Friday, February 21, 2014

A Change of Air

It has been a frustrating week. I'm back on painkillers and antibiotics, following a dental abscess and tooth extraction. I'm fully aware that it is a routine, relatively trivial problem, but after last month's appendectomy I feel as if I'm being slowly disassembled.

My slightly melodramatic response is probably a reaction to the recent illnesses of friends, a setback with my older son and an approaching 'special' birthday. But I need to remember that these are isolated events, not part of some divine plan to punish me for stealing paper from school when I was eight.

Assuming that no further bodily parts are removed, I intend to begin a regime of regular exercise and healthy food before I end up looking like Homer Simpson.

Ideally, I'd spend a week or two in a Swiss resort, where I could enjoy the mountain air and go hiking with a guide called Erich. Interlaken is supposed to be rather pleasant in the spring and has been a popular destination ever since it was 'discovered' in the 19th century.

There don't appear to be many photos of Victorian hikers - the cameras were rather cumbersome in those days - but one enterprising gentleman in Interlaken came up with an ingenious solution:

With the aid of fake grass, a cardboard rock and a misty background, the beauty of the Swiss mountains were flawlessly recreated by Johann Adam Gabler. Whether you were a seasoned mountaineer or an indolent aesthete, the results were the same.

This is one of Gabler's more realistic shots, carefully staged to recreate the tension and excitement of hunting. But not every portrait was this successful:

The attention to detail was sadly lacking in this photo, as Herr Gabler's fakery is clearly visible. If only he'd moved the camera a few degrees to the left.

A happy honeymoon couple, still glowing from a night of passionate lovemaking.

This costume is a cut above the average electric blue Berghaus kagool. Half 'Brown Owl', half Italian revolutionary.

I don't think it would be unfair to say that this chap, who looks a little like Debussy, is a stranger to the outdoor life. Even the rigours of the studio scenery are too much for him and he has wisely opted for a more sedate, arcadian setting.

It's so antisocial when people keep checking their Bibles for a text. The friend is clearly not impressed by her companion's behaviour.

This is a splendid outfit compared to the shapeless, synthetic hiking gear of today. The act of getting dressed must have been a pleasure in itself. However, I'm not sure how this gentleman's clothes would have fared in a downpour.

After looking at these photos, the answer is clear: I need a large sum of money, a time machine and a valet.

I'm sure that a week in the 1880s, hobnobbing with minor royals and exiled aristocrats, would restore my equilibrium, so that I could tackle the rest of the year with renewed vigour.

But until time travel is invented I have this, which is the next best thing:


joan.kyler said...

You've pinpointed exactly why I read: to be someplace else. I'll share the cost of your time machine, should you happen to find one. I'd like to go to Africa - in the 1920s or 1930s. A little closer in time, I'd like to enjoy the Caribbean like I did in the 1980s, when St. Martin and St. Barts were quieter backwater tropical islands.

Best wishes for your continued recovery from your recent ills. It does sometimes seen that we're falling apart, doesn't it? I often think I might sleep better if I could retire in some peaceful rural location instead of a noisy city.

Steerforth said...

Joan - The odd thing is that with a few exceptions, I can't read historical fiction, unless it's set in a period during the author's lifetime. The fakery seems as jarring as Gabler's cardboard rock, even when the writer is first rate.

As far as rural living goes, the countryside can be surprisngly noisy (and smelly) if you're near a farm. I think I'm happiest in small towns and suburbs, away from major roads.

Helena said...

You poor thing - the pain of an abscess is so awful, and then the muck from the infection continues to do harm afterward. Not what you need on top of your appendectomy. Wish you better luck for spring!

I enjoy reading books which were contemporary when written but now seem historical because things have changed so much since. But I also like historical fiction. Which are your "few exceptions"?

Steerforth said...

Helena - I can only think of one at the moment: This Thing of Darkness, by Harry Thompson. A wonderful book.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Just stay away from those Reichenbach Falls, you hear?

What a lovely thought. Hopefully things can only get better though, including you.

Love the fake photos. Indeed hiking and sports wear is hideous these days. They could surely have developed a more impervious tweed.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Oh dear, I hope you are soon better. Dental troubles are the worst.

Regarding historical ficion: this is a bit off track, but your post made me think of it.

A friend loaned us some old (1970's) DVD's of "The Sweeney," starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. The clothes look so dated -- the clothes in Foyle's War look positively modern and chic by comparison!

Steerforth said...

Laura - Yes, a waterproof tweed is the answer. I don't like the greasy, smelly quality of Barbours; kagools make too much noise and those Outback Australian sheep farmers coats look absurd in Sussex. I think I'll look to John Steed for my inspiration.

Carol - The Sweeney is 1970s Britain in a nutshell - shabby, run-down and depressed, but strangely loveable in hindsight.

Dennis Waterman couldn't look well-groomed if he tried. John Thaw, amazingly, was only 35 when he played Jack Regan.

Travellin Penguin - Pam said...

