Better Than Chocolates

Just a short post from me today.

Last year my uncle headed over to San Francisco for work and opted to stay in a small B&B-style place at the Grant St entrance to Chinatown. His email to me from his trip reads:

“Each night when I came back, there was an arrangement of a towel on the bed. Attached are photos. Have to say it was quite wonderful and in all my years of travelling I have never seen anything like it.”

Enjoy the photos below. (My favourite is the elephant.)

“The original version of modernity”

Disney World exists on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida but here I’m considering it as a city in its own right. Such a characterisation is, in fact, doing the sprawling conglomeration a disservice. Disney World, as its moniker suggests could – economically at least – exist separate to the nation which encapsulates it, employing enough people and generating enough revenue to rival the GDP of a number of small countries. It even has its own currency! (Which is to say that you can link your credit card to your hotel room key meaning you don’t have to leave your room with anything other than a single piece of plastic. The running total is, of course, always obscured – the Spectacle of Disney World is as impressive as it is insidious and evil).

I hadn’t planned to blog about Disney World. Our decision to go was triggered by a desire to launch immediately into the absurdity of US pop-culture after six months of backpacking across a continent where we didn’t even really speak the language so both at the time and in my memories I think of it more as simulated immersion than travel. Readers of Baudrillard (whose words lent this post its title) will understand what I’m trying to get at. In describing the act of driving through America in his book of the same name, Baudrillard attempts to capture the sense of vastness and emptiness of post-war America (both geographically and culturally) but concludes that the only way he could even begin to express this to his reader/listener would be to play them the video – in real time – of his road trip. Disney World is a lie (to use another Baudrillard term, a simulacrum), but in being so it becomes truth: a site at which the very soul of the US can be momentarily witnessed.

But that’s all a bit heavy. I’ve mainly chosen to blog about Disney World today because it’s Christmas and I thought it was in keeping with the decadence of the season. And decadent it was.

All of Disney World’s hotels are themed, meaning there is no respite from sensory overload even in the cheapest of lodgings (i.e. the one we chose). The theme is everything in Disney World. It’s broken into four (themed) parks: Magic Kingdom for classic Disney, EPCOT for the future/cultural sensitivity, Hollywood Studios for America’s pop-cultural heyday, and Animal Kingdom for safari (which has to be a metaphor for colonisation, right?). And the themes extend to the food. It’s difficult to find an item of food that isn’t shaped like a Disney character; lollipops, pretzels, cookies, bagels, fries, even sandwiches – they’re all Mickey. And because each park has its own theme, it also has its own themed food.

The staff are lovely, but a little too intense in their desire to make both your stay and your sense of yourself as an individual seem exceptional and important (after asking for directions to one of the – numerous – restaurants: “Oh my gosh I love that place! It’s my absolute favourite! Great choice guys, well done.”). The rides are so full of colour and movement and sound that I now totally get how people lose their life savings on pokies. And the universes that you have to traverse whilst ‘in line’ to get to the start of the rides are so intricate and interesting that you don’t even notice how much time has been sucked away from you forever. There’s a jungle to traverse to get to Indiana Jones, a training course for Star Wars, and entire planetary systems for Space Mountain – you grow old waiting to experience these things and yet you’re happy to turn around and race straight back to the start and do it all again once it’s over.

To close I’m going to paraphrase John Oliver (speaking on a rather different topic): Disney World was like crack; it was super fun at the time, but it’s good that we left.