April 23, 2007
here's a link to the blog I kept last year in France:
How to present a paper at a conference:
Souvenirs and photographs
Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the
Souvenir, the Collection, 1993, Duke University Press, 132-169.
How to Take Great Tourist Photos in New York City.
Photographing People on Location
Please bring to class a souvenir and/or photograph as a basis for discussing the role of memory in tourism and the memory practices of tourists, your own included! If possible, please upload images to the blog (and for that matter images of your souvenir, if you can).
Appadurai, A. ed. (1986) The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Attfield, J. (2000) Wild Things: The material culture of everyday life, Berg: Oxford.
Fullagar, S. (2002) ‘Narratives of travel: desire and the movement of feminine subjectivity’ Leisure Studies 21 (1): 57-74.
Gordan, B. (1986) ‘The souvenir: Message of the extraordinary’, Journal of Popular Culture 20 (3): 135-146.
Goss, J. (2004) ‘The Souvenir: Conceptualising the Object(s) of Tourist Consumption’, pp. 327-336 in A. A. Lew, C. M. Hall and A. M. Williams (eds) A Companion to Tourism, Oxford: Blackwell.
Hobson, P., Timothy, D. J. and Youn-Kyung, K. (2004) Special issue: Tourist shopping, Journal of Vacation Marketing 10(4).
Jansen-Verbeke, M. (1998) ‘The synergy between shopping and tourism’, pp.428-446 in W. Theobald (ed.) Global Tourism, Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.
Lury, C. (1997) ‘The objects of travel’, pp.75-95 in C. Rojek and J. Urry (eds) Touring Cultures: Transformations of Travel and Theory. New York: Routledge.
Kwint, M., Breward, C. and Aynsley, J. (eds.) (1999) Material Memories: Design and Evocation, Berg: Oxford.
MacCabe, S. (2002) ‘The Tourist Experience and Everyday Life’, pp. 61-76 in G. Dann (ed.) The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World, CABI, Oxford.
Noy, C. (2004) This Trip Really Changed Me. Backpackers’ narratives of self-identity. Annals of Tourism Research 31 (1): 78-102.
O’Reilly, C. C. (2005) Tourist or Traveller? Narrating Backpacker Identity, in A. Jaworski and A. Pritchard (eds.) Discourse, Communication and Tourism, Clevedon: Channel View.
Rogan, Bjarne. An Entangled Object: The Picture Postcard as Souvenir and Collectible, Exchange and Ritual Communication. Cultural Analysis 4 (2005): 1-27.
Shenhav-Keller, Shelley. The Israeli souvenir: Its text and context. Annals of Tourism Research 20, 1 (1993): 182-196.
Wang, N. (2002) The Tourist as Peak Consumer 281-296 in G. Dann (ed.) The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World, Oxford: CABI.
This picture is from a recent trip to Chichen Itza in Mexico; I am the one in the photo and my fiance is the photographer.
I took a lot of pictures at Chichen Itza, almost as many as if I were documenting the site. I took closeups of carvings as well as contextual shots, and then of course I have the pictures of me in the site. These pictures serve as proof of my trip to Chichen Itza, as you can see, there I am next to the pyramid, giving you a sense of the pyramid's size. Thousands of people visited the pyramid that day, yet this photo purposefully shows me alone, emphasizing my individual experience at the site. It helps further remove the picture from the everyday world, and instead shows an idealized image of me alone. I have appropriated the pyramid, an exotic image of an imagined precolonial world, by capturing it on film and asserting ownership over it.
This photograph is a representation in miniature, a reference point for the narrative of my life. It is also one of a series of photographs that are organized by the order in which they were taken. When you come back from a week-long trip, people inevitably ask, "how was it" , or maybe they skip that and go right to "did you take picutures?" Rarely did I talk about the trip as a whole without using the series of pictures to tell my story. "This is when we first arrived," and "this is when we went to Chichen Itza," etc. Each frame invokes a commentary, and their chronological presentation is essential to anchoring the narrative in time. We can visualize our occupation of another space represented by the pictures, which is made possible by our understanding of the passage of time. The story gives the photograph its authenticity, fleshing out the parts beyond its finite boundaries and filling in the remaining four senses that were not captured, but the photo and its boundaries can also exerts its power on the story. This photograph in particular can become an aesthetic scene divorced from its context as my desktop background; it references my trip to Mexico, but can also be ahistorical, as Stewart discusses, once perhaps it is categorized aesthetically.
One final point, the photo exists, whether I am talking about it or not, but it changes meaning depending on who is looking at it, and the context of their viewing, what Appadurai describes as the social life of things. Now it means something in a discussion of tourist productions, and can be associated with a new set of images that have been posted on this blog. It creates a new reference point for a narrative I can tell about taking this course, and its life will continue as its meaning is reshaped over time.
capture the moment
These series of pictures were shot in Sungnam Art Center in Korea. I and my girlfriend Jeehae went there in 2006 when the Art Center was built. To commemorate the opening of the Art Center they invited several artists and exhibited the art works all around the buildings and around the area. We decided to take pictures of it, but wondered how we might capture the moment more specially. Then suddenly we hit upon an idea about doing something fun. First we took pictures of mimicking the artworks, and then we took pictures of using the method of perspective. We made distance from the artworks and us and framed it in a 2 dimensional picture as we are using it. We put the artworks and ourselves in a picture and created another artwork. Perhaps this way of taking pictures is a good way to bring back the memory of not only the place and the moment but with us too.
April 22, 2007
Kitsch and Camp, the alterity of the other is the alterity of the other
As Stewart states in her essay, “kitsch and camp, as forms of metaconsumption, have arisen from the contradictions implicit in the operation of the exchange economy; they mark an antisubject whose emergence ironically has been necessitated by narratives of significance under the economy.” The female impersonation might be regarded as the kitsch or the popular entertainment in the labor market or industry economy, but their presences somehow cross the boundary of male and female, subject and the object. It deconstructs the concrete structure of labor/productivity and consumer/consumption in the order of economy exchange.
Speaking of crossing the boundary of subject and object, it reminds me that Derrida’s statement in his “The Gift of Death”. Derrida writes, “The other is the other, that is always so, the alterity of the other is the alterity of the other” (83). Hence, only “the alterity of the other” can get rid of the circulation of exchange, and surpass the economy system. Moreover, by the perspective of queer theory, camp is a life style and a body politic which challenges the male-dominated society. As Moe Meyer figures out, “Camp is not simply a “style” or “senseibility” as is conventionally accepted. Rather, what emerges is a suppressed and denied oppositional critique embodied in the signifying practice that processually constitute queer identies” (The Politics of Camp, 1994: 1).
Here are the pictures of my last birthday party at Lips restaurant http://www.lipsnyc.com/, a famous restaurant which combines cuisine and drag show at Greenwich.
The passport has been an object I always keep rigorously updated and safeguarded. I have come to love the various stamps, seals and watermarks that inhabit its pages; they are small tatoos of victories over tedious bureaucracies that legitimize my being wherever I am, and keep a visible track – a compendium- of my travels, voluntary or not. Twice, however, I have been in places where my passport hasn’t been stamped, so I have taken other objects- a Senegalese franc, a Dutch train ticket- to supplement this proof. Passports and visas also have another important quality- the photo, which is a snapshot of the time and place, and the fingerprint, actual trace of the body.
I have held a similar affect towards my festival badges- some with photo, some with just my name handwritten- which also admitted me to restricted places: quasi-sacrosanct parties, roundtables, screenings and dinners at exclusive venues, or even access through barricades (at a festival in Oaxaca last year that took place in the midst of a teacher’s sit-in). Why do I keep the badges?
The old passports I often find I need to refer to when renewing my visa, but who ever asks for proof of having attended a festival? Festivals of course are events, and though they may be held annually at the same places, they are never the same experience. The badge is the fragment that echoes the narrative (and in many cases, the graphic campaign) of the lived, unique experience; a trophy, a souvenir.
Now in New York, alleged city of immigrants, I have taken note of how Latin American peoples are represented in the media and in museums. I sometimes photograph myself against there backdrops, to see how well I match the picture or whether I dispell the message simply by my presence. Am I a Latina in this country, or still a migrant/tourist snapping pictures?
American Museum of Natural History, 2002
another machu picchu moment
This was taken at sunrise, but it was a bit cloudy at the time. Little did I know, later that day I would climb to the summit of the peak I was overlooking.
machu picchu moment
objects of Africa, objects of Harlem?
Reading Stewart’s chapter “Objects of Desire” after visiting the Museum of Art and Origins with Arrie and Claire provided interesting insights into the connections the Museum’s objects have to Stewart’s discussion of the souvenir and the collection.
From Arrie’s brief description of the Museum in class a few weeks ago, I got the impression that this house was a collector’s display of his African artifacts, where these objects become aestheticized so as to represent connections to an idealized continent – a place of origins, a motherland to Harlem. Upon walking in to the house, I was unsurprised. My expectations were somewhat on target. The place was filled with objects. I was reminded of Victoria’s Apartment in the Tenement Museum, where I had also been struck by the intensity of materiality in her reconstructed home. This Museum, however, contained its objects in a different way. There were a handful of modern paintings by contemporary artists – many African-American – and some East Asian prints, but the majority of the pieces were wooden masks and sculptures from Africa. Everything was everywhere, on walls in hallways, stairways, on tables, on windowsills…some paintings were even filed together on the floor of the entrance hallway, with no place to be seen.
I arrived a bit late, and shortly after, the professor/owner/curator of the Museum, George Nelson Preston, Ph. D., entered, and came over to discuss a series of five masks mounted on stands, placed on a table against the wall. He first stated that these objects are incomplete, noting that they were representations of what were once part of elaborate living outfits consisting of many components. The outfit, the dances and rhythms that they were made for, and the ceremonies that utilized the outfits all carried the same name. There was not separate name for the object we were seeing on the table. (Perhaps this was his disclaimer for the lack of wall text and labels?) These entire outfits were once collected, he continued, but upon arriving in Europe they began to be compared to European standards of artistic materials, and as much of these outfits were made of organic materials, everything but the wooden mask part was discarded/devalued. The five masks were described to us as “variations on a theme”, and he noted the similar markings that signified cosmological and spiritual elements.
I was amazed. The professor was trying to give an adequate scholarly explanation of the objects that justified their decontextualized, aestheticized presentation. Also, he never positioned himself in the anamoly of displaying the masks in such a way, and never told us why he chose these masks in particular or if he was even the one who acquired them. Knowing what I do about the history of collecting, I had to ask, “How did these objects come to be in this museum?” His response was a steady and well-rehearsed monologue that went something like this:
Culture is fluid. It travels and moves like water. The impetus for its movement is economics. Money. Money is what makes these objects of culture travel. How did the Met and the Louvre get their collections? They had the money. $100 for a mask like this buys the carver/seller enough cement to build a house, and he can then just make another mask in its place. Or sell you a fake! It may seem crude, but the seller thinks it is a good deal. [Pause.] That is one answer. But that is the best answer.
I could not believe it! To state that was to really make some declarations about the origins of his art. However, the vagueness and removed quality of his narrative continued to set himself apart from the actual collection process of his own Museum pieces. Ironically, the Museum’s stated mission is:
“MoAAO is dedicated to the preservation and exposition of art in relation to its origins. MoAAO addresses the question what generates art? and endeavors to exhibit art in dialogue with its origin: culture-historical, environmental, ideological, medium/process.”
Interestingly, the origins of many of the objects we saw – and were told about – were NOT exposed. A country or ethnic group was the most specific he got. In thinking about the Museum in relation to its position in Harlem, Stewart’s chapter provides a useful framework.
The souvenir – as described by Stewart – is incomplete without its owner’s narrative that ascribes significance to the life of the object, which in turn signifies identification for the object’s possessor: “It will not function without the supplementary narrative discourse that both attaches to its origins and creates a myth with regard to those origins. …What is this narrative of origins? It is a narrative of interiority and authenticity. It is not a narrative of the object; it is a narrative of the possessor.” (Stewart 136) In this sense, I believe the objects in Mr. G.N. Preston’s Museum functioned in a way like souvenirs. However, they were of course his collection.
“While the point of the souvenir may be remembering, or at least the invention of memory, the point of the collection is forgetting – stating again in such a way that a finite number of elements create, by virtue of their combination, an infinite reverie….The spatial whole of the collection supersedes the individual narratives that ‘lie behind it.’” (Stewart 152, 153) The invention of culture, and the forgetting of each individual object’s history, is the modus operandi of the MoAAD’s display of “African Art.” However, the aesthetic presentation and valorization of these forms are supposed to be a way of instilling pride in African roots.
Nostalgia, desire, longing. These were all at play in the narrative Mr. Preston prescribed to his collection. In a sense, the objects also maintained an element of relic. Stewart writes, “Because they are souvenirs of death, the relic, the hunting trophy, and the scalp are at the same the most intensely potential souvenirs and the most potent antisouvenirs. They mark the horrible transformation of meaning into materiality more than they mark, as other souvenirs do, the transformation of materiality into meaning.” (Stewart 140, emphasis hers) The African mask at the MoAAO, as described by Mr. Preston, did function as relic because their meanings have been subsumed by their material and aesthetic forms, and the death of the mask’s life – as they are only fragments of what they had originally been, in context – turns into the life of the community museum, and the life of an imagined Africa for Harlem.
No matter what we say, souvenirs are a display of the other. I remember the first time I went to France when I was in high school, and I saw an American dollar bill posted on a bulletin board in my Parisian host sister’s bedroom. To her it was fanciful, unique, special, something to show off to her friends, to proudly remember the time she spent with her family in New York. To me it was odd to see something so quotidian on display.
In my subsequent visits to this friend’s house over the past 8 years, I always notice the dollar, still pinned on the wall. When I lived in France last year, I came to feel the same way my friend did about her American dollar regarding objects I had with me that were visibly from home. Loose change, a magazine, photographs— they all took on a mythic quality as I wallowed in homesickness during my first couple months, and later, they became objects I proudly shared with my European friends.
I am a collector. I save ticket stubs, emails, wrappers, clothing tags, those plastic bracelets that you have to cut off that you get for entrance to events/attractions, and memories in the form of photographs and extensive journal entries. I actively collect shot glasses, postcards, and quotations. I have boxes of keepsakes- random objects like a flattened ball of foil and a little troll doll with its hair cut off, and I save these things because of the stories they hold. I don’t trust my brain to remember, so I depend upon objects, journals, correspondence, and conversations with friends to “remember” my past meaningful experiences. Some objects I’ve kept for so long I don’t even remember their stories. I continue to hold on to them because they have become part of a collection, instead of a souvenir. It’s sometimes embarrassing the things I save, but I know I’m not the only one to imbue these items with significance. But when I think about what my favorite souvenirs are, they are stories. This is why the objects, photographs, and journals are so important— they help me remember important narratives of experiences where I saw unusual things, connected to different people or ate a memorable meal.
Stewart quotes Nelson Grayburn, “there is a cachet connected with international travel, exploration, multiculturalism, etc. that these [foreign exotic] arts symbolize” (148). I can’t deny that I have a certain pride in my ring from Mexico, the earrings I bartered for in Istanbul, and my glass necklace from an artisan’s small shop in Brittany. No matter how we might try to authenticate the objects we have, it can’t be ignored that by displaying them we are indicating our status, our means to travel. With my wearing or presenting of these objects, I’m seeking to stand out, be different, be recognized for my “special” experiences, but essentially I’m just making myself an other to those around me. No one understands the object or souvenir like the owner—there can never be a mutual understanding. My souvenirs “other” me.
April 21, 2007
Holy Grail and Souvenir
“The truth that the quester discovers at the end of the Journey is essentially incommunicable and can be only obliquely suggested. Its multivalency reflects… the Home, the Patria, the City, the Pot of Gold, the Awakening of the Land cast into sleep, and ultimately, the deepest secrets of the Self (La Queste del Saint Graal, F.W. Locke 1960:3). In his essay Route-metaphors of “roots-tourism”: the Scottish Highlands, Paul Basu brought out the wonderful metaphor – the Holy Grail – as something that a quester, a pilgrim, or a tourist is looking for in his/her journey away from home (Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion, edited by Simon Coleman and John Eade 2004:150). For centuries, none of the adventurers has really found the mythical Grail, but at least they can have some souvenirs.
Thousands of root-tourists have gone to where their ancestors once lived after the diaspora, and bring a piece of the ruin, the soil, the water, the air (in special containers) home – “Like all wedding rings, it is a souvenir of the joining of the circle, the seamless perfection of joined asymmetrical helves” (Stewart 1993:135). Through the ritual, the root-tourists are connected to and united with their ancestors. Not just taking a piece of the “place” away with them, some would even leave their traces over there – small objects in a bottle buried in the soils or messages carved on the tree. The souvenir is functioned as what Sir James George Frazer called the “contagious magic” in his most famous book Golden Bough. Through possessing the object, the tourist can thus maintain his/her memory and relationship with the special place.
I’m not a person that likes to take photos or collect souvenirs, for I don’t think these objects can really document the most important experiences during a trip. Besides, they have specific frames, such as the photo, and may exclude many other things important. But as I went back to see some photos I once took, or ate the souvenir foods of a specific place, they triggered many amazing memories and feelings – however, memories, what are these memories for – “the deepest secrets of the Self” as Locke proposes in the quotation? Perhaps.
