I’m just here for the gift shops in the Aztec pyramid: a visit to Disney’s Epcot

A few nights ago I was in Norway, eavesdropping on a guy looking for a place to smoke.  The attendant told him “You can’t smoke here but there’s an approved area over by Italy.”

I was at Disney’s Epcot Park, which costs $114 a day to visit.  But hey, that price includes the whole world so what a bargain.

DSCN3590 (2)

I didn’t pay $114—my admission was included in a closing night party for a conference.  The party was in a big hall reserved for our use.  We were required to wear our conference badges but I removed mine and snuck out because it’s not like I was going to miss out on the Epcot international experience.

I made it around the world twice in an hour, having traded in my professional shoes for my standard hikers, lingering the longest in Italy.  Can you guess which picture of me is from Venice, Italy and which one is from Venice, Epcot?

Venice quickly transitioned into Rome, or rather Catholic-and-Vespa-free Rome Lite.

Rome Lite!

Rome Free!

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rome! ®


Rome Lite showcased this fountain of Neptune with his dolphins.  This vaguely Roman dolphin theme was also featured in our conference hotel, the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, located about 15 minutes walk from Epcot.


Detail of Fontana del Tritone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Piazza Barberini, Rome, c. 1642. Image from Wikipedia

You can see how the dolphin from Bernini’s fountain in Rome is translated into Epcot’s fountain, the fountain from our hotel lobby, and the dolphin decoration on the corner of hotel’s roofline.



I also made a stop in China where I was disappointed there were no squat toilets.  After a few quick calculations I determined that the price of our recent 12 day trip to China—including all transportation and other expenses like our VISA application fee—was about the same per person as a 4 day Disney trip would have been (and we got to see 7,999 more Terracotta Warriors).


Mexico was also an enlightening stop.  Inside the dark, torch-lit depths of this pre-Columbian pyramid’s concrete interior were….gift shops, but you know, like really spiritual and culturally significant gift shops.


The First Nations people of the Northwest were represented by this totem pole and another gift shop.  Hey, sorry about the whole genocide thing but would you like to buy a key chain?


I sprinted through Germany, which was uncomfortably reminiscent of Frankfurt’s old town (itself a fabrication as the original was destroyed in WWII).


I have to commend the designers of Morocco for their attention to detail in the arches and tiles, which have some realism about them (though the belly dancing I saw in one of the restaurants is certainly not authentically Moroccan.)


On my second walk around the world I returned to Morocco for a closer look.  I wanted to confirm my original impression that it resembled the cityscape in Giotto’s 13th century fresco of St. Francis kicking the demons out of Arezzo.


Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo by Giotto. c. 1297-99 Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi Image from Wikipedia

The skewed scale and flattening of perspective did give Epcot’s structures a superficial similarity to medieval painting, but without the awkward charm and earnest struggle.


I get what theme parks and carnivals are all about—I’m in favor of them.  Sometimes we just need uncomplicated playtime.  I don’t think many adults confuse Epcot with genuine international travel anymore than they think that the haunted house at the state fair is real.  I just have this special paranoia right now that all of us—regardless of education, class, political party or geographical location—are vulnerable to manipulation.  It’s like we’re all tossing our critical thinking skills in the trash so our minds can be controlled by social media memes created by Russian Hackers.  (Just to be clear I only yield my critical thinking to internet cat videos, okay?)  Epcot predates the digital age of course, but it somehow seems extra relevant to 2018 that a major US attraction is where go to pursue international “culture” void of smell, anxiety, religion, conflict, and the random joys that come with jostling up with strangers that didn’t pay $114 and go through a bag search to share a moment in time with you.


The conference was great: I love learning new things from peers and I always take special comfort in being around fellow arts administrators who I don’t have to convince that my job is important.  But oh man was I ever happy to be back in Chicago.  I got up early and went out for a celebratory walk around my neighborhood.  The waves at the beach were dramatic and the water was high.  I stroked the fuzzy leaf of a milkweed plant.  I ran into our Albanian-American neighbor and he kissed my cheek.  The street where the Pakistani-Americans live smelled like fried spices.  I stopped to admire the art deco entrance of an apartment building.  Apartment buildings!  People living in real buildings!  Schools!  Churches!  Messy and delicious REAL LIFE.



How I got to Orlando: flight from Chicago.
Where I slept: Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.  Price: my job payed for it. Recommended: yes.


  1. Nemorino · · Reply

    No squat toilets? Now that’s a serious omission.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! I actually prefer squat toilets because you don’t have to touch anything.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Chameleon Plays!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Did Disney do the New-Old-Frankfurt, or was it the other way round? No chance of having a mulled wine in Epcot-Germany I suppose.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t see any mulled wine, though there seemed to be no shortage of $8 bottles of beer.


      1. No doubt brewed according to German purity laws for beer.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t visited Epcot so appreciated your whistle-stop tour. In the end, there really is no substitute for the real thing, so I suspect all that would happen if I visited Italy in Epcot I’d have an immediate yearning for the real thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My youngest niece got a toy microwave for Christmas that came with plastic dishes of food, like miniature plates of spaghetti and meatballs. Epcot didn’t make me yearn for the real thing any more than that plastic food makes me hungry.


  4. Glad to know you miss the toilet!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Of course–it isn’t travel without a toilet adventure!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Claudia · · Reply

    You get such nice trips with your job! Plus your job sounds great. I’m envious! And I’m totally with you on cat videos. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a yearly cat video film-fest. And we just had a mini-film-fest of cat videos in Steamboat Springs where I am about half the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I am lucky to have a job doing something I love! Next year’s conference is in Chicago, so no conference trip but I’m happy to help show off the arts in Chicago to the conference attendees. At the conference I met the woman from the Walker who has the equivalent of my job there and she was telling me how crazy it was the last time they did it—-something like 13,000 people came!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. People appreciate fine art. 😊. TheWalker is the first museum I remember going to as a child.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I still haven’t been there yet but I hope to. I especially want to see a performance there because I love contemporary performance programs.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great pictures! I want to go!


    1. Thanks! Hopefully you can go for free too.


  7. It really looks as though one could save a lot of travel money by visiting Epcot. Brilliant writing, as usual!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Richard—coming from a poet of your caliber that’s quite a complement!


    1. I hope you get to go. Once was enough for me!


  8. Gift shops turn up in the strangest places at Disney.

    When you are a Floridian the parks are practically considered a rite of passage. People seem to be divided into two camps: those who don’t care if they never see the place again, and those who take their children there every holiday, collect trinkets from those selfsame gift shops, or honeymoon with a pair of mouse-ears on. There is no accounting for taste.

    China sounds like a bargain! Frankfurt’s fakery at least is based on something that could conceivably have been present on that spot at some time in the past. You have to look past the conscientious, meticulous rebuilding in Germany, and give them some credit, for trying to resurrect what was lost. So much was destroyed during the war. Otherwise the whole country might have been littered with Brutalist architecture. 😊

    I went to Disney, final baby in tow, shortly after 9/11, when they first instituted the bag search. Haven’t been back since.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now what would be really interesting is if Brutalist architecture was destroyed and then rebuilt later in Brutalist theme park. Can you just imagine the gift shops?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wondeful!

    Liked by 1 person

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