In today’s world authentic objects are being eroded by economics, globalization and the perception of value. Some though still hold on to the values, processes, skills and knowledge to continue to create authentic products (and ideas) everyday. To some these objects have become so rare and scarce that they have turned into luxury goods. What was available to many in the past because of circumstance are now available to a few because of globalization and the value placed on traditional methods of production.
Globalization and cheap travel have created a mobile world where people are able to move (mostly) freely and openly. Italy, as always, represents a destination of a lifetime for a lot of travelers. The art, food, history and natural beauty draw throngs of tourists to its cities and countryside each year. Visiting cities like Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice you are confronted by Italy, past – present – future. From the ancient churches and buildings, to the Chinese people running pizza shops to the Africans selling knockoff designer handbags in the streets, as well as the old men enjoying an early morning drink together, chatting about the day. People seeking out the true Italy, or Italy off the beaten path will have a hard time discovering the undiscovered, especially in the before mentioned cities. It is left to people to create their own undiscovered experiences in the places that have already been discovered.
Seeking authenticity in Italian art and architecture people choose to go to Venice instead of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. People chose to come to see the true David statue in Florence instead of a picture online, or a postcard sent by a friend. What are they looking for? Are they seeking out their own experience, or merely to see it, and report back? If you come to Florence and find out that the real David has been hidden away in a vault somewhere, a lot of people would be let down. To go to Venice and find that the beautiful facades of the buildings are actually hidden behind “look alike” pieces of fabric, a disaster. We value authenticity in these observations – art, buildings; pieces of culture that have existed for many centuries.
So why do tourists in Italy accept and are willing to pay for authentic art, architecture and physical culture like this, but when it comes to food will settle for frozen pizza, spaghetti & meatballs and fettuccine Alfredo as well as so called authentic Italian food prepared by immigrants from other countries? What isn’t transmitted to these people, despite the large amount of guide books and travel pages on the internet, is that in Italy, food is regional and that although many Italians disregard this and also eat pizza in Venice, they at least have an understanding that pizza in Venice will not be, by any standard, real or authentic. Whereas for some, the same pizza will represent their entire knowledge and quest for pizza in Italy, resulting in their elation as the best pizza in the world, given the beautiful surroundings, atmosphere – a reaction that is based more on emotion and hunger. Some people think to eat well in Italy you have to spend a lot of money. This is not necessarily true and there is evidence to prove it. You can spend a lot of money, but that doesn’t guarantee you more authentic food. Some people are merely indifferent. Taste education is a process, a long process that is also a result of your culture, but one that can also be learned later in life.
Authentic, local, well made Italian food is affordable for most tourists. Those who are willing to pay €20 a person for a museum pass but much less for food are missing out on a very important, critical piece of Italian culture and history. The food of a place is so strongly linked to the society, culture and people that to overlook it amounts to missing out on a greater cultural understanding, not to mention, some amazing food with real flavors, true to season and place. Economy creeps into this picture because people perceive value differently when thinking about art vs. food. To pay for unauthentic art is not possible for the tourist, but to pay for unauthentic food is not only possible but also probable. Research into what is an authentic place to eat, and what to order takes more time than to map out a walking path to the Pantheon.
The value of authenticity is being changed by economy, but globalization, by other extenuating factors. People have their own priorities. For some, it is art, for others, food. Perhaps a better priority is seeking authenticity, whatever that means to you, in your travels.
This post is my submission to be part of Team Florens and the theme that is presented here will be one that is discussed and debated during the Florens 2012 event.