Here's an excellent piece by Agustín Cócola Gant on the creation in the mid-20th century of Barcelona's so-called Barrio Gótico by Catalan nationalist entrepreneurs: a Disneyland avant la lettre to erase the memory of 400-odd years of failure following the city's eclipse by Valencia, and serve as a marketable brand for plebeian Grand Tour-ism.
At the end he fails to land a punch on capitalism - socialists, Shahs and sundry indulged in even more shameless themeparkisation, and no other economic system has produced serious history of comparable quality or quantity - but he makes the interesting suggestion (without mentioning Umberto Eco's splendid and seminal Travels in hyperreality!) that, like the Americans, we should acknowledge to punters that the palaces, synagogues, etc etc are 20th century fantasies, and that they will be pay for this.
That strikes me as bit unworldy - like Donald Rumsfeld, he doesn't appreciate that for the happy snapper, which is just about everyone, brand Old Europe is all Europe - and it runs against our experience taking folks around.
I virtually never do the "old town" for the same reason I don't go to EuroDisney or Venice - boring buildings, boring people - but evolved standard practice is to figure out how smart clients are by throwing them post-modern bait of some nature.
If they bite - which is by no means that often - then you can deliver a happier pitch: you pretend it's not a film set, and the group pretends to believe you.
Only in about 5% of cases - so not those who buy the Glorious Medieval Past, nor those who believe copycat silliness like the Glorious Anarchist Past or the Glorious Second Republic, etc etc - does it make any sense to get cultural-critical. And I'm not sure all that cynicism is all that much fun either.
So, from the horse's mouth, a big nay.
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