** Elaine with the Wall Street Bull (with her admission to put this photo on the blog) -- It's the best shot of that day. Elaine, Eric, my boyfriend, and I went to the South Seaport as tourists during the Christmas time. Unlike any other tourists who stood aside the bull's head, she kneeled under it, and attracted a lot of flash light from other tourists.
** Elaine & Eric
** On the ferry to Staten Island with Lady Liberty
Claire’s Response to ‘Objects of Desire’
As this semester is coming to an end, I have been thinking about what ideas I have been attracted to in my classes this year. I realized the through line for me has been the potential temporal and spatial permeability between events. For this reason, I appreciated Stewart’s writing on the souvenir. She writes that one of the souvenir’s functions is to mediate the distance between the present and the original place/event. Through the narrative that surrounds the object, the past is invoked while remaining necessarily distant. “The souvenir generates a narrative which reaches only ‘behind,’ spiraling in a continually inward movement rather than outward toward a future.” (135)
Although the souvenir can produce mnemonic association, the accompanying narrative may override or substitute the memory. Maybe we have all experienced returning home and having everyone ask for our stories from afar. Some stories are a hit and are repeatedly told. The suitcase opens and the distribution of stories and objects begins. The pictures and objects provide additional sensorial references to the story- enabling friends and family to travel back with you. For me, I know that the stories that I have repeatedly told are more accessible to recall than my actual memory of the event. With this in mind, approaching the collection of souvenirs and the taking of pictures, could be considered a compositional choice in the arrangement of what will later become ‘memory.’
Collecting the souvenir is consuming the experience of the place, “the exotic object represents distance appropriated.” (147) When I was in Bali several years ago, I was the videographer for this festival for international performance artist. I remember feeling this moment of great turmoil when videoing this woman dancing. It became clear to me that something multidimensional was happening. Even though I had been asked to tape the whole event, my position as an outsider became intensified to the point of feeling paranoid about recording this dynamic situation. I turned off the camera and just watched. Later I got some grief from another American who was invested in me capturing that moment. It seemed too special. When filming something as documentation there is the recognition that it will be valued later, often in a different place. Stewart writes about the necessary distance and displacement for the souvenir (or documentation) to be a link to the past: “The souvenir must be removed from its context in order to serve as a trace of it.” (150) I realize that this impulse to shut off the camera was my discomfort with participating in the commodification of that event.
A photo and the story…
I took this picture in San Pedro, Guatemala (near Lake Atitilan). This man is the artist who made the small sculptures that are hanging behind him. I like this photo because it brings me back to the event. For many of these objects he enthusiastically described their cultural significance, mostly Mayan references. He also said that he sculpts things that he sees on TV, like a bust of Osama Bin Laden and a woman having an abortion!
Say Cheese!- John Dietrich
Memorabilia: objects collected as souvenirs of important personal events or experiences.
Mementos: an object given or kept as a reminder of or in memory of somebody or something.
Souvenir: something bought or kept as a reminder of a particular place or occasion.
The three combined collectively suggest, reminders of personal memories. It is less about the task of the buying of the object or the materialistic aspect of it, but more about the emotional response that overtakes us upon looking at it, holding it, and perhaps even smelling it. There is nothing more valuable in life then the ability to recapture, to cherish once again, and attempt to relive what we consider the most precious moments of our lives. This is the significance of the souvenir. Unfortunately the word itself tends to bring to mind tacky key chains and spoon collections, but again the importance seems to reach well beyond the object itself and much more to what the object triggers. It’s often said that we spend our lives creating memories, and so we need the means to have at our deposal at anytime, the capability to reach into our drawer of consciousness and pull out anyone of these past experiences when they are most needed. They inspire us, they validate our identity, they encourage us to understand where we’ve been in order to help determine where we’re going, and they are simply there to make us remember once again, because we so desperately want to. “Souvenir” is a word so easily dismissed, until we really sit down and realize how relevant it is, in all of it’s’ forms, to each one of our lives.
The taking of photographs is probably the most personal form of souvenir we collect. We strive to take that “perfect” picture that enables us to go home and recreate the story for our friends; with the perfection of the photo helping them relive and understand with us the significance of the experience. We long to capture that ultimate candid, the one that just spills emotion and whose lure is immediately identifiable for anyone. What can be ironic at times regarding photographic or film souvenirs are two things. The first being the high state of technology available to the photographer to enhance the picture in dozens of ways: speed, texture, black & white, etc. You would think that all of this technology and “work” would cut into the truly spontaneous aspect of capturing a moment. It often does. The other being a video camera. The discrepancy regarding video cameras is that they’re not able to portray entire experiences, nor are they able to capture the most distinct moments. They document a fragment of time; 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, mainly to insure we don’t miss something. More often then not, most of the images recorded become insignificant to us and what we actually end up doing is editing our own memories. Watching a video requires much greater involvement and patience for finding the moment or memory you are searching for. It has not the immediacy or simplicity that souvenir objects have. I have to admit; there is nothing more annoying then the people who spend their vacation experiencing it through a viewfinder. A sense of freedom and a sense of personal connection are lost when something is put in between. More time is spent recreating the memory then actually experiencing the creation of it.
My Favorite Souvenir
Souvenirs serve to establish a tangible connection between an individual and a time and place. Souvenirs represent the tension between temporality and the ephemeral. Ephemerality works on two levels. First there is the ephemerality of the experience. The souvenir acts as a fetishized object, representing the intangibility of an experiential aura. The relationship between an individual and object is established in the moment of discovery, in which the moment of discovery becomes a narrative. Post-facto, the experience of discovery becomes a story which can be told. By owning the object, the individual can perpetually inhabit the thrill of the initial discovery.
The second level of ephemerality is the person themselves. In relation to time, which is marked and has passed, and space, which is immobile, the individual is the transient agent. The individual exists in constant movement, effecting the mind and body’s perception of memory. The human body, as an aging entity, naturally distorts the remembrance and interpretation of an experience.
While souvenirs may change their form, as well as their contextualizing narration, the defining characteristic of the souvenir, its origin, remains intact. Despite all other characteristics of an object that might change, by nature of its origin the souvenir will perpetually to fetishize an experience.
In my travels, I find that I collect three types of souvenirs, each for very specific reasons. The first are objects and cloths. I only buy what I will practically use. From rugs, to plates, to paintings, my travel souvenirs are my home decor. I hardly every buy something locally feeling that the things that I surround my self need to have a story. Sometimes those stories result from object’s being gifts. Then the object becomes a souvenir of a loved one rather than a love place, but the intention is the same. I confess, enjoy surrounding myself in an objectified narration of my life.
The other form of souvenir that I collect are photos. For years I resisted taking large amounts of photos, on account of growing up with parents who were photographers. It was not until my father sent me to Cambodia with a new digital camera, with the strict instructions to take a full disk of photo’s (800 all together) in the week I was visiting Angkor Wat, that I really came to understand how to engaged with a new environment through a camera lens. The taking of photo’s are memory making. My childhood was spent with my parents on the other side of the view finder, now living so far from my parents, I capture my memories in photos as a way to share my experiences with them.
And lastly, my third souvenir is knowledge. I purposefully consume knowledge when I travel as a way of inscribing the experience into my persona. Ravenous museum going is one way I achieve this, the other is doing my best to learn the language. Right now I am in Mexico for a conference, where I am forced to speak and read Spanish. When I was in Peru last summer, my Spanish was pathetic at best, now, while I still stumble my way long, I can now understand when people respond. If anything else defines a culture, it’s language, and there is no better way to learn a language than in a foreign country. From now on, when ever I have to stumble in Spanish, I will be reminded of this trip to Mexico. I think that is my favorite kind of souvenir.
Unfortunately I forgot my USB cord for my camera, or I would share the photo’s I have been taking on this trip. So instead will draw from that trip to Cambodia where I discovered travel photography, and relate examples that demonstrate Dan Heller’s “Photographing People on Location”
Choosing Your Background – or – “Take Photo Here”
People Engaged in Activity
Juxtaposition – o.k. maybe it’s a stretch, but this is going into a Cambodia club, and check out what they mean by ‘thong’
Shooting from Different Angles
And the most important, know your subject
Assorted thoughts on photographs and souvenirs
Dan Heller's online photography tutorial hints at a curious affinity between tourist photography and the documentation of performance art events. Heller notes, "An 'inventory picture' is one you take to prove you were there. A 'good picture' is one that gives your subject a more accurate sense of place." (www.danheller.com/tech-tourism.html#2) In many ways the forms that tourist photography and videography take echo the documentary imperative that becomes part and parcel with ephemeral performance art. The photographs a tourist takes, even if they are "good pictures," as Heller puts it, are also always "inventory pictures" -- images providing mechanical witness to a temporally distant event. Similarly, the one year performances of Tehching Hsieh, or Fluxus-styled happenings result in the production of a large number of 'good pictures' that are also 'inventory pictures' -- images that attest to the materiality and the reality of the performance. So too, museums and galleries might exhibit the detritus left by such an event (a destroyed violin, say, after a Fluxus concert), and it would not be too much of a stretch to try and fit such detritus into the category of souvenirs. As Stewart puts it, "We do not need or desire souvenirs of events that are repeatable. Rather we need and desire souvenirs of events that are reportable." (Stewart, 135) To my mind, this connection between performance art and tourist experience, suggests the degree to which the process of documentation serves to cohere and unify a given tourist itinerary -- though one might travel to 4 or 5 or more different countries on a month long tour of Europe, the act of documentation serves to unite these sites through the bodily experience of the photographer.
It is also interesting that such acts of documentation have the potential to in turn become art objects themselves. I remember rather often seeing, as an undergraduate, student art shows that invariably featured the work of one or another photography student whose images and clearly come from a recent overseas vacation. I myself am also guilty of this in a way -- though I rarely take stills when I travel, since 2004 I have always taken video, and tend to re-edit whatever footage I take into short narrative and non-narrative films -- films that usually have little to do with the fact that the footage was produced through a tourist experience. This film developed out of my recent trip to Mardi Gras, as one example. Along these lines, I found Stewart's references to the religious relics, on p. 140, quite intriguing. In my own travels, I have always made an effort to tour reliquaries, or the back rooms of ancient churches where other religious relics can be found. But as Stewart points out, relics are themselves a form of souvenir, "mark[ing] the horrible transformation of meaning into materiality..." (Stewart, 140) While Stewart takes pains to theoretically distinguish such souvenirs of death from more traditional tourist souvenirs, I find it interesting to ignore the distinction, for a moment, in order to ponder the curious way in which souvenirs can become attractions in their own right (which in turn spawn souvenirs which can in turn become attractions once more). In Rome in 2005 I overheard a small group of tourists (middle-aged USians, likely upper middle class) haggling with the officials at a given historic church over the price of a given relic. While at the time I was most intrigued by the questionable legality of the transaction, in retrospect I find it exciting to think of the relic as a souvenir, that became an attraction at this church, that was soon to become a souvenir once more. Thinking similarly about the curio cabinets of antiquarians that became the prototypes for the contemporary museum, this movement from souvenir to attraction seems to underly a great number of tourist attractions.
Continuing this line of thinking, it might be useful to imagine the literal performance the souvenir or photograph makes necessary. While the authors we read this week all refer to the 'narrative' that the souvenir or photograph is in service of, I think it would be useful to look directly at that moment the narrative comes to be performed -- the oral retelling of the trip in a given moment with images and objects. Here the unified narrative of the journey that a given traveler develops becomes diffused and divided up -- differing narratives develop in discrete retellings based on the specific audience (ie the narrative of the nightlife of a given place for one's friends as opposed to the narrative of the cultural institutions of a given place for one's grandparents). I would be very interested in reading any studies that try to isolate and theorize the moment of retelling, as I think it might point to the difference between the forms of documentation I outline in my first paragraph, between a tourists photos and those images that might document a happening. The tourist's photos are perhaps less significant as evidence of a past event, than they are as activators of a variety of narratives.
Personalized Souvenirs: Iguazu Fall, 2001
During October 2001, the marvelous Iguazu Falls located between the borders of Argentina, and Brazil experienced a reduction on the number of visitors. This falls are a collection of 260 different falls with a height of more than 269 feet.
During October 2001, the marvelous Iguazu Falls located between the borders of Argentina, and Brazil experienced a reduction on the number of visitors. This falls are a collection of 260 different falls with a height of more than 269 feet. The park protected by UNESCO since 1984 it is always ready to receive tourist. The organizers organize a variety of activities to expand the experience of the visitors within specific sites in the park. One of these activities is the mini boat tours close to the waterfalls, as the most “exciting” activity it creates the perfect individualized souvenir. This tour included a video and photo shooting were your experience was filmed and photographed as a way to remember this experience.
Dan Heller in his Tutorial series “Photographing people on Location” explains different ways to obtain a good snapshot, and photograph including portraits of local people. This is deliver through a filter of specific ways of preventing any future reclaims of the persons being capture, so that the “desire photo” will not be interrupted. In the production of this personalized souvenir of Iguazu Falls the constraints and conflicting parts are presented in the effort and risk that the filmmaker undertakes as he working during this adventure while the tourist are posing for their souvenirs. In other words Heller describes different interaction that must take place when you ask someone to be part of a picture, but when you are paying for a souvenir it become less important the photographer and his struggle to obtain this filmed memory at the Falls.
In this example the person creating the souvenir is physically involve risking his life, while the tourist where having fun he had to deal with his own safety. Would the prices of souvenirs pay the physical investments of the producers? It seems that the importance of a souvenir or a photograph is reduced by the importance consuming a variety of souvenir, as well as the production of photographs. Is it s value as a regular photograph? And even more is it about the experience more than the souvenir? Perhaps it is just my ideal of a lock up back packer.
Nico - Photos of signs / Souvenirs
Here are a couple of photos of signs that I would like to share- we took these during our trip to northern India last summer.
First is this sign at Alchi, a village about 70kms from Leh, the capital of Laddakh. Small, beautiful and in the middle of nowhere, it has become overcrowded with tourists-the economy of the village is based on hospitality for European bus tourists and Israeli backpackers. We saw this sign next to our guest house.
Second is this sign found on the Manali-Leh "highway" after about 15 hours on dirt roads up the himalayas in a jeep cramped with 8 other people in 6 seats. Amidst the chaos of the jeep situation, the sensory overload created by the magnificience of the surroundings, and the shortness of breath linked to the altitude, this came as a relief/joke/anomaly. Unbelievable is not it?
Reading Stewart, I was reminded of Brunner in Culture on Tour. Brunner says that while living the experience, the tourist is already preparing the post-tour narrative. We attach such importance to bringing our trip home with us that we often forget to experience the trip itself. When the souvenir can be used to "discredit the present" (Stewart), we often romanticize our own involvement in the past (the trip) and forget that most of the time was spent then unconsciously preparing for discrediting the future.
I just received a postcard from a very good friend. it was from Mauritius, the image is of the beautiful beach, there is a nice note on the back, but something felt strange. I could not put my finger on it, but them I realized: my name and address were on a label. He obviously had prepared labels before leaving, and I found it fascinating that he would have thought about this so methodologically before the trip- not only planning the trip but also how to recount it efficiently.
Listening with the Lens
"Being listened to is so close to being loved you can barely tell the difference."-- Dr. R. Bommelje
Interviewing a person is a form of acknowledgement, a mode of listening and learning about who they are and what they think. The same communication occurs when a picture is taken of someone, as photography creates a dialogue and an opportunity for people from different cultures to connect and interact.
During our trip to Machu Picchu last summer, we climbed up to the peak of Wyna Pichu, which only consisted of jagged rocks for us to cling to. However, it was the picture opportunity of a lifetime and of course everyone wanted their photo taken. Not only was it scary to let go of the rocks at that altitude, but no one spoke the same language. We didn't need to. It was perfectly clear what everyone wanted to capture because it was a shared experience, void of words. We were practically risking our lives at 10,000 feet in order to help each other catch the moment.
Another issue Heller cites are the ethics involved when photographing in foreign countries, especially third-world nations. Many apprehensions came up for me while visiting various areas throughout Peru, as I felt my camera was not a tool of connection, but alienation. My lens was an automatic othering of the culture in which I was, as well as an othering of me. This was particularly a problem when visiting an impoverished barrio named Comas, in which we met with an Elementary School group. The opportunities for photographs were so beautiful and intense, but I could not bring myself to take out my camera. Something in me felt that it was wrong. Many of my colleagues did capture images of Comas, and the kids were fascinated by the cameras--everyone wanted their picture taken!
Heller notes that "nothing embraces people more than their seeing themselves on your camera's preview screen... you'll have a new friend for life." (danheller.com) To see their faces when they saw themselves on the preview screen, it was as if they had never seen their picture before, and it is possibile that was the case. Although it was magical to watch them, I still did not feel comfortable being the one to snap the shot. Heller was right, we had made "friends for life", and we barely escaped the school yard before being hugged to death.
Our visit with these children, and their having their photographs taken was a way to acknowledge them, to listen and learn, and to "embrace".
Which country to wear today?
I like wearing the countries I have been to. At any given day, Peru, Korea, and Turkey might be just an arm away…literally.
To Susan Stewart, my jewelry souvenirs, made of anything from bottle caps to corn kernels, would most likely be metonymic objects that represent “not the lived experience of its maker but the ‘secondhand’ experience of its possessor” and that announce the distance of the self from the experience and the origin of the object, a sense of dispossession (135). Both of the above, however, are the inversion of what I experience with my souvenirs.
