ship is scheduled to arrive on Monday, May 21st at 6 a.m. and
multiple efforts are underway to optimize their experience. A
dock-side party is being arranged to greet the guests as they
de-board, multiple tours are being organized directly with the ship’s
tour coordinator, Eureka Main Street is working with businesses to
ensure that stores are open and ready, a community clean-up is being
Reading this recent press release from the City of Eureka, I wondered, Is Eureka about to become a Potemkin Village?
The story of the original Russian Potemkin Villages goes back to the late 1700s. Russia had just annexed the Crimea (the peninsula jutting into the northern Black Sea) from the Ottoman Empire, and was in the process of rebuilding villages and repopulating the area with Russians, kicking out the former Muslim Tartar inhabitants.
Grigory Potemkin had a dual role in helping run the country, both as governor of the Crimea and lover of Russian Empress Catherine II. By all accounts, neither was an easy task. The story (or perhaps myth, historians are divided) is that when Catherine decided to visit her new Crimean territory, Potemkin wanted to impress her with his skills as governor. He arranged for temporary villages to be built, filled for the day of Catherine’s visit by his own men dressed as healthy, happy peasants. Overnight, the village would be dismantled and rebuilt nearby for Catherine to visit the next day. Instead of seeing devastation and famine, the Empress was thereby convinced her new territory was thriving.
The phrase “Potemkin Village” thus means a facade, literally or figuratively, designed to fool observers into believing that something is better than it actually is. The most notorious example was the Theresienstadt concentration camp during WW2, designed to fool (apparently successfully) the Danish Red Cross into thinking that conditions in the camps were humane. (It was nicknamed “the Paradise Ghetto.”) More recently, Enron maintained an entire fake trading floor in its Houston headquarters “used to impress Wall Street analysts attending Enron’s annual shareholders meeting” according to Wikipedia, which also tells us, in a recent instance of a Potemkin Village, that, “In preparation for hosting the July 2013 G8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, large photographs were put up in the windows of closed shops in the town so as to give the appearance of thriving businesses.”
And now we’re about to do our own Potemkin number by organizing a clean-up to impress the presumably well-heeled passengers visiting later this month. Which begs the question: Why do we have to wait for a cruise ship to dock here before we clean up the place? Don’t residents deserve the same as visitors, i.e. to be able to walk around town enjoying a trash-free environment — perhaps (in my dreams!) not subject to tweakers overturning garbage cans and yelling abuse at all and sundry?
I don’t remember the same fuss about a welcoming committee and clean up when The World berthed at Schneider Dock across from Fisherman’s Wharf in 2012. (I guess they moored there because of its 22 ft draft — I hope they can figure out a dock closer to town this time around.)
But hey, let’s give it our best shot. If you see any tanned, bemused strangers wandering around town looking lost on May 21, please smile, tell them welcome. And don’t forget to wear your best peasant outfit.