I’m not a good tourist. It’s that short attention span thing. A guided foray into a large cathedral or mansion is lost on me.
tend to fidget after 15 minutes, my mind wanders and my feet generally follow.
It’s not that I’m not interested. On the contrary. But I prefer to soak up a place at my own pace with nothing more than the rudimentary raw facts as companions. I fill in over time depending on what I like.
There’s something in tour guide history that can turn a breath into a yawn. Sometimes too serious and then too trivial.
Often myths are peddled as facts and third-hand hearsay as gospel.
Historians are often snooty about what the industry calls public history — a relatively new academic discipline that focuses on how Joe Citizen interacts with the past through various strands of popular culture and engagement.
But while few of us have the time or patience to research history through weighty tomes (academic historians mangle the syntax into what is surely universal code), most people consume it through historical fiction, historical drama, and indeed tourism.
So you have to know how to take in the good and flush out the bad.
A stroll through a rising heap across the country of 18th-century bling will elicit purrs of approval from visitors.
But unless the leader hints at the house’s imperial connections, the experience is little more than a sham. The context is important.
The good is even easier to spot and that’s exactly what I stumbled upon in Bordeaux last week.
This small, beautiful port town is perfectly formed, a decent walking town with enough things to see and visit in a few days but not so many that it’s intimidating or tiring.
Must-sees include the Place de la Bourse and the Saint-Andre Cathedral, while a cruise on the raging Garonne River and afternoon wine-tasting in Saint-Emilion come as expected.
But it was a visit to an ugly concrete building on the outskirts of town that showed me how history and tourism can rhyme when a town gets it right.
In 1941 the Nazis built five U-boat bases along the Cote Atlantique, and the base at Bordeaux – the size of a football stadium and containing 11 U-boat bunkers and three dry docks – survives with brutality intact.
Built by slave labor – mostly Spanish Republican prisoners supplied by Franco – it withstood thunderous Allied bombing and was only abandoned by the Kriegsmarine months after D-Day.
Recently reopened as a cultural center – delayed due to Covid – the impenetrable walls of this abominable construction tell us everything we need to know about the recent European trauma and the lessons it can teach us. Especially now.
This is a past so close that it acquires a tangible immediacy.
A crude memorial to Europe’s darkest hour stripped of its hideous origins. Living history at work of an honest day.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/dark-tourism-trauma-of-our-all-too-recent-past-comes-alive-in-brutal-monument-to-world-war-ii-42037529.html Dark Tourism: The trauma of our all too recent past comes alive in a brutal WWII memorial