The image of a house with a shuttered door and window presents an overwhelming sense of “closed”, yet I find the colour scheme is appealing and there in lies a contradition.
Walking through the empty shell of a once-magnificent building — a Roman temple, an amphitheatre, etc. — the sense of what people did there lies in the distance. It is hard to connect to their emotional state, their beliefs and thoughts can only be imagined. This sarcophagus, however, gave a face to those things. The connection between husband and wife, the raising and education of children, the role of family, are all evident in the relief. It stimulates the emotions we carry on today and in doing so connects us with our past along this dimension, at a personal level.
The monuments we visit provide us with a contextual sense of where people lived and may be what they did: pray, perform, watch, etc. But when looking at the bust of an individual, a more personal sense is communicated.
I find this image recursive. A tree, located in what was once the back-stage area of the Roman Theatre, among the remnants of roman columns whose design is based on that of a tree.
He looks distraught. The bleeding skeletal hand adds a sense of desperation; barely hanging on. All the documentation names this relief as Hercules, but I can’t help but think of him as Heracles. It might be the bronze construction. Yet, rationally, it is located on the base that supports a Roman Obelisk.
Today’s Arlesian culture reflects the learnings and norms accumulated over thousands of years. It combines those from waves of invaders, including the Ligurians, Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Saracens, and Franks. The process of transgenerational change has selected from this pallet those norms that work with the changing times.
Like a marble roman column, a culture combines a seemingly infinite number of outwardly incompatible pieces into a structure that somehow stands up, and is beautiful.
Tourism is another wave, but a slightly different one. The “invaders” rarely stay; rather they simply look, and leave. Yet even this seemingly minor point of contact, when visited upon a place millions of times per year, has an effect. But it is more subtle and may be more insidious.
Among the things we inherit is culture; those norms given to us by our parents, grandparents and community. Those norms we rebel against in our teens. Those norms we return to later and pass on to our children and grandchildren.
While many of the norms are localised, such as dress and food, there are many that traverse all cultures, such as the look that all women seem to learn.
A central argument in favour of tourism is that it generates income and create jobs. The exchange of money for access. By selling access to a site, it becomes a commodity.
The beauty of tourism is that almost anything can be commodified, and thus any locale has the chance to become a tourist site. One can’t help but think of alchemy.
This ability to turn something that at first appears worthless into a valuable commodity is turned into a mechanism for the positive, such as conservation of wild-life, natural habitants, cultures and historic sites. Ironically, success can be the vehicle of defeat. When a natural habitant, for example, becomes too popular, the people traffic can do significant damage, thus defeating the purpose.
Commodified culture events can face ethical concerns. When the event undergoes change not driven by the natural evolution of ones culture, but rather to serve tourist demands, the event runs the risk of changing into a performance. Such a devolution risks detaching the event from ones cultural heritage and then loosing its meaning and purpose. Other than to garner income. Such loses become subtractions from a local identity. Different people will feel these subtractions to a larger or lesser extent and it is in these differences where tensions lurk. These form the resistance to the changes and the arguments for preservation.
The Pont Langlois is a painting of a draw bridge made by van Gogh in 1888. In the 1930s the actual bridge was replaced, and the replacement was subsequently destroyed during the war. Originally there were several bridges that crossed the canal at various points, but only the Fos Bridge survived the second war. While the intension was to move this last remaining bridge to the location of the destroyed Langlois Bridge, the location was determined to be unsuitable, so the Fos Bridge was reconstructed at a new location, where it resides today, and renamed the Pont van Gogh. There is nothing authentic about this site; a different bridge in a different location. The best that can be argued is that it is reminiscent of what once was. Branding it van Gogh, however, elevates its importance as a tourist site.
Café, le soir is a painting of a café made by van Gogh in 1888. To this day, the café retains many of its 1888 characteristics, although it has been re-branded Le Café van Gogh. This effort to retain authenticity serves tourist expectations and desires to see the real thing that was represented in a painting. Being authentic attracts tourists. It made me think how horrible it would be to have ones own place represented in a van Gogh and subsequently forced to retain the period look and feel. Being authentic is a lock that prevents change.
Between here and there lie many miles of space. In his book Time-Space Compression: Historical Geographies, American author and professor Barney Warf notes that between 1500AD and 1970AD the speed of travel increased from about 10 mph in a boat to 600 mph in a passenger jet or in his words “the world became 60 times smaller”. For the typical traveller with a two-week vacation, this increase makes feasible travel that previously was not. An 8 hour flight to Europe can be accommodated; 20-day journey is out of the question. If we change how we dimension space from distance to the time it takes to traverse it, we find the world looks very different. For example, it takes about 12 hours and 30 minutes to drive from Toronto Ontario to Fredericton New Brunswick and it takes 12 hours and 50 minutes to fly from Toronto to Dubai. In other words, these two places are essentially the same “distance” away.
Warf observes “As the space between points—the traditional travel space—is destroyed, those points move into each other’s vicinity: one might say that they collide” (p.88). Historically the space in-between has acted as a protective wall creating isolation chambers in which local cultures developed. As the wall of space diminished, more interactions between the inside and outside cultures resulted in a mixing of norms. Whether this is viewed as positive or negative is determined by many factors. The traveller might see the local culture as exotic and authentic; the local people might feel their way of life is being changed beyond recovery.
