NEAL CONAN, host:
Right now, the seven wonders of the world, and no, not the Mausoleum and the Colossus of Rhodes. Back in 1999, a Swiss adventurer came up with the idea to name seven new wonders. Roughly a hundred million people voted on the Web and by text message. And this past weekend, the final tally was announced.
Like the Oscars, there were winners and losers. The Taj Mahal made it; so did the Great Wall of China and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, but not the Eiffel Tower nor the Statue of Liberty nor Stonehenge. And like the Oscars, people are miffed that their favorite site did not make the final cut.
What would you have included on the list and have you visited any of those newly crowned wonders? The full list of seven is at npr.org/blogofthenation. Our number, if you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don George is the creator and the host of the online travel Web site Don's Place. He's in the studio at member station KQED in San Francisco. Don, nice to have you back on the program.
Mr. DON GEORGE (Creator and Host, Don's Place): Hello, Neal. It's great to be back.
CONAN: And having traveled extensively, what do you think about this new list of seven wonders?
Mr. GEORGE: Well, I think you have to put it in context, first of all. They're all manmade wonders. So, a lot of people have said why not the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef? Well, they weren't part of the list that people could choose from, just like the original seven wonders.
And now I think, let's be honest. This is like "American Idol" on a global scale.
Mr. GEORGE: It's really a popularity contest. It all depends on who voted and what subjective criteria they were using. The most talented winner doesn't usually win on "American Idol," and I'm not sure that the greatest seven wonders of the world made it either. I really think Angkor Wat and the Acropolis belong on the list. They're, you know, magnificent, awe-inspiring sites. So, how do you determine what the seven wonders are? It's a tough one.
CONAN: Well, part of the idea was to get conversation going, and it's certainly done that. But some of these sites became, you know, the subject of nationalistic campaigns. For example, the Jordanian royal family sponsored an effort to have Petra, the marvelous site in Jordan, be included. It's hard to argue that Petra isn't one of the seven wonders of the world, but nevertheless, Mexico, too, argued that some of it's - the Mayan ruins. I think they had Coke cans with, you know, instructions on how to vote, and, you know, separate, you know, free computer terminals to go and vote for the seventh wonder of the world.
Mr. GEORGE: Right. Exactly. The balloting was somewhat rigged in that way. And what disturbs me about this is that it can encourage a kind of checklist mentality in regards to the world. If you think, oh, there's seven wonders, I'll go out and I'll see them and then I've done it all. I don't need to do anything else.
Mr. GEORGE: That's not what travel is all about. Travel is about the serendipities and the sensualities, the sensuous riches of the world. That's what you want to get out and see. You don't want to go to Rome and say, oh, okay, there's the Coliseum, check. Now, let's go to India and see the Taj Mahal. So, I think it can undermine the great wonders of what travel is really all about.
CONAN: Yet, there was this - I mean, going back to, I guess it was Antipater of Sidon - a name not usually on anybody's lips, but Antipater was the guy who compiled the list of Ancient Wonders of the World. And that was a very, well, Greek-centric view of it.
Mr. GEORGE: It was, indeed, pretty much all around the Mediterranean. So, it's nice that the new seven wonders of the world encompass the globe. I think that's a great thing. And I think that if they encourage people to focus on that word wonder, which is a fabulous word, and is central to my view of the world - if you look around the world and look at the wonders around you, then it's a great thing.
And I would like it if everybody did their own seven wonders of the world - but also seven wonders of the USA, seven wonders of their state, seven wonders of their hometown - then, we could really appreciate how we're surrounded by wonder, really. And it's all about how we appreciate the world, how we approach the world with respect in a sense of awe and reverence, and then we see wonder everywhere we look.
CONAN: Well, let's get some listeners in on this wondrous conversation. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us at email@example.com. And we'll get Mohammed(ph) on the line, Mohammed's with us from Salem, Oregon.
MOHAMMED (Caller): Yes, hello, Neal. This is my first time calling. Long-time listener - I love your show.
CONAN: Thank you.
MOHAMMED: First of all, I was just curious to know why they did not put down the holy mosque in Mecca, and especially the Kaaba because of the vast amount of people that visit it every year. And on top of that, it has been constructed way before the statue of Jesus in Brazil.
CONAN: And certainly because of the statue of Jesus that overlooks Rio de Janeiro that they're not excluding a religious iconography.
CONAN: Don, any thoughts?
Mr. GEORGE: Well, I think that's an excellent question. I know that the process was seven nominees were put up from general votes, and then a panel of architects limited that down to 21 candidates. But beyond that, I think it's a question of who got involved in the early voting, probably.
CONAN: And again, it was sort of these nationally driven campaigns and perhaps if - I don't know, if some great imam somewhere had decided to start an Internet vote rally for...
CONAN: ...the Kaaba...
Mr. GEORGE: Right.
CONAN: ...maybe Mecca would have made it?
MOHAMMED: Sure, although if you think about it, the Kaaba itself was constructed at the time of Abraham and Ishmael. So it should have been recognized and I appreciate your guys' time and thank you. I'll take my answer off the air.
