We’re Loving Our Favorite Cities to Death
We’re filling them with museums, sandwich bars, triple-starred Michelin restaurants, pedestrian zones that all look the same, and expanses of middle-class accommodation.
There is an extraordinary symmetry to the way that the city, at the same time it empties of its inhabitants who head to the seaside, fills up with urban tourists.
Nowadays, as Lucy Lippard has observed, “there appears to be a social mandate: everyone must go somewhere else and spend money in someone else’s home, so that everyone living there will be able to go to someone else’s home and spend money, and so on.” The idea being that my city fills up with tourists while I myself go to be a tourist in another city.
This two-way flow – both coming and going – is of course particularly marked in the so-called “tourist cities.” Moreover, the seasonal tourists in exodus from the tourist city create their own tourist cities on the coast. Though, it is interesting to note that these seaside cities in fact belong to another class of urban aggregation, one we ought to call temporary cities, or, in this case specifically, seasonal cities, given that “out of season” they are literally dead.
Geographers like Dennis R. Judd have identified “three types of tourist city: resort cities ‘built expressly for consumption by visitors’ and tourist-historic cities that ‘lay claim to a historic and cultural identity.’ The third type consists of converted cities, places of production that have had to carve out a tourist space amidst an otherwise hostile environment for visitors.”
In every city in the world you’ll come across some tourists, even if only accidentally so. Thus, the term tourist city needs to be clarified. São Paulo, for example, has many visitors, but, as makes for a liberating discovery, its vast size means it can afford to ignore tourists to the point where it is impossible to buy a postcard. In general, then, any city with an annual number of visitors that supersedes the number of inhabitants is a tourist city, a definition that would include not only Kyoto, Dubrovnik, Bruges, Venice or Florence, but also larger cities like Rome, Barcelona and even Paris, London and New York.
However, the term could have a narrower definition. For some cities, tourism is becoming the single most important industry, thus transforming them into ‘company towns’ in the same way that Essen existed because of the Krupp steel plant, Clermont-Ferrand because of Michelin, and Detroit and Turin because of General Motors and Fiat.
If each physical substance has a temperature above which it changes its state from solid to liquid or from liquid to gas, called the phase transition threshold, we could describe in the following terms the threshold that separates a tourist city in the narrower sense from those cities where tourism is not the sole source of income:
While the number of visitors remains below the threshold, tourists use services and provisions designed for residents. Once this threshold is crossed, however, residents are forced to use services designed for tourists.
Going beyond this, the transition threshold has unforeseen and irreversible consequences. We see this with restaurants, for example. On this side of the threshold, tourists eat in restaurants catering to locals. But beyond that threshold, locals must eat in restaurants aimed at tourists. Thirty years ago, it was almost impossible to eat badly in Rome or Florence, whereas today it is incredibly difficult to eat well. If the main market is tourists, why would a restaurant break its back cooking for a customer that will probably never return? And even if the chef had the best of intentions, he or she would be forced to give in to demands for ketchup on truffles in Italy, oysters in France and other such culinary atrocities.
In the language of mainstream economics, the market created by demand from locals does not coincide with the market created by demand from tourists, though they overlap in terms of both time and space and can come into conflict or diverge from one another. If a local resident needs to repair her shoes but the tourist is in search of a snack, and if tourists spend more than residents, then over time cobblers will disappear while fast-food restaurants will multiply.
And it does not stop there. In the tourist city it is not only the kind of services offered that changes drastically but sometimes even the function of the buildings themselves. Once upon a time, entering a church was not only free of charge but encouraged. After all, if the poor were supposed to be first in line for entry into heaven, why should they pay to get into a church? Nowadays, however, many churches, such as Santa Croce in Florence, charge entry while Dean MacCannell notes, “throughout the world, churches, cathedrals, mosques, and temples are being converted from religious to touristic functions.” The temples of a religion that considers money to be the Devil (Mammon) are accessible only by means of that same cursed money.
And tourism subverts the human environment as well as the physical. The core of the tourist city, Fainstein and Gladstone write in The Tourist City, “tends to be dominated by retail and entertainment facilities rather than office uses, and centrally located working-class residential districts are a rarity. Consequently the city center belongs to affluent visitors rather than to residents, resulting in the exclusion of working-class residents from the core.”
