Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

11 July 2011

Inauthentic 'Authenticity'

I was surprised by the hordes of people in the castle. I don’t know why I was. My few hours on the royal mile previously should have warned me it was a tourist trap. For each interesting historical site there are at least a few novelty Scottish souvenir shops where you can by castle snow globes, miniature bagpipes and cheap kilts. Zach covers these feelings quite well in his Edinburgh post.

The castle itself was beautiful but crowded by crowds of foreigners, mostly American. And like Glamis many of the buildings are not Medieval, many of more impressive ones were Victorian often trying to adopt medieval styles. It wasn’t history as I saw it but publicity. There were very few markers of historical events in the castle. Except of course the Armed forces museum which doesn’t allow photography, and therefore seems to be less of a tourist thing than a shrine as it should be.

It was clear that an authentic Edinburgh lay beneath the facade put up for tourists. So I consciously tried to find something more historical and less touristy. Besides the war memorial of course. I wanted to find some pure history at this site.

Tucked off in the corner of the top level I find a sign that read ‘Prisoners of War Museum”. The museum aspect didn’t intrigue me as much as the dark staircase empty of people that seemed to bode well for what I was looking for. the museum was dark and there were several tourists in there but the first stop is a recreation of the bunks that POW’s form the revolutionary war period. Or as the museum called it ‘The American War’ the bunks were the kind of installation you see In most museums. Except that you can walk thought it and reach out and touch the exhibits. There i aslo a speaker installed in a near by hammock where an actor reads a letter home from an American POW.

After this exhibit there is a small room with many items underglass. Book boardgames a recreation of a prisoners average meal. There was also a large wooden door. There is a legned next to it of what darwings are carved in the door and what they mean. I see a ship with a crude american flag on it. And i reach out and thouch the carving.

I feel a patriotic urge. This carving was made hundreds of years ago by someone who fought for my country’s independance. He was labeled a pirate and hidden away in the dungeon for years. During that time he carved this and now I am touching it.

But that’s not true.

After a moment, after this feeling, I realize this can’t be true. They wouldn’t have this artifact out and exposed. There is not glass to protect it from damage from years of American tourist doing what I am doing. Or Vandals from adding their own carvings Or even theft It’s bolted to the display but there is no security measures to prevent stealing.

This display is not an authentic artifact. I have been duped by some of the very thing I had been trying to avoid. I’d fallen into a tourist trap. Except that I hadn’t the room I was in was a prison. American patriots were kept here. Trying find something real in a tourist trap is simply a matter of digging, so would trying to find the real Edinburgh.

If you stay on the side of town designed for tourists, you will never see the real thing. But sometimes an inauthentic display can lead to an authentic emotion. If I had been touching a real door I would have felt the same way. I don’t think this is an answer. I don’t know if there is a real Edinburgh. I had a real experience from an inauthentic place. I don’t quite know what this means but I think I should try to enjoy the ‘inauthentic’ places well as the ‘authentic’ ones because we may get an interesting ‘authentic’ experience from either.

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