We’re all tomato tourists

Foto: Arhiva CdM

The article is written by Andrej Nikolaidis, CdM columnist.

(*tomato tourists – tourists with lower purchasing power)

We are poor, first of all.

Everything we have comes from poverty: both the little great things we have achieved, and all the misery that we are constantly handing over to ourselves, more persistently than the rain in Yorkshire.

It is not easy to get out of poverty. Because it, like the great empires, lasts long after it formally disappears. You make money, you have it. Let’s say you have a lot. But you still see the world and judge the world as the poor would – the way you learned, the way all your ancestors did.

Rich people are essentially conservative. No matter how decadent they may be, no matter all the transgressions that might fill their lives, no matter all the liberal values, the etiquette of the class, which they might fervently advocate, no matter all the tenderness they may cultivate for the black, handicapped, or gay people, the rich above all want one thing: to keep everything as it is – to keep them rich, I mean.

Poor people are essentially revolutionary. They are that even when they suffer, when they are humble. Give the poor man a chance at a coup, and you’ll see. If by any chance they are not yet ready for revolution, it only means that they are not poor enough, as Marx (and Engels) knew it.

That is why the rulers invented the middle class: the conservative poor who think they are not poor. They invented the poor who live in the illusion that they have a fair chance to become rich if they work and study diligently. A class that defends the system because it believes that within that system its children can become something more than what they were. Our children, admittedly, mostly become drug addicts, alcoholics and permanently unemployed, and instead of reputable universities they attend bookmakers, but hope survives anyway despite hundreds of thousands of years of daily evidence that it is unnecessary.

There is a story told by people old enough to remember worse times as well as better ones. This story seems to run through the entire Adriatic coast: I heard it in Istria. It goes like this… Once upon a time, not so long ago, when people in the village would eat prosciutto – and the hosts would see the least happiness from prosciutto for that piece of meat was kept for the guests; because poverty, unlike wealth, is what we don’t want others to notice in our country – if, say, they ate prosciutto, the bone that would remain from the prosciutto, the bone from which they would gnaw the last vein, the sanded bone, so to speak, would be used as a spice to dishes. This is how it was cooked before Michelin’s stars: you pick some cabbage from the garden, then put it in a pot of hot water with two or three potatoes. And then to all that, as the most precious spice, you add that bone of prosciutto.

From the first snow to early spring, that bone would walk from house to house, from pot to pot. A wealthy peasant, that is, one who had more bones, would cook a few meals with one bone, and then pass it on. The lucky ones got to the bone as early as November. But even those who get the bone only in February, were not resentful of fate and people. The bone from which the whole village cooked lunch was an extraordinarily good regulator of social tensions and, all in all, prepared people to accept communism as something most natural in the world when the time came.

When I told that to my relative from Trebinje, she told me: “Oh, that’s nothing – my great-grandmother gave her teeth for weddings”. Her great-grandmother was the only one with a denture in the neighbourhood, so toothless brides would come to her before their weddings to ask her to “lend them her teeth”, so that they would shine at the wedding and so that they would look nice in the picture they would keep on the closet until death together with bedding kept from moths by lavender, in order to, at least once, at least in that picture, they would remain beautiful for their children and grandchildren. The woman would take out her teeth without a word, brush them and give them away. When that woman died, I am sure, she was escorted to Paradise by a flock of angels white and shining like the smile of a village bride on her wedding day.

Our tourism sprang from such poverty. Whether it is “elite” or “tomato”, its basis is the same: you sell what, as religious people would say, God has given you. Once upon a time, such tourism was unthinkable – not because people could not travel, not because there were no apartments and restaurants on the coast, but for the same reason that, until the late Middle Ages, banking was unthinkable.

William of Auxerre, at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, writes: “The moneylender acts against the natural law of the universe because he sells time common to all beings… nothing gives itself as a gift in a way as attuned to nature as time does: whether willing or not, things have time. So, since the moneylender sells what belongs to all beings he insults all beings in general, even stones, whence it follows that if men were even silent before moneylenders, the stones would weep if they could; and that is one of the reasons why the Church persecutes moneylenders”.

The sun and the sea, just like time, belong to all beings. In the meantime, the Church embraced the moneylenders, and even became one of them. Today the Church sells both time and sun and sea: today there are also Church banks and Church hotels.

Tourism also means renting out family intimacy and the so-called “sanctity of home” – in the summer months, unknown people in underpants walk around that “sanctity”, those to whom you have rented out the rooms of your family home.

This brings us to the point of this text. What, if not poverty, could make a country want an “invasion”, congested roads, mountains of garbage on the streets, noise until the early morning hours? What, other than poverty, could make a country consciously infect its own population, send it, as much as in the fall, to hospitals and to cancer, because that is the only way to make money?

I agree: money has to be earned, you have to make a living from something. And to die. I’m just saying: the rich don’t earn it that way. The rich do not earn by endangering their own health, but by trampling on the health of other people’s families. We, who are poor and come from the poor, must do differently: we lease what we have, and that is health, body, mind, our own homes. The rich buy comfort. We lease it.

Hence, our obsession with “elite guests” and contempt for “tomato tourists” is tragicomic.In the former we recognize what we would like to be, in the latter what we ourselves are.It is as if it is beneath our honor to serve those similar to us, as if it is an honor to serve those who can buy us.

When we travel somewhere, if we manage to travel at all, what are we, if not “tomato tourists”?

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