Tourism

De los Alpes al Atlántico (5) La Grande-Motte, Neufert y el retro futurismo

La Grande Motte

Cuando estudiaba en la Escuela de Arquitectura había un libro básico para los novatos: Arte de Proyectar en Arquitectura, de Ernst Neufert. No se trataba de su metodología de proyecto, sino de su sistemática descripción de la medida de las cosas o las proporciones (dos tabicas+ una huella en un escalón=63 o 64, 44 cm como anchura de asiento…). Ernst Neufert vivió entre 1900 y 1968 y publicó la primera edición de su libro en 1936; pero en la edición de 1986 aún había menciones a fuentes como el instituto Kaiser Guillermo.

Si bien es cierto que la dimensión del ser humano medio no ha variado tanto (y esa era la base de esas dimensiones), también lo es que algunas de las soluciones constructivas o de diseño recogidas en el libro parecen hoy en día anacrónicas. Cuartos de baño mínimos en los que el suelo cuenta con un desagüe para servir en conjunto como duchas, o escaleras con peldañeados imposibles para ahorrar espacio muestran que en la Alemania de la primera mitad del siglo XX aún había un problema importante de vivienda, y que eso también existía, aunque no guste reconocerlo, en otros muchos países (lo cual hace pensar si el Neufert no podría ser un éxito de venta en los “países emergentes”, que siguen teniendo muchos de esos problemas).

La Grande Motte tiene algo de eso. Es un modelo de asentamiento turístico diametralmente opuesto al de otros emplazamientos mediterráneos, como Benidorm, basados en una amplia laxitud del planeamiento. Aquí, en el marco de un programa de saneamiento y promoción turística del entorno de las lagunas del Languedoc bajo De Gaulle, se planteó una ciudad de vacaciones con arquitecturas que destacaran por sus formas entonces futuristas. Los edificios siguen siendo llamativos (aunque no necesariamente hermosos), pero cuando uno se acerca algunas cosas se muestran extrañamente pequeñas, o superadas por las expectativas de confort. Parece casi un ejemplo de retro futurismo; no es en ese sentido tan diferente a Benidorm, donde los rascacielos de hace décadas siguen ahí, con una obsolescencia clara en muchos aspectos, pero representando pese a todo un ideal de futuro pasado, mucho más anárquico en la imagen, aunque con una estética quizás más potente aún. No se alcanzan las cotas del bajo Manhattan (el único casco histórico que conozco con amplios conjuntos de edificios de más de 100 metros), pero hay algo de eso.

Y sin embargo, La Grande Motte no es igual. La profusión de espacios libres públicos y privados, con densidades menores que en el caso de Benidorm, y la idea de comunidad cerrada por las propias condiciones físicas del emplazamiento (podría rodarse una versión de el Show de Truman a la francesa) hace que la relación con el agua y la presencia en el paisaje sean diferentes… desde un punto de vista europeo, porque hay ciertas cosas que casi podrían ser del sur de Florida….

plu Grande Motte

Maps 2014 (34) Vienna Digital Map

Maps34- Viena

The Vienna digital map is one among the herd of web platforms displaying cartography with a degree of detail adapting to the visualization scale. It stands out as there is an elegant selection of colors, a large scale detail based on cadastral data, and some layers that are interesting for a tourist, as the one on the city walks.

Things I saw while on break

The Danube near Vienna, as seen from Khalenberg Hill

The Danube near Vienna, as seen from Khalenberg Hill

For those that have followed this blog during the last years, here is the proof it has not disappeared. Just a small fraction of that time was a break (most of it was quite the opposite…), but it was worth it.

During that time I have seen and thought about some interesting things, either on travel or through other means. Here are some, which can be viewed as a thematic layout of future posts:

  • Vienna: I had never visited Austria. After a recent trip to Germany I was curious to see the other big Germanic country, not so much (or rather no only) for its past as an old empire that imploded almost overnight in 1918, but more as a country in which I thought an interesting version of modernity was happening. The trip has indeed been interesting. My knowledge of German is schematic, and if I told you I have grasped the soul of the country after just a few days you would (for a good reason) think I’m just bragging; but some things have seemed interesting.
  • The evolution of the idea of sustainable development (or its weakening under some points of view). The quarrels surrounding the ministerial reorganization in France during this summer have made me remember news read during the recent municipal and European elections there. Among the promises made by local candidates of the National Front in many cities were the ones about letting again access the city core by car without restrictions, reversing policies adopted years ago to try to reduce pollution and conserve the old cities qualities. The National Front is a particularity in the French political system, but its rise is fuelled by their ability to grasp subjects that galvanize citizens. They raised that idea in many cities, but not in Paris and Lyon, where things cannot be so simplified. On the other hand, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President, who instituted a Ministry for Durable Development, said in 2011 during a visit to the Agricultural Convention of Paris “the environment, it is becoming a bit too much”. On the other side, the relations between socialists and ecologists in France are far from easy (hence the initial mention to the French politics of this summer). The evolution over time of the UK policies on that matter has also been controversial there. Many in Europe will think that this is just peanuts compared to the American scene, forgetting the fact that there the scene is also mixed, as you just have to compare Republicans in the Congress (denial of climate change) to Schwarzeneger or Bloomberg (climate change policies) to see what I talk about. Are we witnessing the end of sustainable development as a somehow blind faith (believing in something presented as good, even if not understood by many that feel it just brings costs or even nuisance to their way of life) that can be used by politicians and marketers alike, to see a more critical conscience emerge, or else? Therein lies the rump….
  • A new rise in the social demand for rules, not as a defence of some economic interests, but of other matters lied to the idea of common good. These days there have been demonstrations in Barcelona against the growing presence of tourists renting apartments in an informal way in the Barceloneta area; they use what to some is a reduced booze price and a perceived image of Spain as a permissive country to behave in ways that perhaps could be subject to prosecution in their own countries. Sure, hotel owners have used that to talk about unlawful competition (a bit like taxi drivers revolts against Uber), but the neighbours asked here for quite simple things: the right to sleep without noise, or to move around their city without seeing gross scenes. I have read on today’s Washington Post a quite similar news concerning Ocean City, Maryland. The fear of squadrons of youth looking for booze and party, ruining the calm of a neighbourhood by renting homes piecemeal has also surfaced, and is also criticized by those saying that as the city lives from tourism, this must be endured. So Barceloneta (a popular neighbourhood with high density) is on the same wavelength as Ocean City (apparently a richer, lower density area). Some will present this as a case of NIMBY (Not In My BackYard), a resistance to accept externalities related to the inherent complexity of cities. But this seems something more, a symptom of a general evolution of the idea of what can be or not accepted in a society.
  • I have also seen interesting physical landscapes

