Sunday, July 12, 2009

Great Uncle George's Guide to Paris

When I was cleaning out my mom’s house this spring, I found a lot of things that belonged to my father’s mother’s family. Much belonged to my great aunts, the old ladies that raised my Dad, bullied him, supported him and loved him. But in one old secretary, I found some things that had belonged to their brother, my Great Uncle George.

George with his little sister, my Great Aunt Snow

George was the Ole Sourpuss’s only son. Born in 1884, he was a boy with five sisters. As an adult, he worked in the lumber business. He married, but died in 1921, at the age of 38, with no children. His obituary doesn't state the cause of death, other than an unnamed illness.

The cluttered drawer of the secretary held an autograph book from high school, and two small red-bound travel guides. As we were clearing the house, at the last minute I decided to keep Great Uncle George’s books. I wrapped them up in newsprint, and stuffed them in a box along with some photos and letters.

Saturday while checking the windows and doors, in preparation for our trip, my eye fell on the compact newsprint package on a pile of books in the living room. I opened it.

Just as I'd remembered, it was George's Baedeker's Guide to Paris. Published in 1900, it has George's signature on the flyleaf, dated May 27, 1901. He would have been eighteen. Perhaps a gift for his birthday - was he given the traditional coming-of-age tour of Europe many educated American families gave their young sons? Or perhaps he just dreamed of seeing Paris.

George as a young man

Paris in 1901 was different from the Paris we think of - much of the legends of arts and letters that form our image of Paris took place in the 1920s, after the war. In George's Baedeker, an essay on the Art of France praises Delacroiz, Ingres and Corot, with barely a mention of "impressionists Degas, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir, Raffaelli and their friends, whose aim is to reproduce a momentary effect."


Great Uncle George's Guide to Paris is a small, compact little book, with a binding the color of ripe red plums, and gold letters. It has wonderfully detailed maps in a section at the back, that accordion out.

I slipped it into my purse just before we left. It's here with me, now, in Paris. If George didn't get a chance to visit Paris, he's getting one now.

9 comments:

Gilly said...

I love reading old guides! The places are usually so different from today - and the guides to museums and art gallweries so very solemn!

Have fun in Paris - that is what it was made for!!

mo.stoneskin said...

Love the little old maps. Enjoy Paris, it is lovely isn't it? Well, apart from the French city drivers which are total idiots...

Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

What a little treasure!

KBeau said...

Those old maps in that travel guide are priceless. If I had that book, I would scan those maps and then use them as background on my scrapbook pages for my trip photos. Glad you rescued that.

phd in yogurtry said...

And with a city so old, it's a relevant modern guide as well. Here's a sip of champagne for G.U.G.!

Beverly said...

I love this story. I think Great-Uncle George must be loving that you took him along with you on this fabulous trip.

kcinnova said...

I am stopped by your final sentence. What a beautiful image!

Woman in a Window said...

OOOhhhh, no way! That is amazing. Love it. And oh, have such a great time! (Like that needed to be said.)

180|360 said...

That is so cool! I love old books and maps.