One of my happiest moments in Venice this past weekend meeting a college friend, drinking a Campari spritz, listening to Coldplay’s entire first album Parachutes while talking about the TV series The Good Wife.
I have patterns of thinking and acting when it comes to travel, food and authenticity.
I imagine everyone travels, even the most despised cruise ship tourists, in search of local authenticity, the most universal being the quest for authentic food. But food authenticity is like white flight, the more touristy the destination, the further afield you have to travel, into the suburbs or villages, sometimes straight into local homes for a taste of good authentic cuisine. But as one hotel receptionist asked pondering the paradox of TripAdvisor of tourists telling other tourists what is authentic and what is not, how do tourists who have never tasted the authentic know when it is authentic and not just good food? What if the authentic didn’t fit our palate at all, what if it tasted like shit?
Paris, like no other city I’ve been to, has perfected the art of simulating the aesthetic of the tourist’s conception of a place serving authentic French food with old wooden panels, striped awnings, and paper placemats, luring you inside then serving you defrosted crap, crêpe. Likely microwaved by an immigrant.
Recommendations central and convenient seem fraudulent or too good to be true. Instead, restaurant locations that force you to get lost for 40 minutes, causing chaos and mayhem within the group, seem like you’re at least working for authenticity although even then, it’s hit or miss. Some travelers believe they can just identity where the locals go… and sometimes you can get lucky, pass by a busy snack bar or cafe and do alright. When I can’t be bothered, I let my friends do this. But for something special, authentic, and affordable, I can’t dissociate having to do research and going out of your way to find that something special.
Last May in Rome, my conception of finding the authentic collided with a friend’s, creating a storm cloud over the rest of our trip. She was the type of person who thought she could identify the authentic by the looks of the place while I strongly believed you had to work for it. When she recommended going downstairs and picking one of the three restaurants right under our apartment, I immediately assumed they couldn’t possibly be good restaurants. What were the chances of finding good food right under your apartment ? Probably higher than I let myself believe.
There is nothing that clouds my travel more than eating bad food while traveling.
Whenever I feel as though I’ve come upon something authentic and special, I feel the need to go back there when I return. I fixate on going back. This happened again in Venice this past weekend, meeting a friend who was giving workshops to law students, who were working on consulting projects for businesses wanting to target Millennials organized by a start-up. Essentially, they were law students pretending to be MBA students.
Even though my friend was pregnant and we were both in our thirties, I convinced her I knew a place with cheap pizza and lots of young Italians, a place I had discovered the last time I was in Venice a few years ago. Neither of us really needed either of those things but we both agreed it was a good idea. The last time we were both together in Italy was studying abroad in Rome at age 19 and 20, so perhaps apart of us still thought we had the same needs as we did back then. Perhaps, bad ideas get the go ahead when traveling because friends also want to be accommodating, usually to their own detriment.
This piazza was a long walk away, almost 50 minutes. The longer I dragged my 7 month pregnant friend toward this square, the more I wondered why am I doing this? When we finally reached Campo Santa Margherita, luckily she liked it, since it was such a large open space for Venice. We didn’t have the super cheap, tasty slices of pizza which you would have to eat on the stoop of a statue or on the ground. She couldn’t drink the cheap Campari spritzes. We realized we were old enough and she kind of needed to have pizza in a sit down restaurant.
Traveling is one of the most effective ways of feeling as though you’re traveling back in time. However, while we all want to relive and share certain experiences from the past, they may not be relevant or attend to the needs of the person we are now. Our search for authenticity and reliving authenticity can just become futile.