The search for the Authentic

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Picture by Steve Bittinger

When destinations seem increasingly to be sold as places to cross off our bucket list, as one of the hundreds we NEED to have seen to make the most of our time on Earth, we rush from one place to another on board of low-cost flights trying to tick all the boxes. While it may certainly be an appealing and exhilarating way to travel, it is, I think, no different than trying to complete the most rides on a day at Disneyland.

The “Authentic” does not exist in Disneyland! Authenticity, with a capital “A”, is by definition the hardest thing to fake. It cannot be planned, therefore cannot be included in a package, nor printed as a promise on a travel agent’s brochure. But aren’t we all looking for authentic experiences, meaningful moments that help us find our place in the world or open ourselves to each other’s culture and ideas?

In Scotland, there’s plenty of faux-authentic on sale: a stroll on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on a July afternoon should suffice to convince anybody saying otherwise. And that’s absolutely fine! If in a rush, the faux-authentic will do, it will offer a sense of what Scotland is, in a simplified, easily-digestible way. Fair enough.

Now, in my 7 years living in Edinburgh, I can’t recall a single significant memory that happened to me on the Royal Mile. My best memories are elsewhere: strolling through an empty St Abbs on a January evening, feeling like I'm on the edge of the world at Eshaness in Shetland, celebrating Halloween with locals like they were my best friends in a pub on Ardnamurchan Peninsula, encountering a herd of deer on my way up Ben A’an... None of these moments were planned. All are lasting memories.

Perhaps this is where the “Authentic” might lie: in the unexpected.

Nicolas Loisel