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Paris for Tourists & Getting Smart

The usually highbrow crookedtimber included a discussion about what’s cool to see in Paris and London. Later, the person asking the question provides some thoughts:

Not cool. $5 soft drinks. I found the price of non-alcoholic drinks at sit-down places ridiculous. Wine was often cheaper. I am sure this comes as pleasant news for many, but since I?m not much of a wine fan, I didn?t like it. And paying $5 for a silly drink seemed extreme. (And thus my supermarket experience, where I bought cute little cans of drinks just perfect to quench one?s thirst instead of the regular ones that I can never finish anyway.)

Huh? Cost of using the toilet at Notre Dame: 41c. It made no sense to me to ask for that particular sum for use of the toilets at Notre Dame. The machines only seem to take exact change. How many tourists have that kind of exact change? I would have preferred to just pay 50c then have to bother finding the exact coins. A staff member seems to have it as her full time job to make change for people lining up. This made no sense to me.

This is yet another example of how the collective mind can provide oodles of wonderful help. It now makes my previous way of learning things (library, bookstores, etc) seem so quaint. For example, in college I studied Russian and German literature in class and had to rely on the university’s limited number of books on the subject to help me with understanding. Now I can read German newspapers, watch snippets of Russian TV or gosh–talk/chat with native speakers!

A friend had a question about an esoteric detail from Hitchcock’s film, Marnie. Two days after posting the question, we got a longwinded reply from an Australian Hitchcock scholar citing several books to answer the question.

Access to this specialized knowledge makes it easy to discover new esoterica of no importance whatsoever. A friend of mine who is a fanatic about the Red Elvises goes to online chat and mailing lists to discuss every little detail of their music. Perhaps at some level it no longer matters what these people are discussing, merely that they are sharing knowledge and making informal contacts that might at some point lead to a face-to-face encounter. Even if that never happens, it at least offers distraction from one’s daily routine and mundane job. (I discuss this in my Would Kafka have kept a weblog? essay). The flip side is that people lose this sense of their own uniqueness. I wonder someday if creative types will start cultivating their own isolation as a way to preserve their own identity.

I spent two years living in Albania right after communism fell. I found a culture with little access to pop culture or telephones or computers. The people felt culturally impoverished and yet unusually proud of their national arts, which believe me was really odd. The Albanian alphabet and grammar is different from its Romantic counterparts; the polyphonic music from southern Albania is strange and haunting. The literature is quaintly rustic and noncontroversial, and the most famous novelist, Ismail Kadare, dwells in dark mystical allegory than contemporary relevance. Just as certain animals or plants crushed by natural disasters can be found intact in fossil records (to the delight of archeologists), people may unintentionally benefit from isolation. Eventually we may take pride in our ability to be disconnected from the social network and view it as liberating.

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