It is precisely distance and space that my jewelry items help cross, bridge, bring together, and perhaps even re-live in my daily roundabouts, transplanting in the body (whether through the bracelet around the wrist or the necklace) the energy of the places, people, and sensations that these objects seem to contain and be able to transmit. I know that wearing “jewelry with a story” does the same for others: instead of emphasizing a sensation of dispossession, the connection of the objects with the skin intensifies the feeling of the past being a tangible, permanent part of one’s life experience capable of being resuscitated in a particular, tangibly present moment. This is particularly true of jewelry as opposed to clothes, since clothes get washed over and over again, but the jewelry maintains the actual hand-touch of its creators and very often the natural, original smell of the material and the place of making.
The jewelry I buy is always made by artisans, by people whom I get to engage in a conversation and know – my approach to buying souvenirs somewhat similar to the one argued about taking pictures - since I like being able to connect the object to the stories of making the piece and the meaning they suffused it with to my own experiences at the time. Sometimes, I also buy a jewelry piece when I have a very special experience in order to infuse the object with the happiness I feel at that moment and carry the object charged with those emotions later on, in less exuberant situations. Here, Stewart’s point is very pertinent in describing how the souvenir “must remain impoverished and partial,” so that the personal narrative can suffuse it with individuality and history tied to its owner. When choosing my jewelry (according to clothing colors and to which place I feel in the mood of re-experiencing by reviving it from the drawer), a quick thought passes my mind: Would anyone ask me about the earrings? Would I be able to tell the story of the woven bracelet?
Certainly, the potential of my story-telling lies in the “exotic” look of most of the pieces. However, my selection of them was not under the motivation to surprise others, but rather to carry with me the natural materials from the place – seeds, wood, shells, bird feathers, etc. - as well as the particular life philosophies incorporated in the objects’ symbology.
The actual texture of these kinds of jewelry is “warm,” in Baudrillard’s terms applied by Stewart, because “contemporary mythology places the latter objects in a childhood remote from the abstractions of contemporary consumer society” (146). One of my favorite jewelry pieces are Mexican earrings made to look like two tiny shoes, the typical “huarache” or flip-flop like shoes people wear in the country-side, which always make me feel I am walking again those old colonial streets of Puebla. My Chilean earrings made from the big seed of a “jacaranda” plant illustrate the power of narrative and association, since my friend Josue from Haiti told me they look like the fried banana patties they eat in Haiti and could not stop laughing imagining people’s reactions if I walk down the street of Port au Prince with “food” hanging from my ears. I have a corn necklace from the Pueblo Indians in Santa Fe, which embodies the powerful veneration they attach to corn and is a fabulous “relational object” which leads me to share with others, interested in the necklace’s story, my amazing encounters with Native American philosophy. In fact, I wore it at a formal occasion at Princeton and a woman asked me if it was amber, and you can hardly imagine my delight at her astonishment with my camping stories and claims that “corn is more precious than amber or gold.”
For such and many other experiences I have had with souvenirs, and not only jewelry but other object others ascribe great emotional importance to, I find problematic Stewart’s overly skeptical analysis of the souvenir as simply an object that allows the tourist to “appropriate, consume, and thereby ‘tame’ the cultural other.” There is so much more at an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level that goes on, which the “fetish” analysis misses or reduces and distorts.
The final dimension of the souvenir I wanted to discuss is its incorporation of “microcosmic thought,” defined by Stewart as “the use of the body as a model for the universe and of the universe as a model of the body” (133). A ring I have from the Mapuche (indigenous society) in Chile represents what seems to be a human figure, but which they describe as the symbol nourishing love and artistic creativity. I have a few other pieces with varying geometric representations of the human body, where one can sense the tactile convergence of cosmic energies in a small metal circle, at a level and dimension where size does not exist as a concept and where the human universe and the universally human are equally large: in the life-world of the symbols which populate souvenirs – especially the ones made by indigenous societies – the universe becomes both the largest sphere the human mind has imagined and the smallest ring-sphere the hand has molded to make immensity visible and internalized at all times. My ring is my bodily reminder that there must be a space and time where neither of the two matters.
The pictures I am sharing come from last year in February, when my friend Karin came to visit me in the Bay Area, where I was studying (south of San Francisco.) One day we took off to Japan Town, a mall like composit of Japanese stores, restaurants, bookstores, hairdressers, and other stores. We took these pictures, and I'm still not sure what was going on when we did. In part, we were amused at the self-reflexivity of the place, as it recognized itself as a tourist destination within San Francisco. The cut outs were also reminiscent of another time, of amusement parks or tourist destinations that we had never actually encountered before. (BKG, to you the question, where do these cut out, full body "masks" come from socially and historically?) I am sharing the pictures because they made me think about the staging of tourist photographing and the possibilities for humor in it, which are only tangentially touched upon in our readings on photography.
Early on in her piece, Susan Stewart argues for a process by which, through souvenirs, the external is subsumed into the domestic, as “external experience is internalized.” (Stewart 134) To some extent souvenirs do help domesticate “otherness” in one’s own imagination, Yet Stewart also claims that souvenirs must be “marked as exterior and foreign” while at the same time “arising directly from the experience of its possessor.” (Stewart 147) The contrast in these two positions arises as Stewart claims for a double function in souvenirs, both as objects to be internalized and domesticated, and objects to remain foreign and exotic.
I believe that when Stewart talks about a “transformation of exterior into interior,” (Stewart 137) the author focuses on size: the reduction of large experiences into smaller traces that can be managed more easily by individual consciousness. This, however, is different from internalization of the object itself. In fact, souvenirs must remain external to the person bringing them back from a trip, in order to be able to stimulate the senses into remembering and narrating.
Looking at different websites on photography for tourists, the “exterior” quality of souvenirs is highlighted by the repeated attempts to give context to the images. No matter what, the final product, the photograph, will ultimately be removed from the context of when and where it was taken. The photograph will also be able to represent only a brief moment, maybe a very worthy one, but nonetheless an incomplete and external part of the trip. (I am also thinking about Arlene’s post on the difficulty of sharing a photographic album: the images remain somewhat distant and foreign to the experience itself. Ultimately, the experience is personal and can only be communicated through narration and by leaning on technological aids.) Technology can function as a prosthetic device for memory, but we still have not been able to create a souvenir tat can recreate a complete environment to bring back “home.” In fact, the souvenir must remain external to the individual in order for it to be shared on returning.
This is not to say that all memories of “otherness” and tourist experience depend on external stimuli. As we have seen in culinary tourism, there are occasions in which experience can me literally internalized, as food is ingested and enters one’s body. I would argue that in this case we may talk about making the external interior, as we embody parts of our experience through consuming it with our senses. In the case of food, ingestion makes interior and domesticates an experience, without necessarily reducing it to a metonymy a larger context.
April 20, 2007
Out of the Tourist Mode...
Tourist Productions Blog #10
April 20, 2007
In the three readings on photography and tourism, the intimacy of the photo-taking process is emphasized as crucial to the making of excellent photo-souvenirs. The process is necessary to the successful completion of a tourist’s task in capturing moments and sites throughout his/her travels. Taking the “best” photograph requires careful organization of time and preparation for making the most out of the tourist experience. Particularly poignant is the suggestion made by several of the tour gurus that asks the tourist to actually remove himself/herself from the tourist mode in order to be a more effective and respectful tourist. Getting out of the tourist mode means getting into an environment rather than “snap-shooting” it from afar and running back onto the tour bus. It means submersion into the culture and speaking with the locals (or at least attempting friendly communication…a smile is universal). Human contact will not only result in the most intimate and resonant souvenirs but will also allow the photographic evidence a much richer narrative attachment later on. The event will be translated into an object of experience that functions with far greater meaning thanks to a narrative of cultural immersion. The inherent narrative of a photo-souvenir should bring the memory of a potent experience to mind at every glance. The potency is, of course, dependent on one’s actions as a tourist. If one’s intention is marked by genuine interest in making photos contextual, that relational respect will result in the photo-souvenir being, “a preservation of an instant in time through a reduction of physical dimensions and a corresponding increase in significance supplied by means of narrative” (Stewart, 138). The narrative is better if it is attached to personal affiliation, which results from responsible tourist behavior, i.e. photos taken of people with their knowledge and consent.
I think it is dangerous and a significantly potent mode of objectification to make people into souvenirs by means of snap-shooting their bodies as representative of one’s own presence in a foreign place. Susan Stewart discusses the body as potential commodity, as a living thing made object for the purpose of some kind of exchange of value. There is a fine line between the positive object-making of an individual in time and the negative commodification of a body for the purpose of affirming one’s worth; “The memento becomes emblematic of the worth of that life and of the self’s capacity to generate worthiness” (Stewart, 139). The self is capable of generating more worth with the creation of souvenirs that suggest one’s active attention to a different lifestyle and an attempt to understand rather than to simply occupy the easy role of the voyeur. There is no escaping the transfer of origin to trace in the form of photo-souvenirs, the event will always become a memory and usually a site of nostalgia; that is the function of a souvenir. It is just a matter of agency and responsible history-making that comes into play when creating one’s own souvenirs. As all the readings insist, intention is key to the creation of memory and, I would argue, to the establishment of a positive narrative that transfers the remembered event into a pulsating, living and inspiring photograph-souvenir.
April 19, 2007
between two realities...
Sorry to everyone who has heard me mention Burkina Faso one too many times... I wanted to bring in a souvenir from another place, but all the readings about photography really implanted my photo album into my brain as the thing I would want to share. I started the program ten days after leaving Ouagadougou and have had trouble trying to negotiate these two experiences. This photo album is almost a point of contention for me, because it has been so difficult trying to express my life in Ouagadougou. The pictures help...but there is still so much missing...
When I was in Burkina Faso, I had a photo album—a small collection of pictures I took while I was home for Christmas, and brought back after many friends insisted on seeing. It was the same when I came back to Pennsylvania—a large book of photos to showcase my experience. I attach memories and stories easily to objects, but I found the mediation between these photos and their audiences to be extremely challenging. The disparity in wealth, culture, climate, language, beliefs, color, and any other sort of comparison limited an image’s ability to tell a story that was not exotified or othered for either group of friends. My liminality between these worlds was emphasized in the stare of the audience, and I could not be a part of both experiences—that of living in the US and of living in Africa, at the same time, even though the photos suggest that I did in fact live these experiences together. It was almost as if both groups viewed the photos as if they were part of a fairy tale—even if I was in the picture.
I still wonder what my relationship to my photos from Burkina Faso is now that I have been home for almost a year. Telling people what I did in Africa, while it has become a huge part of my life experience, for some reason feels like a bullet point instead of a time that continues through me and that I reference in my memories every day. In the Stewart reading—thinking of souvenirs almost as a conquering of a culture reminds me of this. It makes me uncomfortable. I wonder at what point I will need to rely on the photographs to bring back my memories, and if this experience will dissipate into a mere “bullet point” as time passes.
To elaborate, I have a memory to which I am personally sensitive in sharing—showing this photo album to my grandfather. While my grandmother and aunt quickly realized in looking at the pictures that I had had an African boyfriend, my grandfather was oblivious. He saw something else in the pictures—I’m not sure if he saw an exotified other, a conquered experience, or if his generation’s lingering struggle between tolerance and racism made it impossible for his grand daughter to date an African. It hurt me that he either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see the truth. He loved the book, and told me what a treasured item it was. To him, it was a souvenir, while to me, it was my life.
I need to re-read the Stewart, I think it will be immensely helpful in analyzing why the Museum of Art and Origins only holds ritual pieces from Africa, rather than any work by current African artists. The masks are more easily commodified and reach a conquest status.
While the photo album is an object sitting on the shelf, I have such a visceral relationship to it, more so than other objects from Burkina. Other mementos from other countries have lost their resonance and become simple “things” with vague notions of while I still retain them—for a while, I had kept sugar cubes from a trip to Paris when I was sixteen because the memories attached to the sugar were far stronger than those to any postcards…but keeping sugar for too long is abnormal, while postcards are acceptable. I guess technology and capitalism haven’t quite figured out how to freeze dry and bottle memories into a purchasable object, even though I’m sure it will be attempted!
April 18, 2007
This was just too good to keep to myself.
ladies and gentleman,
the museum of food anomalies
April 16, 2007
WWdCD? (What Would de Certeau Do?)
While not exactly a tourist production, the work of these artists (main page: http://homepage.mac.com/m_plus_n/menu.html) seems to resonate a great deal with the things we've been reading in class. (and to my mind with some of the things we've been looking at in Performances of Great Magnitude)
Italian restaurants in Italy
It seems that the proliferation of regional identities is closely linked to the promotion of the foods associated with that region. Food is an integral part of any tourist’s experience, whether one is buying ice cream at Disneyland, or seeking out the famous local restaurant known for serving the local iconic cuisine, such as Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant. Entire trips can revolve around food, such as a wine tasting tour through Southern California. I recall my family’s trip to Italy, where everyday was a challenge to eat at the most authentic Italian restaurants between our scheduled sight-seeing. But more interesting, is how I use that week I spent in Italy as a comparison point for Italian restaurants in the US. If the red wine comes with dinner, then I feel a greater sense of authenticity although the restaurant has been removed from the country it is representing. In reading that Joe’s Stone Crab has opened restaurants in different parts of the US and Japan, led me to think about how the local foods come to us; how we can be a tourist any night of the week simply by dining out. The pilgrimage to South Florida for stone crab is no longer necessary, because not only has the restaurant been transplanted, but the food its known for, or its equivalent, is available to us at the local Publix supermarket. Yet travel is still be an integral part of the gastrotourist experience, the idea of the place that you are eating corresponds to the place the food is from. Restaurants seek to create a certain atmosphere that corresponds to the place they are referencing, even if that means playing country music in the Japanese Joe’s restaurants to impart an American atmosphere. The expectations of the customers in this sense seem to dictate what the representation of the local should be, not unlike Sea World. Different restaurants cater to the expectations of different tourist types, from those seeking the off-the-beaten-track experience, to those seeking that famous BBQ joint, and Joe’s Stone Crab can fit into both of these categories.
(This may be touched upon in the recommended reading) Another example I've been thinking about, since reading the Slow Food article, is that of huitlacoche, which is a type of corn fungus that is considered a delicacy in Mexico. Since farmers in the US see it as a blight rather than a cuisine, it has not really entered the mainstream. But some high-end restaurants have created a demand for the "corn smut" and in the 1990s some farmers got permission to intentionally infect their crops in order to harvest the delicacy. I only know this because an ex-roommate of mine left a can of huitlacoche behind, and I opened it, trying to figure out what it was. After doing some research, I found a recipe online that I used to prepare a new type of meal for myself, and could not help but feel that I was now part of the high class phenomenon of appropriating the exotic from other cultures in order to feel more worldly. It was an act of tourism in my own kitchen. I can imagine that finding these odd ingredients would be an experience in themselves, as I have experienced in visiting the Mi Bandera supermarket to buy a very specific kind of Ecuadorian cheese, or walking through a market in Chinatown. Which brings up the question, what kind of gastrotourism experiences do people desire when visiting New York City, or even locals for that matter? Do they want to eat in Koreatown, Little Brazil, Chinatown, which restaurants are off-the-beaten-path? New York seems unique in that its local cuisine is defined globally because of its immigrant communities, certain ones which have attained a more central status than others. But many of these restaurants do not reflect the local community, rather they are a reflection of food movements in the US. How do tourist expectations shape these NYC restaurants, and how they represent themselves? Eating a hot dog in Times Square is the quintessential New York, as is a romantic dinner in Little Italy, but so is the discovery of a small BYOB Polish spot in Brooklyn.
Balg Eun Song's response
Whether food is focus of the travel or the travel is the focus, if traveling is focused on experiencing culture I consider food is always a matter of consequence maybe because it represents the culture the best. Food does not come out itself. Even when just the pure nature becomes a food, it is still a mixture of culture. Like a play that is based by a script, food is perhaps based by a recipe that contains the culture. Moreover, food includes all senses as seeing, smelling, tasting and so forth that attracts people who travels. The food is also cooked from all different senses. In “Barossa Slow: The Representation and Rhetoric of Slow Food's Regional Cooking” Adrian Peace states about the wood oven in Apex Bakery that needs to be watched and listened to the oven and its fire and to smell, feel, and finally taste the foods. Food attracts people to visit because it brings the moment for the cook and the traveler to share all the senses.
However, the globalization in food made people to access all kinds of foods so easily in one place.
Adrian Peace poses an interesting question of how rediscovering regional cooking means in this globalizing postmodern world and then introduces Slow Food Movement in Barossa with his anthropological perspective. Michael Pollan in “Cruising on the ark of taste” states that the Slow Food Movement once against globalizing tactics, now use processes of globalization to save endangered plants and animals. He presents an example of how the movement saves the turkeys that were getting extinct by organizing a presidium and leading the provider and the consumer to eat them. It looks like a wonderful plan, but I wonder how this kind of control will help permanently. I also wonder what are we obliged to save and what does not matter saving?
From New York to Romania in just one bite.
