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Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Excuse Me!?! … I’m Looking for the “Fountain of Youth”

July 22, 2015 | by

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Michael Smith, Fountain of Youth State Park, Journey No. 1: Entrance, 2012, C-print, 22 1/2" x 32 1/2"

Head to St. Augustine, Florida, north of the Mission Nombre de Dios and south of the Vilano Bridge, and you’ll find it, as advertised—the Fountain of Youth. It’s open to the public from nine to six daily. Children’s admission is cheaper than senior citizens’, which seems cruel—what need have the young for more youth? T. D. Allman sets the scene in his illuminating history, Finding Florida:

You’ll know you’ve almost reached your destination when you find yourself peering up at an ancient-looking arch. Across the top you’ll see displayed, in Ye Olde English–type lettering, an inscription. It reads: FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH. The lettering is meant to evoke long-vanished times of chivalry and derring-do, but one detail marks it as indubitably Floridian: the sign is made of neon tubing. In the gathering subtropic twilight, the FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH sign glows and sputters like the VACANCY sign on a state highway motel. According to press releases provided by the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which is what this venerable tourist attraction currently calls itself, this is the very spot where “Ponce de León landed in St. Augustine in 1513 searching for a Fountain of Youth.”

There is one minor hiccup, though. “Juan Ponce de León never visited and never could have visited St. Augustine: St. Augustine was not founded until forty-one years after his death, in 1565.” Read More »

Letter from Cuba

July 2, 2015 | by

Will Americans “ruin” Havana?

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All photographs by Shona Sanzgiri.

Ten minutes after I’ve entered Havana’s Almacenes de San José, an indoor marketplace on the southern end of Old Havana offering kitschy souvenirs and erotic art, my expression has hardened. A dozen women, seated on stools, shout “hola!” from every direction, hoping to draw my attention to one of their many wares: Che Guevara ashtrays, wooden ocarinas, Havana Club T-shirts, leather engravings of Hatuey, the Taíno chief who was burned at the stake for resisting the Spanish.

I stop and look at a miniature sculpture of Hatuey. Even though he’s roughly nine inches tall in this rendition, he is heroically muscular, with proud, high cheekbones and defiant eyes. This is a familiar, orientalist interpretation of Native Americans, one that perpetuates the myth of the “noble savage.” Or—given the physicality of their real lives—maybe the Taínos were truly ripped. Read More »

True Lies

June 24, 2015 | by

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Duane Hanson, Tourists II, 1988, fiberglass and mixed media, with accessories. Image via Saatchi Gallery

On those occasions when I’ve taught, I’ve been struck by something: my students don’t seem to lie about what they’ve read. If you mention a book, and they haven’t read it—or even heard of it—they’ll admit to it without embarrassment, or even self-consciousness. “Can you repeat the title?” they might ask, or, even, “That sounds really interesting!” Refreshing and laudable though this may be, I initially found it disorienting: I seem to remember that my teen and college years involved a lot of phantom reading.

Of course, it’s very possible that my sample is simply less pretentious and more self-confident than I was; those odds are good. But the total absence of fronting, of nodding knowingly, of glancing around furtively to gauge others’ reactions—this seems like an important micro-generational sea change. I had considered pretension an endearing, and enduring, trait of youth—certainly I knew plenty of other kids who went in for this sort of lying. Are people now just more open about who they are? Or does having read a lot not even signify much—is it not even worth lying about? Read More »

Skyscrapers and Everything

June 5, 2015 | by

The trouble with gazing upward in New York.

Don’t look up, Stevie!

About four minutes into Stevie Wonder’s 1973 classic “Living for the City”—a surging, seven-plus minute thumper track about racial injustice, migration, and the failure of the latter to cure the former—the song emerges from its second chorus and breaks down to its sparest parts. We hear the quizzical staccato of the synthesizer flit in and out like lingering sunlight; the dry drums, which just seconds ago were rolling out an elaborate fill, tap quarter-note rimshots on the snare; all the other instruments stop playing. Welcome to New York.

