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14 March 2008

Oh the Places I'll Go: Romantic Tourism

I've been thinking a lot lately about travel, tourism, and vacations.

Partly I'm thinking about it with regret, because I've had to cancel a trip to Mexico in order to finish revising my November novel, The Edge of Impropriety.

(Which -- apropos of nothing but my own excitement about it -- has a very lovely cover, doesn't it?)

But since this is my day to blog, I'm also thinking about tourism historically. About the Grand Tours of the Georgian era, intended to give young English gentlemen a patina of classical artistic culture, and perhaps some statuary to bring home to the family gallery. And about romantic tourism during the Regency period, when people schlepped to regions hitherto considered unpleasant, to contemplate sublime, craggy vistas and moody ruins. (One of the most intriguing things about history for me is the mystery of changing taste. And isn't it also an odd conjuncture, that the time frame that romance writers call the Regency, literary scholars call the Romantic period?)

And I'm thinking about the ways (especially during holiday trips taken in a holiday mood) that tourists of that period probably saw as selectively as any other tourists.

The romantic poet William Wordsworth certainly did. For all that he was an indefatigable hiker and lover of nature, Wordsworth wasn't above blurring his vision when it suited him, finding what he wanted to find and overlooking those parts of the picture that didn't fit.

In any case, the generations of English majors who've read Wordsworth's "Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey" might be forgiven if they think the poem is a portrait of an entirely "wild secluded scene". But the more interesting truth is to be found in William Gilpin's Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, &c. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770. For according to that popular contemporary travel book, the ruin that Wordsworth wrote his poem about might now be called "a homeless enclave."

The hedge-rows Wordsworth mentions, "the little lines of sportive wood run wild," are evidence that the area had recently been enclosed, which process of privatization of what had previously been common grazing land had resulted in depriving many of the poor of an agricultural livelihood. And although Wordsworth does make some picturesque mention of hermits, and more confusingly, of "vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods," Gilpin's view of the scene comes as a revelation, of "the poverty and wretchedness of the inhabitants," who

occupy little huts, raised among the ruins of the monastery, and seem to have no employment but begging.... As we left the abbey, we found the whole hamlet at the gate, either openly soliciting alms, or covertly, under the pretence of carrying us to some part of the ruins, which each could shew; and which was far superior to anything which could be shewn by anyone else...

Nor, according to Gilpin, would it have been possible to miss the "great iron-works," half a mile away, "which introduce noise and bustle into these regions of tranquillity."

Which makes me wonder: When I do get to travel next, what I'll see and what I'll doubtless miss or screen out.

And how much it's possible to see and show in a historical novel.

Readers, what are your preferences?

Writers, how do you handle these issues?

And everybody (*grin*) what do you think of my new cover?

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Kate Dolan said...

You raise some really interesting points I hadn't considered before. We know when we look at a modern travel brochure that in the photo of the "picturesque view" from the hotel, the photographer has probably framed the shot to screen out the sign of the gas station next door or the highway running between the pool and the beach. But I tend to forget that not only can the "un"picturesque details be screened out of a photo or written description, they can literally be screened out of our memories or even our current perception. For example, at the Ft. Frederick Market Fair, when I go to an evening event where everyone is dressed in period attire, I can "see" things just as they might have looked in the 18th Century. Some of the roads and paths in the park are paved, but since I don't want to see them that way, I literally don't. I fool myself because I want to. I "pull a Wordsworth," although I don't have the skill with poetry to make it sound as good, of course.
I wonder if the homeless guys who hang out in the baseball dugout near my house would look more picturesque if I thought of them as "hermits ensconced in lonely huts." And maybe the litter left by the bus stop would look pretty if I thought of it as the "detritus of despondent travelers making their way to lands unknown." And the dirty dishes all over my kitchen are the "vestiges of life ever in motion, leaving chaos in its wake"
This is getting fun! I don't ever have to clean again, just put on my rose colored glasses. Thanks!
--Kate Dolan (who just discovered this blog and will definitely be back!)

