Difficult to juggle, this “betwixt” thing: living somewhere between Tom Coryat, history, art, Google and now, is hard. What the “memory stick” brings is a frame; but the towns of the Loire are their own boxed-frame. Family-centred; day-time centred: here in Moulins night-time is not the right time.
Easy then to drift back to Tommy, noticing everything, living and traveling each day in a world without Thomas Cook outlets. He is a man of the country who could hold his verbal own with any at court, though it didn’t make him rich. He is a man of great – famous – friends, who gives it up to pass though sometimes dangerous lands, for who really knows why. Here in the flatlands before the Alpine mountains what was he thinking? Was it just the excitement of the what the hell next?
“The French guides otherwise called the Postilians, have one most diabolicall custome in their traveling upon the wayes. Diabolical it may well be called: for whensoever their horses doe a little anger them, they wil say in their fury Allons diable, that is, Go thou divell. Also if they happen to be angry with a strange upon the way upon any occasion, they will say to him le diable t’emporte, that is, devil take thee. This is know by mine own experience.”
Does Thomas have nightmares about the gallowes he sees? Does the great conversationalist and “word-engine” miss debate; was Isaac Causabon enough for him, in Paris. Is being the “first”, being the inventor of travel for pleasures sake, even then tinged with the melancholy of absent-connection?
In the 1930s the Polish poet, Julius Slowaki, wrote in “Journey to the East”:
“If Europe is a nymph….Paris is the head, London the starched collar…”
trsn Norman Davies.
Is that what Tom was escaping, Englishness (however that might be defined in 1608 – answers please) itself?
…”I never saw so many roguish Egyptians together in one place in all my life as in Nevers, where there was a multitude of men, women and children of them, that disguise their faces, a our counterfet western Egyptians in England. For both their haire and their faces looked so black, as if they were raked out of hel, and sent into the world by great Beelzebub, to terrifie and astonish mortall men: their men are very Ruffians & Swashbucklers, having exceeding long black haire curled, and swords or other weapons by their sides. Their women also suffer their haire to hang loosely about their shoulders, whereof some I saw dancing in the streets, and singing lascivious vaine songs; whereby they draw many flocks of foolish citizens about them.”
History is here in the municipal churches and ancient quarters where the taxes were collected, but twenty-first century history is being made somewhere else, whatever the GPS says. Of course Tom isn’t suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, or average-church complex (nor “Casaubon Complex”). But I can’t help but feel he, like me, is looking forward to Lyon. I’ve been invited to dinner by some music bloggers. What could be better?
“In Nevers I saw many woodden shoes to be solde, which are worn onely of the peasants of the countrey. I saw them worn in many other places also: they are usually sold for two Sowses, which is two pence farthing. Thus much of Nevers…”
I suppose I am learning that “living in the knowledge, but not in the know” is possible from home, be it Fontainebleu, the British Library, or the cyber cafés of Amiens. What is harder; harder even than feeling for a glimpse of Tom’s soul, is to grasp how his invention, this tourism thing, can be enhanced in a way that brings us back closer together by these new technologies. Thus far the “knowledge” isn’t compensating for not being in the “know.”
“In Tarare I observed one thing that I much admired, a woman that had no hands but stumpes instead thereof (whether she had this deformity naturally or accidentally I know not) did spinne flaxe with a distaffe as nimbly and readily, and drew out her thread as artificially with her stumps, as any woman that ever I saw spinning with her hands.”
Not much of that around these days.
Today in 1784, Elizabeth Thible became the first woman to fly aboard a Montgolfier hot-air balloon, over Lyon, France. I'm there tomorrow.