Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Express Staff Writer

     We are all tourists at some time in our lives if we try out new surroundings. Most of us have tales of feeling strange in new places, and those of us who adore travel know exactly how it is to be stranded somewhere and at the whim of kindly locals.

     One incident I recall vividly was a series of encounters I had with the Italian Carabinieri in Perugia, the nearest bastion of authority during my five-month stay in Umbria in 2001. Not only had I spent hours trying to get a travel permit extended but was fully intimidated by the 6’4”  uniformed man who finally shouted “Stupida!” at me when I handed him some papers incorrectly completed. That day I shakily drove my tiny rented Ford up the winding roads to the top of the hillside city, convinced that I should try to park near the main plaza and then enjoy the pleasures of the annual chocolate festival. Alas, even with a teeny bit of Italian at my command, I wound up on a small one-way street where I had no choice but to stop and ask a young Italian motorcyclist how I could maneuver out of the too-narrow passage into which I had strayed. He helped me, and I escaped, shouting many “grazies.” I imagine, however, after I left he may very well have sighed, “Ah, those turistas—why do I have to put up with them?”

     Another time, after two months of Peace Corps training, I was given directions to my assigned school in central Thailand. Hours later I emerged from a rickety bus and stood at a corner in the village of Nong Sua, next to ramshackle, tin-roofed food stands and a klong where someone was bathing. Standing in 102-degree heat and sweating from the effort of lugging my bags for a two-year assignment, I was feeling truly alone when a policeman pulled up and, in flawless English, asked me where I was going. He gave me a ride to the door of my school, Rongrien Nong-Sua Wittayakorn, where the man who was to become one of my closest friends shouted out, “She’s here!” and I was deluged by affectionate school children and teachers. When I thanked the police officer who had taken pity on me in the village, he told me that he had arrived in the U.S. as a young man who planned to study at the University of Oklahoma and, similarly adrift, was helped by a kind local.  He had waited, he explained, all this time to return the favor.

     I just finished “The Cottagers” by Marshall N. Klimasewiski. The book chronicles a fictionalized journey involving tourists at a small lakeside retreat in Canada who encounter Cyrus, a young man whose resentment of tourists has blossomed into vividly antisocial behavior. He says of the cottagers “the narrowest part of them imagined they wanted to find the wilderness not mysterious or awful at all but only pretty and cozy and threaded by well-marked trails. The same people would complain to you about how “touristy” Victoria had become.”

     I would guess that most of us here began as tourists and simply fell in love with Idaho. The first time I came to ski in Sun Valley, in 1981, I was highly impressed by the smiles and warmth of the locals I encountered. At Pete Lanes, I rented skis on my good word only—no credit card demanded—and when I was slightly injured, was given a day off of my three-day rental commitment, all with a happy attitude.

     So it is appalling to me how disdainful some (albeit only a few) of our locals are about the tourists who come to town and really are the lifeblood of our economy. I realize that one gets impatient with the drivers who don’t understand snow, or with the crowds at the market.

     Oddly, though, the worst driving I witnessed was last week, when I observed a fiftyish woman sporting 5B license plates turn down Warm Springs Road from Highway 75 with a cell phone balanced on a shoulder and one ear and a cigarette in her steering hand. She of course didn’t bother to signal as she turned left.

     So I plead with all my fellow Valleyites to graciously accept the minimal inconvenience of tourists in town. We certainly have long slack periods when town is quiet and almost spooky. Then we can listen to each other gripe about how slow business is!

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