8:46 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Pam, what a fabulous cover! It's definitely going on my Amazon wish list. And an excellent post. It reminds me of trips I've taken to New Orleans. The first trip that I took was with my now ex. We were newly in love, so the city had a romantic sheen. Everything was beautiful. When I went back for the RWA conference, I was shocked at how shabby the city was, and how many poverty stricken areas. How had I missed this the last time I was here? Still after a few days in the Big Easy, sipping hurricanes, the romantic glow was back on. I had a similar experience in Venice. When I first arrived, the city looked nothing like I had imagined it would be, the narrow streets, the smell of the canals, but within a few days, I was in love! Although I had visions of that scene in Summertime when Katherine Hepburn falls into the canal.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Kate, welcome. Anyone who can post like you is a keeper!

I know I screen things out when I travel (like the horror of being crammed into a plane for hours and hours and hours). I think you have to. I seem to spend quite a bit of my travel time in non-Western countries, and if I really let myself see what was around me, I'd spend the whole trip crying.

I'm off to Bangladesh in about a week, and once again I'll be dealing with the disturbing dichotomy of staying at a 5-star Western hotel and traveling past almost unimaginable poverty on a daily basis. In Morocco, I saw a French guy KICK a toddler who was begging bread from our tables. KICK a child. Nearly a baby. For holding out its hand and asking for bread the asshole wasn’t going to eat anyway. I left the restaurant and gave the kid the two loaves off my table (and was promptly scolded by the locals). I’m inured to the homeless on the streets of San Francisco, but I couldn’t withstand that kid. I think this is why the famous crying girl of Taksim in Istanbul has become a type of job. The locals know the position is filled by a succession of gypsy girls, and that if you watch her from a distance, she only cries when there are Western tourists nearby, but it freaks the tourists out and they hand out money to her like crazy.

And yes, Pam, GREAT COVER! I can’t wait for the book!!!

9:36 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Welcome, Kate, and Pam, you know I love that cover! It's a total class act, so elegant.

Often when I travel it is part of my research for one of my historical novels. I know I practice anti-modern selectivity in these cases. Not only do I choose to visit the "old town" areas of various cities, but I find myself deliberately tuning out the modern world, willing it to disappear in fact, waiting for buses or tourists clad in jeans and sweatshirts to leave the frame before I snap a photo. I want to remember the location's "timelessness" or at least a sense of how I want to believe it was, or how I want to portray it.

But of course, you make an excellent point in that in many cases the intrusions of the modern (at the time) era were always there, and one tends to filter them out in favor of waxing rhapsodic about the pastoral.

I know I sure as hell don't want, e.g., The Disney Store or a Starbucks to intrude on my views of Milsom Street in Bath (actually, as of 2006, the Seattle chain had mercifully not made it that far, although there are franchises all over London). Not only do I want my personal snapshots to reflect the way my writer's imagination wants to paint it, but I want to allow all the sensations of being in that location I have traveled to, to imbue me while I ponder what it might have been like to stand there in my redingote, or panniers, or crinolines, or bustle, what I might have seen and smelled and heard.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Welcome, Kate, and thanks. You put it better than I did. And remember too that the Georgian obsession with the picturesque was very much a matter of how one framed a view -- the Humphrey Reptons and the Capability Browns literally moving mountains of earth on "improved" estates to create "pleasing prospects" -- as in my earlier post called Two Views of a Countryside.

Elizabeth, your post reminded me of my first trip to Paris.

While Kalen's reminds me of a Baudelaire prose poem, set in Paris a century and a half before, called The Eyes of the Poor.

Unfortunately, I'm also often inured to suffering on the streets of San Francisco. But I'll never forget when my son was 3, and he first noticed a homeless person passed out at 16th and Valencia and started to cry -- in fear, mostly, I think, that nobody was doing anything about it. I suppose a small child might rightly wonder that if people are left passed out on the street, who's to know what kind of a world this was?

12:05 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I enjoy that kind of historical tourism too, Amanda. And after all, it's partly what the historical fiction business is about -- the business and the pleasure both. It heightens the pleasure for me as a writer, though, the rare times I can find the slightly jarring contemporary detail that will make it clear that my characters live in a world that was as unfinished to them as ours is to us.

And thanks all, for the nice words about the cover!