Yet it is not only the working classes that get pushed out. In some cases, even the indigenous middle classes are at risk. I live in the center of Rome, close to the Colosseum, in a building with seven floors and forty apartments. Until around fifteen years ago all the residents were Italian. Now, of the forty, seventeen have become holiday homes or bed and breakfasts, another three being inhabited by a large number of Bangladeshis, easy prey for unscrupulous landlords. Half of the original inhabitants have moved away, taking advantage of the building’s prime position to extract income from it.
Because of this trend, the impact of Airbnb was devastating. The company was founded in 2008, and after only ten years it offered 4 million units to 150 million users in 65,000 cities in 190 countries. In Italy’s three most touristy cities, the number of apartments offered on the hosting site doubled in just three years from 2015 to 2017. In the historic centers, the number of apartments on offer went from 9,000 to just under 18,000 in Rome, or put it another way: from 7.2 to 12 per cent of units. In Venice the number went from 5.8 per cent to 11.8 per cent, and in Florence from 10.1 per cent to 21.4 per cent. Naturally, where ‘tourism’ started late, growth was more rapid: in Milan we see a rise from 1.7 per cent to 4.1 per cent and in Naples from 0.9 per cent to 4.4 per cent.
These apartments offered by Airbnb have been abandoned by their indigenous owner–residents who go to live in the suburbs or in the countryside, where life is cheaper. So the economic impact of tourism extends beyond the historic centers, beyond the cities. This is how, during the pandemic, the tourism blockade and therefore the Airbnb crisis was felt even in places untouched by the tourist’s shadow. It will take years to recover from this crisis.
Airbnb has prompted a great amount of hostility on the part of locals toward tourists, which we saw in Barcelona in 2017. Before the advent of Airbnb, visitors to the Spanish city had been largely confined to the tourist ghetto of Las Ramblas and its surroundings, but then they began sneaking into the local neighborhoods. The remaining natives feel like survivors, abandoned by their fellow human beings, surrounded by uncommunicative aliens.
The proliferation of businesses and infrastructure for tourism also goes hand in hand with the disappearance of productive and artisan activities, among others, though it is not clear which of the two phenomena is cause and which is effect. Often they are each effects of the other, and work to mutually reinforce each other.
In accordance with the ‘postmodern’ understanding of tourism, it is held that cities invest in tourism to compensate for the decline resulting from de-industrialization. This was certainly the case in the UK in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, when the country’s past started to become one of its industries. As Robert Hewison observed, of the 1,750 museums in the UK in 1987, more than half opened after 1970. In only sixteen years more museums had been opened than in all previous centuries put together! In his words: “While future perspectives seem to shrink, the past is steadily growing.” Even Manchester, chosen by Engels in the nineteenth century as the archetypal manufacturing town, has sought to reinvent itself as a tourist destination (focusing in particular on football tourism, for the fans who come from across the globe on pilgrimage to Old Trafford). In the center of town, you could ride the Wheel of Manchester, a 52.7-metre Ferris wheel, despite there not being much to see from the top. The city’s version of the London Eye, it was dismantled in 2015.
In fact, the compensatory function of tourism extends beyond making up for the loss of manufacturing. The importance of tourism for a city tends to grow in inverse proportion to the decline of any of the economic activities that used to produce its wealth. When Liverpool ceased to be a functioning port, for example, it reinvented itself as a tourist attraction. Liverpool’s once rapidly rising fortunes were owed to the slave trade, and in the part of the city where slaves were bought and sold, there is now a slavery museum.
Of course, the classic example of this is Venice. The Italian city began to cultivate its tourist industry in the seventeenth century, when its dominance as a great commercial power was fast becoming little more than a memory. It was during this period that the Carnival of Venice gained its Europe-wide fame as an attraction, reaching its peak in the eighteenth century when it could bring in tens of thousands of foreigners and all of Europe’s nobility. If visitors came for the art and the beauty, they most certainly also came for the gambling, which at the time was spreading like wildfire, as well as the debauchery, general lawlessness and freedom to transgress all social inhibitions (a bit like the Rio de Janeiro Carnival today). It was, however (as is also the case with the Rio Carnival), a channeled and carefully controlled lawlessness, as it took place under the watchful eye of the Most Serene Republic of Venice: “An outright policy for pleasures was introduced. The Carnival became a weapon, designed to exorcise the anguish produced by the falling number of nobles and by the erosion of Venice’s primacy on the European political and economic scene,” writes Gilles Bertrand.
