I am slightly confused about this. I had just been making an unofficial survey to uncover the single biggest cliche in the history of travel writing. "Where East meets West" and "land of contrasts" were obviously up there with the best of them, but the overall winner had to be any sentence revolving round the concept of "discovering the authentic, unspoilt ... Spain/ Turkey/ Greece (etc)".
But what could possibly be unspoilt and authentic about a location for a fictional TV drama? I suppose there should be a valuable and profound irony in this.
It has set me grappling to uncover the paradox behind the "unspoilt" tourist destination. What is behind this enormous urge that drives people like me to discover the "unspoilt" coast of Brittany or the "authentic" Spain? What is an "authentic" experience really like anyway?
The first point is that we all have a huge fantasy about the past having been miles better than the present. Presumably the idea is that the past (say, when Britain ruled the world) was "authentic", but that all subsequent additions to it have been artificial. Travelling to "unspoilt" locations means getting back to that lovely time when America was a colony and the European Union hadn't been thought of (except by Napoleon).
This is why the Americans invented Disneyland and the British invented the National Trust, I suppose. Disneyland came after Queen Victoria and is therefore artificial and unpleasant. The National Trust properties on the other hand give tourists the chance to relive the days when Lords still lorded it - and are therefore rather pleasant.
The second point concerns that grossly hypocritical tendency of all tourists, including myself, to resent other tourists. I admit to this. The presence of any tourist other than me in a scenic place is enough for me soon to be writing that place off as "spoilt", especially if the offender is a British tourist dressed up in some ridiculous hiking outfit.
Another thing I always insist on for an experience to be "authentic" is that I am not being manipulated by anyone from the tourist industry.
Well all right, let's say that some fiendishly clever tour operator has managed to find the only remaining undeveloped fishing village in Spain or Turkey or Greece just for my benefit. But when I go there, I have to be satisfied that the place and its residents don't give a stuff about my presence.
Basically, I need those craggy old Spanish/Turkish/Greek sea-dogs to be entirely innocent of the very concept of tourism. They should be pulling in their nets and chewing their quids of tobacco of their own free will. It's no use if they actually want to be running electronics stores, but keep on acting out the role of fishermen as a means of attracting tourist revenue.
We don't want our entertainments coming to us through the intermediary of some million-dollar TV soap planning committee, carefully designing hedgerows to maximise our pleasure, do we? I thought we wanted our pleasures to spring directly from the simple phenomena of the natural world, of which we fondly imagined our Spanish/Turkish/Greek fishermen (but not ourselves) to be a part.
Except that nobody really knows what the world would have been like without tourists. Would the Pharaohs have bothered to build the pyramids if they hadn't thought people were going to come to look at them? Why on earth would any French peasant wear a beret and a string of onions, if not to assert his Frenchness to British tourists? Why would I carry an umbrella if not to satisfy visiting Americans that I am an Englishman?
Unwittingly, it turns out that we are all characters in a global Emmerdale. Catering to tourists is a fundamental human need. As a matter of fact, finding places that are oblivious of tourism is about as straightforward as finding places that have never heard of cars. The "authentic" Spain/ Turkey/ Greece is completely full of tourists anyway. In this sense, the only thing that can possibly be meant by "unspoilt" is without any people at all. Pristine. Empty. And rather tedious.
The search for the unspoilt seems to be one cliche too many. I may have to ban it from these pages.Reuse content