Wednesday, 20 May 2020

By Coach to France 1938

This is from a holiday scrapbook recording a coach trip to France and Switzerland in May 1938. Luggage labels mark the route taken. The happy travellers can be seen, lined up for a photograph en route - the group leader is in the centre - he is described as a professor of English from the Sorbonne, a fluent linguist and “possessed of a first class knowledge of the history of France”. Missing is the photographer and chronicler of the trip. He’s an articulate observer of rural life and the natural world. When recording his impressions of human behaviour, he favours a sardonic tone that shades into pomposity and, on occasion, downright misanthropy, nowhere more so than when commenting on the physical imperfections of the ageing dowagers of Aix les Bains at their leisure in the casino. Orléans is a source of irritation - constant reminders of England’s defeat at the hands of Jeanne d’Arc overshadow the pleasure of a superb lunch at the Grand Hotel d’Aignan. Despite being a “port city”, Bordeaux meets with approval. Half the hotels in Biarritz are closed due the Spanish Civil War. At the Hotel de France in Pau they were served with the “finest lunch in all France”. The scale and mass of the fortified city of Carcassonne “impressed itself in detail more permanently upon our recollection than any other place we visited”. Nightingale song is heard in Avignon but Provence is too hot for comfort. In Geneva there was “a tablet to the memory of Woodrow Wilson, the man who fashioned the boat of peace and wouldn’t row”. Swiss pluralism is commended thus, “Happy is the state which has the genius to keep the demon of racial intolerance at arm’s length”. There’s an opportunity to do some snowballing in the heights of the Jura but all too soon the coach is back at Calais after overnight stops in Vittel and Amiens. A three hour crossing to Dover in storm force winds followed by a traffic jam in Kent concluded the trip and the participants went their separate ways with scarcely a mumbled farewell.

No comments: