PAT – Cliché-shedding is hard to do

Cliché-shedding is hard to doThis is the time of year when tourists flood into London, the town of my birth. What they find waiting for them is a plethora of stalls selling Union Jack flags, black helmets as once worn by British bobbies (policemen), black bowler hats and endless bright red mini Routemaster buses, pillar boxes and telephone kiosks, even though the latter in particular no longer form any part of the local landscape.

Thus is my homeland reduced to a tourist cliché just as some would argue that Istanbul is, too, with the myriad shops dispensing belly-dancing outfits, fake harem regalia and enough fezes to cover the heads of the army. Here in Greme the same is at least partially true of the fairy chimneys-with-everything range of ashtrays, T-shirts and fridge magnets retailed to tourists.

Sure, those fairy chimneys really do exist and play a continuing role in our lives. But if you go into the home of a local, would you expect to be offered a fairy-chimney ashtray? The answer goes without saying.

But it was another aspect of the way in which tourism becomes ensnared in a web of clichés that was nagging away at the back of my mind this week. I’d just read an article by a visitor who had stayed in Uhisar, but who slung into his commentary an aside to the effect that he understood Greme to be much more of a place for backpackers.

Letting my mind slip back a couple of decades, I certainly remember that the Greme I first started to frequent in the early 1990s was indeed a favorite with Western backpackers. Accordingly, it had an infrastructure skewed to their needs and preferences with lots of budget-priced pensions and dormitories, and a range of bars and discos, including one housed in an old donkey stable.

But that was before four different trends in tourism met and mingled with each other The first was that Gremelis themselves started to notice that the returns from budget tourism didn’t always equate to the effort required to earn them Slowly but surely they began the march upmarket, shedding the dormitories and shared bathrooms in favor of first en suite bathrooms and then full-blown suites.Simultaneously, the hot-air ballooning market started to boom at prices way above those of the average backpacker wallet.

More unaccountably, the backpacker gradually turned into the most endangered species in tourism Finally, the source of visitors also began to change as North America and Europe fell on hard financial times while the economies of India, China, South America and the wider Far East were on the rise.Some of our new Asian visitors do still travel on tight budgets, but they usually stay just a single night and don’t venture even as far as a restaurant in the evening let alone head for a bar At the last count I think we were down to the final one of those — and even that is now as much a restaurant as a barThe upshot of all this is that the characterization of Greme as a backpacker destination now seems almost as dated as a black and white photograph of the donkeys heading out to the surrounding fields.

The trouble is that it seems almost as hard to entirely shake off that old image as it is to shed the image of Londoners in bowler hats striding off to work with furled umbrellas tucked under their arms.Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Greme in Cappadocia.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman