Local life marinating in tourism contradictions

A dramatic feature of life in a tourist destination is the shifting of gears on Memorial Day. Secondhome owners and other visitors sweep into town for a hit of their favorite vacation spot, light us up for a few days, and then retreat until the real season (by which time it is hoped we will have generated a little summer weather for them).

In this transitional season, the appearance of a “New Yorker” article on the downside of Airbnb tourism seemed well timed.

According to the article, Barcelona locals are getting tired of being such a successful tourist destination. People turning their properties into Airbnb rentals are making it harder and more expensive for locals to find a place to live. Moreover, they are getting tired of seeing the hordes of tourists everywhere in the streets in carefree vacation mode, enjoying the pleasures of this charming city. (Italian youth getting publically drunk and naked, in an example cited).

Local life is being “hollowed out” to make room for tourists.

I know people who feel that way about our summer visitors (whose number swells our population by a factor of seven or eight). Some locals without regular jobs go so far as to leave town until what they view as the onslaught is over, preferring to be tourists themselves in less popular summer destinations in Maine and elsewhere.

(Others, including this writer, though a bit jealous of the nonstop festive atmosphere and annoyed at crowding, enjoy the increased restaurant, theater and music options. Some of our best friends are summer visitors we get to see mostly in the summer.)

I wouldn’t use the metaphor “hollowed out” for tourism’s effect on Wellfleet. But we have long marinated in tourism’s contradictions.

Like other Cape towns we have for a long time been more widely known as a tourist destination than as a place where people live their lives. But that wasn’t always so. Our town didn’t always close up for most of the year for what we didn’t always consider “off-season. Our self-consciousness of our town as a potential commodity dawned only slowly, as trains and then cars made getting here more convenient, starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps the watershed when we became more tourist destination than not came around 1960, right around the time that the federal government decided we were so nice that we constituted a “national treasure” that should be shared, as a national park, with as many fellow Americans as possible.

It would be interesting to know exactly when the first restaurant was opened with mainly tourists in mind. It could have a plaque affixed noting that.

The fundamental contradiction of tourism is that travelers and vacationers leave the comforts of home for other places not only because of better weather but to experience the other place’s otherness, the life and charm of another place. But what visitors to Barcelona, say, increasingly discover is other tourists and local life that is mostly about tourism. What

One of the most striking features of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a charming Spanish colonial town and popular destination for gringos, is its coloring. Those earth and blood colors which virtually all the buildings are painted seem so much the essence of the place, so very Mexican. Those colors, I was told by a longterm resident, are a result of a chamber of commerce decision a few decades back to paint the traditionally whitewashed town to appeal more to tourists.

Unlike destinations such as Barcelona and San Miguel which have pretty nice weather year round, our tourist season is restricted mainly to the few months when our weather is reliably pleasant. (May, as we and our early visitors have been once again reminded, is only wishfully thought of as o ne of those months,.)

So we should cherish our many months whose weather is such an acquired taste. Think of it as protective, keeping our non-tourism related local life intact for much of the year.

Wellfleet Rail Trail extension being railroaded by state

This time the state seems determined to have its way with the town of Wellfleet. In 2018 the state’s highway pros came to town to present a solution to our Route 6 troubles. There have been numerous accidents, including fatalities, and we had been casting about for a remedy. The state’s answer was the radical […]

Opposing cell phone antennas then and now

Mashpee and Centerville citizens’ cell phone antenna struggles are reminiscent of Wellfleet’s tilting at cell phone towers 20-plus years ago in the infancy of the industry. Up to several hundred determined Wellfleetians argued that microwaves beamed from cell towers were unhealthful, and that the gangly towers were in any case unsightly, and a contradiction of […]

Free college for all is simple democratic realism

A good thing to come out of the so-called “college admissions scandal” is recognition that it’s not a scandal at all, in the sense of especially shocking or outrageous. The wealthy using their money to get their kids into colleges that will enhance their chances of continuing the family tradition of being rich? It may […]

Eastham deserves a downtown

Every town deserves a downtown, a Main Street. You could argue that the downtown is what makes a town a town, or the sort of town it is. What Eastham has instead of a downtown is a 4-lane highway. In a public meeting late last month concerned townspeople complained about life with Route 6 in […]

Highway driving: a human era adventure

Self-driving cars have hit a bit of a speedbump since the fatality in Phoenix last year in which an SDC with a distracted human co-pilot failed to cope with a human jaywalker. Nevertheless, the imminence of SDC as well as the AI features already found in cars still nominally human-driven put in a different light […]

The Globe is wrong on nuclear power

The Boston Globe has recently been throwing its editorial weight behind nuclear power. It laments the scheduled closing of Pilgrim in June, claiming that the only serious response to climate change is nuclear power. In encouraging a renaissance in this moribund industry it joins the strange bedfellow of president Trump, who enthusiastically supports both nuclear […]

The Cape Cod National Seashore and our no-frills president

“National parks struggle to stay open,” went the headline of a recent story about effects of the federal government shutdown, which at this writing is close to the end of its third week. Trump has said that for all he cares, the shutdown can go o n for months, even years. Become the new normal, […]

Resisting the AI future?

What will become of us? How technology is changing what it means to be human” is the title of a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine. Something about the helplessness of that plaintive question says a lot about our situation when it comes to the computerization of life and AI (artificial intelligence). Two […]

If it can’t happen here, why not?

“It can’t happen here.” Since Trump was elected, we’ve heard this phrase a lot, with its ironic message of Oh yes it can. In fact it might be happening even as we speak. (And we, frogs in slowly heated water, have just gotten used to it.) So what’s the “it” that we’d like to think […]