All things have a story. Tourism is one way that people somatically experience a story that is foreign to normative habits. “New experiences expand the ways we create and know ourselves because they de-habituate and estrange much that we take for granted…” (BKG 1) All food has a story, from the food in the supermarket as a product of late-capitalism and mass-production, to the individuality of a fine wine. Often these story are constructions more closely reflecting a romanticizing of a culture than actual history. Gastrotourism exemplifies the multiple layers by which one experiences “culture.”
A tourists choice of consumption, whether of a hotel or museum spot, reflects either the acceptance or the rejection of culture myths. In “Barossa Slow” Adrian Peace employed myth “… to refer to the assemblage of social stereotypes, skewed representations, and biased accounts that are characteristic of all consumer experiences under late capitalist conditions.” (57) As in the example of the stone crab of south Florida, the cultural authenticity of a meal is reflected in it’s ability to embody the perceived myth of its origins. Nicolaas Mink describes the all American story of the immigrant family introducing a uniquely American dish, while in fact the Stone crab can be found in many regions throughout the world.
The “Slow Food Moment” purposefully constructs myth around cuisine for political ends. Like an advertising agency foodies celebrate the individuality of regionally specific dish, underling the culture of appreciation as a counter-narrative in the era of fast food. The enjoyment of endangered food marks the endangerment of a life style of community in the midst of transnationalism.
This past week I observed and participated in the serving of food with an intended performative affect. I helped cater the cast party for East Coast Artist production of “Waxing West.” The show was written by one of Romania’s foremost playwrights and in an effort to import Romanian culture to the States was produced as a combined effort between ECA and the Romanian Cultural Institute. The party was held at the Romanian Cultural Institute and catered by, what Zagat rates, the best Romanian restaurant in New York City. The food was presented as authentic Romanian cuisine, the authenticity of the food was designated by the fact that the restaurant was run by Romanians and was served in a location funded by the Romanian government. The food was served with the intention of giving the guests a “taste” of Romania. The play provided a narrative by which the food was experienced, and having watch a production of Romanian cultural identity, the food provided an opportunity for non-Romanians to engage with the culture, without stepping on a plan. Food that is designated as culturally authentic, offers a touristic experience, one based in taste and sound, which an individual can participate in without leaving home.
April 15, 2007
Travel to Eat, Eat to Travel: An Imagination of Culinary Globalization
Being as a lover of food and cooking, I spend a lot of time on experiencing what David Harvey said “time-space compression” in his famous book, The Condition of Postmodernity, along with viands and cookware in my kitchen no matter in Taiwan or New York. A Taiwanese guy who not only cooks traditional Taiwanese delicacies, but also makes Thai food, paella, spaghetti, sushi and American food. My kitchen is not a kitchen, but an airport lounge. And I am ready to take off to another country by cooking the food from that country.
Therefore, after reading this week’s readings of culinary tourism, I was impressed by BKG’s statement of “a collaboration between highly self-consciousness producers and consumers, culinary tourism is a space of contact and encounter, negotiation and transaction whether at home or abroad.” Hence, I am thinking about an imagination of culinary globalization. Slow food, in my viewpoint, is a perfect example of talking about culinary globalization. It changes human’s dietary habits which may contain some ethnic traditions no matter in the Western or the Eastern. Culinary globalization sounds like an impossible imagination, but it does happen to everybody in their daily lives.
I have been to Thailand, Bali, South Korea and Canada, in addition to travel, tasting the authentic local food is certainly another mainly purpose. Although it is easy to find the restaurants which labels as the authentic taste from the original countries, I still compare them with what I tasted before in my trip. Therefore, “the question of authenticity” is really a question.
Moreover, I saw a TV program about ethnic food tour on Food Network channel. It describes a tour guider in Chicago who arranges a route of introducing different famous ethnic food shops in Chicago. It reminds me that the burgeoning travel product of culinary trip, staying and learning how to cook at a luxury hotel or some famous restaurants in Thailand or Bali. Therefore, exploring the culinary trip is an alternative way of exploring ethnicity.
Some interesting websites about food and travel:
Adventures in Thai Cooking & Travel http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/
Bali Cooking http://www.bali-cooking.com/lovina_bali.php
Culinary Travel http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/travel_to_eat/index.shtml
Indianapolis Cultural Districts - Dining Tour http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNlQ7Ez_pI8
Gastrotourism and the politics of eating place
Touring food, or “cuisine”, provides an experiential newness, escape, connection to other people’s ways of life and communities. It seems that culinary tourism becomes an anthropologists dream when we look at the meanings that these tours come to constitute for the individuals tasting other cultures, the people these foods come to represent, and the greater impressions these exchanges come to form in the imaginary of these other locales. What I found particularly fascinating was the similarities and contrasts between Pilcher’s discussion of gastrotourism in Mexico and the Slow Food Movement (both Peace’s work on the “Barosso Slow” event and Pollan’s article on “the Ark of Taste”.)
Pilcher describes the historical trajectory of changes in mentality toward indigenous cooking practices and the foods native Mexicans ate. The shifts from disdain to appropriation, and the gradual marketing of ethnic foods are an intriguing counterpoint to the Slow Food Movement’s ennobling of heritage and past ways of producing food. Whereas in Mexico, the old ways of producing staples like tortillas and other regional dishes are seen as quaint but outdated, Slow Food’s harkening back to heritage and “that other way of life” is done in such a manner that transgresses the stigmas of “primitive” and “backward” due to the movement’s roots in European heritage.
Introducing his study on touring Barosso, Peace suggests, “…the event may turn out to be as much about the manufacture of myth as it is about the consumption of cuisine.” (51) This construction of the myth is just as important in this Australian valley as it is in the villages of Mexico. However, the roots of the myths differ, and it is the difference between constructing a myth of a European past rather than an indigenous one that allows the Slow Food movement to cater to its elitism and the maintenance of cultural capital with these tours. Peace discusses how labor at Barosso is not an alienable resource, but rather these labors are ways of life, not jobs.
He notes, “Being celebrated in these encounters was the technology of the past and the social relations required to make it work.” (54) It is amazing that these technologies of the past are revered as proper and noble in this context. The old techniques are not a sign of economic depravity or an inablility to modernize. They exemplify a steadfast commitment to these past ways of living and creating this way of life. However, in other contexts – Oaxaca, Mexico, for example – old technologies of production would most likely be considered underdeveloped.
The Slow Food tours are a luxury and cater to people who can afford to participate in this economy of living. They are also a way to reinforce the purported mission of this movement, and to assert the importance of what members believe to be their duty in the continuation of these heritage lineages. Peace writes, “Attendance at Barossa Slow – and, I tentatively suggest, at similar events elsewhere – was not so much about culinary conversion as about cultural consolidation.” (58) At the end of Pollan’s article, he also makes these connections and emphasizes the ways Slow Food makes the indulger feel socially conscious:
“It all seemed too good to be true: that eating something this delicious could be a strategy for preserving biodiversity and that the pleasure we took in doing so could itself constitute a small but meaningful political act. For pleasure itself is all but extinct in American environmentalism (not to mention American eating), and pleasure is part of what Slow Food aims to redeem, by demonstrating that, at least when it comes to the politics of food, the best choice is often the tastiest.” (77)
This is the dilemma for the conscious consumer that has the luxury of knowledge about these things and has developed a habitus of fine dining. While particular notions of heritage and artisanship are revered in elitist Slow Foodie circles, they are at the same time becoming commodified in a way that continues to exclude knowledge of the surrounding politics and those that are excluded from these circles. The consistent derogatory anti-Fast Food rhetoric does not acknowledge how, why, and for whom Fast Food is a way of life. Taking the pleasure of eating well as a political act is extremely problematic because it denies all the other blessings involved to make that happen for very specific people. Yes, there are benefits to the Slow Food methodology, however, its overstating of its political significance seems potentially dangerous to me.
San Rafael Comac and the Mole Poblano
“The capacity of food to hold time, place, and memory is valued all the more in an era of hypermobility” (2). Prof. Krirshenblatt-Gimblett
… and a mix of emotions and memories of sensations brought diverse culinary experiences in time and spaces that were tattoo in my body.
“The capacity of food to hold time, place, and memory is valued all the more in an era of hypermobility” (2). Prof. Krirshenblatt-Gimblett
… and a mix of emotions and memories of sensations brought diverse culinary experiences in time and spaces that were tattoo in my body.
It is the sensations that taste leaves in you body that echoes through time and space bringing the performance of cooking to the present. The interaction of people in the kitchen involves space of intimacy. Two relevant related activities to culinary experiences are talking when cooking, and talking during or after eating. These conversations that begin with the history related to the plate and their connection with the people present.
San Rafael Comac is a small own close to Puebla in Mexico. In every “pueblo” of my country there is a “patrono del pueblo” (the saint of the town) besides having a small sculpture and images of the saint and developing diverse religious activities throughout the year there is one special day of the year for each saint and each “pueblo” has their own “fiesta del pueblo”. This party is an event that all year long the community has work for one of the biggest events paid with almost all the money the have throughout the year. This event is organized through food. In every house the famous “mole poblano” and red rice in cooked, and the dynamic is bases in every house is food and everyone need to eat in every house. Mole and rice become a reminder of a new year, community needs, union, and hope for future years. Culinary tourism can come to Mexico but the taste of mole poblano in a clay pod over wood-fire, and set in the table where the future activities of an entire town is decided is far from culinary tourism and experience. They become essential part of constricting the future of a town and it is through food that the dialog is open.
The experience in cross cultural interaction of a small town in Mexico negotiate and transacts the future of the town as Prof. BKG write food “mutating into something else”, I will expand to the mutation may open a space to change, move and look forward to a future with each other. Culinary experience brings sensation that is kept in our memory, but it also brings intersection to the table during cooking or after eating.
I'm suddenly feeling hungry...
Tourist Productions Blog #9
April 13, 2007
Food and tourism are so completely intertwined it is easy to forget that the impact of a food culture alone upon a greater given cultural identity is not only hugely influential to the tourist industry but to all conceptions of traditional heritages across the world. Food is necessary in everyday life but becomes all the more of a focus during vacations and travel to foreign locales. Even when food is not the sole purpose of a tourist experience, it is most definitely a means by which a tourist can experience the essence of a place. There is something about the intense sensory experience (smell, sight, taste) of alien food that is unmatched by any other form of tourism. All the senses are engaged in this kind of (gastro) tourism, which adds to the making of memory, thereby “adding value and profit to an essential service” (BKG). I think that all tourism is in one way or another about food, although making food an entire tour purpose is a different (socioeconomic) matter. It is hard to imagine a tourist in France decidedly avoiding crepes, baguettes and warm goat cheese salads in favor of a corporate chain meal from McDonalds. Although this certainly happens, a prime objective of many tourist experiences is to involve all the senses in taking in the culture, food being a particularly potent way to achieve the total affect. The difference between location tourism (be it monuments, theme parks, museums or entire towns) and gastrotourism lies in the objective. When I travel with my family in various parts of the world, sampling the local foods is a given (and desired) activity; however, it is not the total structural focus. There are definitely meals on the go, American-style diners and other completely inauthentic food choices that are based upon convenience in favor of fitting in the other traditional phenomenon available to us as tourists. Gastrotourism involves a complete food-centric structure and thereby a very specific, politically charged mode of tourism.
Food has such power in shaping individual as well as collective identity. Gastrotourism is a particularly interesting phenomenon because it takes what is already a prominent aspect of most other forms of tourism and makes it THE epicenter of travel life for the tourist. The slow food movement, while definitely elitist, exhibits a way of responding to the fast-paced transnational world, that is both environmentally (as far as preservation of endangered food products and the cultures to which they belong) friendly and delectable,” The movement understands that every set of genes on its Ark of Taste encodes not only a set of biological traits but a set of cultural practices as well, and in some cases even a way of life…Food teaches a specific, irreplaceable mode that a particular people have devised for living on, and off, a particular corner of the earth. Save the genes, and you help save the land and the culture as well” (Cruising on the Ark of Taste, p76). The response to attacks on the slow food movement has been to point out the importance of cultural preservation by means of enjoyment and appreciation of consumption of “authentic foods” and taking the time to make the most of the culinary phenomenon in all its stages from start to finish. The slow food movement is a paradox because it is based on a premise that is counter to efficiency and affordability; however, it claims to be the best (and only) means of preserving “biodiversity” such that appreciation of the finer things in life becomes readily available to all. Is it though? The U.S. has the worst problem with obesity of any country in the world, due in no small part to the vast numbers of fast food chains spread throughout the nation. Would the people outside of the middle class in the U.S. likely respond to a system of eating that openly labels itself “slow” and admits to be expensive? Fast food is (abhorrent, I agree) successful because it reaffirms a certain way of life and for many is the only affordable option. It is kind of counter-intuitive to imagine the something like the slow food movement gaining ground in the U.S. given the all-encompassing American credo that is based on time saving, efficiency-oriented strategies governing all ways of living. It seems that the slow food movement, while fascinating in its purpose, is not a realistic option for people beyond (or realistically even within) a certain class bracket. As far as gastrotourism goes, the entire concept is by necessity geared toward the leisure classes; those who have the time and income to embark upon a kind of tourism completely based upon the enjoyment of prolonged, savored pleasure that is exemplified by the slow food movement. Although, the snob in me loves the idea of being a tourist whose sole purpose is to savor her way through the foods of the world, I cannot divorce myself from the discomfort of that oh-so bourgeois concept.
sightseeing night market culture in taiwan
Though a small island, Taiwan has a lot of "Tu Chan", literally soil/native product, most of which are foods. According to different weather and soil conditions, different regions have different agricultural products, and thus unique “Shao Chi” – small food/snacks that costs 1-3 bucks for each dish in average. A tourist, local or foreign, can find the most delicious Taiwanese food in the sightseeing night market of a specific region from northern to southern Taiwan.
Go to Yunho, Taipei, if you want to taste the best soy milk (sweet or salty, hot and cold); go to Shilin for the best stinky tofu, fried bun, small bun wrapped in large bun, small sausage in large sausage, oyster omelet, and Taiwanese BBQ sausage; go to Huaxi Street for the snake cuisine if you dare; go to Shinchu for the rice noodles, bawan (pork sphere ball), and grain tea; Go to Taichung for the Sun Cake; go to Tainan for the pork knuckles, dandan noodles, oily rice, rice tube pudding, and coffin bread – to name just some. Each place has its special dishes. Whenever people go to other cities or counties around the island, they would definitely buy his/her family and friends these special regional foods. If you go to a specific place without tasting its special food, you cannot say that you’ve been there. Such culinary tourism is a great leisure activity as well as pleasure for many Taiwanese people. I even made a wish to eat everything in all the night markets around the island when I was a kid.
It is so natural for me to think that each place should have its own special food. But when I’m thinking about bringing my family some special food of NYC, I couldn’t find one. (MacDonald’s and Starbucks are everywhere, let alone Taiwan.) Maybe cheese?
Coffee in Vietnam, Fast Food in France
Before my post, I just wanted to share a curious coincidence I encountered on Monday. Returning home from class, I discovered that my sister and her boyfriend had spent the weekend at Disney Sea in Tokyo, and blogged about it. They've been in Japan since September, and have been keeping the blog since then too. The post on Disney Sea is sparse, but does provide a nice segue, here, as they primarily focused on the park's food...
I became a coffee drinker (properly, stopped using milk and sugar, etc.) while touring Vietnam as a teenager. I still find it somewhat ironic that of all the sensory experiences I have coffee will still be the one that regularly transports me to Asia. The quality of the coffee in Vietnam triggers other reminders for me as well -- it indicates the legacy of French colonialism (which in turn operates metonymically to make me think of colonialism on a grander scale). While the articles we read provided several interesting inroads into questions of culinary tourism, I find it most interesting to think about instances of culinary tourism as potential sites to better understand notions of cross-cultural experience and consumption. The act of consumption -- literally taking part of the land of a given region, territory or area into one's own body seems to me to be a unique act amongst the tourist events we've looked at. Short of (though perhaps exceeding) sex tourism, it provides the most elemental or physical intertwining of traveler and region a tourist could experience.
Nonetheless, there is little substantive difference between a cup of coffee I might drink in Hanoi and one I might find in Paris. At the same time, I am hesitant to readily accept the suggestion implicit in the articles of Adrian Pearce and Nicolaas Mink that the source of this difference is the narratives or myths I develop around each cup. Perhaps I am merely romanticizing my own experiences, but I do feel that the significance of culinary experiences can exceed the import of other visual or physical experiences -- my story about the coffee retains a personal significance that goes beyond the stories I may have about the heat in Hue, or navigating traffic in Hanoi. Food and drink -- essential to life itself -- become central to many forms of ritual practice, and of themselves represent some of the most common of quotidian rituals. Taking my morning coffee is these certainly a ritual practice, and performing that ritual under changed circumstances is always a significant experience. But what does it say that this experience, for me, has at its foundation a moment that cuts across at least three nations -- Vietnam, France and the United States?