You are not alone in your misery. IN Jan I had a minor stroke, when they MRI-ed me for damage they found a growth in head that was not cancer, then a poisonous snake bit my cat and he died a week later. Just keep reading- it does help. I laughed out loud at this. Good fun. Tomorrow I'm doing a long motorbike ride. Growing old is not for sissies.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

I used to go on holiday to Switzerland as a kid - my parents went as chaperones to a group of prep-school boys, their teacher who organised the trips being our next-door neighbour, and we went too.
We alternated between Interlaken and Montreux where we stayed up the mountain Rochers de Naye half-way up which is the sanatorium which appears in Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night. That mountain air certainly perked us all up.
I thought last year that I'd love to take my daughter to Interlaken on hols as I had so many happy memories of those days, but it is just too bloody expensive as a single parent with 1 child who is too old for the child rate, but not old enough to be considered an 'adult' for packages.
Hope you get really better soon!

Samraghni said...

So hilarious! I have been laughing hysterically while reading this. I presume books is what most readers resort to nowadays, since time-machines have become so hideously expensive.

On a different note, have you read anything by Annemarie Schwarzenbach? She was a fascinating Swiss writer and traveller, and has written about those very places where you and your valet will be visiting soon.

I'm really intrigued and slightly amused by the title of your post. In Bengali, my mother tongue, "a change of air" is translated to "haowa [air] bodol [change]": The exact phrase routinely used by Bengalis a hundred years ago to refer to vacations. Although the term remains, its inherent use to denote vacations as a change of 'air', has vanished. :)

Steerforth said...

Pam - Good for you, doing the motorbike ride. I'm very sorry to read about the stroke, but hopefully the minor one now means that measures can be taken to avoid a major one. My neighbour had one a few years ago but now, at 62, he's cycling 25 miles a day, so there's hope for us all.

I'm also sorry to read about your cat. I was a bit shocked to read that it was killed by a snake, then I remembered where you live.

We bought a kitten for my son last year, when his OCD behaviour got out of control and was affecting his physical as well as mental health. It worked. The kitten broke the cycle and my son started to improve.

Ten weeks later, the kitten died! At that point, we started to wonder if somebody had it in for us.

But there's no point thinking like that. We'll get a new kitten later in the year and I'm sure it will be fine.

Annabel - It's such a pity that you can't take your daughter back to Switzerland at the moment. My childhood holidays were less glamorous and when we were 'financially embarrassed' one year, I talked my wife into trying the caravan park I used to go to as a child, as it was relatively cheap.

I revisted many old haunts, but it just wasn't the same. Things were smaller than I remembered, or weren't where I thought they'd be. I realised that the caravan park of my memory and the one of today were entirely different places.

Perhaps you'd feel the same if you went back to Interlaken. Perhaps a mountain holiday in a new place where the prices are reasonable - maybe Poland - would be the answer?

Steerforth said...

Samrahgni - I'm ashamed to say that I hadn't heard of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, so I looked up the Wikipedia entry and was fascinated. What an amazing life and how tragic that it was cut short.

Thanks for bringing her to my attention. I think I'm going to be slightly obsessed with her for the next few weeks. Ella Maillart's 'The Cruel Way' - about her journey with Schwarzenbach - looks interesting.

Andrew Rickard said...

I'll second the recommendation for Schwarzenbach. I remember reading her Lyrische Novelle (Lyric Novella) for a university course when it was rediscovered and republished by the Lenos Verlag in the early 90s. I enjoyed it -- it's set in 1920s Berlin, a young man is involved with an actress, very much a "Lost Generation" type of thing.

And thanks to you for mentioning Karinthy's Metropole in an earlier post. What an interesting book; Kafkaesque is a trite term, but it does suit.

Hope you feel better soon.

Canadian Chickadee said...

You're probably right about Dennis Waterman and his sartorial splendour (or lack thereof). Even in "New Tricks" he looks a bit scruffy. Some years ago, we saw him in a London revival of "My Fair Lady" as Eliza's father, but there the scruffiness was scripted. However, if reports are to be believed that doesn't seem to have held him back from drawing female attention - multiple ex-wives in New Tricks, and several real-life inamoratas as well.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Agree about historical fiction - scenery all cardboard! And if 50-year-old novels seem historic that's because they, well, are... And that's why I like them. Even rather ordinary novels can tell you a lot about a period.

Steerforth said...

Andrew - I'm so glad that you enjoyed Metropole. I read it six years ago, but have a more vivid memory of it than most of the novels I read last year. Along with the Kafka association, it also reminded me of Bergman's The Silence and Ishiguro's The Unconsoled.

Schwarzenbach is now at the top of my 'must read' list.

Carol - Yes, I don't know what makes him irresistable to women. Perhaps it was the appeal of "a bit of rough".

Lucy - I can't remember who said it, but one piece of advice I remember is that if you really want experience the essence of a particular period, read a second-rate crime novel. They're more reliable than great novels, which tend to have a timeless quality about them (I can immediately think of several exceptions). Obviously this only applies to the post-Sergeant Cuff era.

I read an obscure 1940s crime thriller by James Corbett a couple of years ago. A load of old tosh, but the fact that nobody had bothered reprinting the novel added to the pleasure, as if I had become part of the book's 1940s readership.

Nota Bene said...

Those pictures are priceless