The SFFaudio Podcast #738 – The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain – read by John Greenman for LibriVox. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the novel (19 hours 23 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants include Jesse, Paul Weimer, Trish E. Matson, and David J. West.
Talked about on today’s show:
Or The New Pilgrim’s Progress; Being Some Account Of The Steamship Quaker City’s Pleasure Excursion To Europe And The Holy Land; With Descriptions Of Countries, Nations, Incidents and Adventures, As They Appeared To The Author., Paul’s thesis, 61 chapters, Palestine is the heart of this book, visiting the holy land, places from the Bible, putting his weight on things, casual racism, Samuel Clemens wasn’t super-devout, religious experiences, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, centers of Christianity, Rome, Notre Dame, Europeans by extraction, ancestral stomping grounds, bestselling book, he knows his audience, fairly well off, the ticket price: $1250, $28,000, a cruise of that intensity, a Rafael painting, he’s joking, his beautiful house in Hartford, 1867, Tom Sawyer is decades later, rolling in flow, he’s hanging out with the rich, pretending to be like him, Fletch (the Gregory Mcdonald character), fraudster, not a thief, we’re making apologies for this character, a reporter/investigator, not as ethical as Fletch, dry and reserved irony, sneaking off to the acropolis, gleefully robbing a vineyard of its grapes, villains and ruffians, villainous epithets, taking without compensation is theft, Paul’s not gonna like that, out-and-out targeted uncasual racism everywhere, chipping pieces off monuments, ancient temples, appalling, they’re hypocritical, keeping the sabbath, every church in Europe has part of the crown of thorns, enough nails from the true cross to fill a keg, destructive, leave only footprints, take only photographs, the only petrified tree, a giant fence, this is what we are like, he doesn’t think he’s better than them, chip off a piece of the Sphinx, humans come around, whole continental shelves are falling off, he knows that we are the problem, plastic Eiffel Tower ornaments, pink blobs, the focus on taking the picture, journaling, everybody was journaling, you could sell it for a million!, I wouldn’t write it for a million!, making fun of everybody, a meta-travel book, he’s going to tell you how things strike him, salt crusting over his skin while floating in the Dead Sea, how one should perceive it, the Grand Tour, a long gap of time, a rock from Versailles, gravel to replace other gravel, doing more good, breaking quarantine, Trish didn’t approve, the vandalization, the world has decided to yolo, mask in most public places, all the ports, untreated diseases, did this actually happen?, the ugly American, these people are monstrous, the emperor of all the Russias, his kid’s palace, it was really what it was, rich people traveling around Europe, naming every servant: Ferguson, naming unpronounceable cities: Jonesburg, he’s so honest, so ugly and stinky, colourized the incidents, buying the kid gloves, imagining this scene happening, Gibraltar, you’ve clearly worn kid gloves before, what an innocent, only a gentleman of great class and experience, he takes that pain in and writes it down, super-charming, I love this guy, he’s hilarious, this is the thing I wanted to read this book for, the trains powered by mummies, these peasants burn very poorly, bring me a king:
I shall not speak of the railway, for it is like any other railway—I shall only say that the fuel they use for the locomotive is composed of mummies three thousand years old, purchased by the ton or by the graveyard for that purpose, and that sometimes one hears the profane engineer call out pettishly, “D—n these plebeians, they don’t burn worth a cent—pass out a King”
some famous architecture, literally burning their history, did they actually do that?, they did it with the poor mummies, H. Rider Haggard’s She, surprise, drawn from real life, graverobbing, respecting the past people so little, speaking to the poverty he’s seeing, mostly taken apart Colosseum, and Paul’s like, the Hagia Sophia, Justinian did that on purpose, 12 obelisks, your god lives with us now, that’s the Christian religion, Jews are sitting in Israel enjoying themselves and then some Greeks say “he’s ours now”, super-fully illustrated, they didn’t do much dancing, a civil war blockade ship, sidewheeler, screwtechnology, steampowered, you want to have your propeller under the water, just over a year after the Civil War, we gotta have a vacation, vicarious travel, travel writers, food guy who killed himself: Anthony Bourdain, experiencing the very expensive thing of travel, newspapers had content back then, Poet Lariat, not white haired, feathered pen, wired telegraphy, we are very lucky to have this artifact, in a tradition already, The Canterbury Tales, the start of tourism, the 18th century grand tour, the poor people doing it, I need to visit, amongst rich people, a guide for the non-guided, travel broadens the mind and takes away your prejudices, he calls a lot of people ugly, sexism, everyone is dirty, everyone is dishonest, he compliments the railways and roadways of France and Italy, the men kiss each other because the women are unkissable, red indians, straightbacked, generally complimentary, definitely not, Tahoe, grasshopper soup, those degraded savages, an extinct tribe that never existed, helped them steal cattle, I would gladly eat the whole race if I had a chance, playing to his audience’s prejudices, playing to racists attitudes is practically indistinguishable from racism, very bad, Paul concurs, anti-Indian racism, Trish doesn’t like it, start the ball rolling, make people think and talk about it, I helped them do illegal things, wait what?, think about what he’s saying, it starts the ball rolling, how racist the times were, Twain was anti-racist, Huckleberry Finn, getting free, language that people will object to, his natural ability to sell books, understanding his audience, in liking him, liking his ideas, this was written at a much earlier time, less sophisticated in his ideas, he hadn’t evolved to that point, pretty racist, despise people for being poor and not having enough water to wash with, the baksheesh that never ends, dirt poor, polluting a sacred spring, the city that is full of water: Damascus, poor people are disgusting, blind people, staggering poverty, he’s making light of it, diverging into stories, the book of teenage Jesus, punishment for teachers, its clear that he’s anti-racist throughout, they literally were ugly and dirty, covered, some guy bathing nude, without being moved by their plight, not so sinfully ugly, so mean, the meanness, a real experience, if it happened on tic tok, she’s so sinfully ugly she broke the sabbath on a Saturday
“She was the only Syrian female we have seen yet who was not so sinfully ugly that she couldn’t smile after ten o’clock Saturday night without breaking the Sabbath.”
