So here’s the deal: you’re traveling, and you’re supposed to be happy. You are living the dream of every single young American millennial ever and it isn’t too bad. No one has tried to rape, murder, or rob you—good start. But then, on your third day you start to wonder: what is the big deal? After all, all of the things you are seeing are things you had seen on the internet, at home in your pajamas no less. When you are standing in the hall of the Hagia Sophia, let me tell you, you notice its grandiosity. One can imagine the effect it would have on you 1500 years ago. It is the grandest building ever constructed.
Then a thought struck me and squirmed throughout my body: all of this had been curated. While I am standing in the Hagia Sophia, a man walks an inch in front of me and uses me as leverage to position himself for what I hoped at least turned out to be a good picture; never mind that professional photos of the building were for sale outside, and they had to have been a million times better than the picture he took with his cell phone camera. It truly upset me that nothing particularly transcendent happened while I was in attendance.
So, I’m curious, what was the point of visiting this ancient relic? Was it to marvel at how disappointed the citizens of the Byzantine Empire would have been to see their fate? How asinine. Was it for my own spiritual edification? I don’t subscribe to any particular faith. Was it for adventure? I’m not sure this was an adventure, but perhaps someday there will be a virtual reality gaming system convincing enough to let me swing from a chandelier in the Hagia Sophia, save a scantily clad woman, and yell at the Turks, “1453 WAS A MISTAKE!” Theme parks seem to understand this need for adventure and offer cheap thrills that allude to a fulfilling experience, but the illusion is paper thin when there’s no consequence. It’s just a little bit of dopamine to get someone through the day.
Travel seems to be for two kinds of people: the extremely young who see it as a door to the ineffable and are almost always disappointed that booze and meaningless sex don’t actually hold any answers, and the well-established, but banal, who see it as an excuse to sip fine wine and appear interesting when their travels barely even interest them. I’m not really sure what group I fall into, but I am at least impressed by how consistent my observations seem to be, no matter the country.
Perhaps the best insight I’ve been capable of conjuring from my experience thus far is that if my personal life isn’t interesting, it doesn’t matter if I’m smoking opium and being seduced by a harem large enough to please a sultan; I’d probably get bored by the third or fourth round. I promise I’m not depressed at this realization, just a little disappointed in my own naivety at the start of my journey. Hoping that I would magically be embroiled in adventure seems like a little too much to ask, especially now as I’m writing this from the streets of Istanbul at night while everyone around me is just looking for a fix.
Graffiti, art, or cultural commentary? You decide.
Special thanks to Lindsay Maguire for her editorial expertise.