CONAN: All right. Mohammed, thanks for the call.
Mr. GEORGE: There's no question that that's one of the wonders of the world. Absolutely.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail we have from Jeff(ph) in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Having traveled much of the Mayan world, I was a bit dismayed that Chichen Itza - I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly - made the list while Tikal, Guatemala, did not. I've been to both, and Tikal is by far the more interesting and more intriguing and visually beautiful. I understand that Chichen Itza is more accessible and more visited and it's a beautiful place. But go to Tikal, and then I think most would agree that Tikal beat Chichen Itza.
Mr. GEORGE: I second that emotion. Tikal is a mystical, amazing place. Chichen Itza is a great place as well. But if I had to choose between the two, I would go to Tikal.
CONAN: And the difference may have been where one was in Mexico, which is mounted this campaign; one is Guatemala, which did not, or did not have such a big one. Interesting that three of the new sights are in South America, Central and South America.
Mr. GEORGE: Yes. That's very interesting. And, again, I think it reflects more of the public relations campaign that was launched in certain geographical locations to get their proud monuments on the list, and not necessarily representative of what an independent body might come up with. I really think Angkor Wat, for example, is just an extraordinary world monument. But probably, the Cambodian populace wasn't as tuned in to the voting.
CONAN: And are there any on the list of seven who got in that you think are just, you know - not debatable - that shouldn't really be on the list?
Mr. GEORGE: At the risk of antagonizing many people, I would probably take off Christ the Redeemer statue. I just think that it's not on the same scale as the others. And having walked to the Acropolis, that's such a monument. I really think that should be on the list. Angkor Wat, Stonehenge - it would have been nice if they could have had a tie so that there were 10 great wonders of the world.
CONAN: Let's see if we get another caller on the line. Now, this is Rob(ph) and he's calling from Lansing, Michigan.
ROB (Caller): Hi. I just fell in love a while ago with these temples in India, there in - near Puri. I think they're on a lake. They're - I think they're in the U.N. list. They're huge. They look like flying saucers. And then, every May, they have a parade nearby. I care to call - and I'm still awing - they have intricate carvings all throughout. And it's just amazing.
I also love Angkor Wat, but, you know, just a couple of years ago, it's near -it's like, eastern central India. But they are just gorgeous. They're like, you know, a hundred feet high or more. And you'll see where - and like civilization tree they have them in the background. But I just - I think Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are gorgeous, too. But, you know, the ones in India just struck me as amazing. And I never seen them before a few years ago.
Mr. GEORGE: I think that caller raises a really wonderful point, which I hope is that this will initiate a viral conversation online and in print and on radio and TV about what the wonders of the world are, which will expand all of our collective knowledge about what's really great and worth seeing out there. So that rather than ending up restricting ourselves to seven wonders, we'll come up with 700 or 7,000 wonders, and that's a really great thing.
CONAN: Of course, the one the place in India that did make it, I think, was the overall vote winner was the Taj Mahal.
Mr. GEORGE: Yes.
CONAN: And hard to argue that that's not on anybody's list of wonders of the world?
Mr. GEORGE: That is such a heart-stirring place. It's at the top of my list.
CONAN: Rob, thanks very much for the call.
ROB: Thank you.
CONAN: And let's see if we can go to another caller. This is - let's get Craig(ph) on the line. Craig is calling us from Naples, Florida.
CRAIG (Caller): Good morning. Good afternoon. I'm a long-time contributor, first time caller. I love your show.
CONAN: Thank you.
CRAIG: And I - with tongue firmly in cheek - I would like to nominate my mom and dad and my family for our seven wonders of the world.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CRAIG: For several reasons. One, they've been married for in excess of 55 years. They've got a strong relationship. They've both are more successful. People had - over 31s with - 31 years, General Motors, both retired. They raised five children, all who graduated high school, all who graduated college. One of them turned out to be a sergeant in a police force; another one went into CAT scan design. I am AFA-certified aircraft mechanic. My mom and dad never been - arrested, never been drunk. All of their children grew up to be useful and productive members of society. And I think, nowadays, that's - that record kind of stands by itself.
CONAN: Interesting. Thanks very much for the call, Craig. And I'm sure you'll get some points from the wonders of your family for that.
CRAIG: Yeah. Well, I just like, you know, everyone - while it's good to hear that the family unit is tight and we still keep very close touch with everyone. You know, everyone is - lives within 50 or 20 miles of each other except for me. I've moved away here recently. But I think they all deserve a big pat on the back for that.
CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call, Craig.
CRAIG: All right. Thank you, sir.
CONAN: We're talking about the new seven wonders of the world. The winners were announced over the weekend, I think, in a ceremony in Lisbon, Portugal. We're talking with Don George, the creator and host of the travel Web site, Don's Place, and editor of the online library travel journal RECCE - how do you pronounce that?
Mr. GEORGE: RECCE, right.
CONAN: RECCE, as in a reconnaissance.
Mr. GEORGE: Exactly.
CONAN: All right.
Mr. GEORGE: Exploring the world. It's the literary online magazine.
