Thursday, June 21, 2012

FTTN: Puerto Iguazu- Tourist towns

I saw it in many places: a town (or village) whose very existence is linked in steel cables to its tourist attraction. Puerto Natales and Puerto Iguazu are great examples, I think. And they feel right for me as examples, being at opposite edges (of the countries and of my trip), so they somehow encase or include all the others, at least figuratively. The tourist attraction that is next to both these towns casts a very large shadow on anything and everything in them. This includes the names of restaurants, hostels, shops and even streets, photos of the attraction everywhere, many services linked to it, the majority of the townspeople working in something that has to do with it, and last but not least, a sense of local pride (or small-scale patriotism) that you get when talking to locals about the attraction.
I would love to know how residents of Puerto Iguazu really feel about the waterfalls.
Do they even go to see them once in a while (it is free for them...), assuming it's not part of their job? Are they impressed and inspired by them? Or has it become a business venture, part of working life? Or maybe it's just something in the background, a regular fact of life just like any other, with no special meaning? (fairly long aside: this reminds me of what Borges says about Martin Fierro, the quintessential gaucho book. One of the remarkable things about the book, according to Borges, is that there isn't a single scenery description in it, because for the gauchos, it wasn't scenery, it was simply the everyday world, the regular background that is nothing special and you don't even notice. In order to see it as scenery, as something beautiful, you have to be distanced or estranged from it).
To understand it a bit, I try to find similarities in myself, but I don't think it fits well. Jerusalem is a tourist city, but I think the analogy fails. There are many attractions in Jerusalem (well, at least several...), and the city is big enough so that you don't notice the tourists unless you go to certain places, or at the very least you can mostly avoid them if you want to. And since we're on this subject: what do the residents of tourist towns feel about the tourists? Are they walking wallets, a nuisance, foreign usurpers, a necessary evil? Or, to be at least a bit more positive, exotic foreigners, a chance to meet and learn from people that are different from you, or an important part of the town's economy? And when I go on a horse riding tour and see it as an "experience", what does the 15-year old guide, who has been riding since he's 6, think about me? Does he even think about me in any way, or am I like another printed page on the desk of an office clerk for him?
Obviously there isn't one answer that fits all cases. There rarely is. Every town is different, and every person within it, too. But I think there is a common denominator, and a common situation, that links all these towns, and it interests me and deserves some thought and attention, I think. 

I'm reminded of a picture I saw in my mind once, while working in Sandusky, Ohio, the town where Cedar Point - the second largest amusement park in the world, by number of rides - is located. It's a picture I would've loved to draw, if I had any drawing talent whatsoever: a picture of the whole town, standing slanted towards the park, the first few streets and houses spilling into it, and the rest soon to follow...

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