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The city they visit is the same we inhabit, but their city consists of an enormously reduced and simplified overlay upon the original, a network of tourist destinations, of well-trod throroughfares curiously insulated from the networks of the indigenes. Even where the two superimposed maps, the tourist and the local, share points of articulation they remain tantalyzingly separate. Those tourists you see, poor things, perched on an overstuffed Angus Steak House banquette, are a mere 15 yards away from a steamy little Chinatown dimsum shop. Why aren't they in it?. But perhaps an Angus "steak" is what suits them best; and it suits me better too for them to stay there. I suppose we can rub along well enough.

Lack of intrepidity keeps the tourists from deviating from Piccadilly or Oxford Street. Perhaps we should prefer it that way. If they are happy trailing through a 'Royal' or 'Pop History' or 'Historical' or 'Cockney' version of the city, so be it. It leaves us the real bits.

But what is 'authentic?' (I hear myself ask before someone gets the question in first); and of course I know in a post-modern-y sort of way we are meant not to arbitrate what is authentic and what not. I know all that; but still I find the distinction nags at me; I can't accept the lazy relativism of the post modern. No, I like to think there is a difference.

Let us take a particular part of London and consider its "authenticity." Covent Garden for example. This seems quite clear. Covent Garden was the vegetable market of London; it had been this since 1656; it was closed down and transferred to a 64 acre site at Nine Elms, Battersea. For a long time debate was waged over whether the area was to be redeveloped as office space. If this had taken place the area would have gone from being one kind of "authentic" place (a fruit and veg wholesaler) to being another: offices. It ecame (I am still dealing with the simplified story here) an "artificial" place, a complex of genteel shops and cafés redone in bogus eighteenth century manner. Now it was full of tourists buying scented candles and pomanders and watching irritatingly 'wistful' mime artists. Covent Garden, then, went from the authentic to the inauthentic.


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