bu, and I near my decade anniversary of blogging, I've continued to analyze—some days, obsess—about this new, strange genre. It is many things to many people, and the internet's ability to morph as it reflects human behavior is unexpected and immeasurable, but for me the constant is a record of an alien sojourning a strange land.

I am almost always more interested in places than I am in people. Perhaps that admission makes me suspect. I shy away from people as I travel, being drawn into contact with them, despite myself. I find myself in the middle of all my best stories, dragged there kicking and screaming.

Travel writing is omnivorous. In writing about a place, I am able to write about history, and geography, and geology, and about food, and animals, and God. Rural America is as interesting, as, say, rural Belize, or Poland. I am as interested in Brilliant, Alabama, as I am by Quincy, Massachusetts, and everywhere I go I want whatever food is quintessentially Alabaman, whatever beer is unequivocally local, whatever experience the locals are already bored by. Each place is unique in its narrative, the fingerprint that anthropology and time have made at that latitudinal nexus. Who knows whether I'll ever pass a particular crossroad again.

What I look for most as I travel is authenticity, and everyone knows that authenticity is like the Holy Grail. It cannot be found, can't even be sought. And an authentic experience, when you hunt one out, is something that has been shorn of any extraordinariness. If I were to hunt out an authentic American meal, I would find myself eating at McDonald's.

Nonetheless, I seek it. I have been apologetic about this in the past. I intend to be so no longer.

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