12:12 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

The cover truly is lovely, Pam and just exudes class. Can't wait to get my hands on it!

For those of you who have not been, Salzburg is a city divided by a river. There are a series of bridges that connect the two sides of the city. One side is more modern (which is a relative term in Austria!) the other is truly the old city where Mozart Square and Getreidegasse (the street where Mozart's birthplace is) are. I spent a lot of time on both sides of the river. However, when I needed to feel connected to the music, to Mozart, to history, I wandered around the old city. These were the streets he walked and I just felt a kinship to all musicians there.

I think when we are in tourist mode we tend to see what we came to see and our mind acts as an editor to keep out anything we didn't come to see.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Kate Dolan said...

I forgot to say that I, too, admire your new book cover. (Perhaps it was a tinge of jealousy??? It seems like for every elegant, beautiful cover we get about 17 that are either trashy, silly or just look like they were designed by a 6th grader with a new graphics program and she couldn't resist trying out EVERY feature.)
It's sad that we find ourselves screening out evidence of poverty on a daily basis, but I suppose it's no more than people have been doing since the dawn of, well, wealth, I guess. It's kind of amazing to think that there were poor people even before there was money. It kind of makes you wonder what a stone aged woman (who was rich because she had two extra animal skin capes and some domesticated goats) might have screened out when she was looking around. Would she ignore the starving orphan hanging around outside the cave? Or the crumpled up Starbucks cup left by a thoughtless time traveler? (Sorry, it's hard to imagine stone age trash. Even old bones and broken pottery seem picturesque somehow...)

7:19 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

thanks, doglady and kate, about my cover.

I think when we are in tourist mode we tend to see what we came to see and our mind acts as an editor to keep out anything we didn't come to see.

I agree, doglady, which is probably why India is known to undo tourists, wearing them down by overwhelming the internal editor.

In a more manageable way, I was always feeling that way about Tokyo, and I loved it. A different logic to things, the mind doing contortions to know how to deal with, say, the skyline... is that really a big golden statue of a turnip, next to the building built of what look like purple Legos, while as we step up and down and around a stairway built as though by CM Escher around a highway entrance, two young women on bicycles with babies in seats behind them sing out "sumimasen" (excuse me) to us as they merge into traffic? I wanna go back.

And I love the idea of a crumpled Starbucks cup left by a time traveler, Kate.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Sorry to be chiming in late! Wonderful post, Pam! Kate, so glad you found us!

Like Amanda, I mentally edit out the modern world on research trips. I'll sit in Berkeley Square and imagine the remaining Georgian houses all round the square in place of the more modern buildings. I'll blur together Regency=era paintings and engravings with the image in front of me to try to conjure up the scene from my books.

Pam, I remember being very disturbed by homeless people on the streets of San Francisco as a young child, Through the years I've become all too inured to the sight, but one of the reasons I try to look homeless people in the eye and sometimes exchanges words or give them money is that I don't ever want to the moment where I mentally edit them out of my reality. My current work in progress includes a mention of Regency-era homeless people sleeping in Hyde Park at night (taken from a contemporary description by someone who didn't edit them out of the landscape).

And Pam, your cover is just fabulous! So elegant and evocative and intriguing!

7:08 PM  
Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

Excellent and thoughtful post, Pam. You already know I love the new cover.

I'm the same way as Tracy -- I never screen out the homeless. I have an office in the Tenderloin, and the homeless are residents of the neighborhood. It just doesn't seem neighborly to ignore the folks who share the space with me.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Tracy, I'm fascinated that there were homeless people sleeping in Hyde Park, and that you found a contemporary source. And Doreen, I know that you're too direct a person to screen out what's in front of your eyes every day.

On my 2 trips to London, I was never able to blur the view into Regency -- though I can always look at Paris and imagine Proust and Picasso and Colette and Gertrude Stein just around the corner.

But Paris has a kind of "under-glass"-ness that London does not, all the Paris buildings the same height (well, almost), and like that. It took me a while to get used to London's look of having past and present going at the same time, but now I like the fact that when I'm visiting it I'm visiting Thackeray's London and also Nick Hornby's and Hanif Kareishi's.

8:35 PM  

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