There are two groups of people in the world: those who read guide books before going on holiday and those who don’t.
‘Your father was always trying to make me do that before we went away, but I never did,’ my mother said to me this weekend, part scathingly, because how could I do something so nerdy, and partly triumphantly, because she’d escaped all that guide book reading over the years. She’d caught me at my dirty worst, reading a book on Rome. My mother’s only interested in a place once she’s visited it already, but then she’s someone who prefers the past to the future.
To be honest, guide books are fairly fucking boring, but that’s their advantage. It’s just a way to calm my holiday anxiety. Apparently, it’s a big thing: travel anxiety. I am not alone. A quick perusal of the internet has revealed some tips:
- Travel anxiety is often due to life anxiety.
Well, that’s bloody unhelpful.
- You can have travel anxiety and not know about it.
Then who the fuck cares? If you don’t know you have an anxiety, then how can you have an anxiety? My head is hurting.
And this advice:
- If you find that your anxiety on your trip is acting up, then take a short break from your vacation.
I feel an endless loop coming on of small holidays within larger holidays: Babushka doll nightmare.
I have, however, learnt a few interesting things from my guide book. Romans, apparently, drink their cappuccinos tepid, not hot. I’m happy about that. I’m a big fan of the lukewarm coffee. And there’s a place around the corner from where we’re staying
that used to belong to a Sienese banker and businessman from the early 1500s. His residence is covered with lavish paintings, including one downstairs that features the back of his mistress. Upstairs is an unimpressive painting, poorly finished because the artist felt he wasn’t bring paid enough. This all sounds familiar: covert bragging about affairs, petty resentments from artists.
This businessman was a bit of a tricky customer. In 1518, he organised a lavish reception to honour Pope Leo X, but he held it in his stables. He was driven by the desire to embarrass his neighbours, the family across the street, by demonstrating that his stables were as elegant as their dining rooms. He also held another reception party later that year on the riverbank where he had the servants throw the silver into the Tiber after each course. Unbeknown to the horrified (impressed?) guests, he’d strung a net below to retrieve the silver when they went home.
You see. Guide books aren’t all bad. I’ll feel I have a friend who’s living – or at least being dead – right around the corner from me. Or if he’s not a friend, at least he’s a kind of person utterly familiar to me who would fit right into this day and age. And that’s some kind of comfort.