Thursday, January 22, 2009

A sacred trust, broken

To be fair, there's never anyone on this street even in the busy season

For most of the year, it is easy to forget that Strasbourg is not a very large city. The streets are always packed with musicians entertaining the hordes of tourists. There are farmers’ markets on one public square or another almost every day. In our part of town at least, the streets are almost always lively.

All of this builds to the climax of the year, the Christmas markets, which in terms of tourism, is the car-chase-helicopter-explosion-guitar-solo-in Stairway-to-Heaven-soprano-sings-aria-and-stabs-lover-grande-finale of the year.

Then, in January, the city dies.

It’s shocking – you get so used to elbowing your way through stunned, camera wielding herds of Germans, Italians, Americans and Japanese that the ability to walk unimpeded on the sidewalks is disorienting. The only life on the streets near where we are – a neighbourhood whose only businesses are souvenir shops and tourist-restaurants – is provided by bored waiters smoking in their doorways. The occasional solitary traveler, desolately wandering the cobbles like a duckling separated from its mother, elicits pity rather than my usual annoyance.

It’s quiet. Too quiet.

A couple of weeks ago, I won a commission to write a brief city guide for a small airline that will be starting service to Strasbourg. I was expected to include recommendations for what cultural events were going in town.

I checked the local museums website – all of the special exhibitions finish before the article would be published. I checked the city’s website – nothing. The local convention centre? Nada. Finally, I called the city’s tourism office: nothing was happening for the foreseeable future, they told me, adding that the only event that I knew should be happening in the relevant time period hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Writing about Strasbourg professionally was a little strange in other ways as well. I earned the commission on the basis of being a knowledgeable local writer. However, I quickly learned the limits of my local knowledge, which leans heavily to history, rather than anything a visiting businessman would need to know. The article format demanded that I describe three local hotels. As I live here, I’ve never had cause to use any of the local hotels – though I was able to get recommendations from friends who have. Our local friends also directed me to the best local bars and restaurants, making me less “the guy with the local knowledge” so much as “the guy who knows people with local knowledge.”

Worst, for my conscience, was that I wrote about “The Super Secret Location,” which is a betrayal to you, my loyal readers.

The “Super Secret Location” (SSL) is a place in town to which I take all of my visitors, after I make them swear an oath to never reveal its nature to others who may visit me later. The SSL is almost never visited by other tourists, and in fact is not even terribly well-known to natives.

I have never blogged about the SSL, because I know I have readers who may still visit me, and I do not want to ruin the surprise for them. I had planned to do so once I could be fairly sure no more readers were en route. And yet, when faced with a pressing deadline and the lure of filthy British money, I crumbled like... a crumbly thing.

Can you ever forgive me?


Victor Chisholm said...

I can forgive you everything as long as you take me to the "S.S.L." in February!

Jul said...

Only if you reveal this ssl...

Mark Reynolds said...

Jul: OK. Well, it's just off the island, near one of the gates to old city wall... wait a minute! You almost got me!

Victor: It stays secret until at least your arrival.