“The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half”.
“Let us possesse our world, each hath one, and is one”
The Good Morrow
(Written one year after Coryat’s return from Venice)
MAY 14TH 2007
399 years ago today an under-employed Englishman whose London drinking friends included William Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, John Donne and the teenage Prince of Wales, set out alone on a walking trip across Europe.
On May 14, 1608, Thomas Coryat, a Somerset-born bachelor of 32 and house wit to eminent royal and artistic circles in London, began his trip in Calais after a nauseous crossing of the English Channel. He travelled, mostly by foot, up to Paris, down through Lyon, across the Alps into Italy, then made for Venice where he was to stay for a month and a half. The return journey took the traveller through Switzerland, Germany and Holland. On October 3rd Coryat returned to London after a three-day boat journey from Flushing on the Dutch coast, bringing with him news of a great new Italian invention: the fork.
Coryat was neither diplomat nor solider; scholar nor merchant; spy nor smuggler. He travelled not for profit or politics or position at court, but merely for pleasure itself; the more the better. He was the first pure English tourist. The record of his trip, Coryate’s Crudities, was published in 1611 and is the first tourist’s account of Europe. It was groundbreaking work of un-scholarly enjoyment, as Volpone’s author, Ben Johnson, wrote in an introduction (one of over 150 authors who wrote a preface for Tom Coryate!).
Today I begin the same trip, also by foot (trains and buses may stand in for horses from time to time – we shall see). Unlike Thomas Coryat, who wrote in a notebook with a quill pen and whose preparation for the trip amounted to little more than watching The Merchant of Venice and joking with Shakespeare, I have several additional tools at my disposal. These include an Apple laptop computer, Leica cameras, a Tri-band mobile, an I-Pod, microphone and a blogger account.
So I travel with a serious advantage. Firstly this technology gives me access whenever I want and wherever I am, to information – routes, tour guides, descriptions of artists and architects, train time-tables and pieces of literature, works of art – and also access to many kinds of people. When I reach a town or a city I will already be in contact with some of its inhabitants through my blog: I will talk to them first online, and then set up meetings in person. In this way I will meet with a new kind of wired European, virtually and physically.
Secondly, technology gives me the ability to communicate my trip in several ways: in word, through sound, and by image. The result: a daily blog, with PODCAST and pictures. And in the period after the journey I will have a large source of material to create a radio series, a photographic exhibition, and a book.
I want to capture both the moment of Europe now and catch the echoes of its many histories. Trace the threads of European culture, and investigate some of the ways it has been depicted by writers, photographers, film-makers, broadcasters, printers, painters, sculptors, philosophers, new media mavens, exiles and cosmopolitans. By travellers like me.
I can’t expect to enjoy the same sense of stupefied wonder that Thomas Coryat esq. must have felt setting out from Dover in 1608. But I will revel in what can now be achieved thanks to technology, guide books and the works, writings, and creations of previous travellers. My journey will be about a rediscovery of lost Europes as much as a celebration of a twenty-first century Europe. But I will look also at contemporary Cities, Towns and Countrysides where the nexus of communications, cheap travel, and career nomadism make the entire continent appear, at times, no more complex to navigate than Coryat’s birthplace, the village of Odcombe in Devon.
At the core of the journey will be people. People I meet and travel with; people alive and long dead; fictional heroes and villains; artists who have shaped our vision of what it means to be European. From my grandfather, William Avery OBE, who sailed his boat eight times across the Channel during the Dunkirk evacuations of 1940 to jazz giant, Miles Davis. Nelson’s mistress and the first real paparazzi victim, Emma Hamilton. Tracey Emin, Victor Hugo, Goethe, Visconti, (or Isaac Casaubonus, Europe’s greatest classical scholar and inspiration for George Eliot’s tortured dry scholar, Edward Casaubon). Jarvis Cocker and Edmund White’s Paris, Jan Morris’s Trieste…From Leslie Caron, actress, dancer and inn-keeper to the mystic, Hildegarde of Bingen, or the singer Juliette Greco, the modernist playboy Laurence Vail, first husband to Peggy Guggenheim. Gutenberg the printer and Tim Berners-Lee, the guru of the World Wide Web. Pamela Harriman – the courtesan of the century; and Casanova (ditto, just another century).
I will visit: the birthplace of printing and the world wide web; surrealism, dada and romanticism. Will see the real-life locations of the first social, crime, serial killer & fantasy novels; explore Nick Roeg’s Venice (and Thomas Mann’s), and Marianne Faithful’s Heidelberg (and Erica Jong’s); Turner’s Rhine and Dan Brown’s Paris; Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai’s French village and Bon Jovi’s Strasbourg. I will visit, enjoy and make connections that are only possible through the new technologies – when combined with the very oldest of journalistic techniques..
Pablo Picasso, who will appear in this story soon enough, once said that whilst the good artist merely copies, the great one steals outright. And so a confession: whilst making no claims for greatness here, this is an act of grand theft: the trip has been mapped out not just by Thomas Coryat and a thousand and one Grand Tourists following after, but also six years ago by the writer, Tim Moore (who made the journey in a velvet suit, driving a Rolls Royce and camping rather too much). His book, Continental Drifter tells one kind of sour travel story about modern Europe; here on this blog you will find many different kinds of stories: texts, essays, descriptions, photographs and recordings.