Representing place

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

“The land itself, of course, has no desires as to how it should be represented.  It is indifferent to its pictures and picturers. But maps organise information about a landscape in a profoundly influential way.” (Robert Macfarlane, in The Wild Places)

It struck me that guide books, canned tours and signed tourist itineraries could be considered similarly.  Echoing Robert MacFarlane’s words, they “carry out a triage of [a place, not destination‘s] aspects, selecting and ranking those aspects in an order of importance, and so they create forceful biases in the ways a [place, not destination] is perceived and treated”.

A "lonely" walk into Park Güell

A “lonely” walk into Park Güell

Of course, this makes a point that has been made countless times before, and that now peppers traveler discourse, particularly in reference to an over-reliance on the loneliness-defeating Lonely Planet.  But we need reminders.  Particularly if they help reawaken the senses.

Take, for example, this “back space” entrance to Park Güell, an 18-hectare park that frequently attracts over 25,00 visitors a day.  I couldn’t believe it!  A sunny afternoon on a day of leisure, and not a soul in sight.  Had I walked here before in my 9 year’s of residence here?  Perhaps once, if at all.

It takes taking time out to afford the luxury of a wander.  But surprise is one of the rewards that wandering can provide.  As well as a note to yourself to always question the way places are represented, and to perhaps not heed representations at all.


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