Once, in London, I stopped to briefly look at the houses of parliament. An American tourist was squinting up at the clock tower with a strange look on his face so I asked him what he thought of it. “It’s not very big,” he said.
I’d never thought of “bigness” as a quality the clock tower was supposed to possess, but later it occurred to me that “Big Ben” might in fact promise bigness.
It left me wondering if tourists come from all over the world to visit what I see as a symbol of democracy or Imperialism, expecting to see “a big clock.”
I’m working on a travel book at the moment, part of which involves transcribing and learning from the travel journals of a friend, Wentworth, who has been to all manner of places including Myanmar, Iran, and North Korea. From Washington DC he writes:
I have read complaints that the White House is underwhelmingly small but I found it to be a rare example of restraint in the USA.
There it is again! The tourist expectation of bigness. I now wonder if an assumption of bigness comes from a reverence for powerful institutions (since my sample concerns only UK and US government buildings) or if a sense of awe comes, like an optical illusion, from sheer distance or the promise of pilgrimage.
Answers on a postcard.