Can I just say I had no idea how depressing Gaugin’s paradise story was? Here I’ve been strolling past Gaugins for years and years, thinking he’d actually gone there and eaten mangoes and met benevolent native women and, well, had himself a bona fide utopia-type experience. Turns out: not so much.
He did go there, of course. And yes, he did leave his wife and five children and his bourgeois broker job behind for the paradise he imagined in his paintings. But, as the National Gallery’s new exhibit reveals, he arrived in a Tahiti that had been colonized by the French, where the women he depicted were dressed not in coconut bikini tops, but in floor-length Christian gowns. Cut to end of life (blogs can do this!): rather than admit he’d been disappointed, he stayed in Tahiti and died penniless. The myth prevailed. Sigh.
This got me thinking about destination disappointments. What mythical place have you visited that just didn’t live up? Mine? San Francisco (sorry, half the world). Yeah, it’s gorgeous. It’s also impenetrable. But hey, I never moved there, so I’m good. What about destinations we build up in our minds as being relocation dreams, populated with the right people and enjoying the right climate—i.e. paradise? What happens when they don’t live up?
I’m fascinated by the Gaugin myth, and not only because the dream yielded such beautiful work. No, it’s more interesting to me that he staked his salvation on an island and it didn’t work out. How human, how profoundly tragic is that?