Last week I came across a box of truly horrible books, half-consumed by mould, with a forest of spores clinging to the cloth covers. I always try to clean books and have acquired an arsenal of weapons that include a paint brush, playdo, Mr Sheen, isopropyl alcohol and yellow dusters, but these titles were beyond help. I quickly consigned them to oblivion.
The next box didn't look very promising either, but one battered hardback caught my eye and I decided to have a look. It turned out to be a collection of stunning A4-size photographs of the French Riviera in 1900, collected by a woman named Alice Salmon. I Googled the name, but Alice Salmon has disappeared into the ether.
Here is a selection from Alice's album. Thanks to the size and quality of the images, I have been able to enlarge some of the details:
Nice, circa 1900. I have never been to the French Riviera, but in an ideal world I would go there as an aristocrat in the late-Victorian era. I would call myself the Comte de Lewes.
Another scene from Nice. The two men sitting on the bench are looking at the photographer:
Unfortunately we cannot see their features properly, but the above detail reveals a third man.
Here is the beautiful Cascade de Chateau in Nice. If you look carefully, you'll notice two figures in the background:
The album contains some wonderful images, but for me the whole experience is tinged with regret. I will never be able to visit the French Riviera in 1900. I will (probably) never know who Alice Salmon was and the figures in the photographs, from the unsettling Scratchman to the two curious gentlemen on the bench, will remain a mystery.