The 21st Century Grand Tour, In Which Freud And Jung Come Along.


High WASPs like to travel. My mother, one afternoon, put down the New York Times’ travel section, sighed, shook her head, and said, “I don’t need to read this. I’ll never see Finland again.” My father is prone to private safari-type expeditions, to Africa, to Vietnam, and the British Virgin Islands. Well, maybe not safaris in the Caribbean, but cruises involving boats, crews, and few other people.

In our generation, given the state of the once-great family fortune, travel is a little less glamorous. No less compelling. Between us the siblings have worked in London, France, and Shanghai. Studied in St. Petersburg. We’ve been to most continents, on holiday, on pilgrimage of one sort or another. I’d list the countries but your imagination can probably do a better job.

Why? I don’t think it’s just the fact that we can afford to. After all, many people with financial resources are happy to stay put. I believe the construct of the Grand Tour is still with us. That, and the desire to poke holes in the comfort of wealth.

The Grand Tour was a custom, originating in the 17th century, primarily English, in which young men graduating from Oxbridge would travel through Europe for several years. Upon their return, expanded cultural knowledge allowed them, we assume, to take their place in society. Needless to say, these Tours involved the usual activities of youth, trysts, gambling, intoxication. The reality diverges from voiced lofty goals. But the Grand Tour became a cultural keystone, embodying the idea that to lead one must know more than one’s backyard. Which, despite the colonial overtones, isn’t such a bad thought. Even though we, the High WASPs, are no longer the leaders of the Western world.

The 21st century, of course, has added the personal to the social imperative. The thing about growing up with money is that you don’t quite know what to trust. You are never sure what life would taste like if you really bit down hard. Blood on your teeth.

So we travel.

I admit, the travel isn’t without accoutrements. It’s not pure voyaging into a dark night. We think about the right wallet, the right suitcase, what to wear on an airplane. I have come to believe in Purell. My mother has a special travel bathrobe. I like black Pumas with Velcro fasteners.

It would be possible to imagine that portable comforts of home defeat the powers of new places. Having grown up in privilege, it’s very easy, as I said, not to know what to trust. To mock oneself for not having really had to fight. To decide that only the most difficult is worthwhile. But that’s not a way to make much progress. There are times when you have to relent. To say to yourself, “Fine. If I like belting leather on my rollaway suitcase, fine.” As I remember, a durable duffle doesn’t get in the way of India. You still have to brush the dust out of your hair at night alone in a hotel room.

Brought up in privilege, and full of nerve-endings, you are apt to feel guilt. You will feel the desire to know what you do not know. You will wish for courage. You will have some. Probably never quite enough. So you get on the train.

This is more difficult than I make it sound. But not unique. I believe everyone in privilege must face the same problem, how to test, and still forgive oneself.

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17 Comments

  • 11/05/09
    1:14 pm

    Reply

    EntertainingMom said...

    Aside from the Purell, the sad truth is that travel is not what it used to be… Far from enjoyable, it is exhausting and toxic to the soul — well, the act of getting from one destination to the next is. I remember when travel was enjoyable. My family has yet to see Europe. My oldest is 10 and my youngest is 4. It is simply not a journey I am ready to take. It is my hope that my mother, my daughter and I can travel abroad soon. My daughter wants to see Paris. I long to return. I'd love a girls trip!

    The "patio" in the picture was built off the side of the house and there was nothing under the pool just a walkway! It wasn't a patio per say, nor a deck… perhaps the best word would be terrace except it was suspended. It was truly unique. My grandmother designed the house by herself as she was confined to a wheelchair and needed everything on one level. I will dig out more pictures of the house.

  • 11/05/09
    1:40 pm

    Reply

    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    I always loved the essential European tour in Wharton and James. My ex did this after college. My kids have all been to Europe a couple times, but are planning the European backpack after-college deal, which I heartily endorse.
    You are too hard on yourself. I love the line about (and I'm paraphrasing here), how, no matter how nice the suitcase or train may be, you still need to brush the dust out of your hair at night. I think travel involves many kinds of courage, and we do come home better able to lead and live.

  • 11/05/09
    2:58 pm

    Reply

    Belinda Munoz said...

    Great title and I think it's always healthy to take Freud and Jung along wherever we go as long as they don't completely take over.

  • 11/05/09
    5:45 pm

    Reply

    The Preppy Princess said...

