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Monday, February 25, 2008

Blue Chairs: imagining Greece, the perception & reality

I couldn't help but capture a snap of these bright blue cafe chairs at a taverna on the waterfront at Chania, Crete, yesterday. How often have you seen similar images on Greece Tourism television ads, in travel guidebooks, or on postcards? This is one of those quintessential scenes that creators of travel images and architects of representations have reproduced innumerable times in the media to feed our desire for postcard-perfect pictures of those destinations we dream of going to for that ideal vacation. This is how we imagine Greece thanks to clever branding, strategic marketing, unimaginative picture-editing, and our willingness to accept the perpetuation of myths. But, Greece's blue chairs aren't entirely a myth... we've seen them all over, from Santorini to Samos, and today in a small town on the south coast of Crete we saw taverna owners taking advantage of the off-season to paint their chairs - Mediterranean blue! And when you travel in Greece you can't not love the blue chairs. They just make those holiday snaps so pretty. But the reality can sometimes be very different to the perception. Visits to tavernas aren't always the idyllic dining experiences you imagine. There are the annoying touts who try to get you in. The menus in four different languages. The menus with pictures. The 'traditional' Greek menus that feature hamburgers and schnitzel. The poor and disinterested service once they've sat you down. The extras added to the bill (and not the kind we like). And I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. As we wandered by this taverna in Chania yesterday the female owner was making her small son lunch. As soon as she saw us she stood and started to call us in. Her voice was desperate. She was pleading almost. But the place was empty. Locals were heading to the tavernas on either side of hers. Tavernas with plain wooden chairs. I felt sorry for her and wanted to go in. But as a travel writer I knew there was a reason for the lack of local patronage (always the best indicator of where to eat) and it had nothing to do with her seating. A couple of hours later when we strolled by after eating an excellent meal at a nearby restaurant that was crowded with locals we saw that her taverna was closed. Sadly, I regretted not giving it a go. But in the end, it takes more than blue chairs to entice.


Wendy said...

Hi Lara,
nice shot. Funny you should leave a comment on my blog yesterday about Dubai. I booked a flight a few days ago and am heading there the first week in April. I've picked up the guide that you and Terry penned :^) and am looking forward to my first trip there.
Wendy (escape from new york).

Kim Wildman said...

Hi Lara,
I have to admit I was totally sold on the image of the cute Mediterranean blue chairs while I was in Greece and they featured very heavily in all my photographs! The danger is that through this scopophilic desire to actively seek out and take the same photographs we become what Susan Sontag calls 'tourists of reality'. I did a study on it while living in Cape Town and just posted a piece on it in my latest blog post.

laradunston said...

Hi Wendy - thanks! - I wish we could be there when you're visiting but we'll be heading to Istanbul, then Milan... BTW which guide did you buy - our LP Dubai Encounter or Dubai City Guide? Or the DK Top Ten perhaps? Let me know so I can update you on anything that has changed since. And also let me know if you want some specifics. Can't wait to hear what you think. Also check out our latest Dubai reviews on

Hi Kim
I'm going to go read your piece now. I love Sontag. You've reminded me of that essay - now that's something I'm going to have to blog about!

Wendy said...

Hi Lara,
sorry I will miss you as well. I do hope our paths cross one day though. I picked up the LP City Guide. Thank you! If you know of good vantage points for photographing the city that someone without local knowledge wouldn't be able to figure out I would love that intel. Sounds like your feet haven't touched the ground in ages but if you get the chance I'll leave you with my e-mail:
escapefromnewyork AT hotmail Dot Com.
I'm off to read the above link. Thanks again,

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

Greece! Istanbul! Milan! Oh my........:)

That's such a sad little story about the tavern owner. Whenever I am in Washington DC, I spend all my time going to Iranian restaurants that I think are "in trouble". It's my one woman campaign to save Iranian cuisine overseas. Yeesh.

PS I know I owe you an email. We have set an opening for PP on Sept 20, fyi.

Wendy said...

Hi Lara,
I completely forgot to mention in my last comment that Arthur Frommer recently solicited comments on his blog asking why tourists are going to Dubai. I quote "Can anyone explain to me: Why? What is there to do there?" He received some strong comments. Thought you might be interested. - Wendy

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