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.
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.
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.
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.
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.