Jul. 29th, 2011

katsmeat: (BadHairDay)
On Tuesday, on impulse, I bought an 1895 Baedecker guide as a present for somebody. Despite being 116 years out of date, it wasn't fantastically expensive as (with a few exceptions) they're not especially rare. Plus I knew the bookseller so I got a small discount.

The General Advice to the Traveler, however, is utterly fantastic. It is so completely Merchant-Ivory-Lucy-Honeychurch-Room-With-a-View it's untrue. There's advice on hiring horses and mules, how much I should expect to pay for a day's hire of either a single–horse carriage or a carriage-and-pair, how to convert temperature measured in Réaumur into Fahrenheit and the useful tip that English gold coins are readily accepted at full value in the larger towns. It also tells me:

Travelers who are not fastidious as to their table-companions may find excellent cuisine, together with moderate charges at the hotels frequented by commercial travellers.


Two or three gentlemen journeying together may travel more economically than a single tourist, but the presence of ladies generally adds considerably to the expense of the party.


Sketching, photographing or making notes near fortified places sometimes exposes innocent travelers to disagreeable suspicions or worse, and should therfore be avoided.


Oddly, this last one reminded me of a quote from Jerome K Jerome's Three Men on the Bummel, a comic novel about three Englishmen doing a cycle-tour in Germany, published at about the same time as the Baedecker. The narrator is pointing out that although the advice he gives is always good, things never seem to work out well for the advisee, his book should therefore under no circumstances be treated as a guide.
If I instruct a man as to the best route between London and Rome, he loses his luggage in Switzerland, or is nearly shipwrecked off Dover. If I counsel him in the purchase of a camera, he gets run in by the German police for photographing fortresses.

So pre-1914, when Europe was an armed tinderbox, as the metaphor-mixing clichiests tell us, it must've been fairly common for there to be unpleasant incidents involving unworldly, British tourists, watercolour sketch pads, picturesque but sensitive border areas and suspicious gendarmes. So much so it became a comedy trope.

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