For the traveller, the objective is found at the destination and the route to get there is a necessary inconvenience and usually something we take little note of. If the traveller has several destinations in mind, the sequence will be optimized to reduce the duration enroute. The in-between is to be managed and tolerated. For the resident, the in-between might be something missed.
There are times when no matter how much you try to bridge the gap, understanding is inaccessible. Niobe’s story is about the sin of hubris. She is weeping the murder of her 7 sons and 7 daughters (some say only 6 of each gender were slain) by Artemis and Apollo. It is a mystery to me the circumstances that prompted the author’s of this park to chose to include this statue.
In this image I wanted to broach the subject of the ephemerality of tourism. I equated the shortness (of ephemera) with blur and the idea of a glimpse. To do this, I composed the photograph to blur the tourists, while offering a glimpse of the interior of the church.
Recalling my own travel experience, glimpses are often all you get, but oddly these cursory experiences can have permanence, that remain in the memory’s focus.
Our cultural artifacts, including physical remnants, food, practices, beliefs, language, when examined often offer us a glimpse into the past. Not a full picture, sometimes just a sense, and that fleeting view can develop in us considerable insight allowing us to make a personal connection. This is especially true when looking through old family photo-albums and seeing the gestures and expression of ancestors that resonate, that you understand.
Quoting from the World Values Survey Web Site:
The World Values Survey (www.worldvaluessurvey.org) is a global network of social scientists studying changing values and their impact on social and political life, led by an international team of scholars, with the WVS association and secretariat headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.
The global cultural map (above) shows how scores of societies are located on two dimensions. Moving upward on this map reflects the shift from Traditional values to Secular-rational and moving rightward reflects the shift from Survival values to Self–expression values.
Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)
Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.
Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.
A somewhat simplified analysis is that following an increase in standards of living, and a transit from development country via industrialization to post-industrial knowledge society, a country tends to move diagonally in the direction from lower-left corner (poor) to upper-right corner (rich), indicating a transit in both dimensions.
However, the attitudes among the population are also highly correlated with the philosophical, political and religious ideas that have been dominating in the country. Secular-rational values and materialism were formulated by philosophers and the left-wing politics side in the French revolution, and can consequenlty be observed especially in countries with a long history of social democratic or socialistic policy, and in countries where a large portion of the population have studied philisophy and science at universities. Survival values are characteristic for eastern-world countries and self-expression values for western-world countries. In a liberal post-industrial economy, an increasing share of the population has grown up taking survival and freedom of thought for granted, resulting in that self-expression is highly valued.
As with the previous post, this scene is interesting to me because in one image we can see nearly 2000 years of history, layered from bottom to top, situated on rock that has prevailed from the times before human existence. The city wall contains a record of Roman and later Medieval additions and maintenance. On top of the wall we see the church, Eglise Notre Dame de la Major, built on the ruins of an old Roman temple. The conflation of all these parts forms a unified whole, that has character. It speaks to the incrementalism of human activity, and human culture, of both continuity and resilience. A process of dead-reckoning that somehow leads to something coherent. Its age lends to a sense of its authenticity.
As noted earlier, I am interested in the shape and distortions of space. In this square, Place de la République, we see the convergence of multiple times and histories: the old Roman obelisk, mounted on a 19C pedestal hosting the bronze reliefs of Hercules, in the French town square dating from between medieval times to the present. The use of a wide-angle lens offers a slightly distorted, poetic representation. The bench lets us sit, relax and be a spectator.
Tourism as a spectator sport, is an emerging theme of my work. This is not to denigrate tourism, but rather to acknowledge that the distance between the visitor and the site they visit often precludes a deeper engagement. As a result, the tourists interpretation might be superficial, and distorted.
I was drawn to this image first by the shadow of the ancient Roman Amphitheatre projected on to the street front. The obvious symbolism of the shadow of the past came to mind, followed by the steeple of the church positioning Christianity in opposition to the paganism represented by the unseen Roman building, casting its shadow of unknown, unstated, or forgotten influences. The street conveys a sense of the journey travelled. I thought too that the Fuji Film and Kodak signs added a nice touch. They give us the opportunity to distinguish the explicit and the obscure influences; the tangible references to more recent loses, within the memory of many, while the shadows acknowledge ambiguous influences from the past, beyond our memory.
As a North American walking through this space, I cannot help but be left with some sense of awe by the depth of history on display. That many of these artifacts were hewn by the hands of people 2000 years ago. As I walked down Rue de la Calade in Arles, my mind travelled back to imagine the travellers along this street in Roman times when it was named Decumanus. How many caesars walked this path? Canada offers few such sites. Our history beyond a few hundred years ago is more often available only in the abstraction of anglicized place names: Toronto, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, etc. But these lack the tangible index of a physical remnant.