As early as the eighteenth century, Venice was displaying some of the characteristics that were to become ubiquitous in the twentieth. First and foremost was the “invention of tradition.” While in previous centuries the Carnival had been celebrated between Epiphany and Lent, in the seventeenth century it was gradually extended until it eventually reached the point of covering half the year (winter, May and June, and then again in autumn), becoming essentially “normality” for Venice. The remaining Carnival-free months became “dead” months. Carnival thus became Venice’s most important business, so much so that it shifted from being a private-sector matter to a truly “state affair.” And then came the attempt to offer more variety to visitors. Of course, Carnival was the main attraction but there were also its artworks and even religious relics, of which it possessed perhaps more than any other city outside of Rome, fruit of the centuries of trade, theft and plunder of Venetian merchants. A 1740 inventory of Venice’s relics and artworks, published under the rather cumbersome title Forestiere Illuminato intorno le cose più rare, e curiose, antiche, e moderne della città di Venezia e dell’Isole circonvicine. Con la descrizione delle Chiese, Monasteri, Ospedali, Tesoro di San Marco, Fabbriche pubbliche, Pitture celebri e di quanto v’è di più ragguardevole, numbered them well into the hundreds.
Finally, we find in seventeenth-century Venice what was essentially a kind of tourism propaganda apparatus. After all, what are the paintings of Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Giandomenico Tiepolo or Pietro Longhi (who painted numerous scenes of Carnival) if not canvas versions of our modern tourist brochures, inviting visitors to the city?
If tourism is an industry, then tourists are the market the tourist cities must fight among one another to carve up. Fainstein and Gladstone write:
The three elements of urban tourism – the tourist, the tourism industry, and cities – interact to produce a complex ecological system. The tastes and desires of tourists are fickle; just like car buyers, they will yearn for next year’s model even before it appears. With the entry of transnational corporations, plus the globalization of credit, media and electronic communications, the tourist industry is in the midst of a revolution in which images, information, and money are transmitted at lightning speed. The object of the chase, the tourist, is a moving target. To appeal to tourists, cities must be consciously molded to create a physical landscape that tourists wish to inhabit. No city can afford to stand still for a moment, no matter how much it has recently done or how much money it has spent doing it.
The technologies for remodeling a tourist city have now been so tried, tested and perfected that they have become almost standardized. As such, we begin to see the same “typical, characteristic, regional” urban design being introduced everywhere. The tourist industry has, according to Françoise Choay,
developed the conditioning processes which allow the handing-over of historic centers and ancient districts already primed for cultural consumption … An arsenal of established mechanisms make it possible to attract the excited, keep them there, organize the economy of their time, and uproot them in a manner where they remain surrounded by familiarity and comfort: systems of signs and graphics to orient them; stereotypes of the urban picturesque; letterboxes, plaques, shelters, pedestrian passageways paved with cobblestones or in old-fashioned style, kitted out with standard and more or less retro industrial fittings (candelabras, benches, bins, public telephones), livened up as space allows by fountains, rustic vases of flowers and international saplings; stereotypes of urban leisure: open-air cafés with the right furniture, artisan outlets, art galleries, second hand dealers and again, always, everywhere, in all forms, exotic, regional, industrial, the restaurant.
To emphasize their uniqueness and attract tourists, tourist cities in fact end up rethinking and redesigning themselves—and they do so all in the same ways, as they compete among themselves for the same market. Consequently, it no longer makes sense to speak of the individual tourist city, but rather of a network or system of tourist cities.
The most visible change to the urban fabric of tourist cities, however, is the effect of what Dean MacCannell identified as one of tourism’s specific characteristics. For MacCannell, authenticity is visible to a tourist only where it is “marked” by something specific, “overexpressed,” or even “staged.” MacCannell therefore makes explicit reference to the theory formulated by Erving Goffman in The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, which in the French translation was rendered as “the staging of the individual,” and in German contained the bolder assertion that ‘we are all acting in a play.” “The perspective employed,” Goffman tells us in his preface, “is that of the theatrical performance; the principles derived are dramaturgical ones. I shall consider the way in which the individual in ordinary work situations presents himself and his activity to others, the ways in which he guides and controls the impression they form of him, and the kinds of things he may or may not do while sustaining his performance before them.”
Goffman’s idea is that in the interpersonal relationships found in modern society, the individual presents their self to others by constructing a representation of themselves that changes according to the context or interlocutor. The individual thus displays themselves on a “frontstage” while at the same time reserving a “backstage” for re-arranging the presentation, rehearsing, preparing the costumes, learning the lines or just charging his batteries.
