This month, we’re teaming up with another group of Italy bloggers who also write on a monthly theme.
We’re joining forces with the COSÌ group, which stands for Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy, to write about the topic of AUTHENTICITY.
Not only do you get to read the thoughts of the usual bunch of Italy Roundtable bloggers, you get to hear from a whole new crop of expats in Italy. Enjoy!
There are words and phrases that get overused in any profession. In the world of travel writing, there are plenty – I know one editor who won’t tolerate the word “nestled” when describing any village, and who automatically deletes email with the word “staycation” in the subject line. One word that is not only overused to the point of not meaning anything anymore but also potentially troublesome even when people try to use it in good faith is “authenticity.”
Every travel magazine is touting the secret to finding “authentic” (fill in the blank with whatever city or country name you like). Every traveler wants to get “off the beaten path” to find the “real” place.
But, tell me, what’s this supposedly elusive “authentic” place you seek, and how is it different from the place you’re trying so hard to avoid?
Despite the proliferation of Italy travel information extolling the virtues of travel throughout the country, most people still go to Venice, Florence, and Rome on their first visit. They may include a few other stops along the way, but those three – I call them the “Holy Trinity” of Italy travel – are nearly always on the menu.
And of course it makes sense that they should be. Tourist attractions are, after all, touristy for a reason.
Venice, Florence, and Rome are popular year-round, busy with tourist crowds, and have learned to cater to tourist whims. They’re not alone. Pisa is the perfect example of a tourist destination giving the visitor precisely what he wants – an easy route from the train station to the one attraction the vast majority want to see, plenty of places to buy knickknacks around said attraction, and an easy way back to the train station in order to move on to the next city.
One side effect of all of this is that these places are deemed “less authentic” by holier-than-thou travelers who think tourist throngs must equal tourist trap. Those folks rile me nearly as much as the ones who claim the words “tourist” and “traveler” don’t mean the same thing. (Don’t even get me started on that one.)
Pisa is authentic Italy – both the part of the city swarming with tourists around the Leaning Tower and the part of the city ignored by tourists and busy with students at the historic university. You may prefer one over the other – or you may prefer a different city altogether – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But to declare one part as “authentic” and another as “not authentic” just because you like one better?
I am fond of the dictionary and thesaurus, so in brainstorming for this article I looked up “authenticity” on thesaurus.com. Some of the words and phrases associated with “authenticity” are:
There is no denying the existence or tangibility of that ring of souvenir stands around the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They are genuinely trying to make a living, tempting tourists with reminders of their real world experience at this world-famous attraction. And those tourists are actually trying to capture the accuracy of the moment with their staged photographs of themselves propping up the tower.
Maybe Pisa doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you’ve been and you didn’t really love it. That? That is completely fine. If all of us wanted to visit the exact same places, those places would always be overcrowded (and, probably, destroyed) while the rest of the world never got any visitors. To call the places you don’t like “inauthentic” is, however, just factually inaccurate.
Even the Las-Vegas-Venetian Venice is authentic – it’s just authentically Las Vegas.
In September last year, I got on my soapbox a bit and scolded people who routinely use the “you haven’t seen Italy unless you’ve been to…” line:
If you get any guff from anyone – and I mean anyone, including me – about your itinerary, I hereby give you permission to reply thusly:
You say I can’t really see Italy if I don’t go to a certain city? Oh yeah?
The same goes for calling part of Italy “inauthentic.” If anyone belittles your itinerary, for a trip you’ve already taken or one you’re dreaming of, by telling you that’s not really “authentic” Italy, here’s your reply:
Oh, that’s funny, because I had to get an authentic Italian passport stamp to go there.
I like saying that I want you to own your itinerary, to craft it exactly the way you want it to be and then go forth proudly with it. Part of that, unfortunately, is being armed against the travelers who think they know better than you do. To them, I say phooey. They know better for their trips, but that doesn’t give them the right to be haughty about yours.
So, embrace your trip, no matter what’s on your must-see list, and come back with your own opinions about Italy. When someone asks for your advice for their trip, offer it gladly – opinions and all – and then congratulate them when they form their own itinerary, whether it’s the same one you’d have taken or not, because then they’ll have their own authentic experience.
That’s the kind of authentic Italy I can get behind.
This month you have loads of reading to do, between the Italy Roundtable blogs and the blogs of the COSÌ gang. Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!
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