Sunday, September 13, 2015

Petra – A WOW .... [and then silence]

The Oxford Dictionaries define to gaze or the gaze as ‘look(ing) steadily and intently, especially in admiration, surprise, or thought’; and as a ‘particular perspective considered as embodying certain aspects of the relationship between observer and observed’. John Urry defines gazing as the peoples’ ‘desire to gaze upon that, which is different and unusual, and can be distinguished from the everyday’. He further describes a sociocultural development where the gazing upon people, landscapes, etc., thus the visual has become very central to tourism and proliferated due to the increasing amount of things one can gaze upon. Additionally, he suggests that we learn how to see, however, often through a mind preset by a certain socio-cultural idea. This frames the way in which we see according to certain ‘filters’ we use, such as ideas, skills, personal experiences, memories and desires, rather then our gaze reflecting reality. Thus according to Urry, we gaze upon the unfamiliar and interesting through ‘filters’ applied by ourselves and therefore tourism mainly revolves around the visual, as opposed to other senses.           
As we prepared for the probably most awaited day of our trip to Jordan, namely visiting the ancient city of Petra, we all made sure the batteries of our cameras were fully charged. For some of us it was maybe the checking off another modern wonder of the world from the list, for others a long desired dream come true. For me it was the latter, ever since I had seen pictures of Petra I wanted to visit one day, but also because this site was located in a country very different from the many sites in Italy or even Europe where I come from. Hence I can already confirm part of Urry’s argument that we as tourists seek the different and unusual. As we were walking down the Siq, which is the main entrance to the ancient city of Petra, no one could hide the anticipation to see the Treasury. When we stepped out of the small rock crevice that gave us access to the treasury, I remember us stopping, standing steadily on both of our feet and saying wow.... and nothing else but silence followed. I guess this was the gaze we had been reading and talking about in class. Everyone was just taking in and enjoying the sight of the treasury without speaking their minds. I remember thinking that this place is even more beautiful than I had expected, but could not find the words to describe how impressive, and breathtaking I found this place.
As we wanted to see the Monastery further away from the Treasury, we continued the hike. The anticipation was building up again and as we walked down the last steps and turned around, to experience the gaze again. This time however, I found myself comparing the architectural style to the ones of buildings and monuments I had seen before. I realized that I probably gazed upon the Treasury and Monastery in Petra much differently than I would upon a building that is more familiar to me, even if I see it for the first time. The fact that I had a strong desire to visit these sites in Petra, surely contributed to the gaze as well. This allowed me to draw a parallel to the filters that Urry mentioned, due to the comparison I made between what was known and familiar to me and the unfamiliar and interesting. Before, I was trying to remember moments where I had gazed but could not really identify any specific place. Now that I experienced the gaze, I know that once before, I did have this feeling of being breathless, namely when I walked up a trail in the woods leading to the rim of the Bryce Canyon National Park, where the nature’s range of colors was something I had never seen before. Gazing at the Monastery and Treasury in Petra gave me the same feeling of breathlessness.

Tim Edenson, 'Tourism' International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2009), 307.
John Urry and Jonas Larsen, The Tourist Gaze (3, Los Angeles: SAGE 2011), ch 1, 1-3.

Walking down the Siq to see the Treasury.

The Monastery of the ancient city of Petra.

The Monastery

The camels, ready to take tourists for a ride.

Gazing at the Treasury in Petra.

I did gaze before, at the rim of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (2014)

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