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Living in a tourist town

"culture feeding tourism feeding culture." Ros Atkins/The Guardian

Before I embark on this post just a note to say that there is a Postscript at the end which is all about Comments - how to make one. If you like to comment, please check it out.

Apologies to David if this is a post that is not massively about food. The photograph above is one of my desktop photograph posts. A sort of moment in time. I'm not entirely sure where it is as it was taken with a camera with no gps kind of data. However, judging by the sequence of photos I think it was probably in the village of Bedoin at the foot of Mont Ventoux - a place of pilgrimage for cyclists. We were there with our friends Brian and Jenny, having driven all the way to the top - it's a very long way as you can see from the photo below. And yet it is a mecca for cyclists. The cyclist I am talking to in the photo was elderly - I can't quite remember how old now, but he did it every year. It's gruelling - even in a car.

We stopped in Bedoin at the foot of the mountain on the way down, and stopped for a drink - 'un Schweppes' for me - tonic water - and to admire the crowds of cyclists gathered over the road, reliving their triumph over the mountain.

Which is why I think my starting photo is here in Bedoin. We would have wandered around for a bit after our drink. Why I chose this photograph as an inspiration was because it shows a small house, possibly in a back street somewhere, which has nevertheless been decorated in a picturesque way with the symbols of southern France, olives, poppies and golden grain. No sunflowers or lavender, but maybe they are still to come. There is certainly space for them. Why? Was it to attract tourists, to win some sort of town competition, individually or for the town, or was it because this is a traditional thing to do? Is it "culture feeding tourism feeding culture" Would the decoration have been there, tourism or no tourism, or is it merely because of the tourism?

Is the owner of the house giving the tourists what they want, and what do they want anyway? In France they have those 'plus beaux villages' scattered around the country and also the 'villages fleuris'. You have to work at it to get into one of those categories and when you do, you get listed in all sorts of places and the tourists come. So yes one of the things the tourists want is the beautiful village, the beautiful town, the famous town and its cultural icons like the Eiffel Tower. It's tricky though to get the right balance is it not? Even President Macron has pleaded with the tourists to go anywhere but the big tourists spots. And I won't even mention Venice. However, we should always remember that on the other hand the tourists are needed for the economy:

"The most simple way of measuring tourism's impact anywhere in the world, is that more visitors, mean more jobs and more money spent. But the relationship between visitor and host is rarely that simple. ... if tourism ends up having more power than the people and place playing host, the result is resentment, and often an erosion of identity" Ros Atkins/The Guardian

And identity comes from culture - from the way the people of that place have adapted to their own particular environment over the centuries, creating the culture that people want to see, whilst sometimes destroying it. Done well, it can of course, create a new and better culture.

Food is one of the main attractors, disasters, symbols of a culture, and culinary tourism in all its forms is a major form of tourism, whether as the prime reason for the visit or an incidental, but necessary part of it.

"When we think of what motivates tourists, we often go to the obvious – art, physical locations, adventure, etc. But what’s the first thing you always say when you arrive at a new holiday destination? Where should we eat?" Coffey & Tea

So very, very true. A small example. Next week we are going to Inverloch for two nights. It's a nice part of the countryside near here, so physical location - which includes the hotel - was perhaps the prime motivator. Also for our complete day there - we shall be exploring at least one of the local beauty spots. However, food is important. For our first night we shall be eating in the hotel, which was at least partly chosen for its restaurant, but where to eat the next night? This is not Venice or Paris, or even Bali, and so perhaps there is no authentically local cuisine to seek out. It's certainly not on offer. The majority of options are pizza and pasta and hamburgers, pub food, Japanese, Chinese or Thai. Maybe the pub food is the most authentic. Although is it as good as Thai, say? In a way it is indeed very Australian to have so many multicultural options, but the emphasis will probably move from the food to the ambience - which apparently many restaurateurs say is actually what people go for. Unless you are one of those people ticking off Michelin starred restaurants. Food is important.

"The World Food Travel Association reports that 93% of travelers can now be considered 'food tourists,' with food experiences playing a significant role in their overall travel experiences." Mirage News

Another close example - my son's family on returning from Japan told us that they had not been impressed by the food on offer. Now I also know that others have expressed delight at the food on offer. My family tried, but it didn't appeal, and for the vegetarian in the mix it was apparently almost impossible. Suffice to say they might think twice about revisiting Japan. So very different to my own revelatory experience with French food way back when, which was probably at least half of my life-long love affair with France, and which has seen me visit it as many times as possible.