I am reminded of another ritual I occasionally undertake while abroad, a ritual that might horrify slow foodies or other gastronomic elites: I often make a point of indulging once in fast food -- both American chains and occasionally regional knockoffs. In Beijing I visited the world's largest McDonalds. In Lima, at Bembos, the burgers were all served with a fried egg on them, including the burger that aped the regional specialty steak, Lomo Saltado. In the Catalan region of France, McDonalds was running a special campaign -- each of its locations offered a specialty burger featuring regional ingredients and flavors. There are a few things I think are going on in these experiences. On the one hand I feel as though I am drawn to enter these sites and have these experiences in order to witness the variety and forms of the spread of multinational corporations (a thanotourism of late market capitalism, if you will). At the same time, each of these sites, and my experience with Vietnamese coffee, or my sister's experience eating Mexican food at Disney Sea, seriously trouble any notions we might have of food as a marker of authenticity. While I may gravitate towards foods labeled as somehow more authentic, I believe I do so not because I necessarily believe the claim, but rather because I see it as a marker of higher quality -- that regardless of where it came from it will most likely taste better, or at least be more interesting than white bread. I suppose ultimately I'd like to find an examination of culinary tourism that takes it as an opportunity to map the web-like threads that continue to make our world more interconnected, just as these experiences trace my own encounter with that web.
April 14, 2007
It is interesting to consider food as a vehicle for transportation through association. For me, memories through the senses of taste and smell are the most quickly recollected and the most emotionally vivid. An entire scene or narrative can unravel with one bite. This access to distant places, through association or digestion relates to tourism in a more general sense. Places can be visited through these imaginative (?) transportations. This can also be seen in the way that the sensorial description exceeds beyond the frame of a particular sense. For example the way wine is described in a way that slips into other methods of description (earthy, metallic, flowery). These associations localize the taste, at least with in the palette. It is in this way that food is the material link as well as associative link to place.
I had this strange experience once when I was visiting NYC. A friend insisted that we go to this fancy restaurant that had a kangaroo dish. We splurged and split it. I do have an over-active imagination, but regardless, after eating a few bites I had the experience of living the kangaroos last moments. Not to argue about if this type of memory transmission is feasible or not, it does offer a possibility of experience, maybe where phenomenology and food meet.
Like all of the approaches to tourism we have looked at in this class, there are many layers at work. The slow-food movement as a response to the presence of fast food in historic districts emphasizes the tradition and ‘heritage’ as enacted through the rituals of preparation and consumption, recognizing the “culinary event as a cultural experience” (peace).
Although it never happened, my family had the idea of opening a food museum in New Orleans that would double as a restaurant (or have edible displays) tracing the history/influences of both Cajun and Creole cooking. Maybe this is what I should make happen post MA!
Romancing the "Stone"
Tourism is intrinsically linked to the tasting of food. Geographical areas explain themselves through their epicurean offerings, and the tourist experience is informed by what the senses say about the food. Our taste buds are filled with messages and memories. The interesting thing about dining and tourism is that, unlike the bus tours and visits to the museum, food is sought out of necessity. Everyone must eat, but it’s the where, why, what and how the tourist chooses that defines the experience. Seeking a delicacy like the stone crab is synonomous with locating authentic Southern Floridian culture, and Joe's Stone Crab provides the space for the taste.
Just as Nicolas Mink cited his family annual pilgrimage to Joe’s in his article “Selling the Storied Stone Crab”, my husband, who was also born in Hialeah and raised in Miami, grew up with the family tradition of Christmas Eve at Joe’s. Each year, they would wait in the perpetual line (my mother-in-law tells me there is a secret club that wears a crab pin on their lapel and gets bumped up to the top of the list), eagerly awaiting the indulgence of “Menippe mercenaria”, creamed spinach, lyonnaise potatoes, and key lime pie—epicurean gluttony! Despite the bib and finger bowls, this place is apparently star-studded and glamorous. Upon dating into the family, I was met with tales of years at Joe’s and the legend of “the stone”. Avid divers, my husband and in-laws grew up lobster diving and fishing, enjoying a variety of sea treasures; but, according to them, none compared to the stone crab. Myself, a vegetarian at the time, still had a peaked interest in finding out what all the buzz was about.
I never made it to Joe’s before my in-laws moved out of the Miami area, but did have the opportunity to taste stone crabs that my mother-in-law bought right off the boat from a fish market owned by a family friend. I will attest that the taste is decadent and delicious, yet I also think it’s just way too much work—and money!!
A plate of this "rite of passage", as Mink refers to the eating of the stone crab claw, could cost you up to $75. Even from the fish market my mother-in-law would pay $40 per pound. But it also pays to be a server of culinary tourism, as the waiters at Joe's are known to make a salary of $100,000+ a year (and that was when the restaurant traditionally closed from May-October). The food commodity and tourism go hand in hand--or in the case of Joe's, claw to mouth.
Nico and Kosher Sushi
If I could afford to, I would spend my time in restaurants in New York. The incredible diversity of restaurants is a small way to bring the world to the city. It is actually part of the identity of the city. My family and friends who visit feel cheated if they do not have Polish one night, Tibetan the next and Kosher sushi on the third. While eating stone crab seems to embody a type of culture in south Florida, in New York it seems that for many visitors the gastronomic cultural identity of the city comes from the range on offer, and the hybrids that are created...like Kosher sushi.
Where I come from in the south of France we have a proud tradition of food and eating is one of the major things we do. Sunday lunches often go from noon to 3pm, or later for some. There are several courses, but mainly it is an opportunity to be together as family and friends. I remember when I was growing up that newsagents and other small retailers would close between noon and 2pm so that they could go home and have lunch. For people in the south of France who travel to other parts of the world they are usually interested in the food of the host country if only because back home meals organize their day and are thus so important. Not only can one discover wonder in a new dish or drink- but, perhaps unconsciously, seeing other people’s relationship to food is a way of understanding their culture- so it is not only about the food itself but also about how people relate to the food.
Restaurants play such an important role in giving a sense of a culture and often, when outside the home country, gladly push stereotypes so that customers can feel they are having an authentic experience. When I first arrived to this country, in LA, in 2001, I worked as a bus boy for a couple of months in a French restaurant. The food was good, but the reason people flocked to this relatively small restaurant was because all the waiters and bus boys were French, spoke French and indulged in “Frenchness” for customers. It was somehow very romantic for many customers- it was hell for me- and for an evening they were transported to Paris. I know this because so many told us so. The chef would come out towards the end of the evening, as if looking for something, and invariably a customer would call him over- he would then sit at their table and talk in broken English (as most French people do). For those lucky enough to get the chef’s attention, it felt to them like the whole French treatment. I wonder if the Mexican dish washers would have also been received as stars had they come out to look for something… In a way these local restaurants of foreign foods instill themselves in Bruner’s “pre-tour narrative” and in future tourists’ sense of a country they might visit. They are thus important to consider in the overall gastrotourism industry as a link between the local and the foreign.
Food is also a wonderful marker of the old trade links between different countries. The history of rice, tea and other foods provide fascinating insights into international links and trade routes. On this subject, a book called Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors”. has been warmly recommended to me. http://www.amazon.com/Curry-Cooks-Conquerors-Lizzie-Collingham/dp/0195172418
“A man desiring to understand the world looks about for a clue to its comprehension. He pitches upon some area of common-sense fact and tries to see if he cannot understand other areas in terms of this one. The original area then becomes his basic analogy or root metaphor” (Stephen C. Pepper, quoted in Victor Turner 1974:26) – I never realized that “food” can be such a productive root metaphor in performance studies, cultural studies, ecnomics, or other fields until the readings of this week. The food does deserve the academic attention since all human beings around the world, though of different cultural backgrounds, all eat to survive (and survive to eat)!
The Gastrotourism is a way to access a specific culture. My first impression on the United States was based on the foods in the delis, supermarkets, and restaurants along with the specific American behaviors (tips, brunch, or late dinner, for example). However, instead of just going somewhere and eating according to the guides of the magazines, internet, or the “Zagat” icon, I want to know something more about the “performance sequence” (Schechner 1985) of the food – where and how the ingredients come from, how they are turned into foods, how they are presented in front of our face and taken into our mouth, how they are digested, and finally came out of our body as wastes, which may nourish some other creatures on the earth and generate more ingredients. The sequence of eating embodies human’s relation to the material world. It is a process of how human beings take the world in and out of their bodies. Thus it is no wonder that the food studies would lead to the concerns of the eco system.
Beside the psychogeography, there should also be “Gastro-psychology,” like the Indian notion “rasa,” which literally means “flavor” but also suggests the different human feelings. The food may generate different feelings in us. This is why the Buddhist monks do not eat garlic or ginger which may arouse their sexual desire. The smell or flavor of certain food can also trigger our memories of specific moments, such as the famous Madeleines cake in Proust's Rememberance of Things Past. To experience the psycho effect of the food, I guess slowness is needed. Slow Food Movement is like a New Age movement – a food meditation, not only to revitalize people’s awareness of his/her own body, the five senses, but also to strike a new balance between human beings and the world in terms of the food sources.
I wondered the world would be totally different if we knew clearly about the sequence of how food is made. After watching a video clip about how the cow was butchered and turned into beef, some of my friends were converted into vegetarians. In the Gastrotourism, most of the tourists can only visit the front region of the food industry. If we can enjoy the food slowly, and if we can go to the back region, the kitchen or even the food factory, we may have a chance to know what food is good for our own body and good for the world as well.
Food Fight!!- John Dietrich
There is no question that culinary tourism, by most definitions, draws on a specific social class and relies tremendously on distinct cultural definition in order for it to thrive. There is everything appealing and enticing about it as an experience, and what other form of performance manages to heavily integrate all the human senses? Its’ power lies in its’ immediate emotional and psychological reaction upon just mentioning the notion of it. It almost always boasts a highly romantic, often nostalgic and decidedly sophisticated setting and event. Is food worship costly? More often than not- yes. Wine tours in Sonoma, tasting getaways in Tuscany, culinary studies in Geneva, often integrating celebrity chefs and counting on faraway, exotic locales. I imagine a tour of Route 66 roadside diner and truck stop cuisine exists, but more than likely any culinary adventure will require good American dollars, thus making it more suitable for an upper class clientele. This new found appreciation for it and sophisticated offering of it is recent, particularly with Americans who for years, particularly the post World War II “Leave it to Beaver” baby boomers, lived in the shadow of the customary European approach to cuisine and its’ appreciation. Long multi-course meals, sacred regional delicacies, and a connoisseurs mentality could be found in every home, in every village, among every class of people and needless to say, there is something strongly luxurious about this way of living. Are western cultures finally waking up to this “joie de vivre” spirit and approach? In the typical American way, they seem to be embracing it with a need for immediate consumption and gratification all wrapped up in a little bit of Yankee commercialism. There is the fear that globalization may be threatening regional distinction when it comes to culinary traditions. This is partly the result of the mass marketing of more regional products and the ability for worldwide distribution of them. “One World- One Taste, is the most horrifying mantra of all. On that note is where I find Adrian Peace’s “investigation”, into the Barossa Slow experience rather sarcastic and somewhat cynical, particularly when cultivating regional culinary authenticity on almost any level should be respected. She requires involvement by all in the community means of validation of authenticity, and throws around the word “myth” as if it is a crime against historical accuracy. This is not 1860, these people are trying to keep tradition alive based on whatever information is passed down through generations, but they are not specifically trying to live it. They are trying to sustain its’ worth and value for a new generation. What they are creating is part myth and part history. Her notion of “A skewed view by a select few” is an example of her crossed arm, nose raised, “just prove your authenticity” viewpoint. Comments like: “Johnny Fechner, as Nipper, nicknames, of course, being a defining feature of rural community”, and “Jimmy, for example, is Nipper’s right-hand man and has “been with” him (note, not “employed by” him), only show her inability to approach an experience such as this with an open perspective. These are small town enterprises simply trying to revive and sustain culinary heritage. Maybe they sincerely believe in their personal mission to carry on tradition, maybe they prefer a work environment that prides itself on developing a sense of family and not some impersonal corporate setting. Isn’t it admirable to strive for the ideal? What’s worse: culinary elitist or egocentric anthropologist?
On culinary tourism: reclaiming & marketing heritage
The tourist experience will usually imply eating at some point, but food also lends itself to tourism “back home”; what is it we are participating in when enticed into purchasing certain products on supermarket shelves and in open air markets, or choosing particular ethnic restaurants, attending regionally theme-based dinners, ordering a drink or even cooking for Thanksgiving?
“Traditional” foods are increasingly reinvented in the marketplaces of the first world, and assigned value by association to specific origins, cultures and narratives, as Mink demonstrates with the stone crab phenomenon. The production of regional cuisines bolsters local economies and contributes to the tourist experience, helping to shape (and sell) a distinct impression of a place, branding the location with flavor (“Sabor!”).
Ironically, “traditional peoples” have been struggling to hold onto their culinary heritage with less success.
The local food question is entangled with environmental issues and global economics, as more plants and animals are patented, genetically engineered, bred, farmed, harvested/trapped, processed, packaged, frozen, shipped and flown to different parts of the country and the world, and as their natural habitats change or disappear.
An interesting example of producing culinary tourism occurs at the National Museum of the American Indian in Wahington, D.C., where the planning team hit the commercial and educational jackpot: the Mitsitam Café on the first floor offers traditional foods from Native communities of the Americas, from wild Northwest Coast salmon, buffalo burgers, wild rice and frybread to tamales, peanut soup and quinoa made with Andean recipes. This effort is based on the museum’s mission to being a cultural experience, conveyed on every front- architecture, landscaping and exhibitions- and culminating in the shops and the restaurant. It became a prime site for education, making the public aware of the foods that they may have not realized are traditional, and introducing varieties of foods otherwise considered exotic. Needless to say, it is a major source of revenue (the museum is free). To the locals, it also instantly became the best place to eat on the National Mall, known for its overpriced and generic cafeteria fast food.
For a great ethnographic take on Native cooking in Mexico, I am delighted to share with you an indigenous filmmaker’s side project: “Oaxaca, Simple Flavors” was concieved by Yolanda Cruz, who studied film at UCLA but is from a Chatin community in Oaxaca, Mexico. She has a website (www.petate.com) and her book is featured at:
Yolanda notes that "In the villages, they don't give you recipes, they tell you how to make a meal, and they say, 'a pinch of salt, not a spoonful' … you have to translate that language into what is known as a recipe." The article states she “presents us with recipes but also with a millenarian culture and descriptions of present-day individuals that belong to it… [it] makes us want to become better acquainted with that Mexican region through a trip that begins with "Nopales in Salsa Verde" and concludes with "Don Patricio's Ceviche."
food commodity in gastrotourism
Reading about gastrotourism I couldn’t help reflecting on food experiences I’ve had traveling. Some of the most memorable involved getting very sick (you won’t ever catch me eating emu sausage again), but I suppose this risk adds to the danger that food can bring- exotic/foreign spices, meats, or strange concoctions become that much more appealing when the eater is conquering the unknown.
The stories of how fisherman in Florida triumphed over the stone crab were reminiscent of Sea World. “Humans, however, gained clear predatory advantage over the stone crab through the use of technology” (37). Man’s victory over nature can be quite marketable and, well, appetizing.
What food really adds to tourism, though, is the “authentic.” That is, by eating “local” food, one is experiencing (with all the senses) something impossible to recreate elsewhere. In our search for the authentic, we often seek out local restaurants off the tourist map. I remember when I was in Venice with my family, we went to our guidebook’s suggestion of a local Mom and Pop eatery, known for being “less touristy” (whatever that means), only to be disappointed to find other travelers there with the same guidebook in hand, and the only real Italians being the ones who took our order (who spoke English of course). I’ve become convinced that the only way to get true local food is to either eat in the home of a resident or have a local take me out to a place he/she frequents. When I was in Istanbul, I took pride in having tea with my Turkish friend at a teahouse where she said we wouldn’t see any tourists. Somehow I felt the tea there was more “authentic.” However, the “authentic” and the “local” are only myths, often perpetuated by those hoping to capitalize on the outsider’s view of culture.
Food can be a place where culture is commodified down to the most basic of stereotypes. Evidence of this are the Joe’s Stone Crab restaurants in Japan. I don’t know why I was so shocked to read that at these places they wanted to create a “uniquely American atmosphere” which meant “wood panel walls, scrubbed floors, and country music” (Mink 41). It’s deeply frustrating for me to think that Japanese people who visit these restaurants experience such a skewed view of American culture. We talk about how stereotypes can be damaging, yet at the same time continue to perpetuate them. Evidently, we need these stereotypes to form our own identities. Adrian Peace’s article is a perfect example of this, showing how the residents of the Barossa region of South Australia have a clear idea of the values and traditions of their specific culture and perpetuate this through the Barossa Slow festival. I found particularly interesting Mink’s point that “to deal fully with the magnitude of the Depression, those who held sway over culture—the federal, state, and local governments; the literati and artists—envisioned the United States as a nation of regional communities complete with natural and cultural characteristics distinct to a particular locale.” (34). It is clear how Americans capitalize on regionality, but it’s not only Americans. The tiny French town that I lived in last year in Brittany was full of endless crêperies serving savory galettes and sweet crêpes, specialties the region is known for. Bretons have enormous pride in these dishes. But of course crêperies are to be found all over the world–some good, some terrible, many containing canned versions of Breton or French culture. I know these types of cultural food commodities cannot be avoided– after all, we live in a world that craves the foreign. My question is, then, how we use places such as the Japanese Joe’s Stone Crabs to bridge cultural understanding? Is there a way these stereotypes might work to our advantage?