Place, as a physical manifestation of a culture, is a trigger of remembrance offering the warmth and stability of continuity; it represents an important component of the local identity. The French have done a particularly good job of protecting, and maintaining their heritage, and cultural artifacts. American author Elisabeth Becker observed in her book Overbook: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, that France’s eminent position in tourism started with a program to entrench and revitalize their culture suggesting the strong link between culture and tourism. Culture is, of course, more than its physical manifestations. It includes performances, traditional trades and practices, style of dress, among many others.
Culture is often contextualised within more widely-held philosophies and concepts. The French culture is a significant contributor to the broader Western Culture. While I share in this Western Culture, when I visit Europe, I see the distinctions at the local level. These can be attractive, and in some respects is a motivator for many tourists. Yet these differences — language, tipping, dress, various protocols, etc. — create a distance between the local resident and the foreign tourist. These can be a source of tension or as the French say vive la différence.
When I saw this figure I was reminded of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History:
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Yet this angel has no face to look with, and his broken wings are unable to spread. May be it was shattered by the progress?
Progress is an interesting phenomenon. The assumption of a positive development is inherent in the word (pro-forward + gradi to walk), yet we all understand it’s a mixed bag. Tourism comes with both positive and negative potential. Often the focus is on the shiny object of monetary returns, without full appreciation of the negative consequences that need to be compensated for in some way.
Physically, remnants are pieces of objects from the past. They are a part, not the whole, they are fragments of what once was. They bring together the past and present and in doing so they show how the past continues into the present.
Intellectually, as a parallel with our culture, remnants represent our current norms that have developed and evolved over time, including the many past learnings carried across generation into the present. Remnants suggest the cultural anchor we live with; the inertial forces that keep us going along a path, evolved through trans-generational change and exposure to other cultures. As fragments, they infer both change and resilience. As some fragments persist, and others do not, suggesting that some things change easier than others. We might lose our cultural language before our eating habits.
As a glimpse of the past, they provide a sense of what once was and as such, they might leave us with a sense of nostalgia. As objects from what is often thought to be a simpler time, they carry a sense of authenticity, untarnished by today’s processes of mass-production.
Tourists are often drawn to ruins of ancient sites for many of the reasons cited above. Site operators realise this and will work to maintain them. Being designated as a World Heritage Site validates its pedigree. Yet when a site becomes so attractive, and draws so many tourists, it can become overwhelmed and its historical character becomes subverted into something like an amusement park.
Like doors, staircases suggest a connection between two things, places, ideas, and a passageway, but they add to this the sense of a journey through a [liminal] space from one point to the other. Ascending implies a positive, hopeful, or purposeful journey, however, descending suggests the journey might be negative, confusing, or depressing. The style of the staircase carries some significance as well. A traditional one suggests an uncomplicated route, a spiral staircase might imply mystery and disorientation .
The intellectual journey might be from one state of mind to another; a better understanding, new knowledge, an appreciation of another culture. Heritage tourism might lead to a better understanding of ones self by discovering the place of ones ancestors.
Doors are entrances into or exits from some a place. The Roman god Janus was the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings, hence a connection with beginnings and endings. An open door represents a new opportunity, a beginning. On the other hand, a closed door represents an ending. Unlike windows, if they are open, they allow passage through the wall. If they are closed, they represent a barrier, but unlike that role of a wall, they add frustration from a denied opportunity. Being closed might represent a specific act of power. Unlike the spectator sport that windows offer, doors allow active participation. An open door allows the movement and thus the integration of things [people].
This porosity exists within time and space. On entering an ancient castle we experience the space bound by the walls, the height of the ceilings, the size of the rooms, and the types of rooms. We also develop a sense of the past. We walk along corridors that have been travelled for hundreds and may be thousands of years.
The door as a portal of access to what’s on the other side applies to intellectual and cultural matters as well. Often there are language barriers. Local cultural norms may be difficult to understand and overcome. Or locals might resist. Do I take the cruise-offered guided walking tour through the old town, which includes transportation and lunch, or do I go out on my own, find a restaurant, get lost, struggle with the local language, use hand signals, take the local bus? Physical access vs. a deeper engagement. Neither is better nor worse than the other; each has their place. They are simply different.
When we let people into our house we expect them to pay attention to certain norms of behaviour. We have similar expectations with tourists. Tourists travel with objectives, ranging simply from rest-and-recuperation to heritage and cultural enlightenment. They often arrive in hordes overwhelming local infrastructure. Streets are crowded with pedestrians, traffic is jammed, local businesses re-align their services to meet their needs, apartments are recast to support tourism, reducing rental space available to the local population or escalating rents beyond what is affordable. The theory is that tourism bring jobs and money, but places like Venice have been overrun and have become sites of [tourist] experience rather than sites where one can live.
Historically, global corporations have sought locations that benefit their business: low wages, access to markets, access to materials, etc. As transportation costs have reduced over the past century, the choice of location is now effectively world-wide. As first-world economies increase regulatory requirements, such as for labour practices, safety and environment controls, companies have sought locations where a reduced regulatory framework benefits their requirements, such as a chemical plant locating in a region where there are no expensive safety controls. This is changing as in recent years some companies have been held to account.