On getting the hell off of that beaten path
Walking down Las Ramblas
in Barcelona looking for "authentic Spanish tapas food," my friend emily turns to me and goes "everything here is so touristy- we have to get off of this beaten path." We took a right, and wandered for a few minutes into the Barrio Gotico
, finally settling on a little restaurant called "Menage a Trois"- where no one spoke english, and was for the most part full of families and people speaking Catalan-with the exception of two groups of people speaking French. While the food seemed to be "authentic" enough, after reading MacCannell's piece, it made me wonder, in retrospect- just how "authentic" my dining experience (and my whole time, really) in Barcelona was...The menu was a mélange of Catalan, Spanish, and English- with poor translations of dishes. The music was elevator-esque, the host was from Japan, and the name of the restaurant was french. Just how authentic was my experience? I don't know. They served 'traditional' Tapas food, yet, how 'real' was that experience to any of the real ones that Spanish people go to? And the fact that this restaurant was most likely a mixture of multiple cultural things- was that set up to attract the tourist attempting to get off the beaten path a little, only to stumble on this quaint restaurant that seemed to be authentic for its bright colored walls, low lighting, and extensive tapas menu? Was my experience less real because of this? Did I miss out?
MacCannel makes a few good points such as places having a back and a front stage and that tourism is an exemplification of people wanting to make sure they get an "authentic" experience of the place (what I clearly just exemplified with my alarm at having not had one). However, in total, I really didn't enjoy the article very much there are a few things that I don't agree with/don't really understand in it.
Firstly, he compares travel and tourism to the secularized version of spiritual pilgrimages...I don't really agree. While they are similar in that the respective parties are searching for a special experience, to me the two aren't really comparable. For one, if one goes on a religious pilgrimage, one expects to experience something specific-some real revelation...whereas when one is a tourist, I feel as though in my experience at least you have a different type of thirst altogether...you have had no former interaction with the place- and you're searching for something- something authentic, but you're not sure what. The former involves a lot of thought, and a massive investment of time and thought. My going to Barcelona because I thought it was going to be pretty/fun/I'd never been there before isn't a pillar of my existence (re: Islam/Hajj)...Thus, I feel as though they cannot really be compared.
A second point I didn't really agree with was when he spoke about the evolution from primitive (who "need not worry about the authenticity of their rituals" (590) to modern-day concerns with authenticity. Of course primitive people/beings/creatures need and have always needed to worry about authenticity of their rituals or being the best at them. Take birds for example in this SHORT VIDEO FROM PLANET EARTH
. Rather than "depending on individuals keeping their place," as MacCannel states, how do primitive people/creatures attract their mates? By being better/authentic... Would I want to shack up with some half-adequate bird? I don't think so- I'd want to procreate with the one with the prettiest tail, and the best dance. Primitive society carried on then, and society would still carry on today...and they are not all that different. Both have features of the necessity/craving of authenticity- an incorrect difference that MacCannel tried to draw between the two.
One of the more interesting points that MacCannell made was his list of layers of authenticity, and penetration. into society. While I think that it's interesting that he has categorized the stages of authenticity that one goes through, I don't really feel as though being able to penetrate the different layers is so much a question of how you approach the situation as it is a question of time. One of the first days I was in Paris, I accidentally went into a kitchen instead of to the restroom in a restaurant...i saw the waiters hussling about yelling orders (on the back stage). In that moment, I didn't really equate it with authentic. However, now that I have been here for some time, I realize that one of my first experiences here was, in fact, an exposure to the authentic life...or a form of it. I have also noticed that I am able to tell who Americans are just by looking at them on the street, on the metro, etc. Cultural differences become more apparent the more time you spend in a place...So I wonder, and would like to pose a question to MacCannell...When one has penetrated the culture to the deepest layer, the most "authentic," has one transcended a place of tourism? How does one define tourism? And how does one define identity? Just some of the many questions/qualms I had with this piece.