New York food tours
Ode to the Bulgarian Tomato
Whenever Bulgarians living abroad get together, they invariable talk about tomatoes. The Bulgarian tomato has become, particularly in the immigrant discourse, the juicy embodiment of Bulgarian soil, water, and solar and human warmth.
The glorious figure of the Bulgarian tomato performs with an almost professional theatrical skills the three key points of convergence of food and performance, defined by BKG. First, “to perform is to do,” where the stages of creating, presenting, and consuming a tomato meal - usually the typical “shopska” salad, which my greatgrandmother always carefully and creatively decorates “to look as a nature-mort painting, because eating is art” as she likes to say - parallels the stages of a creation of a cultural performance.
Second, “to perform is to behave” along the lines of Bourdeau’s habitus, which was borrowed from Marcel Mauss’s “techniques of the body,” and it is, indeed, Bulgarian techniques of the body that have shaped the tomato-eating ritual: the Bulgarian tomato, for its unusual sweetness, is to be treated as a fruit and thus fits best to be eaten without being cut, as the person tenderly bites the red skin. On that point, I will never forget the dismayed looks of my friends at a moment during spring break in Jamaica, when two Bulgarian friends of mine and I walked out of a grocery store biting tomatoes as if ripe apples, surrounded by people munching on chips and cookies.
And third, “to perform is to show,” or evaluate and appreciate the performance, where “taste as a sensory experience and taste as an aesthetic faculty converge.” This is best experienced at a summer night dinner, when families converge on humongous bowls of “domati i sirene” or tomato and white strained sheep’s milk cheese salads. Bulgarians abroad tend to remember with nostalgia the long hours spent at the table, eating and drinking, talking and enjoying the time together with the food and with friends. Pollan’s article on the Slow Food Movement as a micro-movement of environmentalism and new kind of globalization echoes the Bulgarian reactions of utmost care and defense of the tomato in the face of the European Union’s homogenizing agricultural policies. The defense of the “staunchly local, the irreplaceably unique, the leisurely and communal” has been Bulgarians’ first reaction to the entrance of the country in the Union. “Virtuous globalization” and “eco-gastronomy” (Pollan:75) are all terms that apply to the battle for the survival of the Bulgarian tomato, as much as against the McDonald’s in Piazza di Spagna. In the discourse on food as “heritage” of cultural value, it is an “aura of authenticity,” as Peace (p.53) argues, that the tradition of local cooking and growing inject into food.
Bulgarians tend to say that no one can truly experience Bulgarian culture unless they taste the Bulgarian tomato: cultural knowing here channeled through a gustatory epistemology. The tomato becomes the salutatory usher into the living museum of Bulgarian cultural artifacts, practices, and beliefs. You have to chew on a tomato as an apple in order to enter, in the same way you have to, for example, allow to be fed in the mouth in order to come closer to an Ethiopian family.
Food has created out of the world a scrumptious concoction of edible chronotopes, as BKG calls them in the Foreword to Culinary Tourism, as those particular coalescences of space, time, and all the sense, particularly taste, lay the foundations for culinary tourism. I learned this lesson quite early in my childhood, though I do not think I ever thought of it as an edible chronotope and I am happy I can now use the two words to describe what would usually take me a few sentences.
The story involves my grandmother, who was an opera singer and as such traveled with the Bulgarian Opera all around Western Europe even under Communism, when it was generally prohibited to go behind the Iron Curtain. Whenever she came back from a trip, she would talk about food and describe with overflowing vibrancy the most minute details of the new textures and flavors, along with the environment where she had her culinary treats.
“When you travel, spend as much as you can on food, and not on buying clothes or souvenirs: believe me, the clothes will fade away, but what you will remember after years is what, where, with whom, and how you ate,” were the first vital lessons learned as a child, and the ones she still indoctrinates me with whenever I am about to travel. “I will never forget the first time I had a Tonic Water!” my grandmother often recollects. “It was in a small café in front of the British Museum in London. All my other colleagues went shopping, and I just sat there, slowly savoring my Tonic, and with the Tonic all the new sounds and colors flowing around, the smell of the city, and the building that hosted, only a few meters away from me, one of the greatest collections of human genius!”
Every time my grandmother drinks Tonic Water, she tells this story. For her, London becomes alive in the bittersweet bubbles, and yet it can never be the same: you have to drink and eat not only the food of the place, but the place itself.
April 13, 2007
Beatrice- Gastrotourism. Yummy yummy.
In her introduction to “Culinary Tourism,” Lucy Long brings up the importance of the “materiality of food” in culinary tourism, which I believe to be one of its most distinctive characteristics. Unlike other touristic experiences, where vision is prioritized over the other senses, in gastrotourism bodily participation is fundamental in the experience of the new and unfamiliar. Touch, smell, taste and sight are all stimulated simultaneously, as one hears stories told about the “food objects” in question. As a result, the tourist experiences a very subjective total environment, in which her/his senses come directly into contact with the new and “exotic.”
The sensory domain of culinary tourism brings about the meeting of matter with matter, of one’s body with food. This combination results in experiences reminiscent of chemical reactions, which surprise the body and consciousness in ways similar to a “shock treatment,” (xiii) as described by BKG in her foreword. In its immediateness to the senses, culinary tourism is a very intimate performance of the self, one in which an individual exposes themselves to “otherness” in a way that can have dramatic effects on the body (see, for instance “From ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ to Mexican Truffles’: Culinary Tourism Across the Rio Grande.”)
The exposure of one’s own body in such multi-sensorial ways can bring up unexpected reactions. Take, for instance, some of the customers of Di Palo’s Cheese Shop, who are no longer able to shop at the store. As reported by one of the owners, customers will call to make sure the brothers know why they can’t come to the store anymore “I don’t want you to think I’m mad at you. I just can’t come into the store. Because I think… the memories I have… and I think of my husband, I think of my mother… it’s too strong…” (Personal Interview with Sal Di Palo) Coming into the store means being invested with smells, sounds, tastes and visual cues to memories that might be too painful to remember. I had a similar experience on entering the store, as I vividly returned to being 4 or 5 years old, holding on to my mother’s hand in a little grocery shop in Rome. When dealing with food, there is something particularly alive about the way our senses are affected and shaken. It can leave an individual very exposed, as the familiar brings back memories and the exotic opens up new, unexplored sensual experiences.
Although I have spoken a lot about the individual experience of the sensory stimulation provoked by food, there is also a strong community element associated with gastrotourism. As Adrian Peace had a chance to observe at the Barossa gathering, sharing food brings people together. The ease of conversation that he experienced is something I would attribute to a particular temporality specific to sharing food, a way in which its materiality is combined with a rhythm of consumption and exploration which allows people to gathered together and inhabit a common space/time. Particularly through gastrotourism, where curiosity and leisure combine, there is great potential for communal enjoyment. Hence the importance of such an organization as Slow Food. Slow Food’s focus on slowing down time greatly supports the possibility for sharing education, experience, taste, etc. Slow Food reintroduces wonder, making individuals aware of their own distance and ignorance in regards to foods they assume most familiar, such as the Thanksgiving turkey. This is a move that makes the exotic familiar and the familiar exotic (as described by Lucy Long), one that plays with time and ultimately opens the possibility for a better future for our senses.
April 12, 2007
Paula Deen- Savannah's gastronomical star!
Hi everyone-- I've been thinking a great deal about the 'food celebrity' in NYC, such as Malto Mario and Danny Meyer, and Paula Deen surely fits that bill-- but Savannah style! Came across this article and thought I'd share, as it speaks directly the topic of "gastrotourism" -- see y'all on monday!
In search for everything Paula
Paula Deen is a boost for Savannah
© Brandi Willis
Apr 5, 2007
If you are planning a trip to Savannah in search of Paula, you may be in luck.
The Food Network’s southern star, Paula Deen, has enhanced Savannah’s tourism as much as John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Instead of flocking to Savannah for a glimpse into the lives of those eccentric southerners and tours of century old cemeteries, tourists are now in search of everything ‘Paula.’
Paula Deen, from the Food Network's Paula's Home Cooking, opened the Lady and Sons restaurant in Savannah in 1989 and is truly a steel magnolia. After years of struggling, the restaurant became a success and now the woman behind the fried chicken and butter has quite the list of accomplishments. She has written several cookbooks, and will release her seventh book in April of 2007. It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ is a memoir and is said to detail her past.
Not only is she a book author, has her own magazine, a television star, but now she is a movie star, as well. In 2005, Paula made her film debut in Elizabethtown, which was directed by Cameron Crowe and starred Kristen Dunst, Orlando Bloom and Susan Sarandon.
Her life wasn’t always so glamorous. Paula’s humble beginnings start in Albany, Georgia. There she married her high school sweetheart at the ripe old age of 19. After losing both of her parents just a few years later, she was given the task of also raising her brother along with her two children. After years in an unhappy marriage and bouts of depression, she started her own catering business, which evolved into the very successful Lady and Sons restaurant in Savannah.
Need more Paula? The Old Savannah Tour will take you through the streets of Savannah with the possiblility of a glimpse of Paula. You will also visit places she talks about or visits on her television show and ends with a visit to her brother’s restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House. There is also a 3-day tour offered from Coastline Travel from Albany to Savannah with highlights and (of course) food along the way. Not only are there Paula Deen tours in Savannah and Albany but you can also get gifts and accessories to go with your cookbooks in many stores in Savannah.
But, if you plan to visit the Lady and Sons for a meal, you should definitely plan ahead. Just to get on a list for a seat in this restaurant, you will have to get in line at a host stand at 9:30 AM. It is then you will find out your dinning fate. For easier dining, drive toward the coast and visit her brother’s restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s. The food, atmosphere, and service are great and much less of a hassle.
For more information on Paula Deen’s restaurant, go to www.ladyandsons.com.
“Wisconsin has good cheese!” has been repeated each time I seek advice for graduate schools. Each time I visit a friend in another country, participating in a traditional meal is a pre-requisite—cream-teas and proper English dinners in Exeter, rosé with lunch in Avignon, anise sprinkles on buttered toast in Haarlem. In Ouagadougou, there were many intricate rules on eating tôt, and many meal-time rituals to learn. In July, something that excited me most to show a friend on his first time out of West Africa was the food. I remember raving about crab cakes in Baltimore to an English friend and being more than slightly miffed as he complained that the fried fish he insisted on ordering did not compare with Britain’s.
Why food? It is a ritual in which everyone must partake. It is dually important to survival and to socialization. It is integral to MacCannell’s authenticity—in attempting to “do like the locals” or to “see the real thing,” it is imperative to experience the local food. This raises an interesting question—what happens when the food in question does not meet preconceived notions?
This week’s readings reminded me a lot of MacCannell’s discussion of a tourist’s quest for authenticity. I think I previously posted a bit about my experience working as a waitress during tourist season. Reflecting on Mink’s essay on the stone crab and MaCannell’s authenticity makes me reanalyze some of my customer’s rave reviews and/or disappointments. One threesome perplexed most of the staff. Every year in September at the end of the season for one entire week, they would come to the seafood restaurant every day for lunch and dinner, order pork roll sandwiches, eat quietly, and leave an exact 15% tip. Other customers were polar opposites of this group. They entered in complete and utter “freak-out” mode, criticized everything about the restaurant, and would storm out, swearing to never enter the establishment again and bad-mouth it to all their friends. There was a distinctly different approach to vacationing among customers—a lot of the pressure of a satisfactory vacation (as mentioned in the articles) rested specifically on food. While for certain customers, the classic seafood restaurant met every quota for Jersey Shore authenticity, for others, the same establishment fell short of a luxurious, privileged night out. I wondered in reading the article about the stone crab, how Miami beach residents felt about the tourist influx and Joe’s Stone Crab—the article demonstrated how the crab and tourism changed over time and affected one another, but I am curious about specific tourist and local relations to this phenomena. Are there people who are bitter the stone crab is no longer solely located as a delicacy in Florida, but also in Japan and Chicago? Or are there individuals who are all to content that crab-seeking connoisseurs might stay home? How did patrons of Joe’s react to the almost slanderous ad campaign against them by their competitors? I thought this article was very interesting, but I wanted to know so much more, based on my experiences. I wanted the gossip! It is hard to imagine separating food from tourism—as the Slow Food site points out, it is such a visceral experience and involves all five senses. If I do go to Wisconsin, one of the first things I plan to do is to sample those cheese curds!
April 06, 2007
10 Strange and Obscure American Museums.
I seem to be posting to this blog alot lately. I found this on the Neatorama site
10 Strange and Obscure American Museums.
1. The SPAM® Museum
If the on-site "wall of SPAM" is any indication, a tour through the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minn., is guaranteed fun for the whole canned-pork-loving family. SPAM’s parent company, Hormel Foods, opened the establishment in 2001 to the tune of almost 5,000 cans of SPAM.
One of the main attractions is a scale model of a SPAM plant, where visitors can don white coats and hairnets while pretending to produce America’s favorite tinned meat. But vacationers be warned: In addition to major holidays, the museum will be closed on June 16 to prepare for the much hoopla-ed SPAM Museum Jam 2006.
2. National Museum of Funeral History
It’s pretty hard to argue with the motto "Any Day Above Ground is a Good One." So goes the backhanded optimism of the National Museum of Funeral History, a Houston facility that opened in 1992.
Visitors are treated to exhibit that include a Civil War embalming display and a replica of a turn-of-the-century casket factory. In addition, the museum boasts an exhibit of "fantasy coffins" designed by Ghanaian artist Kane Quaye. These moribund masterpieces include a casket shaped like a chicken, a Mercedes-Benz, a shallot, and an outboard motor. According to Quaye, his creations are based on the dreams and last wishes of his clients, which - let’s be honest -really makes you wonder about the guy buried in the shallot.
3. The Hobo Museum
If you’re bumming around but looking for a good time, be sure to take a load off in Britt, Iowa, at The Hobo Museum, which details the history and culture of tramps. Bear in mind, though, that the museum kind of, well, slacks on hours and is only open to the public during the annual Hobo Convention.
Luckily, tours can be arranged by appointment any time of year. Of course, if you’re interested in the Hobo Convention, lodging is available all over the area, but it’s a safe bet that most of your compatriots will be resting their floppy hats at the "hobo jungle," located by the railroad tracks. Both the event and the museum are operated by the Hobo Foundation, which - incidentally - also oversees the nearby Hobo Cemetery, where those who have "caught the westbound" are laid to rest.
4. The Mütter Museum
Originally, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia erected the Mütter Museum as a creative way to inform medical students and practicing physicians about some of the more unusual medical phenomena. (You know, babies with two heads, that sort of thing.) But today, it primarily serves as a popular spot for anyone interested in the grotesque.
There, you’ll find the world’s largest colon, removed from a man who died - not surprisingly - of constipation. Also on display: an OB-GYN instrument collection, thousands of fluid-preserved anatomical and pathological specimens, and a large wall dedicated entirely to swallowed objects.
5. The Barnum Museum
What better way to honor "Greatest Show on Eart" founder PT Barnum than with a mediocre museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut? Some visitors will appreciate the museum’s ridiculously detailed miniature model of a five-ring circus. But only circus freaks (and by that we mean "enthusiasts") will get a kick out of seeing a stale piece of cake from the wedding of Barnum’s 40-inch tall sidekick, General Tom Thumb.
6. The Conspiracy Museum
There’s more than one theory about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, so why not have more than one museum devoted to it as well? Most JFK buffs are familiar with the Sixth Floor Museum housed in the former Texas School Book Depository, which recounts all those boring "mainstream" details of the late president’s life leading up to his death at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald.
But just down the street, the Conspiracy Museum [wiki | image] offers fodder for those less apt to buy into the Man’s propaganda. For the most part, the museum specializes in showing of the Zapruder film and explanations of contrary assassination theories, including the other gunmen on the grassy knoll and possible mafia involvement.
[Note: the museum seems to have been closed as of Dec 2006]
7. The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
Take two trips to the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices and call us when you’ve lost all faith in the medical profession. Thanks to curator Bob McCoy (who recently donated the colection to the Science Museum of Minnesota), those in search of history’s quack science can find what they’re looking for in the St. Paul tourist attraction, whether it’s a collection of 19th-century phrenology machines or some 1970s breast enlargers. If you make the trip, be sure to check out the 1930s McGregor Rejuvenator. This clever device required patrons to enclose their bodies, sans head, in a large tube where they were pounded with magnetic and radio waves in attempts to reverse the aging process.
8. Cook’s Natural Science Museum
What began as a training facility for Cook’s Pest Control exterminators blossomed into one of the few museums in the country willing to tell the tale of the pest. At Cook’s Natural Science Museum in Decatur, Ala., visitors can learn everything they ever wanted to know about rats, cockroaches, mice, spiders, and termites … all for free. And while most people would rather step on the live specimens than learn about them, museum exhibits such as the crowd-pleasing Pest of the Month keep reeling in patrons.
9. Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum
So, what do you get when you combine the loneliness of a pet cemetery with the creepy flair of vaudeville? The Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum, of course - where dummies go to die.
The Fort Mitchell, Ky., museum was the brainchild of the late William Shakespeare Berger, who founded the site as a home for retired wooden puppets. In fact, he collected figures from some of the country’s most famous ventriloquist acts. And with more than 700 dummies stacked from floor to ceiling, you’re bound to feel like you’re stuck inside a 1970s horror flick - albeit a really good one. But sadly, when Berger gave the tour, you could totally tell his mouth was moving.
