We inhabit a world of lists. I do not need to list them. If you read anything online in the past minute, you can cite your own example. I confess, I am not a fan of these lists. To be blunt, I think lists are lazy and shallow, requiring little effort on the part of the writer, or the reader. Let me ask you; read a list of "30 Things to Love and See in Amsterdam," and, five minutes later, how many of the items do you recall, discounting the ones related to the red light district?
My personal distaste for lists is not affecting their pace. Lists are everywhere, and they show no sign of abating. I confess I have written my share of lists. Editors assign them, and I write them to put food on the table. I try my best to make them accurate, and I attempt to toss in an item or two that might enhance the reader's world, but honestly, it is hard to convey much of merit in four sentences.
I have a particular gripe with travel/destination lists. I address this particular genre of list for two reasons. Let me list them. One, I believe these lists are the antithesis of true travel. Two, yesterday someone brought yet another destination list to my attention. In the vast deluge of lists, this one caught my attention because it was about my hometown.
"30 Things You Need to Know About Ventura Before You Move There," addressed, surprise, 30 things you ostensibly need to know about my hometown before you move here. In the interest of honest journalism, I must say I commenced my reading already biased: any piece of writing sponsored by a real estate company ("Movoto. Real Estate Made Easy") makes me both skeptical and nervous.
Let me start by saying, I do not fault the writer for penning this list. As I said, I have written my share of lists (and lists do appear here on KCET's website from time to time). I am sure, like every freelance writer, this writer desperately needed the money. As with most lists, the items listed in "30 Things You Need to Know About Ventura Before You Move There," were random at best, mindless at worst.
Among the 30 reasons to move here were Topper's Pizza ( # 28 "Ventura Takes Pizza To A Whole New Level") and Corrales' breakfast burritos (#6 "Treat Your Belly Right With A Breakfast From Corrales"). Admittedly, I have neither an MBA nor a real estate license, but I am guessing most people do not base a half million dollar purchase on a slice of pizza and a breakfast burrito, although, post purchase, they might understandably head to Anacapa Brewery (#1 "Ventura Loves Itself A Pissy Pelican") to settle their nerves (Pissy Pelican is an ale. Another steadfast rule for lists; their headings must be cutesy and nonsensical).
As with any list, readers immediately took this one to task, objecting vehemently to the writer's choice of best burger, best pizza, the facts, the spelling, the grammar, you name it, leading one commenter to lament, "Why does everyone have to be so negative and bitter? It's just sad, so sad." In the writer's defense, such lists always give rise to a fair share of debate/vitriol, because for every pizza place selected there are a dozen others worthy of selection, and I must say of-all-the-great-choices-you-could-have-made-here-in-Ventura-you-pick-a-chain?
In defense of the list, I believe many things were true. Ventura does have great weather (#3 "The Weather Here is Juuuust Right"), an equally good local music scene (#2 "Ventura Is A Good Place To Boogie Down Or Rock Out") and good surf (#5 "Hey Brah! Ventura Is A Great Place To Hang Ten").
But even if some of the points on the list were true, albeit written in 1970s-ese, there is something far more evil and insidious afoot here. "A good traveler," wrote philosopher and poet Lao Tzu, "has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." How can this take place, if everything is already laid out before you?
Here again, we step into the quagmire of opinion. But travel, in my humble opinion, is at its best as an adventure largely unscripted. Yes, you have to book a flight to your destination, or point your car in a general direction, but I, personally, have never undertaken the exploration of a new place with a list in my hand. Not only do travel/destination lists foster lazy writing and reading, I believe they are giving rise to a new breed of traveler, one who is missing out on the best part of travel, namely the unexpected.
Pico Iyer -- one of my favorite writers on any matter, but well known as a world traveler and writer of literary (more on this in a moment) travel -- once wrote, "Travel is the chance to confront the questions and challenges that you would never see at home. Travel is the prospect of stepping out of the daylight of everything I know. "
I have my own, less eloquently worded, dictum. If you don't get lost, you won't find it. Because I refuse to carry a list (or, many times, even a map or a guidebook), in 25 years of travel writing, I have been lost in many, many places. And, after I have gotten past the rising nausea and/or outright fear, losing my way has proved the greatest joy of travel; for in bumbling about, I have fallen directly into the arms of gloriously unexpected places, and, even better, gloriously unexpected people. I could list dozens and dozens of examples, but this would be my list, not yours, thus defeating the point.
One last word about travel, destinations, and the matter of lists, and that is the words themselves. I have already mentioned Pico Iyer , and while I'm on the subject I should also mention Ryszard Kapuscinski, Bruce Chatwin, William Least Heat Moon, and Paul Theroux, for while I do not subscribe to destination/travel lists, I am a voracious reader of travel books. And, while it is again a matter of narrow opinion, I believe that if these so-called listacles replace the literary word, everyone will lose.
Here are two opposing examples:
Especially after an early morning surf sesh, there's nothing better than a huge, meaty breakfast burrito, and no better place to score one than at Corrales.
- "30 Things You Need to Know About Ventura Before You Move There"
Driving a car in Ethiopia is a kind of unending process of compromise: everyone knows that the road is narrow, old, crammed with people and vehicles, but they also know that they must somehow find a spot for themselves on it, and not only find a spot, but actually move, advance forward, make their way toward their destination. Every few moments, each driver, cattle herder, or pedestrian is confronted by an obstacle, a conundrum, a problem that needs solving: how to pass without colliding with the car approaching from the opposite direction, how to hurry along one's cows, sheep, and camels without trampling the children and crawling beggars; how to cross without getting run over by a truck, being impaled on the horns of a bull, knocking over that woman carrying a twenty-kilogram weight on her head. And yet no one shouts at anyone else, no one falls into a fury, no one curses or threatens - patiently and silently, they all perform their slalom, execute their pirouettes, dodge and evade, maneuver and hedge, turn here, converge there, and, most important, move forward. If a bottleneck occurs, people will participate harmoniously and calmly in diffusing it; if a traffic jam forms, everyone will set about resolving it, millimeter by millimeter.
- Ryszard Kapuscinski, "The Shadow of the Sun"
I rest my case.
The One Most Important Thing You Need To Know About This World.
#1 Ungraspably diverse, it is endowed with infinite capacity for surprise.
And this is a lovely thing on so many fronts, too many to list.