Japan, and 30 Days of Paris
I adore guide-books. Not, please, the flavorless modern versions, little more than well-digested lists of places to see and hours of opening. No, I mean the traditional guides written by those who have truly Been There.
I use guides from the 1920s as an entree into the time and place I’m writing about, but frankly, the information they hold is the least of their appeal. When one comes across (in the Baedeker’s guide to Palestine) the phrase, “The divans are infested with fleas,” there is little doubt about how heartfelt the observation is.
So I was pleased to lay hands (thanks to the offices of the McHenry library) on the 1926 Terry’s Guide to the Japanese Empire. And its author–T. Philip Terry, F.R.G.S–has not let me down.
There is hard experience in his warning to keep an eye on one’s possessions in the railway car, not because of thieves, but for fear of the “train-boy” accidentally snatching up one of your bags in his eagerness to restore it to a departing passenger. There is chagrin in Mr Terry’s suggestion that the traveler request a room as remote as possible from the hostelry’s w.c.
But it is in his transportation sections that hard experience is felt. One can just envision the situation that gave rise to the following: “The motorist should not rely too implicitly on the information he may get from farmers about roads.”
And it being Japan, there is a section on the jinricksha: “On uneven roads the ‘pushman’ is often necessary to prevent the somewhat capricious vehicle from tipping over sideways. The tendency to tip backward when the passenger is inside and the puller releases the thills, is very marked…”
When I return home (from England) next week, I will be departing (fictionally) for Japan, writing the next Russell novel. I will no doubt have more to say about it later, but in the meantime, I wish to share with you a countdown, beginning tomorrow, of 30 days of scenes, snippets, and thoughts about The Bones of Paris.
I hope you enjoy them.