Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's all the flap about?

Just got back from a short and very local break. Seen the most bizarre and often self-centered behaviour while travelling. The lengths some people will go to reach their tiny goal, like getting to the breakfast table before anyone else, even if it means queue jumping a severely disabled person in sweltering heat and requiring them to wait for the lift a whole lot longer... To the man who did that: "Comment avez-vous pu faire cela?" commonly translated as "What's up with you, you selfish git" to put it very mildly.

Well, travelling in another age, several generations ago, things were very different obviously - it was a much more serious affair, even sombre some might say. Look at the trunks - heavy, hardy things able to withstand all manner of treatment, but also looking a bit like they would hold treasure. In the 30's Cecil Beaton wrote an article for Vogue: 'Maiden Voyage' in it he describes the arrival at his departure point "All roads to Southampton were busy with a stream of cars speeding to the Queen Mary. On the dock, a large yellow caterpillar, the awning gangplank, led to the new monster ship, where a Hieronymus Bosch inferno of activity, so strangely in contrast with the bucolic scene outside, assumed an almost terrifying unreality."

Thinking of treasure I have a 'handed-down' book (from my much travelled Great Aunt who was, in her time, a bit of a Flapper) "What to say in French" by Y. Fussot. The language both English and French is very beautiful and so much more serious than now (pardon the lack of ecute and grave accents): "Le voyage m'a derange, je me sens deprime. Pouvez-vous me donner un tonique?" "The journey has affected me, and I feel depressed. Can you give me a tonic?" And "What do you ask for the three rooms and the kitchen?" (I could list the entire book it gives me such geeky pleasure every time I refer to it).

Looking at this later bunch makes me aware that travel had become much less serious in this time, more often, more at the drop of a hat. Look at the cases (no longer trunks) they are smaller, less robust and seem to be smiling. In this period travelling abroad was accessible to a greater number of people and certainly it was quicker, however something quite necessary was lost in the process. Elegance, stature and decorum. Call me a romantic.

I remember as a young adult going to parts of Southern Europe and being beguiled by their differentness and over time seeing these places producing English breakfast, lunch and dinner and so on, how daft is that. Why go abroad if the only thing you will eat is English food? I even saw the archetypal male wearing a knotted hanky on his head and the flag on his arse. That was a long time ago. Maybe it's changed now (I hope so).

However, if our cases are anything to go by (and my recent experience) things have become more downcast, rather ugly and mean.

L'espoir et le desespoir sont freres.

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