    How very true: "…you don't quite know what to trust". This one hits on all cylinders Miss LPC, very, very close to home!

    May your Friday be marvelous!
    tp

  • 11/05/09
    10:03 pm

    Reply

    Maya said...

    Growing up in Switzerland I headed to the United States and Asia for my "Grand Tour(s)"!

  • 11/06/09
    4:47 am

    Reply

    Turquoise Diaries said...

    As someone who doesnt live in the 17th cc and without a family fortune, I chose to make my Grand Tour in 10 years.Still very good :))

  • 11/06/09
    5:24 am

    Reply

    Mrs. G said...

    Other than a slight desire for a Mediterranean cruise, with few people…, and the occasional trip to a sunny location we are now content to stay within a 250 mile or so radius of home.
    After 57 years I have learned to follow my heart and to trust It. Very freeing.
    I love your posts.

  • 11/06/09
    6:06 am

    Reply

    Sher said...

    There is so much more yet to see in the US territories. Each area is like another country.

  • 11/06/09
    6:26 am

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    class-factotum said...

    But there is nothing wrong with growing up in privilege. That's what parents want to provide for their children. Each generation wants the one following to have it a little better.

    I just wanted to slap the kid in the movie "Into the Wild." He was making a mockery of people who really didn't have anything. Oh sure. He burns his cash and his car. He's going to test himself.

    BS. Any time he wanted, he could have called his parents and they would have rescued him. He had a safety net all along. And there is nothing wrong with having a safety net. It's what most people long for. Why did he want to abandon it? How was he being "authentic?" I guess he died authentically. What a moron.

    The point is to live the life you are given and to live it well. It is not to re-invent the wheel and re-fight the elements. Make things better for the people around you.

  • 11/06/09
    6:38 am

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    Duchesse said...

    Memories of my sister, who did a Grand Tour in the '50s. Finally relatively off the leash, she wanted to go out partying but her roommate, who was engaged, wanted to wash the dust out of her hair and write her nightly letter.

    My sister returned edified by culture, but seething with pent up party energy (which explains the next few years, sort of) and bags and bags of gifts for 8 year old me.

  • 11/06/09
    6:59 am

    Reply

    Peonies and Polaroids said...

    I've always wondered 'why travel?' as I sit dreaming and planning of my next adventure. You shed a little light on the mystery.

    And I don't much like the thought of a grand tour, I like to come home in between destinations.

  • 11/06/09
    7:59 am

    Reply

    Jan said...

    I did not grow up in Privilege; my family was very lower-middle class/blue collar. My Proper Southern Lady grandmother, however loved to travel. She saved her money so she could travel. As a result, as a teenager I got to travel with her. Once on a three week trip to Banff, Canada and once on a six week trip to Alaska, where we drove the Alcan highway before it was paved. In a compact station wagon. Was it glamorous? Not at all – my grandmother was the Queen of KOA campgrounds and Best Western motels. But I am so glad I had those experiences.

    Having said that, Beloved DID grow up in Privilege (somewhat), and I am thrilled that when I travel these days – which isn't often, but that's okay – it is rarely coach.

  • 11/06/09
    8:53 am

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    Lindy said...

    I went on a Grand Tour with my best friend at age 15. Ten days each in Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Holland and England. It was an educational experience that has enriched my entire life.

    What I value about travel is how much you learn in such a short period of time. I also like the courage it requires to be out of your element. And I love the perspective of viewing your life from afar.

  • 11/06/09
    10:20 am

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    LPC said...

    Maybe I will take a new Grand Tour in my fifties. Not reinvent the wheel. It is the perspective of viewing one's life from afar.

  • 11/06/09
    7:31 pm

    Reply

    Lipstick said...

    What a grand post LPC…I love reading about those 19th century Grand Tours. I remember going on vacation with my grandparents and staying at an old hotel in Arkansas. It was one of those historic types that had been renovated and they served my orange juice on a lace doiley. I felt SO fancy. And I said in my loudest child voice, "LOOK Nonna, a lace doiley!!!!"

  • 11/09/09
    10:30 am

    Reply

    Patsy said...

    This post makes me think of my mother, who did a semi-Grand tour of Europe as a young woman, with her sister and BFFs – who are still her BFFs.

    Now, after returning from visiting my youngest sister in London, she said she'll never go to Europe again. It's too far and she's too old.

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    10:57 pm

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