Under the Cover: The Tourist’s Guide to Zolitude: the Tour Guide

March 12, 2018 by Paige Cooper

Writer and author of debut short story collection  Zolitude (Biblioasis) Paige Cooper matches her 14 stories of saccharine-free love and yearning with "the Top Fourteen Places to View Pain."

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Hello, tourist. You are looking for a new world to consume! I have travelled, and this has informed my new list of Top Fourteen Places to View Pain. How privileged we are to be be tourists in anything we do. All that is required is a lack of an invitation. Just show up! Everyone who has surveilled this place before you became a marketing department, and impregnated you with a desire to be altered, but not too much. We would not want you to be permanently disfigured. The cost of your visit will be paid by you (ATMs usually accept North American cards), but has been subsidized by the suffering of the people here. If you feel unsettled at any time, direct your gaze to another screen.


1. Riga, Latvia—A thump, and now on your windowsill lies a gutted headless pigeon, just orange talons and purple wings spread imploringly. Look up, but the executioner is gone. You paid for a man’s flight here, and away; he named one of the pigeons after you. He said it was the most beautiful, but it was the one with its foot swollen and gangrenous in knotted string. This is what he will do to you, if you keep loving him. The pigeon corpse alters in colour and shape as it decomposes cleanly, snow falls on it, and ices it to the sill. You leave it behind for someone else to shovel off into the courtyard six storeys below. You must pay for your own flights.


2. Southeast Asian White Pain—Sir, if you would rather not travel to the Bolaven Plateau and pay to mount the stairs up to the back of a young bull elephant worth approximately the same amount, in American dollars, as a late-model Acura sedan, who has iron chains around his ankles and a name that I’ve forgotten and who runs the fingertip of his trunk up and down the urine-streaked inner thigh of the older female who takes only two riders, not three, then perhaps you’ll consider reading Michael Herr’s Dispatches—a real burner of a book, the snickering horror of your brothers-in-arms in Khe Sanh and Hué on every page—or else perhaps consult an online blog such as Dream Holiday Asia’s Cambodia Travel Guide for Single Men, to glean tips for falling in love.


3. The music industry—lo, the glamour of the sixty-hour workweek at the service of the artist whose work has, you know, not just changed but saved lives, and the glamour of your addiction to propagating her work, because your work is not life-saving work but replying promptly to emails, and the glamour of her (your) addiction to the suffering she’s rewired into a pleasure circuit. It will be difficult to tell yourself apart from her. Like Latvia, mentioning your time here in casual conversation will always be useful for impressing certain kinds of strangers, and yourself.


4. Foucault—two places that are impossible to travel to are: firstly, an appointment in the office of your rich and successful future self who can tell you when, precisely, you will fall permanently into a good and unanxious love so that you can stop obsessing about your monstrous underside, which, exposed, will repulse anyone; and, secondly, a site of confidence in your reading of Nietzsche, Genealogy, History. However, if you wish, you can contact Ambrosia, the Silicon Valley start-up, and sign up for immortality via heterochronic parabiosis. $8,000 USD will buy you 2L of young blood.


5. One bad man—A man is not a restaurant: if he is bad in one way, he is bad in all ways. 1 out of 5 stars, because he is tall.


6. Utilitarian ethics—you can no longer claim any shred of morality here, in North America, complaining maybe of underemployment or microaggressions or harassment yet living as you do with cash to spare for beer, moisturizer, and vegan dragon bowls. People are emaciated. People are cold, illiterate, thirsty, mutilated, afraid. You know this, yet you do nothing with what you have. How defensive you get when I point this out. Paige, you’re a hypocrite. I also know. I also do nothing. I wave my guilt around like a white flag and cry after sex. This is not an easy place to visit: there is very little infrastructure because the government does not encourage visitors.


7. Miracle Village, Florida—Back to that restaurant, which we are visiting again despite previous disappointments—maybe the management has changed? The only thing worse than a bad man is a bad government (made also of men, statistically speaking). In this country the laws are draconian. Do you want permanent punishment? Lifelong, unceasing, inequitably applied to race and class. Which men deserve empathy? The answer is all or none. Consider a less toxic eatery: their victims.


8. Corner House, Riga, Latvia—Stumble upon this decaying Art Nouveau edifice at the intersection of Brīvības & Stabu iela, and stop. It is just another building in the city’s gloam, but its lichened concrete, sunlessly recessed balconies, street-level windows bandaged up, one dark single closed door: it jolts you. Take a photo. Marvel later to your local friend about the decaying building you discovered, and she’ll take on a distant, disgusted look. It was the KGB headquarters during the occupation. Your sixth sense is for disappearance and murder, torture. Soon they will open a museum here for tourists like you. Rate it on Tripadvisor!


9. ITER—A construction site where physicists, engineers, concrete-truck drivers, and bureaucrats from 35 countries are working to create the first viable magnetic fusion plant, a source of endless clean energy. Incredible! Fusion powers the sun, but I see you roll your eyes at astrology. Do you believe, secretly, that it is superstition that makes women so unfunny? Four out of five stars, (project is impossible and will never be completed.)


10. Hué, Vietnam—Here where the Nguyen Dynasty was enthroned, where both the Battle of Tet and the Tet Massacre occurred, hotels are named Friendly and bakeries are named Sob Cake. Remember to bring several kinds of currency: not just cash, (the conversion from CAD to VND is 1 to 17,608.98 at time of writing) but nineteenth-century tea plantations, digital nomad lifestyle blogs, immigration policies, cyclopean Hollywood blockbusters, et cetera. You cannot pay enough, but you don’t have to. Everything has already been engineered so you can have what isn’t yours. The sob cake tastes fishy.


11. Being too in love—Here, the urge is to eradicate everything that is not love from your life. Your job, your grocery list, they are too banal and do not reflect this miracle that is warping you into something unrecognizable. Highly recommend leaving the planet.


12. Canmore, Alberta—This bustling mountain town imports its poor so that you can come here and eat at McDonalds and talk to a real estate agent about a timeshare in a condo with a view of other condos, also empty. More Olympic athletes live here than anywhere else in Canada, per capita. Aren’t they beautiful? Do they make you want to go for a run and gasp patriotically in the thin air? All the wolves are dead, and the bears are inbred. Ignore my bitterness, I was born here and now I too am a tourist.


13. Being too in love—Here, the urge is to linger, to sniff for vestiges, to gather the pillowcase to your face. Struggle to keep yourself chained in the gun locker of that last good feeling. When did you last feel it, purely? If you stay, will it come back?


14. Being too in love—Here, the urge is towards fear. Look at the cracks in the sunlight. You have become paranoid about what kind of pain is gathering invisibly, inevitably. Paranoid about what will become of you. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, but I didn’t.


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Paige Cooper’s stories have appeared in The FiddleheadGulf CoastMichigan Quarterly ReviewCarousel, and Canadian Notes & Queries, among others, and have been anthologized in The Journey Prize Stories, and Best Canadian Stories. She works for a record label in Montreal.  Zolitude is her first book.


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Our thanks to Paige for writing this piece, and to Casey at Biblioasis for making the connection. For more Under the Cover, click here.


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