September 21, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Welcome to the jungle

By |2018-07-10T11:26:19+02:00July 3rd, 2018|"In the Sticks"|
When hype outstrips the destinations, beware.

ver dreamt of taking a summer to explore the undiscovered and authentic corners of southern Tuscany? If so, you’re most definitely not alone. Half the globe shares the same thought. And at least half of them have actually followed through.

To them, I say thanks.

No really, thanks for transforming what is normally a 10-minute drive from one town to another into a 45-minute descent into madness.

The nuances consist of my being stuck behind your caravan while you struggle to make it around that hairpin turn.

Also, thanks so much for cycling side-by-side five riders deep in the middle of the road, so I have to dip my tires in the ditch just to get around you.

Thank you for being utterly incapable of figuring out how to pull over when you’re lost, choosing instead to stop in the middle of the roundabout to check your map/take a photo/argue about who’s fault it really is that you just can’t seem to find that super cute and definitely authentic trattoria you saw on TripAdvisor. It has 10,000 reviews, so it must be good.

But I live around here and it’s not. It hasn’t been since the original owners retired about a decade ago and their obese son refused to carry on the family business, preferring to read the newspaper at the local doctor’s office, which they also own. So, they sold the place to a guy from Rome who used to do catering for Rai TV and had to sell his own pizzeria after he whipped his junk out and flopped it on top of the pizza of a particularly troublesome diner. Charges followed.

True story.

We have a love-hate relationship with tourists here in rural Tuscany. We spend a good nine months complaining about how bad business is when you’re not around. We steadfastly insisted that we weren’t a tourist destination, even after all the farms-turned-holiday homes with optional wine tasting and olive picking retreats. What about the Sagra della Fragola, you ask? Glad you did. One such feast started importing its strawberries from Belgium.

Here’s the problem. Old people get old and die, even in Tuscany, leaving their industrious offspring to turn their dead relatives’ tiny (but central) apartments into cozy AirB&Bs.

We small-town Tuscan locals, wherever our birthplaces, have a love-hate relationship with forestieri, or tourists.

Oh, you say you want to see sheep? You most certainly can: their bloodied carcasses dumped in the middle of our main square by a disgruntled farmer who’s done dealing with wolves.

As for how we feel about you, our treasured visitors, We hate you. We call you forestieri or outsiders, as in: “There were so many forestieri at the supermarket today, I just put my cantaloupe back and left.”

And Tuscans like cantaloupe.

My town of Manciano is in the midst of a silent, entirely unconscious, unintended and extremely post-modern protest against tourists.

It’s not that we don’t want you. We don’t. We’re just fed up with not being the perfect ideation of the tiny, off-the-beaten track Tuscan town. We’re manifesting your disappointment in not being able to gloat about discovering our grassy lawns.

Seriously, Manciano does not cut grass. My husband Giulio, though deathly afraid of snakes, now walks in the middle of the road, not wanting to put his life in the hands of the urban forest that used to be our sidewalk.

A couple of weeks ago, someone placed massive terracotta vases on marble pedestals all along our main street. They filled them with flowers. But no one came to water them.

Now, you can moan at what was clearly a misguided attempt to put lipstick on a pig or you can finally accept that there is no such thing as a beautiful and authentic corner of southern Tuscany that has magically managed to stay off the radar, just waiting for you to arrive on a National Lampoon-esque vacation.

But first, think about your own hometown. I’ll go first. I come from a non-descript Australian suburb surrounded by almost identical non-descript Australian suburbs and largest shopping center in the Southern Hemisphere. Tourists are not visiting my town, but they are visiting plenty of other towns in Australia and we’re okay with that. There’s no tourist brochure emblazoned with the words, “Visit Berwick and Our Football Oval Dedicated to That One Local who Ran in the Olympics Roughly 120 Years Ago.”

So why is it so hard for us to apply that same logic when we visit Tuscany? For the longest time, I thought the locals were stupid for not realizing tourism was the future, but now I wonder.

Just because a town is in Tuscany doesn’t make it beautiful or even alluring. If no one has bragged about it before you, there’s probably a reason. Even if Manciano hadn’t given up the will to live, it still wouldn’t be much to look at.

It’s just an ordinary town with an ordinary history, ordinary buildings, ordinary people (and that one guy who exposed himself onto somebody else’s pizza).

Every country has unremarkable towns and cities. We’re just unfortunate enough to live in a region as famous as Tuscany in a time when every other industry except tourism is hemorrhaging money.

We have to embrace tourism or starve. I have also adjusted expectations. If you want authenticity, you have to take the pitfalls it entails. In 2018, authenticity is just a synonym for unworthy of note.

If Manciano was less boring and more likeable it might be called Florence. Then again, if you like grass…

About the Author:

Australian writer Elisa Scarton wrote the column "In the Sticks" from 2014 through mid-2019.