CONAN: We're talking on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And it is interesting to me, you talked about the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil. It is the most modern of the winners. It is the - there were a couple on the semifinal list, if you will, the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House, who did not get elected. And I suspect that's a good thing.
Mr. GEORGE: Yes. I think so. I think that if you do look at the winners, these are places that command an incredible sense of awe and respect and reverence and have a sort of almost sacred mana power to them. Certainly, the Statue of Liberty is an amazing symbol. The Eiffel Tower is an iconic symbol. But I do think that these monuments that have stood the test of time and that people have gone to for centuries and centuries and centuries to get some sense of spiritual connection, those are the ones that belong on the list.
CONAN: Let's talk with Sam(ph), Sam is calling from San Francisco.
SAM (Caller): Yeah, hello?
CONAN: You're on the air, Sam. Go ahead.
SAM: Oh, yeah. I just - I wanted to call in that last summer, I went to the Alhambra in Spain. And I think that that's definitely one of the wonders, maybe not in the top seven, but it's an amazing place.
CONAN: Pretty terrific spot.
SAM: Yes. So I guess it just, like you said about "American Idol," it's sort of like that.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. UNESCO - thanks very much for the call, Sam. UNESCO said, look, you don't do this by having a vote. They didn't cite "American Idol," Don George. But, you know, these things - sort of things should not be up for a vote. This should be experts who tell us what the, you know, these things are and worthy of preservation, and there shouldn't be only seven.
Mr. GEORGE: Well, I agree. There shouldn't be seven. Everybody should have their own list and they should go and see those list. What's good at about this competition, I think, is that it will encourage people, I hope, to study more about the world and think more about how wide the world is and what's out there.
I mean, my sense of the sacred - there's a rock garden in Kyoto at Ryoanji Temple, with a very small minimalist space. But I think that's one of the wonders of the world because it transports me every time I go there.
CONAN: The Kiyomizu Temple in Japan was nominated, didn't make the cut.
Mr. GEORGE: Did not make the cut. And, again, I think perhaps the Japanese weren't as alert to this competition as some other nations were.
CONAN: Let's get Becka(ph) on the line. Becka is with us from Little Rock.
BECKA (Caller): Hi.
BECKA: I would like to put the entire city of Venice on the world wonder because...
CONAN: That little place in southern California, right next to Los Angeles?
(Soundbite of laughter)
BECKA: No. Venice, Italy.
CONAN: Ah, that one.
BECKA: Yes, yes. Just because it's an entire city basically built on water. And, you know, when I went there, they told me that 10 percent of it is actual island and the rest of it is just built on top of the water and it's just so fortunate that instead of the pillars rotting away, they petrified that so that they could build an entire city. So it's just somewhat so intriguing.
CONAN: Yeah. Venice, a beautiful spot and it may have - places like Venice, places like the Acropolis, even, Don George - may have fallen victim to the excessive Eurocentrism of the original list and the feeling that maybe the second time around, we ought to spread the wealth.
Mr. GEORGE: Right. I think that's true.
Mr. GEORGE: Although the caller - you make me think that we should have a romantic wonders of the world, because Venice would certainly be on that list.
BECKA: Well, it certainly would, you know? They had an atmosphere that most places like Disney just try to recreate, and you can. It's just completely unique.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Becka.
BECKA: Thank you.
CONAN: It's a - see if we can get somebody else on the line. Here is Bonnie(ph), Bonnie, with us from Cincinnati.
BONNIE (Caller): Yes, hello.
BONNIE: How are you?
CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.
BONNIE: Good. And your guest Don, and I may mispronounce his last name. Hello, Don.
Mr. GEORGE: Hello, Bonnie.
BONNIE: The more - hi. The more that we use the words sacredness and awe, the more thrilled I am. Thank you. I've been privileged to see several of the ancient wonders of the world. And nothing can you compare to being there. Sadly, not everyone can do that. But the awareness of what is in our world, I think, is part of what's being triggered by all of the voting and the, you know, massive let's-do-it-now and clicking on and however it was handled. The Acropolis, certainly - sacredness and awe - the first place that I did visit in my life cannot be compared to several of the others that have been mentioned, and likewise others vice versa.
But I appreciate so much your talking about not just, okay, we've been-there-done-that kind of approach to travel. And also, the fact that sacredness and awe does not have to be the church, does not have to be Westminster Abbey, though, that did fill me with awe when I entered it. The other places that you have mentioned and the ones that other people are so passionate about, really gives us, you know, a positive worldview about ourselves and each other. And I thank you.
CONAN: Well, well said, Bonnie. Thank you very much for that call. We're just about out of time. I'm surprised nobody called to suggest the Bergen Mall. But it will have to maybe make it in the next time. I understand, though, there will be a natural wonders of the world competition for 2008, so we have something to look forward to there.
Mr. GEORGE: That's right.
CONAN: Don George, thanks very much for your time.
Mr. GEORGE: Thank you, Neal. As always.
CONAN: Don George, creator and host of the travel Web site, Don's Place, editor of the online literary travel journal RECCE. He joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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