Maps 2014 (13) Walk NYC

Here is a map that (apparently) can only be consulted in the streets of New York. The classical pedestrian map, that lets you find your way, has been subject to an interesting approach in the American context, as in NYC people walk. From the way maps are oriented (not always with the north up, but taking into account the position of the beholder) to the design of the icons, an elegant work by Pentagram.

Unexpected meetings (7)

Gata

To be honest, the title here is not entirely accurate: I knew about the landscape interest of Gata (Cáceres, Spain), and in fact I was in a visit preceded by a quite complete briefing. The unexpected being here to which extent I liked how the different elements fit. And largely, the pines to the right of the church in the first image, just a handful, but clearly leaving a good imprint on that landscape.

gata 2

Trentemoult

tentemoult4

Trentemoult, a small traditional village on the Loire river, just off Nantes, is a clear reminder that sometimes ratios and figures will tell you just a part of the story. This is one of the densest settlements you will see for such a small village, just if you do not look at so many other traditional fisher villages.
Image by lordnicklas on panoramio

tentemoult0

The Nantes area was until recently just a myriad of fluvial islands. Trentemoult was on the western tip of one of them, with access just by boat. So it comes naturally that the site was scarce and the best possible use could only be attained through density, not going for height but by minimizing open spaces.

tentemoult1

But in the end, what you get is, on such a small place with so many people, that the homes become so small as to be about the size of the also small streets. So, in the end, narrow streets end taking a disproportionate amount of space.

tentemoult2

Cars can not be used in many of these narrow streets, and you seldom have open views; but this has not turned it into a decaying area. It has a certain charm, it is part of the metropolitan mythology as the set for the 1991 motion picture “La Reine Blanche”, and seems rather reasonably maintained by inhabitants

tentemoult3

Tórtoles

Aerial view of Tórtoles, by Ricardo Melgar on Panoramio. His collection of images of Castille is simply excellent.

Tórtoles de Esgueva is a small village in Ribera del Duero (Burgos province, Spain), which I already blogged about last year. The rural development strategy for the area focuses on wine and the associated tourism, as well as on rural tourism. The Posada- Monasterio in the village is a good example of it, with an interesting architectural rehabilitation and a quality hotel service. Besides, they organize some art-related events which go way beyond what many would think of a small Castilian village.

The village is, as often, on the slope connecting the fertile valley bottom to the upper cereal cultivation grounds, with a south- looking orientation. As in such villages, the interesting architectural elements are the church and the monastery. Vernacular architecture persist, albeit sometimes a bit modified. 

The monastery (left) and the church (right)

The monastery (left) and the church (right)
An art installation at the chappel in 2010, by Carlos León

An art installation at the chappel in 2010, by Carlos León

How many tourists are here today?

Counting umbrellas on the sand is far from being a tested methodology...

Counting umbrellas on the sand is far from being a tested methodology…

Sure, there is a little trap in the question: in statistical terms, in Spain a tourist is a person that moves from his usual home to a different geographical point, is far from home more than 24 hours, and sleeps in a different geographical place. So, a one day trip to go eat some ribs and then coming back home for your siesta is not, technically speaking, tourism (even if some professionals sometimes count it as such).

But visiting your grandmother in her small village in the Yorkshire Moors for some days could be counted as tourism (even if you spend not a penny out of her home).

I remember a speech by a former Barcelona City Councilor, now high executive for a tourism company, in which he explained how they were baffled, in the early 1990s, to see the streets of the city bustling with Japanese tourist, while there were virtually no Japanese staying in city hotels. It seems the City Council played a detective game by following around the clock some groups of Japanese tourists, to finally discover that they were sleeping in southern France (therefore concentrating there most of their tourism expenditure) and commuting each day by bus from there. Since, Barcelona has made everything to foster Asian tourism, to become the Spanish airport with most flights to Asia.

So, as for many other issues, knowing the precise number of tourists, and their expenditure profile, is always complex and there will always be a degree of fuzziness (it is incredible how many grandmas, or friends letting you use their apartment, exist in this world…), but there are attempts. A method is to count, for a given period, the number of beds open to the public in hotels and other kinds of lodging, and to multiply it by the occupation rate. This does not include the “unregulated offer” (grandmas, friends, or house renting by ordinary citizens), but it is an attempt. The tourism expenditure (which has its own statistical niceties) is a more important affair sometimes.