JohnnySnelgrove's Travel Journals

JohnnySnelgrove

 
When you travel, you can't live without:

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  • 27 years old
  • From Washington, United States
  • Currently in Washington, United States

Firenze, Italy 2012

Living the life of an Italian journalist.

Palermo & Couchsurfing

Italy Palermo, Italy  |  Nov 22, 2012
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 Making a local friend really changes the feeling of a place.I wouldn’t say it takes one out of the traveler’s observational role, but it does give more depth to wherever you are.People tend to subconsciously matter most to our primitive human brains. 

     I’ve discovered this cool new website called couchsurfing.com, and it has completely changed my entire experience in Italy. Temple and I met on couchsurfing, and now we might be playing a gig together in Firenze (still to be determined, we’re getting the details hammered out). I’ve heard a few horror stories, but have also received some tips on how to avoid members with, er... ulterior motives.   there’s a rating and review system, which helps keep dangerous folks off the site. The second important thing to know is that there’s a large homosexual presence on the site. I have no problem with this, but it does invalidate the rating system to a certain degree; people have different “criteria” when it comes to what makes a good host or a good surfer. After hearing a few creepy anecdotes from Temple, I decided to join the “straight couchsurfers” group to avoid any ambiguity (people can get just as weird in the other direction, though, so it’s still good to check out profiles and whatnot).

     Aside from finding a place to sleep, couchsurfing has become a great source for meeting locals and getting a firsthand experience of the culture. On my second day in Palermo, I met up with a local named Alexandra who’d offered to show me around the city. She couldn’t meet until later in the evening (she had to take her dog to obedience training), but I didn’t have much of an agenda, so we agreed to meet at a famous fountain in the middle of the city. Little did she know a group of fascists had set up camp there, as it was right outside the governor's office. When I arrived early, the fascists asked if I’d play them a song, and, never being one to turn down music, I sat down and started a round of “why can’t we be friends”. They didn’t speak much English. When Alexandra found me, we were sitting around a hobo fire eating fried chicken.

     We bid the fascists goodbye, then strolled on down to the heart of the nightlife scene. Honestly, it was pretty empty. It had rained earlier, and Sicilians pretty much shut down the island at the slightest downpour (I can’t imagine a Sicilian business prospering in Seattle). Either way, we met a few friends  hers here and there, and she bought me some typical street food comprised of some sort of fried lentil dough and chickpeas on a baguette. After our wander through the city, Alexandra then drove us across town to see the theaters (she’s an aspiring actress), then off through the forest to catch a glimpse of Palermo’s famous beach. The beach is supposedly a bit sketchy after dark, so we didn’t stay long. By then it had gotten late, the rain had started up again, and I still felt a little off from being sick earlier, so she dropped me off near the fascists and we said goodnight. 

     Making a local friend really changes the feeling of a place. I wouldn’t say it takes one out of the traveler’s observational role, but it does give more depth to wherever you are. People tend to subconsciously matter most to our primitive human brains. In contrast, wandering around Palermo by myself the day before had just been a bit boring and lonesome—but it all really comes down to context and where you are (libraries don’t get too boring on your own).

     I had been growing increasingly skeptical of the internet as a means of socializing and connecting, but my faith has been slightly rekindled. I’ve found most of the social internet to be shallow, unnatural, and debasing to the human condition. The fault lies not in the people, but in the medium and what it lacks. You can’t buy your friend a sandwich over Facebook (although this gives me some ideas...); you can’t sing a song together over Facebook; and finally, the obvious: facial expressions, body language, and inflection are all lost.        

     Couchsurfing takes a different approach to social networking, however. Instead of serving as a destination (how many of us waste time on Facebook?), it serves as a resource for real world experiences. Couchsurfing’s goal is to get you off the computer and into the real world, whereas Facebook intentionally strives for the opposite. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t make sense to compare the two websites. If you’re not on the road, couchsurfing becomes somewhat obsolete (unless you want to host, which is essential for the site to function properly). When contemplating the future of social media, however, I see couchsurfing as the more progressive model. The social web should promote real socializing. It should try to get you off the computer and out there with your friends. At the moment, I see Facebook more as a futuristic address book. If you meet someone new, you can add them to your contacts in case you ever find yourself in the same place again. You never know. 

    We’re on the cusp of a new era. New micro-cultures are emerging with each progressive technological step, and the global culture as a whole is transforming in new and unprecedented ways. If you don’t believe me, then I’d like to inform you that “Gangam Style” just played over the radio of the Italian bus I’m currently riding. The world’s getting weirder. Blame Korea.

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