10. The Trash Museum
Mom wasn’t kidding when she said one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. At the Trash Museum in Hartford, Conn., the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) turns garbage into 6,500 square feet of pure recycling entertainment!
Tour the Temple of Trash or visit the old-fashioned town dump. And for your recycler-in-training, head down the street to the Children’s Garbage Museum, where you can take an educational stroll through the giant compost pile, get a glimpse of the 1-ton Trash-o-saurus, or enjoy the company of resident compost worms.
The article above was written by Laurel Mills and published in the Jan - Feb 2006 issue of mental_floss magazine. The article is reprinted on Neatorama with permission.
Williamsburg Article- from John Dietrich
April 6, 2007
EXHIBITION REVIEW | COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG
An Upgrade for Ye Olde History Park
By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Patrick Henry was sitting just to my left in the Virginia House of Burgesses as the debate raged about the events that had been following the Boston Tea Party. Mr. Henry was a brilliant hothead, of course, though not yet moved to pose his famous nonnegotiable alternatives, demanding liberty or death. But when Governor Dunmore of the Virginia colony strode into the room, even Mr. Henry rose, out of respect to the authority of the king, as did we all, even those of us carrying digital cameras, umbrellas and souvenir bags.
Then the governor announced to these local legislators, landed gentry every one, that he was dissolving the House of Burgesses because of their rebellious deliberations. Discussion about the imminent political crises of 1774 were adjourned to the tables of the Raleigh Tavern.
We hangers-on would have been happy enough to join in or just listen. But further debate was not to be heard until later, leaving time to check in with the saddlemaker, with whom I discussed battles in the not-yet-fought Revolutionary War. Then it was off to a small room of another 18th-century building, where I overheard three slaves debating alternatives after reading a declaration from Dunmore promising them freedom if they escaped and joined him in defense of the crown.
Being a colonial tourist is a bit disorienting, particularly on days like the recent ones I spent, in rain and off-season, with scarcely another person in modern dress to be seen. Instead there were ruffles and bonnets and velvet cloaks, the coal fires of the blacksmith, and much to-do among the gentry about gunpowder and taxes.
Colonial Williamsburg, where all this took place (about 150 miles south of Washington), is variously called a historical village or a living museum. But that means much more now than it once did. Aside from dramatizing historical controversies, the town is also caught up in living ones: debates about who writes history and how it is told, about what historical realism is and how it should be portrayed, even about what aspects of our past are to be celebrated in this strange combination of education and entertainment.
Everything here, for example, is from late-18th-century Virginia, with crucial exceptions including: no slavery apart from the dramatizations (although until just a few decades ago here forms of discrimination and segregation were still commonplace), flush toilets and freshly painted buildings as carefully tended as suburban developments, which in some ways Colonial Williamsburg resembles.
One doesn’t really step into the past here, or in any of the other historical villages developed after Colonial Williamsburg’s pioneering success. Despite the obsession with authenticity — historical techniques and period tools reign, the blue-gray glaze on the bricks is reproduced using local clay and hardwood fires, 88 Colonial buildings have been restored and more than 400 created based on research by architects and archaeologists — nothing seems quite real. Reproductions and renovations and innovations intermingle, creating an image of the past so carefully constructed that it is a re-creation in all senses of the word.
But what an astonishing enterprise it is, and what a difficult task Colonial Williamsburg now faces. It was always meant to be an inspiration. In the early 20th century the Rev. William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin, rector of the local parish, imagined creating “a living shrine that will present a picture, right before our eyes, of the shining days” when the town was “a crucible of freedom.” He won the support of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who later said the historical village “teaches of the patriotism, high purpose and unselfish devotion of our forefathers to the common good.” At its opening in 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited and pronounced its central Duke of Gloucester Street “the most historic avenue in all America.” Since then almost every president has toured the premises; President Ronald Reagan even held an economic summit of industrialized nations here in 1983.
But that symbolic weight may now be a burden. This living museum’s very point — a celebration of the origins of the United States — is often greeted with skepticism. In their preoccupation with this country’s past flaws and failures, organizers of the nearby Jamestown’s 400th-anniversary events in May have shunned the term celebration in favor of commemoration.
Even if it were flush with cultural confidence, though, can a 301-acre historical village now hope to compete with more extravagant theme parks? Attendance at Colonial Williamsburg has been increasing in recent years, according to a spokesman — there were 745,000 paid visitors in 2006 — but the peak was in 1985 with 1.1 million.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which runs the village under the direction of its chairman and president, Colin G. Campbell, recently announced plans to sell a 400-acre plantation called Carter’s Grove, on the banks of the James River, partly because of declining attendance and shifting priorities.
Yet with the cushion of a $774 million endowment and continued fund-raising the foundation has added more extensive dramatizations for its costumed interpreters, increased its children’s activities, renovated its conference center, is introducing audio tours for teenagers and has just opened a new Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, which has 5,000 objects. Plans call for continued growth of traditional museum space but — significantly — not for the high-tech annexes that other historical sites are establishing to lure audiences, which would undercut the institution’s claims to colonial realism.
Meanwhile Colonial Williamsburg has been changing its symbolic character. Instead of offering itself as a model colonial town, it presents itself as a town whose colonial past provides an opportunity to explore the United States’ defining dramas. As Richard Handler and Eric Gable point out in their 1997 book, “The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg,” the perspective changed under the influence of social and political historians in the 1970s. For the most part (and to the disappointment of those authors), this has meant not radical self-skepticism, but the establishment of a broader perspective, understanding, for example, as the institution’s literature has said, “how patriots and loyalists reached their different points of view.”
It has also meant incorporating something previously ignored. As its Web site puts it: “During the 18th century, half of Williamsburg’s population was black. The lives of the enslaved and free people in this Virginia capital are presented in re-enactments and programs by Colonial Williamsburg’s Department of African American Interpretation and Presentations, founded in 1988.” Black craftsmen and guides are now familiar figures, as are interpreters playing the roles of slaves.
“That the future may learn from the past” was the motto Rockefeller chose for Colonial Williamsburg. But as even the institution’s history and coffee-table book, “Colonial Williamsburg” by Philip Kopper, suggests, the area’s own past may also hold some lessons. Before Colonial Williamsburg there were living museums in Europe, but the closest thing in the United States was Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., which had opened a few years earlier, in 1928. A patched-together reflection of Ford’s vision of America’s past, it included everything from the childhood home of Robert Frost to the one-room schoolhouse Ford attended.
Williamsburg was something else. It really was Virginia’s capital, a Southern counterpart to Boston, a political incubator for ideas about governance and liberty, where one of the colonies’ first newspapers, The Virginia Gazette, was published. But after the capital moved to Richmond in 1780 under Gov. Thomas Jefferson, Williamsburg descended into sleepy irrelevance until Rockefeller secretly began to buy up houses in the late 1920s, under Goodwin’s guidance.
He eventually poured $68 million into the project, hiring architects and researchers and almost single-handedly creating an American culture of historical restoration (and perhaps, along with it, an association between America’s 20th-century gentry and its Virginian predecessors). Life tenancies and relocations were offered to the 20th-century inhabitants of Williamsburg; now residences of employees and artisans mix with staged historical displays.
The enterprise has always had its critics. One 1920s resident, Maj. S. D. Freeman, challenged his fellow citizens to imagine their future: “Will you not be in the position of a butterfly pinned in a glass cabinet, or like a mummy unearthed in the tomb of Tutankhamen?” In 1938 Frank Lloyd Wright described the project as an example of America’s “mawkish sentimentality for a past that wasn’t any good.” In their book Mr. Handler and Mr. Gable call it a “Republican Disneyland,” accusing it of hiding American history’s darker aspects. And Ada Louise Huxtable, a former architecture critic for The New York Times, attacked the groomed artifice of its picturesque past in her book “The Unreal America.”
It is impossible to stroll the village without feeling that sense of artifice, beginning with an introductory film shown in the cavernous Visitor Center. A 1957 historical mini-epic, “Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot,” invokes the sentiments of its cold war era, being “dedicated to the principles of liberty wherever and whenever they may be threatened.” Shot on site, the film can veer toward camp, with its images of smiling plantation slaves and story of a landowner won over by Patrick Henry’s revolutionary convictions.
The film is dated in manner and vision, but for all its flaws, it still has an effect: It dramatically captures many of the colonial era’s issues, provides a sense of the period and reasons to pay attention to it, and provokes curiosity. Ultimately, its sentiments seem far less dated than they do at first.
That same shift takes place while experiencing Colonial Williamsburg itself. The place is artificial and always was. But the debates I witnessed that rainy day among gentry legislators and anxious slaves provided glimpses of the significance and character of colonial-era Williamsburg; the repeated exposure to crafts seriously executed gave some sense of the devotion and labor that characterized colonial culture; and the hints of pain and shadow were enough to suggest the complications of the past, without eclipsing reasons to celebrate it.
It is not the injustices that make Williamsburg unusual, but the steps taken there to seek more just forms of governance. The place’s artifice eventually casts its spell, even while acknowledging that artifice is indeed at work. Perhaps that makes Colonial Williamsburg more postmodern than colonial.
April 05, 2007
NYC psychogeography festival
Creative projects for tourism...
The submission deadline for this festival is coming up. (April 17)
Conflux is the annual NYC festival for contemporary psychogeography where international artists, technologists, urban adventurers and the public put investigations of everyday city life into practice on the streets.
The Village Voice has described Conflux as "a network of maverick artists and unorthodox urban investigators…making fresh, if underground, contributions to pedestrian life in New York City, and upping the ante on today's fight for the soul of high-density metropolises."
April 04, 2007
After the discussion of March of the Living and Birthright programs last week, I just wanted to let you all know that I'm going on one- a birthright trip to Israel. I applied for it on a whim a few weeks ago, and then received both a phone call and an email that weekend (and I hadn't even finished the application). It's hard to turn down a free trip! I'm excited for the 2 week adventure, but also eager to critically examine all that will be presented to me through the lens of what we've learned this semester. If you have any questions, let me know. I'm going with a group called Livnot U'Lehibanot (to build and be built)... www.livnot.com
ragarding public space and processions
This weeks reading for Deborah Kapchan's class "The Book of Jerry Falwell. Fundamentalist Language and Politics” rasied some of the themes I've been thinking about in Tourist Productions, and to my paper for this class, ragarding public space and processions
So if anyone is interested here is my responce....
This weeks reading focused on a number of cultural events that fuse American politics with Christian Fundamental beliefs, including, Roe verses Wade, the teaching of creationism in public schools and televangelism. In “The Book of Jerry Falwell. Fundamentalist Language and Politics” ethnographer Susan Friend Harding’s approaches the fundamentalism through the analytical lens of the performativity of rhetoric, tracing Jerry Falwell’s career as an inroad to the rise of Christian fundamentalism as a force in American culture wars. One of the subjects that she investigates is the remapping of Israel by the Christian dispensationalist movement. Harding understands the Protestant co-opting of the Zionist movement as a remapping of biblical history on the physical and political typography of the Middle East. The concept of a sociological map super imposed upon actual land is highly reminiscent of a reading recently assigned in BKG’s course “Tourist Productions.”
Two weeks ago we looked at Thanatourism, or the tourism of historical horrors. One of the articles titled Memory in the new Berlin discussed “The Topography of Terror” described the touring of Berlin to experience the Socialist State. I was fascinated in how tourism, through an embodied narrative, can provide multi-dimensional experiences of time and place. Throughout “The Book of Jerry Falwell,” Harding references the fundamentalists belief of “Being in the world, but not of the world.” In a touristic sense, the Calvinist inheritance of pre-destination has shaped born-again Christian into spiritual tourists.
The liminal dimensions of born-again faith is exasperated under the pressure of the conflict in the Middle East. By locating a specific space, time is reconfigured according to faith as a means of collapsing past, present, and future. “Typology remains the reigning mode of reading the relationship between past and future events in many born-again Christian communities.” (229) I am interested in the role of faith as a contingent factor in the evaluation of temporal constructions. One way that temporal delineations of past, present, future is collapsed through the enactment of a biblical narrative. As Harding relates, born-again belief in that the world is experiencing the end of times. They read the world according to an apocalyptic narrative, and conduct their lives in anticipation of the rapture. The political conflicts surrounding the Middle East, as the bible stage, are read by fundamentalists as a realization of a prophetic narrative. Harding underlines this to be reverse reading of history, beginning with an anticipated future then processing to biblical origins, locating the present as defined by these two poles. In a sense they are tourists of the present, whose actions reaffirm a lived narrative. “Christians through their actions today cannot alter God’s plan, but they may be enacting it. Their actions may prefigure or typify the events of the Second Coming of the Lord.” (230) Through embodiment, born-again Christians realize a living cultural map based on typography outlined by a strict and literal interpretation of the Bible.
The embodiment of typological belief speaks to the toursitic characteristics of born-again ideology. A primary component to the touristic experience is the re-location of the physical body in a foreign space. The experience of an alternate space often, if not to some extent always, corresponds with an alternate experience of time. The tourist, by locating themselves outside of familiar surroundings, are able to play a part of their own imaginings. For the secular tourist this is experienced as escapism, while for a tourist of faith, it is a potentially transformative experience through which the word of God might be realized.
This section is currently a particular interest to me because I will be researching this year’s Pax Christi Good Friday procession. Every year the Peace and Social Justice Catholic organization Pax Christi stages the stations of the cross, a marking of Jesus’s journey to crucifixion. As an anti-war statement the procession begins at the United Nations and ends at the recruiting center in Times Square. I have been interested in how religion purposefully re-arranges temporal and physical constructions for affective spiritual experience. Harding describes, “To the born-again ear, biblical stories are not allegorical, nor do the merely represent history. They are history, past and future.” (230) Meanwhile, rather than a literal belief in the Bible the mission of Pax Christi is to create an allegorical parallel to current reality. In reading Harding’s work, it was interesting to reflect in the differences and similarities between the Protestant and Catholic employment of narrative and embodiment as pedagogical tools.
Some late thoughts on Spectacular Nature
I know this is late, but I really wanted to post before we moved on. As I read Spectacular Nature, I couldn’t help thinking back on my own trips to Sea World when I was a kid. The last time I went was probably when Susan Davis was doing her research- in fact, the James Earl Jones Shamu Show seemed eerily familiar- I’m sure I saw it. I’m fascinated by Davis’ critical examination of a complex educational and corporate machine. We tend to take for granted nature as “culture-free” and Davis makes clear how Sea World exemplifies nature’s cultural and social relevancy and construction.
Not surprising considering my background, I found most intriguing her discussion of the role of teaching/learning and educational programming at Sea World. It is frightening how corporately influenced schooling has become and how much of a child’s view of the world is shaped by capitalistic values, but it is unavoidable in the world we live in and perhaps we are raising children to be successful in a corporate modern world. I’m at a loss as to how this can be overcome. Davis adeptly opens up the myriad of ways the Sea World educational programs provide youth with skewed views of the environment. Sea World’s narratives permeate San Diego culture and through Shamu TV effectively seep into formal learning on the national level. How can educators find effective counter narratives, and what if they have no interest in finding them? What are the consequences of educating children to not challenge the status quo? What happens when education ignores such complicated issues as pollution, human’s relationship to the environment, evolution, and manufactured nature?
Frankly, it scares me. I see New York kids who have no idea what real mountains are or no concept of animals outside of a zoo. This is so different from my own upbringing in the Pacific Northwest where I could experience real tide pools within miles of my home and took whale watching trips where I saw orcas (not “killer whales”) in a much more natural habitat. (Not that whale-watching trips don’t pose their own problems.) Davis highlights a quote used often that says we will preserve only what we love, but what is Sea World teaching kids to love? Killer whales that put on a good show- jump high and hug their trainers? It seems to be teaching them to learn in the sort of banking model that Paulo Freire criticizes. As an educator I strive to make kids question and think about the information that is presented to them, but I worry because Sea World’s power is great.
Looking at Sea World’s website, it is interesting to note that they are touted as “Adventure Parks”, with images of rides (something Davis mentioned as being absent from the park)— it seems Sea World has had to evolve in order to compete with other amusement and theme parks. It also pictures kids swimming, which I take to mean perhaps there are now water-rides? The fact that the images of the children make it look like they are swimming with the killer whales is not accidental. Also, there is no heading on Sea World San Diego’s site that explicitly says “Education”, though school field trip information can be found under “Group Information”. Somehow I had expected the educational programming to be more forefront. However, Shamu TV is still going strong.
April 03, 2007
Just came across this blog that embeds videos of tourist sites into google maps, to bring you the world. I imagined it would be organized differently than it is (I wish it was a big map with a buncha nodes), but it's still a fun and interesting way to think of 'armchair tourism' in the 21st century:
April 02, 2007
Where can I buy some nature?
The American consumer culture is undeniably adding to the destruction of the natural world. And yet, multi-billion dollar conglomerates like Anheuser-Busch are able to commodify nature in a way that an audience feels good about consumption. With Grandparents living on the southern border of Orange County, I often went to Sea World grown up. Drawing on memories from the ages of 4 to 7, Susan Davis’ thourough analysis of the theme park is right on the money.
