Clinton's affairs have done us all a favour
Sunday 13 September 1998
This 75-minute guided tour around the sites of Washington's best known peccadilloes has been running for a decade, but right now tourists are voting with their feet: business is booming as never before.
En route, customers get to see members of a theatre-group in full costume acting out various scandals. The White House stop, presented by ersatz versions of Ken Starr, Linda Tripp, Hillary Clinton et al, naturally dominates the tour, and this is also where old scandals from the past most frequently resurface: involving not only JFK but also George Washington (for his inability to conceive children) and Abraham Lincoln (for his demented wife).
Other stops include the Capitol steps, where Rita Jenrette claimed to have had sex with her husband congressman John Jenrette to celebrate his election victory, and the Smithsonian museum, named after Englishman James Smithson who left his vast fortune to America because he was angry at being the Duke of Northumberland's illegitimate son.
The tour is not limited to sex scandals. The Old Executive Office Building, where Oliver North conducted hs late-night paper-shredding sessions, is there, as of course is the Watergate hotel and office building, at which point a "Nixon" pops up to explain that the break-in was all a misunderstanding.
The tour is a reminder that basically America has nothing to worry about. It treats us to the true value of the Clinton phenomenon - a drama which will bring the dry stones of Washington to life for generations of future tourists.
A possible lesson for UK tour operators? Be more aware of what it is about ourselves that attacts tourists. Oddly enough, a Bulgarian tourist Joni Aptula last week uncovered a cultural niche in Britain that operators have so far ignored: supermarket tours for the very poor.
So impressed was Joni by the contents of the local branch of Asda during a recent holiday in Hartlepool, that he even spent half an hour in the shop with a video recorder. This is another case of tourists voting with their feet. It is obvious that the spectacle of two dozen different brands of cat food occupying 30 feet of supermarket shelving speaks far more about modern Britain to the average Bulgarian than does (say) Buckingham Palace or even the Spice Girls.
I think supermarkets should forget about personal finance and get into the tourism business instead. Await coach-loads of Bulgarians (Albanians, Russians etc) being escorted round supermarkets near you. Asda cannot match the Gross National Product's Scandal Tour, but it says as much about our cultural riches.
FINALLY, a late reminder of two competitions we have been running. The first, in conjunction with ISIC, is for photographers under the age of 26: send in any travel photos which most sharply illustrate the contrast between modern culture and tradition. Entries by 30 September to "Moments in Time", Travel Desk, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Round the World tickets for the winner, plus runner- up prizes.
The second competition, sponsored by the RAC, asks for the best 500-word articles on spectacular natural or cultural phenomena. Entries by 1 October to: RAC/Independent on Sunday "Independent Eyewitness" competition, RAC Motoring Services, PO Box 700, Bristol BS99 1RB. A luxury seven-night holiday in the Scilly Isles at next year's eclipse to the winner.
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