This interlude, barely a minute long but seemingly much longer, is a marvel within an already marvelous song. It’s an early example in popular music of that moment when a song recognizes its limits and turns, momentarily, into something larger and stranger. After all, Stevie could’ve just tagged on another verse about New York, keeping the song’s structure intact, but wouldn’t there be something thin and dreamy about that? New York collects anthems like medals: “New York, New York,” “On Broadway,” and “Empire State of Mind” are all, in essence, odes to skylines, with outsized grandeur to match. Their scale grows out of proportion; aphorism replaces emotion; the music hits its mark and no one gets hurt. The lesson for songwriters tackling New York has always been this: if you’re going to sing to the city, sing big. The skyline, as more than few writers have reminded us, can even look like musical notation if you squint hard enough. Read More »

Farewell to Meat

April 15, 2015 | by

At Masopust, the Czech festival for spring.

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Photo: Carleen Coulter

In February, I took the night bus to Prague for Masopust, the old spring festival—abandoned under Communism—that has made a steady resurgence in the Czech Republic in recent years. The bus pulled into a neighborhood adjacent to the Vltava, north of Old Town, late on a Thursday evening. According to centuries-old tradition, Czech farmers would have slaughtered pigs earlier in the day to make blood sausages, headcheese, and other treyf dishes for the coming feasts. At the bus station, though, there was only a Burger King, a McDonald’s, and, beyond them, the famous Prague spires. Pill-shaped tramcars rumbled along the quiet streets, their interiors as bright as roadside diners.

Saturday morning, I boarded a local bus bound for Únětice, a village about five miles outside the city. With its muddy streets and modest Brueghelian cottages clustered alongside a wide, frozen lake, Únětice presents a fairy tale, or at least preindustrial, vision of Central Bohemia. It was bright and cold, the streets still empty save a few Lycra-clad joggers puffing out steam—Brueghel’s rotund peasants, slimmed down for the new millennium. Cracked and faded village walls suggested an attentively maintained desuetude, and the local tavern was selling strong black beer brewed locally for the occasion. Inside the tavern, I found the tables full of locals eating little open-faced sandwiches called chlebíčky and waiting for the festival to start. Read More »

“We Want You to Eat More Pies,” and Other News

December 4, 2014 | by

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The Orwell in Wigan, a town in Lancashire.

  • In the sixty-five years since Orwell’s death, his reputation has only grown, spawning a cottage industry for Orwell tourism. “The strangest place associated with Orwell is Wigan, the town in Lancashire where he stayed in February 1936 … one of the warehouses by the canal, opposite National Tyres and Autocare, has been converted into The Orwell, which offers weddings and civil ceremonies from £900. The local specialty is meat pies. Outside the pub a poster shows Uncle Sam holding out a pie, with the slightly Big Brotherish message: ‘We want you to eat more pies.’ ”
  • “Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her … The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her. Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.” The long-awaited winner of this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.
  • A bunch of prominent scholars are bickering about the possibility that Shakespeare was gay. “Such figments of the critic’s imagination not only produce quantities of waste paper but … are inimical to the proper reading of poetry,” one wrote.
  • And while we’re being litigious: the Maurice Sendak estate is embroiled in a debate about his will, which stipulates that his house in Ridgefield, Connecticut—where, two years after his death, his slippers still sit next to his bed—become a study center and museum. “I really don’t know who’s going to go there,” his longtime British editor said. “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
  • A new book of photographs “reveals the British West Indian experience of death in all its pathos, occasional comedy, and life-affirming sense of the funeral as essentially a fun-for-all … In [Charlie] Phillips’s moving and often beautiful images, dating from 1962 to the present, the bereaved are seen to face the mystery of the end of life in stush black suits, spidery hat veils, Rastafari head-ties, spiffy trilbies and strictly-come-dancehall white socks.”

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