his meanness is kicking people while they’re down, he did a horrible job of it, confirming people in their prejudices, these dirty foreigners, he knows that, let’s dodge the racism thing for a second and look at it through the lens of the animals, the horse that had no tail, slandered dogs, grinding horrible poverty, the tourism is needed to reduce the grinding poverty, stereotypes about foreign animals, one of their horses died, skin and bones, the saddle sores, why is that happening, grindingly poor, showing the reality, these people are so incredibly impoverished, he makes it tolerable with Twain humour, no malice there, make sure you look at this, it sticks with you, why is she so ugly, the Sunday school grapes, they’re guarding it from each other, not being a tourist city, Paul agrees, roots to tourism, the word itself, a guided tour of a museum, a path established, cruising, the cruise ship industry, excursions, the picnic, picnicers, an overnight bag, a field near some cave, the ages of the passengers, born in the 18th century, the middle of the 19th century, The Love Boat, pleasure trips, baksheesh vs. alms, very different, a religious act vs. a straight giving money, infernal chorus, what are those people saying?, give us bribes, in need of charity, bribe, giving to the poor is not exclusive to Christianity, soliciting alms, mentioned in Dracula, the Bosporus, where Jesse got triggered, spending time with royal people, dead in 50 years, 1917, southern palaces in Crimea, Twain lived to see that?, Halley’s Comet, he’d go out with in, no citation, age 42, all the old people, five men dancing and three women, he’s so mean, the women wore little scarves on their arms, ageism, he’s so funny, there’s no plot, things happening, a journey, the idea of the sequel, shared experiences, Jesse laughed so hard, complaining about the coffee, would you try this from my table, okay tea, some really bad tea or really bad coffee, he does it to himself, Pompeii, the fountain people put their lips to, Paul touched that fountain, this was a thing back then and it is still a thing, no Eiffel tower yet, what a tourism map looks like, emblazoned, symbolic pilgrimage, the Arc De Triomphe, a cartoon map of Europe, the Milan cathedral, a really nice cathedral, why Sydney opera house stands in for the entirety of Australia, opera? who even cares?, kangaroos, Paris has four or five must-see destinations, what does New Zealand have? Lord Of The Rings, sad story, Lynn Canyon Park, suspension bridges, Whistler, whales, the sky needle, what keeps people out?, Olympics, push all the homeless people aside, tourism is a big deal, obviously some crusades, millions of Americans, walks the streets of Jesus, sharp perceptions and human interest, digressions, the stories that people were telling, agog, Heloise and Abelard, a compelling case, you can have ideas about what you’re going to see, as matters of fact, that’s straight out of the book, the point of the title, the lies they were told in Sunday school, when they go to a bar, we ferreted out, our general said, “we”, a stare and a shrug, suspicious of the vigour, this didn’t happen, the uneducated foreigner, a stone fence or an earthquake, a wicked impostor, Santa Cruz punch, 1885, you’re just wrong, Jesse, pan-galactic gargleblasters, a regional thing, these people are completely out of their depth, very Westlakian, spreading hands, the movie adaptation, an American Playhouse version, PBS was into Twain in the early 80s, what a weird idea to do a movie about, this is not a fiction book, The Prince And The Pauper, is there any precedent for that?, compelling, dramatic, funny, make fun of ugly Americans, Roughing It, sections of it were borrowed for Bonanza, written in 1870, daily dispatches, the opening and the closing, in reading what I’ve just written…, sections of the letters, presumption might lead to failure, this book took Jesse’s whole week, a bit of a slog for Paul, a chore, Paul’s bucket list, unduly dismissive, so funny, handful!
At all hours of the day and night the sailors in the forecastle amused themselves and aggravated us by burlesquing our visit to royalty. The opening paragraph of our Address to the Emperor was framed as follows:
“We are a handful of private citizens of America, traveling simply for recreation—and unostentatiously, as becomes our unofficial state—and, therefore, we have no excuse to tender for presenting ourselves before your Majesty, save the desire of offering our grateful acknowledgments to the lord of a realm, which, through good and through evil report, has been the steadfast friend of the land we love so well.”