It ought to be emphasized that for Goffman the theatrical dimension of the relationship of the self to others is not an accessory. In any interaction it will always be present; there is no opting out. We will see later how this point is of vital importance for criticism of current theories of tourism.
It is this staging that gives the tourist city its unmistakable theatricality. Every city must “play” itself; Rome must act out its Rome-ness and Paris must perform the role of the American image of Paris. The bistro becomes a caricature of a bistro, just as Trastevere in Rome is a caricature of the Italian capital’s old folk culture. And it is a process that reproduces itself right under our eyes, in all the cities of the globe, without us realizing. Hence why Québec City looks like how an inventor of fairy tales would imagine a gloomy fortress on the St Lawrence River. Or why contemporary New Orleans looks just like the stereotype image of New Orleans—indeed, the first part of the city they rushed to reopen after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the famous French Quarter.
When the effects of staging are coupled with those of the elimination of other productive activities, the result is a comprehensive degeneration of the tourist city. I spent the best part of the 1970s in Paris’s Latin Quarter and would describe it then as lively but nonchalant. Fifty years later, however, it is a dead neighborhood, overrun with cheap squalor. The Latin Quarter is a good example of how tourism can kill a neighborhood by supposedly bringing it to life. The whole of the fifth arrondissement has been emptied from the inside. All the useful shops like hardware and homeware stores, haberdasheries or electrical goods have closed, and every manifestation of local life has over time been supplanted by fake Chinese or Greek restaurants, or sandwich and ice cream bars, despite the fact that the neighborhood is still home to the Sorbonne, the Collège de France and top-end grammar schools.
Not long ago I went back to San Gimignano for the first time in thirty years. There was not a single genuine butcher, greengrocer or baker within its walls. But in fact, once the bars, restaurants and souvenir shops had closed for the night, none of San Gimignano’s inhabitants were to be found in the old city—they all live outside its walls, in modern apartment blocks close to shopping centers. Within the walls, everything has become a set for a medieval costume movie, with the inevitable products of “invented tradition” on commercial display.
The “inventions of tradition” continued to proliferate throughout the twentieth century. The medieval and Renaissance-style aspects of the Palio di Siena were introduced in 1904, while the victory parade was introduced only in 1919. A similar competition in historical costume, this time in the Umbrian town of Gubbio, the Palio della Balestera, dates back only to 1951. And the “ancient” Palio Marinaro of Livorno (in this case a boat race) is actually no older than the postwar period. In Avellino, south of Naples, the Palio della Botte was rediscovered in 1998. And the list could go on. Interestingly, the book that opened this line of inquiry, The Invention of Tradition by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, appeared in 1983. That is, it was published amid the rush to open new museums across Great Britain as a means of valorizing its historical heritage, compensating for the loss of industry with the invention of the heritage industry. One of the starkest examples used by Hobsbawm and Ranger is the kilt, symbol of Scottish identity, which was invented by an English industrialist, Thomas Rawlinson, in 1727, twenty years after Scotland gave up its independence.
But the invention of tradition, even in this case, is not simply a swindle or a rip-off (at least not in every case). Discussing one of the major paradoxes of the conservationist ideology of tradition, Richard Handler and Jocelyn Linnekin write that “attempts at cultural preservation inevitably alter, reconstruct, or invent the traditions that they are intended to fix. Traditions are neither genuine nor spurious, for if genuine tradition refers to the pristine and immutable heritage of the past, then all genuine traditions would be spurious. But if, as we have argued, tradition is always defined in the present, then all spurious traditions are genuine.” Even if originally the invented tradition was thought of as a fraud, it comes to acquire its own truth, its own reality, just as the kilt has become a real sign of Scottishness.
The concept of “staged authenticity” opens up new perspectives. Especially when we take into account the fact that tourists are not (that is, we are not) completely stupid and know very well that what is being exhibited for their (our) benefit has been staged, engineered, put in the spotlight. So, they always want to look behind the scenes, like the food connoisseur who tries to get into the restaurant kitchen to find out the recipe. It is this dynamic, then, the progressive unveiling of the backstage offered to the tourist as a spectacle, that provides one of the motors of the tourist industry. Hence a Lonely Planet guide may recommend a residential neighborhood of Madrid because here “you can see how the locals really live, far from the madding crowds of tourists.” The “traditional markets” are another example of the spectacle of the backstage because here the tourist searches not for the tourist bazaar but for the place where locals actually go to get their daily amenities. These markets initially serve merely as an object of the tourist’s gaze, preserving their ‘indigenous’ character, but over time they begin to offer goods to the tourists, or simply to package the same foodstuffs as gifts or souvenirs, until eventually the market becomes a wholly tourist market, like Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel.
The pursuit of the backstage is a pursuit with no end, because once you turn the spotlight on the backstage it itself becomes a new show, and then it is the backstage of the new show that has to be found, and so it goes on. Like a modern version of Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise, the tourist never stops chasing that behind-the-scenes authenticity, yet by the time they get there the behind-the-scene has itself already been staged, ‘marked’ and, thus, rendered inauthentic.
However, the notion of staged authenticity is particularly fertile when applied to the relation between the “native” or “indigenous” locals of a tourist city and its “visitors.” When theories of tourism discuss visitors, ninety-nine per cent of the time they don’t mention the visited. In The Tourist Gaze, for example, John Urry discusses at length how our way of perceiving reality is changed when we view the world through the lens of the tourist, which in turn changes the reality we produce, something we do more and more frequently. But when Urry speaks of the tourist gaze it is always the gaze of the person doing the tour, not someone from the place being toured.
Tourism studies has always placed the relationship between visitors and locals within the category of “hosts and guests,” as reads the title of the first collection of anthropological studies of tourism. The book’s editor expresses a cautious optimism about the future of tourism (despite the book including a chapter on “Tourism as a Form of Imperialism”). The studies collected here focus in particular on cultural changes brought about by tourism within the two groups, the guests and the hosts, and make the argument that these changes are asymmetrical because tourists “are less likely to borrow from their hosts than their hosts are from them, thus precipitating a chain of change in the host community.” What we see clearly here, however, is a conception of tourism based on an underlying assumption of visitors from an industrialized and wealthy West to third world or “backward” countries. But the real issue is that the relationship between local residents and tourists is anything but a relationship based on hospitality and invitation, or at least it would be were it not for the involvement of money.
Indeed, within the group of the hosts, it is necessary to distinguish between two categories: those who depend—directly or indirectly—on tourism for their survival and those whose economic fortunes are apparently independent of tourism. While a waiter in a restaurant depends directly on the flow of tourists, for a high school teacher or someone who works in a bank the connection is much more indirect: if the tourists stop arriving they will only see a change of fortune in the longer term, when the lack of hospitality workers and their families means there are not enough schoolchildren to justify a class or enough customers to keep a bank branch open.
Precisely because of the theatrical nature of tourism, the “position of labor in the supply of many final demand tourism products is unusual in that workers are simultaneously providers of labor services and part of the consumed product,” writes S. Britton in Tourism, Capital and Place. In other words, workers in tourist hospitality form part of the infrastructure of sightseeing, yet at the same time they are also themselves one of the sights to be seen. The quality of service, the “friendliness and politeness” tourists find when they step into the “local” bar or restaurant, are major assets for a tourist destination. Not only must waiters serve tables, they must also turn their waiting on tables into a performance. In Barthes’s terms, a waiter’s body language serves to connote not only his profession but also his “Italianness” or “Frenchness,” his “typical character” in the sense of “typical products.” Even more so because hospitality workers are usually the people tourists most frequently come into contact with, and in some cases, the only people they come into contact with.
There were some who hoped that tourism would become a tool for improving mutual understanding between different cultures and peoples, bringing them closer together. This had also been the case with the advent of rail travel: the advocates of Saint-Simonianism thought believed that the railways (“the most perfect symbol of universal association”) would allow all the world’s nations to get to know one another, eradicating conflict and creating a “fraternal bond” across all humanity. In fact, the creation of the railways merely facilitated the transportation of troops and arms in times of war. And we could say that tourism, far from bringing peoples together, has pushed them further apart because it brings out the worst in both tourists and locals. Locals reveal their greediest and most miserly selves, dollar signs (or euros or yuans) flashing in their eyes. For the local tour operators, tourists are less guests to be welcomed than lemons to be squeezed for every last drop, taking advantage of the tourist’s complete (though perfectly justified) ignorance of the ways of the city.
And what about the locals who do not depend on tourism? We Italians understand very well that the “tourist gaze” modifies those who are its target and not only the gazers themselves. The residents of a tourist city live forever in the tourist gaze; under the constant surveillance of a watch that is literally “out of place.” It is like having your house full of unwanted guests, then having to step over unknown bodies lining the hallway to get to the bathroom at night. The metaphor is appropriate because, in Goffman’s terms, the lavatory is behind the scenes, indeed it is the perfect example of the backstage to our daily lives:
In our society, defecation involves an individual in activity which is defined as inconsistent with the cleanliness and purity standards expressed in many of our performances. Such activity also causes the individual to disarrange his clothing and to “go out of play”, that is, to drop from his face the expressive mask that he employs in face-to-face interaction. At the same time it becomes difficult for him to reassemble his personal front should the need to enter into interaction suddenly occur. Perhaps that is a reason why toilet doors in our society have locks on them.
If the progressive unveiling of the “unstaged” backstage is a never-ending pursuit, and if the tourist is Achilles, then the local resident is the tortoise, forever running from the tourist’s reach in search of unchanged places or situations. Locals are forced to become clandestine in their own cities, to pass on in hushed tones the coordinates for the last remaining tolerable pockets of the city, whispering, “But don’t let the tourists know!” They do so knowing full well that sooner or later even these will be uncovered, a spotlight thrown on them, and then the search for new provisional refuges will have to begin again. But as they are also well aware, the outcome has already been decided. The tourist city inevitably becomes unliveable as a city of residence as locals find it more and more difficult to survive economically and are more and more socially excluded. After all, tourism is an industry, and like any industry, it will make a city more and more unliveable, just as manufacturing brought slums, smog and stench to manufacturing towns.
And if tourism does not produce precisely the same effects of slums and smog, it is only because it kills a city in subtler ways, by hollowing it out from the inside and emptying it of life, just like
the mummification of a corpse. It turns the city into a giant theme park, a vast historical Disneyland, through a kind of urban taxidermy. It fills it with museums and sandwich bars, antique ruins and luxury boutiques, the son et lumière of pizza-slice joints and Michelin triple-starred restaurants, pedestrian zones and expanses of smart middle-class accommodation. The modern pedestrian zones of Northern Europe all look the same (they are another example of Marc Augé’s “non-places”), and the town centers have all been transformed into “entertainment districts” where no one actually enjoys themselves.
The visitor, on the other hand, even in the best of cases, carefully visits not so much the country itself but the country’s Lonely Planet or Guide Bleu. In any case, visitors do not have the time, means or opportunity to be concerned with the local human beings; they only care for “dead humanity” (as capital cares only for “dead labour”), namely, monuments and museums. Archetypal of this is the tour of the city by air-conditioned coach, with all the sounds and smells blocked out so that perception is reduced purely to sight.
Inverting the old idea of Joseph Alois Schumpeter, who held that capitalism is best understood as a process of “creative destruction,” we could say that tourism practices “destructive creation” as the economic growth and development it produces destroy the bases on which that growth was premised. For example, the North Coast of Crete was once characterized by agricultural and livestock production and fishing, as well as by poverty. But today Northern Crete has become a vast periphery of faceless apartment blocks extending along the whole of its coast. The same has happened to large chunks of Tuscany, where the old farmsteads have been steadily replaced by upmarket estates with their own olive groves and top-quality vineyards (and have perhaps even been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites, like the Val d’Orcia), which sell their produce directly to tourists or as high-end exportation abroad. More often, however, the old farmhouses, or even whole villages, have become simply second homes, done up and well kept with their original wooden ceiling beams exposed and their external walls stripped of plaster to reveal the raw stone. The vegetable plot has been supplanted by an ornamental garden, immediately recognizable from miles away because olive and fruit trees have been replaced by soulless silver firs. These houses are empty, dead, for eleven months of the year, and a good part of the Tuscan countryside (and the same is true for Provence) has become a vast residential complex, cleaned up, painted over and restored, with vases of geraniums at the windowsills, morphed into a holiday destination for affluent Germans or Brits. Indeed, Tuscany has acquired the very apt nickname of Chiantishire.
From The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age by Marco d’Eramo. Used with the permission of the publisher, Verso Books. Copyright © 2021 by Marco d’Eramo.
Marco D’Eramo is an Italian journalist and social theorist. He worked at the newspaper il manifesto for over thirty years. He writes for New Left Review, MicroMega and the Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung. His books include The Pig and the Skyscraper, which has been translated into several languages.