Altitude For Money

Noticing this peculiarity of the traveler abroad, the great institutions, from governments to tourist companies, established tariffs according to the altitude. Climbing the stairs up to the top of Saint Peter cathedral in Rome costs 5000 Italian pounds. Climbing up to 1900 altitude in Etna is 2200. Would you like an extra altitude? You pay 2600 lire more and it is done. Having reached the top of something, the tourist is commonly left on his own. Most of them make the most of their visual capacity. The legs and hands are added to the eyes. For climbing, of course, because most frequently the altitude is equipped with some extra, but smaller, altitudes: castle walls in ruin, dry or green trees, statues, stones of unknown origin, hills. In many cases, the altitude provides a mini-telescope against payment. You put one or two coins of the respective country into it and if the machine is not broken by those before you, you can see the blocks in the distance until you get tired of them. The altitudes go by no specific rule. You surround the land, and you simply look. The Piazzale Napoleone terrace makes available for you a sunset specific to Rome. At least this is what the specialized treaties state. That is why, when it is getting dark, the crowd on the terrace grows significantly larger. Other numerous fellows climb to Piazza del Popolo. Descending from the other direction, are some youngsters with bicycles and roller blades. If you feel like going to the toilet, halfway up, there is a toilet improvised from planks. From up there, you can admire the banal descent of the heavenly body beyond the hill. A spectacle that can be watched from any corner of the globe for, God be praised, the municipality of Rome is not the sole beneficiary of the spinning movement of the Earth. However, the cameras and video cameras work perfectly. And so do the looks of the ones bereft of those instruments that work as an extension of the eyes. Also functional are the hands of the ones in love who, taking advantage of the poetic transfigurations of their lovers, feel their thighs stealthily. They would kiss them, but it is more difficult, for it prevents the aesthetic perception of the sunset. The boulders from Les Beaux de Provence in France are not worth the effort. You have reached, let's say, a point from where you can see layers of onion, cucumber, a highway, a few brambles. Exactly the same view that can be seen by climbing any other boulder in the world. But this doesn't prevent you from exclaiming It is wonderful, it is extraordinary, I have never seen such a thing in my entire life. When you have had enough of extraordinary and wonderful, you spot another boulder, several hundred meters away, which another tourist is feeling with his hands, as a sign of absolute triumph. There are only a few minutes until the intercity bus leaves, the path to the other boulder is full of perils, but I would like to know which member of the human species can resist the thought that he/she will see something more extraordinary and more wonderful there. Thus, dead-tired, you reach a new boulder. And again, onion, cucumber, highway, brambles, a view that is by nothing different than the previous one. Going back to the intercity bus, the respective tourist must not say, by any means, that he climbed one more boulder than the others. Most certainly, some of those who listen indifferently will go back to Les Beaux de Provence when they have the first chance, to climb on the respective boulder, too. At Hangzou in China, the same thicket can be watched from level one of the sky pagoda or from level thirty. From one to thirty, you must climb some narrow circular stairs, for about half a kilometer. Any normal person realizes that, once there, if they don't collapse with dizziness, something else than a banal thicket is not to be seen. Still, reaching that place, I discovered a group of German tourists who, together with a resourceful old lady, were climbing in a hurry, thoroughly, and enthusiastically to level thirty. I found them climbing and left them climbing, too. Excerpted from: The World Seen by a Ragged Romanian. Satirical Travel Notes from Overseas, PRO, 1999

by Ion Cristoiu (b. 1948)