“If you have pleasant memories of these ancient capitals, I hope you will cherish them.”
My Japanese correspondent is writing about Kyoto and Nara, Japan’s most historic and beautiful cities. “(Kyoto) is one big busy theme park; centuries-old temples and shrines being attractions not unlike Sleeping Beauty’s castle. The signs saying ‘No food’, ‘Do not take photos’, ‘Do not step on moss’ are the only way of telling that this is a historic place of worship. Even ‘no drones’.
It’s a serious problem, and it applies to all the world’s most famous and accessible tourist honeypots. Have you been to Florence recently in summer? Have you seen the cruise liners towering above San Giorgio Maggiore, then disembarking 5,000 passengers who, notoriously, ‘bring their sandwiches.’
Cambridge is another victim of its own success, recently made more acute by, of all things, a dead poet’s fan club. Xu Zhimo studied at King’s in 1922 and was moved by the beauty of the Backs to write a poem about the Cam, rather better, it must be said, than Rupert Brooke’s The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, written ten years before. Two lines of the poem are inscribed on a white boulder by the bridge and willow he describes, perhaps unfortunately inviting the reader to go punting. He can hardly be blamed for the resulting queues.
Chinese students are welcome, of course, but they don’t account for the crowds that at times make King’s Parade a bear garden. Remembering the special flights from Tokyo to Marseille to worship at the shrine of Peter Mayle and A Year in Provence, I dread to think what will happen when China at large starts to apply for tourist visas.