Once upon a time people went to the beach on holiday and bought tacky souvenirs. Then some folk decided that it’d be much more sophisticated to go on holiday to a city every once in a while and visit places of cultural interest. Fair enough, but the malevolant forces capitalism have contrived that this trend has turned many of those areas blessed as cultural hot-spots into odd exagerations of whatever it was that once made them interesting.
I haven’t been to Mon-Martre recently and I’d hate to kick Camden when it’s down, so… Caminito. When I first came here 16 years ago this was little more than a slightly smelly street of colourfully painted houses with a few artists selling paintings in an otherwise poor neighbourhood. Not a souvenir in sight. Now the whole area has been improved beyond recognition. The neighbouring streets have decided the coloured houses thing is obviously good for business and, what do you know, you can’t move for Caminito mugs and baseball caps. Every building within a 3 block radius is catering for the industrial level tourism that floods in by the coachload.
You can’t blame people for cashing in, the incomefrom tourism has got to be a good thing for the regeneration of a quite deprived area, but it’s difficult to define what the camcorder-wielding hoards are consuming here apart from the Tango-Dancing Homer Simpson T-Shirts. Deep among the crap some visitors will probably find some evidence of the stories that put all this in context: The lives of european immigrant workers, Dances inherited from afro-argentines and cuban sailors, Overcrowded dwellings, Left-over paint from the shipyards, etc.
There’s an overwhelming sense of pastiche about the experience, though. Sure, the bars look old and the tangos they’re playing date back to the 1930s, but most of this has sprung up in the last ten years. If you want, against police advice, to venture much beyond the protected tourist enclave, large areas of La Boca are still poor, still relatively monotone and you’ll hear more Cumbia than Tango. In fact, just about the only thing Caminito-shopping has in common with the surrounding neighbourhood is the smell.