Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Doing the Double Take: Twain's Split Itinerary

The Hotel du Louvre today, formerly the Grande Hotel du Louve, where the Quaker City passengers stayed.  The Louvre itself is just to the right and down the street in this photo.
     Twain had two itineraries on that first trip to Paris: the official versus the unofficial, the famous places versus the personal experiences, the sites versus the stories. In that way, of course, he was no different from the rest of us when we travel, nor from other travel writers past and present, come to think of it.  We all like to bring home stories of what happened to us elsewhere.
     What's remarkable about Twain's particular split itinerary, however, is its imbalance.  He spends much less time describing the famous places he visited and much more telling strange if entertaining tales.  No doubt that was to be expected from the man who, only a few years earlier, had become famous with a story about a jumping frog contest--and a rigged one gone wrong, to boot.  But his double take also tells some unflattering tales about Paris and Parisians.  And since those stories make up the greater part of his travelogue, most of what he has to say is, well, bad, if only by implication.
     Without further ado, then, here is his split Paris itinerary from his Quaker City trip.  Itinerary A is the official, touristique one; itinerary B is the narrative, negatif one.

Itinerary A 
Sidewalk cafe
International Exposition
Arc d'Etoile (now Arc de Triomphe)   
Military review of Napoleon III         
Notre Dame                                          
Paris Morgue (then a tourist site)         
Bois de Boulogne                                  
Pere Lachaise cemetery
Itinerary B
Bad barber
Lousy pool
Crooked guide
Dirty cancan
Perverted Abelard
Strange Signs
Incomprehensible language 
Ugly Grisettes
Dangerous Slums   
     In Itinerary A, we're more likely to find the good things Twain has to say about Paris, though that's not always the case.  At the Louvre, for example, he mostly bemoans the "cringing spirit"of artists forced to suck up to their "princely patrons" through "nauseous adulation."  His visit to the Bois de Boulogne quickly devolves into his observation that "it was in this park that that fellow with an unpronounceable name made the attempt upon the Russian czar's life last spring with a pistol."
     Still, Twain finds the park "a wonderful wilderness...an enchanting place."  And he's impressed by Notre Dame's "lofty square towers and its rich front," moved by the "mute witness" of the dead in the Morgue, thrilled by the military pomp at the Arc de Triomphe, and struck by Pere Lachaise: "so exquisite in design, so rich in art, so costly in material, so graceful, so beautiful."
     That's all well and good--and much of it is still true today--but let's look at the numbers, folks.  My edition of The Innocents Abroad has 510 pages, 450 of which Twain devotes to the Quaker City trip itself.  Of them, some 55 pages--or seven chapters out of 58 that describe the cruise--take place in France, counting the sections on both Marseille and Paris. That's well over 10 percent, for just one of about 15 countries he visits. 
     Here's the kicker, though.  Itinerary B--the one with the unflattering stories--takes up about 32 pages, depending on how you score it.  Just by the numbers, that's almost 60 percent.  Put another way, if Twain's France-bashing in The Innocents Abroad were rolled up into a piece of legislation before Congress today, it would probably pass without much lobbying, even with the filibuster.
     Voila! Mais, lamentable!

What's so bad about this place?   From the top:  The cafe in the Hotel du Louvre, aptly called the Cafe de la Comedie (because of its location across from La Comedie Francaise ; the hotel's grand lobby today; a mysterious stranger (yours truly) caught in a startled pose at the foot of  the posh staircase; a current-day cruise ship model displayed in the window of a nearby  travel agent.         


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