I have always been the tourist MacCannel vividly describes, motivated in my travels “by a desire to see life as it is really lived,” intentionally venturing into back regions in search of local ‘authenticity.’ There, life is characterized not by meeting tourists’ needs but by quotidian sights, sounds and smells, existing solely for the city’s inhabitants. Though MacCannel claims that this desire is baseless in its implausibility, I’d like to argue to the contrary. I believe that even in every great metropolis, commercialized by the incredible power of globalization, authenticity does exist. The challenge, then, is to look beyond the initial facade of a city, peeling back its mask to reveal a core rooted upon centuries of tradition, history, and culture.
Though I don’t deny that many locales, such as Paris or New York, have hyper-commercialized to focus on catering to the needs of flocks of tourists, I see the world evolving in a dichotomy – modernizing rapidly yet consciously holding onto tradition. In Israel, authenticity is found in the scores of hummus bars scattered around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, offering both natives and visitors easy access to a dish consumed for thousands of years. In Bali, authenticity is found in the coconut huts lined up along the beaches, offering refreshing fresh meat and milk. These two cities, rich in culture and history, exemplify the maintenance of tradition amongst globalization, a beautiful example of modern authenticity.
Traveling around Spain this semester, I’m beginning to understand the land, learning about why things were developed and designed in the way they were and discerning the importance of topography for the people and their culture. Spain, uniquely different from other European countries, has largely refused to adapt for the sake of tourism, regarding the maintenance of its culture as more important than satisfying those who cannot appreciate el Jamón Serrano or patatas bravas. Spanish cities do close down in the middle of the day for siestas, and tapas are the main way dinner is served (only after 10PM of course – buena suerte finding an open restaurant before then). In old Spanish cities, such as Caceres or Pamplona, narrow cobblestone streets and large city squares dominate the landscape – everything is locally owned, and rarely can an English-speaker be found. It’s not convenient for tourists, but it is the way that things have always been done.
I love living in this country, because the maintenance of authenticity, of culture, is regarded with the upmost importance. Next Wednesday, I’ll walk home from school surrounded by hundreds of cheering Spaniards heading to Estación Bernabeu, the air alive with energy as Real Madrid takes on Atlético or Liverpool F.C. These fans will be walking down from both KMPG and the local butcher shop, contrasting the modern world they actively engage in with a passion for community and sportsmanship rooted in centuries of tradition.