Friday, 10 August 2012
Posted by M.H. Forsyth
I've just completed a Grand Tour. I would say that I've just completed a Grand Tour of Europe, but that would be a tautology as the OED insists that a Grand Tour is:
A tour of the principal cities and places of interest in Europe, formerly supposed to be an essential part of the education of young men of good birth or fortune.
Three attributes to which I can lay only a fragile claim. I visited Verona and saw Juliet's balcony, which is odd because Shakespeare never visited Verona and the idea that that particular balcony is Juliet's is utter hokum cooked up much later. I made the mistake of trying to explain this to the nice lady in the tourist information bureau. She did not take it well.
I visited Vienna, subject of the splendid 80s song by Ultravox, which is odd because Midge Ure had never visited Vienna when he wrote the song.
I visited the Hofgarten in Munich which is mentioned in Eliot's The Waste Land. Most of that section is derived from a book called My Past by Countess Marie Larisch, whom Eliot had also met in person. It's a funny little autobiography of an aristocrat describing her mad relatives. For example, one of them saw the ghost of the dead King Ludwig and had a strange conversation with him:
"'Ah me!' he sighed. 'Death has not brought me peace. Cissi, she burns in torment. The flames encircle her, the smoke suffocates her. She burns and I am powerless to save her.'
"'Who burns, dear cousin?' I asked.
"'I do not know because her face is hidden,' he answered, 'but I know that it is a woman..."
But Eliot had visited Munich, indeed he wrote much of Prufrock there. And My Past contains no references to the Hofgarten at all - making this a proper piece of poetic tourism. I even went on in the sunlight, though summer did not surprise me.
In Prague I read Too Loud a Solitude and then chucked the book into the paper recycling bin. If you want to know why that is so neat, you will have to read the book too.
In Marseille, a friend told me that he had, through his own researches, discovered the exact spot that the Marquis de Sade had poisoned three teenage prostitutes. I have never read any De Sade, and can't say that I was filled with a desire to do so.
But the main poetic point that I learnt on my travels is that there are no native English rhymes for Prague. This is immensely frustrating if you are trying to write a limerick about every city you visit. The best I could come up with was:
While messing around in old Prague a
Czech chap purloined my lager.
So I slew him right there
In Wenceslas Square
And cooked his remains in my Aga.
Geneva was easier but less printable, and Brussels was a doddle. Anyone who can do better with Prague should leave their poem in the comments.
P.S. I also visited two branches of Shakespeare and Sons (English language bookshops), one in Berlin and the other in Prague. They were both excellent.