The third cook, crowned with a resplendent tin basin and wrapped royally in a table-cloth mottled with grease-spots and coffee stains, and bearing a sceptre that looked strangely like a belaying-pin, walked upon a dilapidated carpet and perched himself on the capstan, careless of the flying spray; his tarred and weather-beaten Chamberlains, Dukes and Lord High Admirals surrounded him, arrayed in all the pomp that spare tarpaulins and remnants of old sails could furnish. Then the visiting “watch below,” transformed into graceless ladies and uncouth pilgrims, by rude travesties upon waterfalls, hoopskirts, white kid gloves and swallow-tail coats, moved solemnly up the companion way, and bowing low, began a system of complicated and extraordinary smiling which few monarchs could look upon and live. Then the mock consul, a slush-plastered deck-sweep, drew out a soiled fragment of paper and proceeded to read, laboriously:
“To His Imperial Majesty, Alexander II., Emperor of Russia:
“We are a handful of private citizens of America, traveling simply for recreation,—and unostentatiously, as becomes our unofficial state—and therefore, we have no excuse to tender for presenting ourselves before your Majesty—”
The Emperor—“Then what the devil did you come for?”
so Twain!, punching down, Paul prefers the punching up, how incredibly diseased people are, implicit acceptance, that’s just their nature, Spaniards are just naturally awful, the pitiable state of poor children, any excuse for that condition is rare between, these are not people with names, describing an entire race of people as despicable, time spent in Gibraltar, some beauty in there as well as comedy, disease, dread of cholera, our friends the Bermudians, these are like us, the very last image in the book, a cigar, smoking, fini, it’s backwards, the ship image, briefly in the Hatian navy before being lost in a storm, good podcast listening, an experience, lots of really funny bits, lots of revelations, trying to imitate Mark Twain, he’s the genuine article, pastiche your way, he comes at things from strange angles, he’s like a standup comedian before standup comedians, who is the earliest funny person, ancient Greek plays, Shakespeare’s pretty funny, some caveperson?, black humour, this blood eagle is funny, utterly relatable, Edgar All Poe has humour in him, Eric S. Rabkin, H.P. Lovecraft’s Alethia Phrikodes, his most cosmicism poem, later published, without the opening and closing frame, heroic couplets, orientated towards food jokes, when you’re reading H.P. Lovecraft you don’t usually say he’s a really funny guy, The Unnamable, Herbert West: Re-Animator, in the context, we gotta laugh, looking at the darkness can be alleviated and being playfully funny, deep and dark, a good sense of humour, inherent humour, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, structurally funny too, I prefer not too, Bartleby The Scrivener, Typee, the cannibals are always in the other valley, the same punchline over and over again, the tragedy of life being alleviated by comedy, maybe Hamlet is not very funny, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, ’70s Doctor Who, The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, Abbot And Costello, R2D2 and his co-equal, a previous episode, Tonto and The Lone Ranger, buddy comedy, Martin Riggs and the other guy, Shakespeare’s the buddy comedy inventor?, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are a comedy team, re-read it to find the humour in it, comic misadventures, To my most patient reader, this volume is affectionately inscribed, his wife’s brother, issued by subscription only, not the way we do books now, eh?, Jane Austen, kickstarter today, 20 books to 50k, the sell-it-yourself model, looping back around, only one publisher, Simon & Shuster & Tor, there’s no big secret, marketing, this is what Jesse is saying, when you run out of stock, Audible, Downpour, boxes full of hardcovers and shipping, up front costs, if it has any legs, you did all the work now you have to pay more, when the author is buying his own cover, narrator friends, when Audible makes a change, the new Audible return policy, soundcloud?, maybe somebody made some money from it once, Jesse is welcome, Jesse’s aged mother, around xmas, next July? [June], five months, solicited in February, Jesse is not a big fan of cholera, Jesse might be baksheeshing himself, would Jesse be a companion to Jon Pertwee?, David would go in 1867, some risk, risk adverse, Corfu, sidetrip to see Palmyra, destroyed by ISIS, Jordan, mainly on topic, Paul is melting down over twitter, despairing, Conan The Adventurer (the cartoon without violence and blood), amongst the dross, Tower Of The Elephant aka The Master Thief Of Shadizar, a red-caped monkey, shurikens made of starmetal, Conan has a shield with a baby phoenix living inside of it, Conan™, barbarian in a fur diaper, WrathAmon™, Isle Of The Iron Statues, The Red-Brotherhood, no lasers, no lost city, mostly clothed, more reasonable piratical, I steal from no-one!, what should we do to these guys, Vilayet Sea, Shadows In The Moonlight for like a second, Shadows In Zamboula is a story about tourism, mummy fuel, Edgar Rice Burroughs, a tiger in the first Tarzan book?, like Kipling, the guys who never went anywhere, the most imaginative, The Moon Maid, find out how the centaurs live, wings on the moon, a [callforward] to The Menace From Earth, when H.G. Wells died, they have to go together even if they don’t want to, enriching, 20 hours richer or poorer.