“What has been your peak experience so far?” asked a Swedish-American tourist sitting with his wife at a table next to us in a sidewalk cafe in Madrid. My husband and I both stumbled around for an answer, but couldn’t come up with one. At that point, no single experience on our visits to Paris and Madrid stood out as “peak.”
The man’s “peak” turned out to be a walk through a cave with prehistoric drawings in northern Spain, one that allowed only limited access. Our conversation ended about the time the tourist’s soup arrived and he became angry with the waiter because the soup didn’t meet his expectations. He accused the waiter of lying about the soup when he’d first asked about it, because, he said, “I know how this soup should be prepared and this is not right. Don’t ever do this to me again.” His insults to the waiter and refusal to eat anything, while his wife kept her head down and focused on her salad, provided us with a memorable experience, but I wouldn’t call it “peak.”
This brings me to an article a friend sent from the New York Times (Sept. 24, 2013) called, “Sign of the Times/The Virtues of Fine in the Age of Awesome.” Writer Andrew O’Hagan says, “In an era of extreme travel and desperately competitive bucket lists, it’s worth recognizing that ‘good’ is often good enough.” He talks about the “Ultimate Experience” holiday that involves traveling by private jet, mountain climbing, or deep-sea diving and warns that, “The Ultimate Experience now poses a threat to the kind of small revelations that can make us happy.”
We’d enjoyed strolling through different neighborhoods in both Paris and Madrid, visiting art museums and cathedrals, testing out new dishes and desserts in restaurants, bakeries, ice creameries, and trying to read unfamiliar signs, menus, bits of text and maps in French and Spanish. We were pleased that everybody we’d talked to or asked for help had been friendly, often generous with their time and knowledge. Two nights earlier we’d eaten at the same restaurant where the man complained, when my husband realized he didn’t have enough euros to cover the bill. The waiter had no objection to my taking up table space while my husband walked the four blocks back to our hotel to get a credit card.
It’s true that we hadn’t seen everything we wanted to see, but that meant we had a reason to return. We were content. As O’Hagan describes travelers like us, we weren’t seeking the ‘awesome’, but “travelers who wanted simply to find a lovely part of the world and dwell in it for a week or two.” Without peaks or piques.