Thursday, July 05, 2012

eReadings 17

The Innocents Abroad
Mark Twain

Having previously read A Tramp Abroad, I was reluctant enough to read this one that I read a bit first with a browser before downloading to my Kindle.

This book predated A Tramp Abroad, being published in 1869, after a chartered excursion to Europe, sailing around the Mediterranean. It differed quite a bit from the cruises popular now, since one might be let off somewhere in Italy and then go travelling for a month to Paris and other inland sites.

One certainly gets quite a bit of commentary of the mercenary nature of travel at the time. Everywhere you go, there is someone to pay some fee to, some guide to hire, and many a beggar along the way.

Not so different from sightseeing now is the pressure one feels and the ease of being shuttled around from sight to sight, and we hear Mr. Twain railing against the fatigue that sets in as you visit yet another church, with its collection of relics, with so many churches professing to have pieces of the Holy Cross or the Crown of Thorns. The artwork, the sculpture, at least for him, became numbing.

It's necessary to remember that this was the world before World War I, so a very different sort of place from today. He lost his passport somewhere in the middle of the journey, but that never appeared to be an impediment to travel. A number of ports were closed due to fears of cholera.

One could no longer travel as he did from Turkey to Syria to Palestine on horseback, camping out in tents as they went. He certainly appreciated the depth of history in Palestine and especially in Egypt, but the terrain and climate were awful. In addition, beggars were everywhere in the Middle East.

In the end, this is a very enjoyable book, full of insights into a time we think we know but have never heard about what it was like from a first-person perspective, hearing not only about the history and famous architecture and art, but the lives of the people in the lands he visited.

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