It is suggested that he is naïve, though the subtext that something far more terrible has gone wrong shines through loud and clear. He’s haywire, maybe, a freak of mental collapse and ill thinking. Perhaps he’s simply gone too far down the common road. We’re all tourists–I think that’s been established by others. Marchio is the reductio ad absurdum of all of us, it is suggested. But we couldn’t be more wrong
Instead of halfway participating in a loathsome, ironically detached version of tourism–snapping photos in front of the Louvre, pumping quarters into blaring slot machines at the Luxor–Marchio is the real thing. Witness:
“In two telephone interviews he brushed away all concerns for his safety and offers of help.
‘I am a tourist. I want to see the most important cities in the country. That is the reason why I am here now’… ‘I want to see and understand the reality because I have never been here before, and I think every country in the world must be seen.'”
Is this not the heart of touring? Of witnessing? Can any single one of say that he is wrong, in theory or practice?
But his story is troubling. It gives the lie, as Raleigh would say, to all our lives. In order to make this clear, I have to go back a few generations, to World War II. Between highly scheduled air battles over the desert of Tunisia; muck-slogging jungle war in the Pacific Theater; the savage bombardment of medieval chapels in Western Europe; rations, victory gardens, female professional baseball in a chauvinistic paradise; the deaths of entire generations of Russians, English, Germans, Jews; there were few places on earth that such a war could be avoided. It truly was a state of reality.
Fast forward to the Vietnam war. Soldiers completing their 365th day in Vietnam were driven to the airport, put on a commercial flight, and a dozen hours later were on the beach in Hawaii, or in the living room in San Diego. The war was only in two places: in Vietnam, and on TV. This is what the war in Iraq feels like. Utterly, physically avoidable.
So when Renato Di Porcia, the deputy chief of mission at the Italian Embassy in Baghdad, calls Marchio “naïve,” you have to wonder exactly what he thinks the word means. Marchio had not exactly stumbled into Iraq. The Times article claims that he traveled first to Egypt, then to Turkey, then to Iraq via a 200-mile taxi ride from the regional capital of Kurdistan. He caught them with their pants down. He dropped their jaws. He walked right into their war with a camera around his neck and walked away not only unharmed, but a little peeved at how difficult everything was being made for him.
He took the public bus to Falluja, saw the sights, and returned.
Marchio is the opposite of naive. He perceives the difference between the reality of one man walking in a city and the reality of a titillatingly dangerous war zone—a reality in which our replication of earlier titillating war zones, full of pumped-up music and the habit of unleashing automatic fire on native pedestrians dumb enough to find themselves outside while a TV war is going on. Marchio walked right out of one reality, a manufactured one, and into a different reality, the one that physically exists. Crossing this boundary is not the act of a naive person. Just the opposite. He discarded the received wisdom of a global media bent on normalizing behavior, and acted utterly abnormal, utterly free, utterly unbound by the proscriptions of every societal imperative. Marchio, in a sense, is the Only Tourist in a world of tourists who, despite their exotic itineraries, only see the world they already live in.