Monday, July 31, 2006

Charlottesville: place or pseudo-place

I'm reading Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars by Paul Fussell. In a chapter that contrasts travel and tourism, Fussell says,

Tourist fantasies fructify best when tourists are set down not in places but in pseudo-places, passing through subordinate pseudo-places, like airports, on the way. Places are odd and call for interpretation. They are the venue of the traveler. Pseudo-places entice by their familiarity and call for instant recognition: “We have arrived.” Kermanshah, in Iran, is a place; the Costa del Sol is a pseudo-place, or Tourist Bubble, as anthropologists call it. The Algarve, in southern Portugal, is a prime pseudo-place, created largely by Temple Fielding, the American author of Fielding's Travel Guide to Europe. That book, first published in 1948, was to tourism what Baedeker was to travel. It did not, says John McPhee, “tell people what to see. It told them..what to spend, and where.” .... Because it's a city that has been constructed for the purpose of being recognized as a familiar image, Washington is a classic pseudo-place, resembling Disneyland in that as in other respects. One striking post-Second War phenomenon has been the transformation of numerous former small countries into pseudo-places or tourist commonwealths, whose function is simply to entice tourists and sell them things. This has happened remarkably fast. As recently as 1930, Alec Waugh could report that Martinique had no tourists because there was no accommodation for them. Now, Martinique would seem to be nothing but tourists...

I fear that Charlottesville is well on the way to becoming a pseudo-place, if it has not already become one. The Court Square beautification project—was that done for the benefit of city residents, or was it done for the benefit of tourists? The Downtown Mall--there was talk of removing newspaper machines from the Downtown Mall because, as I understood it, they make the mall look cluttered and ugly for the tourists. Never mind the needs of locals who just want to grab The Hook as they're walking past. It's not that I dislike tourists, and I can appreciate how the business they bring to town benefits us all, but Charlottesville is a city—albeit a microcity—with residents who need to pick up dry cleaning, shop for food or buy stamps, and I'd rather live in a city and not a living museum. I'm now reminded of my friends who live in Harper's Ferry, WV. Residents there are required to pick up their mail at the post office. Mailboxes are illegal. I asked my friend why and he commented dryly that, "mailboxes aren't historic."
And shouldn't we give tourists credit for some intelligence? Presumably they know that this is 2006 and not 1776. Is it necessary, for tourism's sake, to make Charlottesville conform as much as possible to the look of an era that has long past and will never return?
I hope I don't anger people by writing this--or sound too uninformed about local issues. It's just that I read that paragraph quoted above and could see in it an echo of C'ville.

1 comment:

  1. Patience wrote: The Court Square beautification project—was that done for the benefit of city residents, or was it done for the benefit of tourists?

    Neither. The Court Square beautification was done for the benefit of the judges and lawyers who work over there. ;)

    I'm now reminded of my friends who live in Harper's Ferry, WV. Residents there are required to pick up their mail at the post office. Mailboxes are illegal.

    Believe it or not there are actually places in Virginia that are the same way. It's because of a postal regulation and is basically the difference between "rural delivery" and "city delivery."

    City delivery is "walk up and deliver it to a mailbox attached on your residence" whereas rural delivery is "drive up to a mailbox out by the side of the road".

    If you live in a town like Scottsville VA, where the area is designated by the post office for "rural delivery" but you live within town limits. You need to have a P.O. Box in order to get mail, because to deliver it to your residence would mean "city delivery".

    The issue mailboxes not being "historic" comes up when the Postmaster and Town Council fight against any reasonable solution.

    In Scottsville this means the Postmaster wants a centralized location for a "bank of mailboxes" (imagine large apartment style mailboxes only outside). But the Town Council says, "No. That wouldn't fit with the 'historic' nature of the community." So now anyone living within town limits has to go outta pocket for a service that everyone else gets for free, all for the privilege of living in a historic district.

    Additionally (in Scottsville) you're also paying for it because the Postmaster won't honor the section of the postal code that says if they do not deliver to your location they are supposed to provide you with the P.O. box for free.

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