Monday, June 20, 2011


This was a question asked yesterday at breakfast at La Preghiera, Umbria, Italy, where we live, the lady who posed the question was actually staying in Villa Moscatelli, our adjacent but smaller house, and she was one of the last guests left over from the wedding we had just organised in our grounds and chapel.

We were discussing the local historical attractions of Assisi and Saint Francis, Perugia and Perugino (and not just the Baci chocolates), Montone and the strong-arm Fortebraccio, Caprese and Michaelangelo, Cortona and Under the Tuscan Sun, Lake Trasimeno and Hannibal and a few other local worthies. During the conversation vintage postcards, lead soldiers, local house sales and renovations, and film locations, were gently promoted.

Why do you do it, was the question directed at me by a lady of mature years with whom I had briefly discussed the merits of Reel Streets. We both agreed on the nostalgic aspect for the old stars and their films, but the lady had never considered the then and now association of the locations used in the films, the changes in the buildings, the shops, the vehicles, the clothes, the behaviour, the culture, the very way we now live and react to the world and the people around us, that has changed, and is continuing to change, during our lifetimes

Imagine, the Western cultures coming to the aid of the Arab nations. Sixty years ago they were peoples in the way of the pursuit of the Italian and German forces, and if a few hundred, or a few thousand got killed and all their houses destroyed, tough. And what if Mussolini’s troops invaded, massacred and gassed a few thousand Ethiopians, Somalis and Eritreans, not really any of our business, or that of the League of Nations.
Sixty years before that, we, the northern Europeans, were actively attempting to destroy or enslave the African peoples. Us, the Brits in Egypt and the Sudan, the French and Spanish in Morocco, and a bit further south the Belgians in the Congo, the Germans in West Africa, and us, actually fighting our own kind, northern Europeans, the God-fearing and Christian Dutch in South Africa.

Today, happily, many of us lean over backwards to assist those in need, we are more ready to accept into our homes and families those persons of a different cultural background, of a different religion and of a different skin colour.

But the question was, “Why do you do it”? These old films, what is the attraction of these old sites, these locations? I turned the question around and asked the lady why she was going to visit Assisi in the morning and, with her husband, the site of the Roman battle at Trasimeno, tomorrow. “Ah, because I have a deep interest in Saint Francis, and my husband just loves military history”.

“So, walking in the footsteps of the famous. This is historically induced tourism”, I suggested. “Just so”, she readily agreed. Had the lady ever been to Haworth , Bronte’ countryside? “Oh yes, and we loved it”. But the Bronte’ area is based on the sisters’ success as novelists, which was fiction, not fact, I pointed out. “Oh yes, but it was lovely to walk among the lanes and imagine it all” said the lady. Tourism induced by fiction I suggested. “Yes”, the lady sighed, “but so romantic”.

So, I said, the reason why we do it is a combination of romance, fiction, nostalgia, history and interest, can I offer you the DVD of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” for you to view before you go to Assisi, and even “Romeo and Juliet”, Zefferelli’s masterpiece, before you go off to Bologna? Oh, We’ve seen that, that’s why we want to go there.

Exactly, I said, film induced tourism. Fiction by Shakespeare, interpreted by Zefferelli, made into “fact” by the studio publicity men, and underpinned by the tourist office of Bologna. “Oh yes, said she, so romantic, so sad”.

And that, said I, is why, in part, we do it.