Tere! from Haapsalu, Estonia,
In the doorway of a souvenir shop in San Diego, there’s an official-looking plaque, fixed flush to the threshold so one has to step over it to enter. It says, “ On this very spot, in 1679, nothing happened.” It’s a brilliant juxtaposition to the general theme of the neighbourhood, which is all about selling things to tourists, many of whom just want to be told what’s important.
merchandising history = souvenirs
This merchandising of history is evident in lots of places. The capitalist system thrives on the impulse to fill a gap in the market: if people are silly enough to buy something, sell it to them. This is the genesis of souvenirs in the first place, of course. The impulse leads to some pretty tenuous associations all in the name of historical significance. For example, D.H. Lawrence spent four months in coastal Thirroul, wrote a book called “Kangaroo” and now the cottage is heritage-listed and barred from demolition or even renovation.
Here in Haapsalu, we came across another fairly laughable example. (It was Linda’s audible laugh after reading the interpretation sign which inspired me to pen this epistle).
We went for a wind-assisted, rain-delayed stroll on the renowned Promenaad where the wealthy Russians once paraded themselves during their summer stays here. This is where the population swelled every summer from 5000 to 8000 when the Russians sought watery playgrounds and some sunshine. There was boating, tennis and croquet as well as competitions like the Health, Beauty and Buoyancy Queen and Miss Haapsalu.
At one end of the Promenaad is a limestone bench called the Tchaikovsky Bench. Apparently the great man spent a summer here, too. And, apparently he composed a piece of music that named the place. Now, there’s a Tchaikovsky Festival once a year. As well, there are kitsch souvenirs on sale in the local shops. And there’s a bench purporting to be positioned in a place where the composer once sat. (It was in fact commissioned more than 40 years after his death.) So, what? This is not of historical significance. This is not worth commemorating. This is someone’s warped idea of history.
At least it gave someone a laugh.
Koike head from Haapsalu