I’m currently planning a trip to Italy and something in the Wikitravel article for Florence caught my eye. The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze is a popular art gallery in the city with tourists because it is where you can see the Statue of David. Entry costs vary depending on if there’s an exhibition on and how you book your tickets, but the worst case scenario is 18,50€.
Anyway, turns out that when repairing or restoring certain works, the gallery will display replicas. The Statue of David had his toe removed by vandalism in 1998, so if you turn up to the gallery and all of his toes are in tact you know it’s a fake. How do you feel about paying for a ticket now?
The thing is though – should you really care? If you didn’t know this fact before going and you were faced with the replica model you wouldn’t know any better and it would still feel like you were looking at the Statue of David. Travelling is all about experiences – and as far as you’re concerned you just got to experience what it feels like to look at a Michelangelo sculpture. Neato!
The most authentic attractions aren’t always the best. Take food for example. After days of eating currywurst, schnitzel and strudel I can tell you, hand on heart, that the best food I ate in Berlin was a Vietnamese Pho. This obviously isn’t authentic German cuisine – and it probably wasn’t authentically Vietnamese either – but it tasted delicious and, yes, my final day in the city would have been worse without it. Do you know how many people complain about Italian pizza because it doesn’t come with enough cheese? I’m sure it’s delicious (it better be, guys, or I will destroy Naples with more might than Pompeii ever could) but a lot of people leave disappointed because their complete adherence to wanting to taste something authentic did not match up to their expectations. Somehow, this feels worse than the inauthentic experience because you were really trying to embrace a new culture but, oh, what, you mean to say the stuff that isn’t targeted at tourists will not give me, a tourist, any more enjoyment? Huh.
And what is authentic anyway? If someone asked me to show them an authentic Scottish experience I guarantee you they would have a completely different itinerary than if they asked another Scot. We don’t all enjoy haggis, we’re not all drunk all the time off whisky and no, we don’t fry everything. Just because I do all of them doesn’t make any of it an authentic Scottish experience.
Many tourists deliberately go to places that they know aren’t authentic because they can’t be, but for a fleeting day or two they want to believe. This is an urge places like Disneyland, Lapland and Southern California thrive off. In New Zealand millions of tourists each year visit Hobbiton because they want to feel like they are in the Lord of the Rings movies. Did I go when I lived there for almost a year? No – I hadn’t even managed to watch all of the original movies by that point and it would have done nothing for me. Did the people I spoke to who did go enjoy it? Absolutely – many of them described it as a magical experience. They’re really just hollowed out hills with wood inside, and definitely not authentic in any form – but to them, being able to live out one of their favourite movie franchises stirred authentic emotions and feelings.
Is the feeling that people get gazing at the fake Statue of David not authentic? If they don’t know any better, it still feels real to them. They are still collecting the experiences – and ultimately that’s all travelling is. Collecting experiences, listening for information and drinking so much wine you can’t recall any of it to your friends back home.
My expectations for my trip to Italy are not high because I’ve already learned not to go into travelling with grand expectations. There’ll be things that I love (pizza) and things that I hate (probably a different kind of pizza) in every trip and how I look on a place is really just a reflection of how big either of those categories were for me. My authenticity is different from yours. I don’t know art and I don’t care for looking out for small details, you might not know food or care about how quickly the wine gets you smashed.
Choose your authenticities wisely. I also plan on going to Morocco and do you think I’ll be camping out in the Sahara with nomads? Absolutely not, I don’t even like regular camping. Will I be bartering like it’s a competitive sport for tacky trinkets and spices in the souks? Absolutely. I love tacky trinkets and spices. I want to fill my life with tacky trinkets and spices. And arguing for a good deal on said trinkets and spices en français? Well, that honestly sounds like the best experience I could have. Give me those gold bracelets that I’ll wear once, give me argan oil that I’ll overuse on my pathetically dry hair, give me that delicious turmeric. If you’ve travelled enough you’ll know what you like, and you’ll know to expect that it will be at least somewhat falsified – if not because you’re a tourist, because it’s likely an older tradition that’s fallen foul of the modern world and everything is a reconstruction.
Will I still pay to go to the Galleria dell’Accademia? Of course. Whether or not the statues are real doesn’t matter because I’m a degenerate philistine who is only going so I can make puerile Instagram stories about tiny statue penises.
Do you want to read more of the utter garbage I’ve been writing? There are links at the top, go check them out. I’m sick of calls to action. Do you know how unnatural and jarring this feels to write? A good chunk of my job is writing calls to action and no, NO, I won’t have them ruining the content I’m only writing for fun. You know what would be nice? If people just, like, read it organically. That doesn’t happen in today’s society. I just paid to renew this website, do you not think I would like a sweet as Squarespace sponsorship too? Of course. But I refuse to keep shilling myself out for these calls to action at the bottom of my own goddamn website. Anyway – comment, like and subscribe, and hit that little bell icon for post notifications. Ding a ling a ding.