I'm all for cultural tourism, yet it's still odd to see what communities will do for a tourist buck. I think of that every time a Duck goes blasting and quacking through downtown Seattle.
This came to mind while driving Highway 2. In Cashmere, famed for a candy confection that's essentially sugary kitsch for your mouth, they've got streets named Aplets Way and Cotlets Way. From what I can tell, they don't intersect. The appeal of these candies has always been mysterious to me — I still remember the look of bafflement on the face of a well-traveled British friend who wanted to know exactly what a "Cotlet" was. I'd eaten boxes full of the stale confections since childhood and couldn't tell him.
If you want a real dose of cultural diabetes, just go down the road to faux Bavarian Leavenworth, which packs more of a glucose wallop than Black Forest Cake. The gingerbread detailing, the gothic sign lettering (many almost unreadable), and cutesy cuckoo-clock feel of the place are almost overwhelming, making a traveler want to collapse at the nearest inn, perhaps at the Bavarian-style Howard Johnson's (Ho-Jo Hof?).
Leavenworth's schtick is out-done by the natural beauty of its setting, but the town itself is uber-tacky. Therefore it's popular and jammed with tourists. But in terms of cultural tourism, just what culture is being celebrated? Not German, not Swiss, not Cascadian — rather a brand of American commercial culture. Here's how bizarre it gets: amid the boutiques and nutcracker shops you'll find the Bavarian themed Australian Shop, a chalet that features nothing but merchandize from Down Under, from kolas to Akubras. Hey, throw another schnitzel on the barbie!
In contrast, there's something refreshing and honest about the fading, almost-ghost-towns of the Columbia Plateau.
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