Sea World walks the thin line between being eco-conscious and politically controversial. Growing up in California in the eighties, I remember the eco-politics, from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, dolphins getting caught in tuna fishing lines, to being taught to cut the plastic holder for soda cans so that wild-life doesn’t get trapped in the garbage. Reading Davis’ work, it is impressive to me how intelligently the Sea World high ups constructed the entrainment of the park both to defer political controversy, and used the news events to promote their identity as eco-friendly. Davis’ research into the history of Anheuser-Busch’s purchase of Sea World underlines the contious effort to portray themselves, the counties largest beer company, as family friendly.
The spatial lay-out of the park fascinated me. The dual intention behind the design, to create a sense of familial closeness with nature while controlling consumer flow. The construction of space has been once of the most prominent themes of this class. Space as a stage, complete with audience and actors, a behind the stage and on stage, the notion of employee’s purposefully conceptualized as actors. The dichotomy between the presentation of “nurture,” something that is abstractly conceived as outside of human manipulation, is shown by Davis to by a systematic human construction. That is not to say that the thousands of visitors each year some how don’t realize that Sea World is a human construction, rather, what I find remarkable is the willingness on the part of the audience to overlook the mediation for the thrill of the experience. To see Shamu jump out of his tank is probably one of the most trilling and closest experiences to nature many of the spectators will experience. In an increasingly sterilized culture, an orca in a big pool is happy fetishized to represent the wilds of nature.
List night I had may own little close encounter with nature. Myself and a roomful of twenty-something New Yorkers sat glued to a 50 inch high definition TV audibly awing over a white shark leaping, full bodied, out of the ocean after a seal. Discovery Channel’s “Planet Earth” has been the talk of the town in the last few weeks. An hour long program, it is back to back shots that could easily belong on the cover of National Geographic, and in high definition film quality, the audience feels like they are in that cover of National Geographic. Reflecting on the reading for this week, “Planet Earth” is tourism from the comfort of your coach. By accepting the illusion of proximity created by the mediation of television, the product transports the audience to locations all over the globe which the majority of us will never have the opportunity to visit by ourselves.
Sea World and “Planet Earth” serves up a remarkably similar dishes, using many of the same spices to create an emotive experience of nature. Davis remarked on how music was perpetually playing in every corner of Sea World, narrating the experience to the extent that the soundtrack is available for purchase in the gift shop. In “Planet Earth” the music played a central role in connecting the audience with the actions of the animals, at times the music seams to anthropomorphized the animals, furthering the audiences connection to the other worldliness presented. Sea World purposely articulated the use of technology in helping the animals, creating the sense that it is through technology that humanity can save nature. The aspiration of technology as a means to save nature is also reflected in the television show, reflecting a post-enlightenment reliance on technology as a universal solvent.
Science fiction foresight!
I thought about our discussion about the panopticon and the surveillance camera players. Somebody mapped the security camera that surround the house that George Orwell lived in while he wrote “1984.” Big brother is watching you.
Call for Papers
Since we've been talling about Topographies, thought this might be of interest to someone.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Extended Abstract Deadline: May 1, 2007 (250 words)
SCLA - Southern Comparative Literature Association
Thirty-Third Annual Conference
TOPOGRAPHIES OF OTHERNESS
September 27-29, 2007
The Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures
The Department of English, North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
at The Velvet Cloak Inn
Martin Puchner, Columbia University
"Maps, Genres, and the Geography of Modernism"
Plenary Session Coordinator:
Sarah Lawall, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"The Teaching of World Literature"
Conference Web site: www.chass.ncsu.edu/SCLA2007
E-mail contact: SCLA2007@chass.ncsu.edu
A good P.S. question…
It is important to not only recognize that something is staged but “how might things be different, how would culture look and feel if it were produced differently?” (Davis 6).
It is always a little scary breaking the illusion of the intention of corporate entertainment. There is a big separation between the front/back space. If the back agenda is $ and the front entertainment or ‘education’ then the sale and the audience can take precedence over the subtle or overlooked ethical concerns. This was also addressed and suggested at the end of the New History in the Old Museum that the split between the back/front come into clearer intentional alignment.
I found that Davis did her fieldwork at Sea World an interesting choice because theme parks and amusement parks are often situated in a place isolated from the critical examination of visitors. These parks are placeholders in kid’s imaginations for a special adventure on a special occasion. Often disguised as ‘educational,’ these parks also appeal to parents who want to expose their kids to the ‘world.’ Sea World also maintains the appeal of family entertainment- which aligns with the “careful limiting of the ideas, images, and meanings that children may experience and the assertion of parental (and traditionally paternal) control.” (162)
The lure of a total (preferably six hour) experience- including food and entertainment at a leisurely pace- can also be enjoyable to adults who can relax and become kids again. How convenient for Sea World that “kids of all ages” means the critical engagement is suspended while all “people can shed their acquired identities in the universal solvent of nature to return to childhood and the universal equality.” (161)
And another approach to animal performance, (at least inspired/influenced by animals.)
Jennifer Monson- artistic director of ILAND- (Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art Nature and Dance) did a multi-year navigational dance tour following the migratory paths of various animals, including the gray whale. This is a different approach to animal performance. Check out these links…
link to urban migrations:
April 01, 2007
For Profits and Chocolate
I was really shocked when reading the chapter on education at Sea World in Spectacular Nature. The section on educational tours, especially for underserved audiences, really elaborated a huge difference in the mentality between for profits and not for profits like Colonial Williamsburg. The idea that these groups were only allowed in certain areas of the park, that they entered through a separate door than other paying audiences, and were only offered very particular scripted information along the tours demonstrated a frightening “have and have-not” mentality. What exactly were children learning? Regardless of the question of whether or not they were receiving responsible science education at Sea World, they were inevitably receiving a lesson on capitalistic bigotry. A binary is established—the educational tour groups have fewer privileges than the children who could afford to pay full price. That Sea World made the deliberate decision to restrict the underserved audiences from touring areas that increased “demands they placed on the park’s staff and spaces” (124) Davis emphasizes was felt by the students and teachers. This is alarming—while Colonial Williamsburg may have a decidedly overly-patriotic slant to its telling of history, the non-profit’s responsibility to its audience seems to far surpass its fiscal considerations in comparison to Sea World. The American bigotry curiously missing or under emphasized in Virginia is brought to the forefront in San Diego and internalized and enacted upon young audiences.
I’ve never been to Sea World—but they definitely duped me! I never knew there was more than one Shamu…
As far as for-profit educational endeavors go, I remember visiting Hershey’s “Chocolate World” in conjunction with a visit to a Indian Echo Caverns (yes…this is the name of the site…), a series of caves with “living” stalactites and stalagmites. “Chocolate World” is a short, automated chocolate-scented ride in which audience members see the process behind making chocolate, beginning with the harvesting of the cocoa beans to the final product—ending in a humongous chocolate gift store. I believe “Chocolate World” may have been free, while admittance to Hershey Park, an amusement park, was pretty expensive. I remember nothing educational about it, just that I went several different times with either the girl scouts, school, or friends. It made little kids happy and encouraged everyone to buy chocolate by the end, but didn’t approach anything subversive—information about the countries where the cocoa was harvested, marketing, and the growth of the Hershey industry was absent. Short of learning how the little kisses got their shape, we didn’t learn much of anything.
Carol Martin, in her work on dance marathons of the 20’s and 30’s, comes to the conclusion that such spectacles, “depended on the interaction between legitimacy and deception… an impure mixture of, and tension between, what was arranged, false, and ‘theatrical,’ and what was spontaneous, genuine, and athletic.” (Martin, Dance Marathons, 136) Martin identifies several binaries along which the tension develops – between the authentic and the false (as indicated in the quote above), between physical danger and the safety of an organized competition, between the seedy/illicit and wholesome patriotic fun, and so on. It was surprising to me that Martin’s analysis resonated strongly with Susan Davis’s own close reading of the Shamu show – a spectacle predicated upon tensions between the reality of the animal and the artifice of its performance, between the danger of a ‘killer whale’ and the safety of a family theme park, or between the polished performance of one trainer and the calculated imprecise/failed performance of another.
I was impressed by the clarity and depth of Davis’s transcription of the Shamu show in chapter 6 of Spectacular Nature, especially by the degree to which this record not only supported her own later analysis but also opened the possibility of reading the spectacle through other theoretical lenses. For my own part, reading of the ins and outs of the show I found myself imagining the show with an eye towards Brechtian notions of theatre-making. In particular, I found it curious that a show whose narrative thrust appears to be contingent upon a certain affective engagement with an animal, “that seems to give human beings access to their own gentle and tender feelings,” (Davis, 213) nonetheless seemed regularly to find recourse to idioms and techniques that one would expect to produce a degree of emotional alienation. Brecht notes that “A representation that alienates is one which allows us to recognize its subject, but at the same time makes it seem unfamiliar.” (Brecht, “A Short Organum for the Theatre,” Brecht on Theatre, 192) For Brecht, such effects are designed to produce a thinking, intellectually engaged audience, and such effects very often operate by foregrounding those aspects of theatrical production that are usually hidden – the apparatus of the stage say, or even the position of the audience in such events. To my mind, the use of a “multiple, distracted mode of seeing,” (Davis, 202) at Sea World contains the potential of an Alienation Effect. The pre-show of the Shamu spectacle, when the cameras pan across the audience, and individual spectators find themselves beaming down from the jumbotrons, should, I would expect, produce an audience hyper aware of itself as audience. The multiple reflections and refractions of audience on screen and audience in the stands, I would expect to intensify the distance between audience and the spectacle to be presented. Nevertheless, Davis sees this moment in the service of the familial communitas the park hopes to foster. Other aspects of the performance similarly resonate with Brecht, such as the descriptions of a performance with two trainers – one performing flawlessly the other consciously performing the same routine poorly. This seems to echo Brecht’s exhortation that one “should like [the actors] to be as bad as possible,” (Brecht, 187) so as to prevent emotional attachment. One can imagine that this tandem SeaWorld performance might have the effect of highlighting the constructed nature of the spectacle at hand, that it might demonstrate to an audience that the informal ‘communication,’ between whales and humans that the show displays, is in fact a highly choreographed performance born of the hierarchical relationship between the captive animals and their human trainers. While I would not contest any of Davis’s conclusions (certainly not without attending a Sea World performance myself), I do find it curious that the Shamu show does employ techniques that, in another context, might be seen as antithetical to a performance that is predicated upon emotional involvement, one where, “Instead of watching from a distance, we are now tied in…” (Davis, 215)
The unnatural performance of nature
Sea World is an interactive stage of human labour and landscape, and its construction strategies – “handbooks in perceptual play” (Davis: 101). In Chapter 3, Davis provides a detailed narrative of the procedures and tools used in maintaining the site clean, including how the clear view of the water species is a carefully measured defiance of natural law where water transparency – were we really to find ourselves under water among the animals – is far lower than the air transparency (99). The attention to such minute details of the “backstage operations” of the performance is a key approach to keep in mind when analyzing any performance. The “making the invisible visible” process (97) and its use of light, sound, material and chemicals in keeping water, glass, and Plexiglass transparent constitutes in Sea World the alchemistry of tourist performance.
The precise alchemistry of using a variety of non-natural elements to “naturally” and “authentically” sculpt, discipline, structure, and display nature effectively is what I find an intriguing case to analyze as one uniting diverse facets of “artificially natural” performance in the sense that its scope is to present the natural in the most unmediated – or better, sensed as unmediated – fashion. Natural and non-natural hence fuse and cross limits of their formal distinctions to provide for the visitors at Sea World an overall overwhelming impression of contact with a totally different world. However, I also believe it would be far too simplistic to criticize and depreciate Sea World’s “artificially natural performance” simply for constructing a non-natural representation of nature: in fact, any representation adds to and takes away from what is represents, and the notion of authenticity often obscures us from appreciating the fascinating human capacity for creative representation, interpretation, and sculpting of our own ecology.
Davis’ analysis of the calculated, elaborate strategies of both nurturing and structuring “interaction” and “participation” (103) is a technique relevant to my analysis of the walking tours in the Open-Air museum in Rio de Janeiro. Both Sea World and Providencia’s Living Museum are, for lack of a better word, “touchable museums” where the key concept is to let people experience through the senses, by moving, looking around, smelling, and touching an unknown microcosm, yet always inserting a moment of restraint and adherence to a certain rule of interaction with the site, be it taking pictures, time for staring, or food to be fed to the animals. How do the walking tours in Rio’s favela (or at any other site, for that matter) synchronize the pace of the visitors, so that they avoid, as in Sea World, overcrowding and depriving some tourists from the offered “spectacle”? Are, as Davis argues, feeling, touching, and staring experience that “need to be organized” for their very nature of taking place in crowds (105)? To what extent would the future visitors to Providencia’s museum be left free to just roam around the neighborhood, and if they are not allowed to do so, how much would this disciplining hurt their experience of the place and its inhabitants?
To give a relevant example of visitor-site interaction, it is in Rio’s most visited favela, Rocinha (and not the one in which I studied, Providencia) that intense discussions have been evolving over the structures of tours in the neighborhood. Should these be walking tours? Or tours in Jeeps? Or in vans? In fact, all three kinds of tours exist there, and the residents I interacted with complained that the jeep tours made them feel as if “we were animals in a zoo or a safari in Africa, where they just past by, take a quick picture as if we were just another object in the neighborhood, and leave. They never come talk to us!” If the animals at Sea World could communicate with us in a mutually intelligible language, I am almost sure their experience would not have been as deprived of interaction and personal attention as the one of the residents of Rocinha’s jeep tour visitors for the sheer engaging quality of walking. Walking in Davis and in my research can thus be interpreted as a performance in itself, where interaction and communication shift between the body and mind movement and the ecology where these kinetic energies evolve.
Davis’ analysis of the animal performances also features an interesting analytical method, where she sees as a “delicate dance” (Chapter 6, 192) the dynamics between, on the one hand, the image Sea World portrays of itself and its approach to animals and, on the other hand, the tourists’ demands and perceptions of the place. The same delicate dance is what the people in Providencia have to perform in trying to find what cultural performances would be most representative of the community and also most interesting to the visitors. In many ways, Providencia’s museum is just like any theme park also a “definitional project” (238), or one that defines reality – the reality of the favela - by delimiting the issues to be considered and the tools be used in their analysis, understanding, and perhaps problem-solving. Davis’ approach to analyzing “the inventing of entertainment” is useful in my research as it is built on gathering as many as possible perspectives on the context and scope of the performances and their relations to multiple actors. In the end, how does Sea World’s overall “metaproduct” of spectacular nature (195) relate to BKG’s notion on the “metaculturality” of heritage, where local heritage has been taken out of its original cultural context and transplanted into the soil of national and/or world heritage?
dasha on Davis
How many people in the US know what Shamu is?
Davis provides a refreshingly honest and interesting anthropology of this large-scale “World” that shows the ways these presentations of nature and spectacle have played into and shaped now-typical middle-class American notions of animal-human relations, leisure consumption, and educational vacations. I found that her drawing of historical connections created a strong foundation for the work, as it helped illuminate the long history of Western attempts to control, train, and display nature, as well as the links these “natural” experiences have to consumers’ own perceptions of modernity and self. As she notes, “While Sea World’s advertising constructs the park as a worthwhile recreation and a place to learn, for example, it draws on this sense of nature knowledge as cultural capital.” (Davis 32) This is an interesting application of Bourdieu’s concept of “cultural capital”, as the connection makes me wonder: for what kind of population is Sea World’s experience of nature brokered as cultural capital? Is it still the case that Sea World is a family attraction that implies a particular status or social marker? In the elite academic world, it is often something students scoff at or use as a way to signal the degradation of American culture. But in Davis’ work, it seems that there is more nuance to the educational and cultural messages one finds at such theme parks.
In outlining the ways in which the Anheuser-Busch Company/Busch Entertainment Corporation has manufactured its own image in the shaping of Sea World – and other attractions, like Colonial Williamsburg – Davis’ work points to the contradictions these types of tourist productions present. There is an ever-present tension between the for-profit marketing structure, the supposed educational messaging, and the actual production of performances and displays.
The constant reviewing of these displays, performances, and attractions of Sea World against “Anheuser-Busch’s long-term goals” reinforces this corporation’s need to monitor what is being served to its customers. However, there is a message aimed at visitors that presents a social dimension to each visit:
“Customers want to see the amazing, performing killer whale and the pristine antarctic wilderness, of course, but they also hope to feel agency, that is, that however indirectly, a visit to the theme park is an act of caring. That they can do so is, in part, a result of the fact that in the late twentieth century, American business has worked hard to define consumption as a form of concern, political action, and participation. At Sea World, customers are explicitly asked to see consumption this way. As one of the killer whale show scripts puts it: “Just by being here, you’re showing that you care!” In this logic, a visit to the nature theme park is a form of action on behalf of the environment.” (Davis 39)
Davis’ work illustrates how the marketing impetus for educational materials complicates the message and the implications of this type of programming. It is also illuminates the varying degrees of education – “enlightenment lite”, for example – that are possible in these commodified experiential settings. “Sea World simulates public space and a research and functional institution within the private pay-to-enter park. At the same time, it offers its commercial public a veneer of environmental concern.” (Davis 76) The making private of this seemingly public space of constructed environmental experience and consciousness is so emblematic of the American experience. Most disconcerting, yet unfortunately unsurprising, is what Davis concludes: that despite all the contradictions she explores, “[w]hat Sea World has is authority.” (Davis 235)