In any other country with a more obvious cultural tradition in food however, there are a number of problems. The first is that many, dare I say, uneducated tourists, just want what they eat at home. Fish and chips on the Costa del Sol, Macdonalds in Florence, pizza in Bali.

"But to what extent do you give tourists what they want? ... So if a tourist wants something, should they be given it?" Ros Atkins/The Guardian

Will they really not come if there are no fish and chips, no Macdonalds? Do they really know what they want anyway?

The second danger is when providing the classic traditional dishes of the area. Obviously this shouldn't be a danger. It should be wonderful to introduce people to local culture and through that food learn more about the place and its people. Indeed it's often the main attraction. The dangers are that, this is all you can get to eat - go to the Toulouse area for example and there will be cassoulet everywhere, or every meal will feature duck in the Dordogne. After all the French around Toulouse do not eat cassoulet all the time. Some writers and chefs also seem to think that it stifles innovation and evolution. And indeed maybe you can have too much of the 'other'. I vaguely remember in Thailand, where the food is absolutely delicious, but very spicy, wishing for something simple and homely - homely to me anyway. The other danger is that these dishes will be produced using shortcuts such as microwaves and inferior ingredients, so that the dish itself, besides becoming commonplace and therefore unattractive, will also not be delicious either.

"The question is how to manage tradition: what to keep and what to update?" Wendell Steavenson/The Guardian

Which is probably where today is different from my youth. Today we are spoiled at home by all the wonderful things available on the supermarket shelf, and the wonderful sources of inspiration we can access at will today - and yes I include TikTok and Instagram in that - cookbooks, magazines, foodie events, local cafés, TV shows, even advertisements. The food world is brimming over with choice. In my day I came from only recently finished rationing, and a lack of such basic things as garlic and olive oil. No wonder a French tomato salad was a taste sensation to change your life.

"Maybe we are now surrounded by so much variety and plenty that we have lost our ability to be amazed by food in the way my parents once were." Wendell Steavenson/The Guardian

Hopefully not. The locals are rising up - they are considering banning the cruise ships in Venice, numbers are being limited in some hot spots, and new ones are being discovered - maybe Basilicata.

We all complain about tourists even when we are a tourist ourself. Just one or two of the millions. We think we are different. And remember that all of the moderately wealthy people in the world are tourists too - even the people servicing the tourists in Venice doubtless go on a holiday somewhere. Even the poor sometimes manage to be tourists - a day trip to Southend for an East Ender, camping at Rosebud in the Melbourne summer for the workers, fishing at Bonnie Doon for the tradies, a walk in the local park if you really can't afford anything else.

When it comes to food tourism there are so many options. Just eating locally, even cooking yourself from local ingredients - a French supermarket is not the same as Coles - cooking classes, food tours, markets, those supermarkets, Michelin star bucket lists, farm and vineyard visits ...

"Maybe what we think we remember about the glories of the French restaurant – because nostalgia is really a false memory, the longing for something that never really existed – is not really the meal, but the unexpected pleasure of the meal, the discovery of deliciousness." Wendell Steavenson/The Guardian

Yes ambience is all I think. And surprise. And ambience is what I'm putting first when trying to arrange a ladies lunch in the city.

So back to my initial photograph. Two more things about it. In the window is reflected a lady - not me or my friends - probably a tourist like me. So even in this quiet spot there are tourists. Maybe it was just a brief pause in a long procession of such people. Or maybe the inhabitants of the house are part of the tourist attraction. I had a friend who used to joke about the groups of old women sitting together on benches in French villages, being paid by the government for the tourists to smile at. Not a bad idea really.

And yet it is tranquil is it not? The table is obviously used. There is an empty glass and a mug as well still on the table which tends to suggest that somebody has just sat there and enjoyed a quiet moment with somebody else in the shade on a sunny day. Maybe they were pondering on what to paint in that empty spot around the window.


Comments. Weird things have been happening, but I think that I have restored it all - well more or less. At the foot of each post there should be a white Comments box. Simply write your comment where it says Write a comment and then click Publish and say whether you are a guest or a member. Subscribers are not members, by the way, so I suppose you just say you are a guest. If you want me to know who you are I guess you can just sign off at the end of your comment. Then you will probably have to do one of those CAPTCHA pictures. Everyone is getting so security conscious these days. I also don't seem to be getting notifications from Wix anymore when a comment has been made.

So I shall continue to investigate. Why oh why do software developers keep meddling when something is working well!

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Feb 23
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

Ah memories of time past and place we have been. I remember the aged cyclist. He was in his 70's- ancient I thought then, but very fit. The dangerous bit for him was going down the mountain!

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