Sunday, June 8, 2008

An Accurate Touristic Representation?

This is a lame picture of the lame phrasebook that I picked up to take to Prague. In fairness, the phrasebook is actually pretty handy and includes way more than enough Czech to get by for two and a half days in Prague (as I mentioned before, over sixty hours in the city and no one was defenestrated). When I bought the book, Jessica and I had a discussion about what was on the cover and why. At first, we thought that it was simply a strange picture to select for a country with a number of perfectly recognizable landmarks. After further investigation of the photo, though, we decided that these two musicians were probably performing outside of some important tourist site. We came to this conclusion because many such sites have gates like the one behind them in order to control crowds of people. Additionally, between the poles of the fence, there seemed to be people standing in groups. As the result of some more careful study, we found that the musician who appears to be singing (not the bassist) is holding a black flute. This suggested some variety in the performance being given. Anyhow, after discovering some of the more subtle aspects of the image we tacitly allowed the cover of my phrasebook slip into memory.

That slippage was stopped abruptly when we walked out the front gate of the Prague Castle. There, we first noticed the fence. It was the same fence from the cover of the book. And then, to our disbelief, across the street from the fence, the group pictured on the cover the book was performing. We stopped to listen and at a pause in the performance I took the book up to the flute player/band leader. He had a look at it, cracked a joke about being old and reached for a pen and happily signed it; hence the signature. The accordion player asked for a closer look and declared, "two thousand and six," in a way that suggested a suspicions confirmed.

At first, I was pleasantly surprised to have an image of tourism turn out to be accurate. I thought to myself how nice it is that not all constructions of place are idealized to the poitnt where they become unattainable to the actual tourist on the ground. However, I do have to wonder if I was still used in the same way that many other tourists are. Was I duped into spending my cash? Having received a signature, I felt obligated to drop some money into CD case that they had setup and with some prodding from Jessica, we agreed to go in half on a CD. I am forced to consider, despite the incredible fidelity of the image on the phrasebook which was accurate right down to the beautiful sunny day, that I still behaved in the way that benefited the people who had a hand in constructing the phrasebook (among them, the musicians I paid). That is, the phrasebook constructed a "serendipitous" experience that caused me, normally reluctant to spend even a small amount of money on tourist paraphernalia, to blow a hundred Korun (about six US dollars). Granted, the money paid for the experience is more than fair, I still have to wonder if the serendipity of the occasion was purposely designed.

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