It seems that the dance period is over.
My father died without ever going to Paris, my mother is very old and her chances are practically non-existent, my brother is close to retirement and doesn’t think about travelling, His ex-wife listens to records of Johnny Halliday, rarely, but she still does, and their children drink in cafés. In the empty viewing room of the Cinematheque they show films by Godard, Lelouch and Chabrol for a few old-fashioned students. French isn’t fashionable. Jules and Jim have long been dead. Even nostalgia doesn’t taste of Europe.
Besides, nostalgia isn’t fashionable either. Or longing, or feelings.
Really, why are we in Paris ?
Little Miss Wang and her fiancé probably have their reasons. The couple from Alabama as well. The two Flemish people, Albert Tot Sint Jans and Mrs Jans accidentally, and at the same time, got a day off in their companies, they made it a long weekend and arrived by TGV in two and a half hours. The Watanabes from Osaka came to get a digital print of Mona Lisa’s smile and they will show it to their neighbouring friends. The couple from Alabama will discover, quite by chance, that Walt Whitman’s grandson owns a bookshop on the banks of the Seine and they will ask the retailer to stamp « Shakespeare & Co. » on the cover of their book while they’re at the checkout, paying for it.
It turns out that, somehow, everyone has a reason, still, to come to Paris, to stay there for a few days and then, by hook or by crook, take it with them as a Portable holiday. They are people from photographs. People-photographs.
They dress in a special way, walk in a special way, laugh in a special way and take photos – take photos of one another in a special way.
(Of course, they differ from their fellow citizens who, at the same moment and in the same city, toil in Asian restaurants, sell rubbish in peripheral metro stations and walk around with portfolios of unsuccessful photographs, offering them to galleries here and there).
So, everyone has a normal, palpable reason to come to Paris.
Our reasons are almost metaphysical in nature. It turns out, somehow, that our reasons become a project. Arrival, travelling, several days in foreign streets (or streets of Foreign Countries) are an act which immediately becomes a memory, a Place of historic significance for our ironic life.
Tourists come to get memories, we come to get tourists.
Tourists are our memory.
The image of their jaunty lightheartedness becomes our longing.
They become the desired I. They take photos of paintings in Louvre to show them to their friends or prove that they have been Here, and we take photos of them because, for us, they are far more important than being Here.
They are a material proof that one can travel easily, and our photographs are a proof that one cannot travel easily.
In that sense, tourism doesn’t exist for us. It has never existed. First we were poor, then uninterested, then poor again, then uninformed, then poor again.
Furthermore, we have problems with home.
One cannot be a tourist and at the same time have problems with home. In order to be a tourist man always has to return home. The Tot Sint Janses are going back to Brusseles, in fact, they can’t wait to get back to Brusseles and tell people what it was like when they were not in Brusseles. Or Munich, or Osaka, or Shanghai.
Ours is a different case. We constantly want to go away from home. We do not wish to come back. That’s why we are not tourists – we are tourist hunters. This photographic excursion seems like a sojourn in a heaven of rare butterflies – a carefully planned project with a net at the end of a long stick, every movement of which captures a precious specimen and pins it to cardboard.
At home I’m a tourist, at home he is a tourist, a dream, a song, a sequence of simple riffs of the band Gang of Four.
Gang of How Many is the real state of facts in a real country which, surprisingly, has real art. Perhaps, to put it in old-fashioned terms, as excess.
Therefore, it turns out – They, tourists, go home with their photographs, and I go with them. On photo paper.
Will it ever come to an end?