Mark Twain Travel Writer

When we think about the great 19th century American writer Mark Twain, his lauded Mississippi River novels usually come to mind. However, it was the 1869 travel book The Innocents Abroador The New Pilgrim’s Progress  which first brought him prominence.  The New-York Historical Society has opened an exhibition dedicated to Twain’s first blockbuster book. Running through February 2, 2020, this is an intriguing look at the young author on the eve of celebrity. The exhibit features Twain documents and letters, photographs, artifacts, and books.

In 1867, Mark Twain was an up and coming journalist, humorist, and public speaker visiting New York City. When he read about the new concept of a pleasure cruise to Europe and the Mediterranean on a ship called the Quaker City, Twain convinced a San Francisco newspaper to pay for his passage in return for a weekly travel column on the voyage and this early foray into organized tourism.


The voyage of the Quaker City was well documented by an onboard professional photographer. Some of William E. James’ images are included in the exhibition, including the one below featuring Twain. The author is seated on the floor next to the man holding a hat.

Twain mined his experiences on the ship and during shore excursions for humorous pieces about vagaries of tourism. He dedicated some of his most cutting writing to the hugely disappointing time that he spent in Palestine. Still, Twain’s participation in the trip and his subsequent writing helped to launch American travel writing.



Posted in Books, Europe, History, Middle East, Tourism, Travel Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Blue Monday NYC

It’s a blue Monday in “Rainy Day, New York,” a 1940 painting by Leon Dolice—a Vienna-born artist who visited NYC in the 1920s, and it’s a rainy blue Monday today.


Posted in Art, USA | Tagged | Leave a comment

Not just the Gateway to the Fjords

Bergen has to be one of my favorite small European cities. The beautifully situated and stunningly scenic city has long been promoted as “the gateway to the Fjords” with much success. But now the tourism professionals at Visit Bergen have enlisted the Norwegian advertising agency Anti to rebrand and update their image.

Norway’s most attractive, and one of its most heavily touristed, destinations has also begun to take steps to head-off the dreaded overtourism that has blighted other European towns. In a daring move, Bergen has set limits on the number of cruiseships that can dock and how long they can remain.

The rebranding campaign, which includes its own typeface, color scheme, travel guides, and tourist merchandise, is using “Life in full contrast” as the new slogan for Visit Bergen. In an effort to broaden attitudes towards the city, they plan to celebrate Bergen’s cultural, as well as natural diversity. There’s even an accompanying video (see below) created with local hip hop artists that uses imagery from a time before tourism was so prevalent.


Posted in Europe, Film, Tourism, Travel Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Bookstore Cat

Old Books with Cat, Barcelona, Photo by Francesc Català-Roca, 1953

Homage to Catalonia



Posted in Books, Europe, Photography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

We Were Warned

Last May, the street artist(s) known as Banksy unveiled a dramatic mural near Campo Santa Margherita  in Venice. It featured a child refugee clad in a lifevest and holding a neon pink flare. Over the course of Autumn flooding, during the past months, the painting has been lapped by rising waters. This week, Banksy posted photos on social media that  appear to show flooding up to the child’s chest, and has covered part of the flare.


Posted in Art, Europe | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Think Globally, Shop Locally


Posted in Books, Bookstore Tourism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

When Great Trees Fall

Maya Angelou wrote the poem “When Great Trees Fall” when James Baldwin died in December of 1987, and read the poem at his funeral…

“When Great Trees Fall” by Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

(Photo: Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison at James Baldwin’s funeral, December 1987)

Posted in History, USA, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Reading Year

h/t Tom Gauld


Posted in Art, Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

London Calling

The British design studio Dorothy has created a map of the United Kingdom incorporating  the titles of more than 1,400 pop songs. The map places the names of tracks in the precise location that the music references, imagining a musical trip across the nation. Along with specific cities and towns there are elements of the natural landscape, such as rivers, mountains and famous landmarks.

Many of the tunes included on the map have obvious geographical references – such as Sunshine on Leith by The Proclaimers, Newport State of Mind by Goldie Lookin Chain, Sheffield: Sex City by Pulp and Cardiff Afterlife by Manic Street Preachers – while others are more cryptic. For example, Dorothy has placed Farmer’s Daughter by Babyshambles in Glastonbury, while Wonderwall by Oasis sits at Hadrian’s Wall, and David Bowie’s Scary Monsters and Super Creeps hovers over Loch Ness.

The UK map is a follow-up to a US version that the Dorothy developed last year. The studio has also made a Spotify playlist featuring all of the songs included on the map, which would take 83 hours to listen to in its entirety.

Posted in Europe, Maps, Music | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Than Words

More Than Words is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers young adults who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a book business.

They believe that when system-involved youth are empowered with authentic and increasing responsibilities in a business setting, and are given high expectations and a culture of support, they can and will address personal barriers to success, create concrete action plans, and become contributing members of society who live, love and own their futures.

More Than Words serves youth, ages 16 to 24, who have been court-involved, homeless, in foster care, or out of school. 66% have current or previous involvement with the Department of Children and Families and/or the court system and 20% experience homelessness.

The project depends on donated books, which are sold through two Boston area bookstores.

Posted in Books, Bookstore Tourism, USA | Tagged , | Leave a comment
%d bloggers like this: