Found in The Riviera of the Corniche Road (Cassell, London 1921) by Sir Frederick Treves (1853 – 1923) this description of the old town part of Nice. Treves, of course, is well known as a prominent British surgeon and for his friendship with Joseph Merrick, “the Elephant Man”. He was also a distinguished writer on travel, as well as surgery. In 1906 he had written on Dorset, the county of his birth, in the Highways and Byways series. He is particularly good on the smell of the old town. Odours are often neglected by travel writers. Does the area still smell the same?
The old town of Nice is small and well circumscribed. It occupies a damp and dingy corner at the foot of the Castle Hill. It seems as if it had been pushed into this corner by the over-assertive new town. Its lanes are so compressed and its houses, by comparison, so tall that it gives the idea of having been squeezed and one may imagine that with a little more force the houses on the two sides of a street would touch. It is traversed from end to end by an alley called the Rue Droite. This was the Oxford Street of the ancient city. A series of narrower lanes cross the Rue Droite ; those on one side mount uphill towards the castle rock, those on the other incline towards the river.
The lanes are dark, dirty and dissolute-looking. The town is such a one as Gustave Dore loved to depict or such as would be fitting to the tales of Rabelais. One hardly expects to find it peopled by modern mechanics, tram conductors, newspaper boys and honest housewives; nor do electric lights seem to be in keeping with the place. Its furtive ways would be better suited to men in cloaks and slouched hats…
The only thing that has not changed is the smell. It may be fainter than it was, but it must be centuries old. It is a complex smell ” a mingling of cheese and stale wine, of salt fish and bad health, a mouldy and melancholy smell that is hard to bear even though it be so very old. The ancient practice of throwing all refuse into the street has drawbacks, but it at least lacks the insincere delicacy of the modern dustbin…
From any one of the windows may protrude a mattress ” like a white or red tongue “..
Just a few minutes walk from Leoni’s Quo Vadis is Frith Street, now famous as the home of Private Eye, but for a century or more the haunt of Soho journalists, writers and other near- do- wells, including Stephen Graham, who from 1912 to his death in 1975, lived in a flat at no 60, a handsome Georgian town house. In the days before adventurers in dangerous lands were accompanied by a TV crew, Stephen Graham, who described himself as ‘tramp’ before that word had gained unsavoury associations, explored a number of exotic lands, including Russia, on which he became an expert, recording his impressions in books and articles, until he could no longer finance his expeditions.
The letter, which was discovered among a batch of other unrelated correspondence, belongs to his most productive period, is written from Frith Street and is dated 4th December 1926. In it he invites a Miss Morley to an after-dinner ‘mixed party of various acquaintances who will sit around the fire & talk.’ He also invites her to bring along her copy of his recently published London Nights for him to sign.
In his latter years Graham’s reputation fell into decline, and there is a depressing description of him in poverty and disarray in his flat. He died at an advanced age in comparative obscurity in 1975, but today, however, thanks possibly to the popularity of TV travelogues and cheap holidays to exotic lands, there is renewed interested in his work. Two major online sites are devoted to him, and Abebooks shows that his books are beginning to be collected once again. A biography by Michael Hughes has just been published Beyond Holy Russia: The Life and Times of Stephen Graham. [RMH]
Balkh is in northern Afghanistan and is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly the oldest. Tripadvisor make this claim, as does Robert Byron writing in 1937 in the supreme travel book The Road to Oxiana. Balkh is still known locally as 'the Mother of Cities.' It was the centre of Zoroastrianism and under the Greeks it was renamed Bactra, giving its name to the surrounding Bactria territory. Balkh is now, for the most part, a mass of ruins but has an extremely long history, going back to the 26th century BC and further - when the plains were fertile…
The concluding part of a posting of a complete book How to be Happy on the Riviera by Robert Elson W. (Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol, 1927).The appendix has a wealth of information, much of it aimed at the long stay vacationer and the expat or 'remittance man' (similar to the trustafrian of our time). The address and name of the British Consul in Monte Carlo (G W Hogg) the address of the British Library and the Anglo-American Library (in the Grand Hotel building.) There was even a weekly paper for the British abroad,The Cote D'Azur,that came out on a Friday. There is good advice for those who 'winter abroad' -- Hyeres is suggested for those who like it quiet, Monte Carlo for those who want it lively (but the bathing is poor). Also invaluable advice for the journey there, that might still hold true:-
"Don’t trust the time-tables as to there being a restaurant-car on any train southward from Paris (except the Calais–Méditerranée); bring a tea-basket with you and be prepared to grab things from the buffets at the Gare de Lyon and at Marseilles, or you may go foodless."
The penultimate part of Robert Elson's 1927 book dealing with indoor and outdoor amusements and of course gaming. There is a good description of a Gala dinner which has the authentic 1920s tone:
"A gala dinner may be ...a more elaborate entertainment indistinguishable from a fête, the room being decorated for the occasion–sometimes in a really artistic manner–and a good programme of show-turns provided. There are sure to be surprises–toys to make noises with, balloons, etc. The peculiarity of surprises is that they are always the same. Occasionally really attractive gifts are distributed, or prizes given in connection with dancing or a tombola (raffle). If you are in an appropriately happy-go-lucky mood, a gala is usually quite enjoyable. It is good to play the fool sometimes, pelting and being pelted by the occupants of neighboring tables with little coloured balls, and trying to hit people at a distance with harmless projectiles. Also, you never know what may come of it. A happily-married lady of my acquaintance first made her existence known to her husband by hitting him on the ear with a flying sausage; he asked her to dance, and the thing was as good as done."
Such goings on would have been vieux jeu by the 1940s. Interestingly many fetes described have gone - The Venetian Fete at Cannes has been replaced by a film festival, car shows and uphill car racing at Monte Carlo has become the Rally, but the Burning of the Boat still goes on and the Battle of Flowers - so all is not lost.
The second part of a posting of a complete book How to be Happy on the Riviera by Robert Elson W. (Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol, 1927). There is plenty on food and restaurants (including menus and tips on coffee, ice cream and liqueurs) and some good descriptions of gamblers in Monte Carlo -
"Little old women in Victorian black silk dresses and bonnets; others attired in the fashions of twenty or thirty years ago; exotic-looking young women, wearing extravagant parodies of the fashions of to-day – some exactly like cinema vamps; women like men, and girls like boys. A duke who is a frequent visitor summed it up neatly: 'There are always a lot of queer wild-fowl about'...you may see incredibly ancient men; wild-looking men with immense manes of hair; gaunt men with sunken cheeks and bony hands who might have come out of a novel by Mrs. Radclyffe, unnatural-looking young men who might have been created by Mr. Michael Arlen; people who impress you as half crazy, others who look as if they had been dead a long time, only they don't know it.'
We are putting up an entire book on Jot101, a fairly early book on the Riviera. Very much of its time with local prices, information about the weather and sports facilities and recommendations for hotels and cafes and cabarets. Here are the first 4 chapters...
HOW TO BE HAPPY ON THE RIVIERA
BY ROBERT ELSON
First published in August, 1927
Printed in Great Britain by J. W. Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol