Letter from the Editor

In this issue of Bidoun, we take on shifting notions of tourism, the tourist, and travel in general as starting points for a larger discussion about the intersection of experience, representation, desire, and voyeurism.

The cynical view of tourism is that the carefree days of being lost in another place, space, and time are long gone. Those with enough money are the recipients of carefully controlled experiences edited for easy consumption. Visitors are told to look here, stand there, photograph this, and stand solemn before that. Some skirt traditional tourism by participating in alternative tourist economies-eco — tourism, ethno-tourism, and helper tourism among them. Others obsess over accessing the newest, often most bizarre attractions — traveling halfway around the world to ski in Dubai (in August), to check into the latest boutique hotel in Micronesia, or, alternatively, to gaze down into the site of the former World Trade Center in New York.

Nevertheless, crowds still flock to the typical destinations: Caribbean shores, European monuments, and the sites of antiquities in the Middle East. They go through the motions, making mini-pilgrimages in pursuit of pleasure or History (usually filtered through the lens of a digi-cam), leaving lots of money behind in the process.

You may find that at times we gloss over the actual destinations, instead looking at the people and economies servicing them and the ideas that inspire trips (loosely defined) in the first place. It’s not the two-week trips to the Andes to build latrines that concern us, but rather, the context that created the possibility of taking those trips, the instinct that drives people to sign up. In the end, our relationships to tourism define not only our sense of self, but also how we conceive of leisure, representation, and privilege.

Finally, we explore issues related to tourism that are intimately linked to the Middle East. A series of impressionistic reviews document a number of the region’s airport and hotels — some more off the beaten track than others. Serge Michel considers the journey of the kidnapped and Nagmeh Sohrabi inverts the traditional accounts of us being viewed by them — recounting Nasir al-Din Shah’s first tour to Paris in 1873. Also within, George Pendle sketches a historical path from pilgrim to tourist to artist, while Tirdad Zolghadr unleashes his critical wrath on guidebooks past and present. For our artists’ commissions, Yaron Leshem probes the universal appeal of war paraphernalia with his photographs of tourists posing on the Intrepid in New York City, and Laleh Khorramian recounts the tale of a ship voyage gone awry.

Bon Voyage!