15 March 2009

Ghosts of Paris past

Lurking on my dining room bookshelf is a Paris guidebook. In fact I've got several, as Paris is my favourite city, but this one's always intrigued me.

It's called Muirhead's Paris and its environs, and it was published in 1921, as part of the Blue Guides series. I picked it up in the Oxfam bookshop in Newcastle a few years ago for £1.99, mainly because I loved the maps inside. They're not in the most amazing nick (one or two have obviously seen some heavy use), but the sheer detail (and wonderful design of them) more than make up for it.

The text is also fascinating, particularly because it was written such a short time after the first world war.
"Paris, with the added prestige of the late ordeal of war heroically borne, is, more than ever, one of the most interesting cities in the world and has already practically resumed her normal state. But though the traces of the War are not conspicuous, its effects still linger in the uncertainty attending many points of practical detail. The tourist will be principally affected by the disorganisation of prices, which prevents any but the most general hints being given on this important topic."
As well as the usual 'how to get there' niceties (including regular air services from London's Croydon Aerodrome), there's a wonderful section of general hints.
"The traveller who knows no language but English can get along quite comfortably in Paris, though he may have to pay in cash for his ignorance. Even a slight knowledge of French makes the visit not only cheaper, but also much more interesting and more intellectually profitable."
No change there then.

I also love the section on politeness and the wearing of hats:
"Forms of politeness are more ceremonious in France than in Great Britain or America. Men doff their hats in restaurants and cafes, and frequently also in shops, picture-galleries, and the like, though in the theatre they keep them on until the curtain rises. They greet each other by raising their hats. Gentlemen are expected to uncover to a lady before she bows to them, and , in speaking to her, to remain uncovered until requested to resume their hats. The hat is raised also to any lady passed on the stair of a flat and when a funeral is passed in the streets."
But the other thing that's fascinating about the book, is the letter that's taped inside the back cover, which was written by Findlay Muirhead (the editor of the book and managing director of Muirhead Guide-Books Limited) on 9 June 1922.
Dear Mr Haigh,

Will you and Mrs Haigh accept the accompanying 'Blue Guide to Paris' as a small wedding gift, with my most cordial wishes for your prosperity and happiness, not only in Paris but all down the long road of life?

If you notice any inaccuracy, however small, in the book, I should be most grateful for a post-card pointing it out; and I am always open to receive hints as to new ideas fo the these guides.

Litellus seems to have had a fine time in Glasgow; he arrived this morning full of his experiences.

I am very truly yours

Findlay Muirhead
From the address at the bottom I can work out it's a Mr Philip Haigh, who seems to have been staying at the Grosvenor Hotel at the time. Litellus is Litellus Russell Muirhead, Findlay's son. (I love the non-sequitur paragraph about him!) But I'd love to know more - were the Haighs resident in Paris, or simply visiting on honeymoon? How did they know Findlay Muirhead? How on earth did this book end up in a Newcastle Oxfam shop?

Sadly, I suspect it'll have to remain a mystery.

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