On Something/On the Hotel at Palma and a Proposed Guide-book

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On Something by Hilaire Belloc
On the Hotel at Palma and a Proposed Guide-book

The hotel at Palma is like the Savoy, but the cooking is a great deal better. It is large and new; its decorations are in the modern style with twiddly lines. Its luxury is greater than that of its London competitor. It has an eager, willing porter and a delightful landlord. You do what you like in it and there are books to read. One of these books was an English guide-book. I read it. It was full of lies, so gross and palpable that I told my host how abominably it traduced his country, and advised him first to beat the book well and then to burn it over a slow fire. It said that the people were superstitious - it is false. They have no taboo about days; they play about on Sundays. They have no taboo about drinks; they drink what they feel inclined (which is wine) when they feel inclined (which is when they are thirsty). They have no taboo book, Bible or Koran, no damned psychical rubbish, no damned "folk-lore," no triply damned mumbo-jumbo of social ranks; kind, really good, simple-minded dukes would have a devil of a time in Palma. Avoid it, my dears, keep away. If anything, the people of Palma have not quite enough superstition. They play there for love, money, and amusement. No taboo (talking of love) about love.

The book said they were poor. Their populace is three or four times as rich as ours. They own their own excellent houses and their own land; no one but has all the meat and fruit and vegetables and wine he wants, and usually draught animals and musical instruments as well.

In fact, the book told the most frightful lies and was a worthy companion to other guidebooks. It moved me to plan a guide-book of my own in which the truth should be told about all the places I know. It should be called "Guide to Northumberland, Sussex, Chelsea, the French frontier, South Holland, the Solent, Lombardy, the North Sea, and Rome, with a chapter on part of Cheshire and some remarks on the United States of America."

In this book the fault would lie in its too great scrappiness, but the merit in its exactitude. Thus I would inform the reader that the best time to sleep in Siena is from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon, and that the best place to sleep is the north side of St. Domenic's ugly brick church there.

Again, I would tell him that the man who keeps the "Turk's Head" at Valogne, in Normandy, was only outwardly and professedly an Atheist, but really and inwardly a Papist.

I would tell him that it sometimes snowed in Lombardy in June, for I have seen it - and that any fool can cross the Alps blindfold, and that the sea is usually calm, not rough, and that the people of Dax are the most horrible in all France, and that Lourdes, contrary to the general opinion, does work miracles, for I have seen them.

I would also tell him of the place at Toulouse where the harper plays to you during dinner, and of the grubby little inn at Terneuzen on the Scheldt where they charge you just anything they please for anything; five shillings for a bit of bread, or half a crown for a napkin.

All these things, and hundreds of others of the same kind, would I put in my book, and at the end should be a list of all the hotels in Europe where, at the date of publication, the landlord was nice, for it is the character of the landlords which makes all the difference - and that changes as do all human things.

There you could see first, like a sort of Primate of Hotels, the Railway Hotel at York. Then the inn at La Bruyère in the Landes, then the "Swan" at Petworth with its mild ale, then the "White Hart" of Storrington, then the rest of them, all the six or seven hundred of them, from the "Elephant" of Chateau Thierry to the "Feathers" of Ludlow--a truly noble remainder of what once was England; the "Feathers" of Ludlow, where the beds are of honest wood with curtains to them, and where a man may drink half the night with the citizens to the success of their engines and the putting out of all fires. For there are in West England three little inns in three little towns, all in a line, and all beginning with an L - Ledbury, Ludlow, and Leominster, all with "Feathers," all with orchards round, and I cannot tell which is the best.

Then my guide-book will go on to talk about harbours; it will prove how almost every harbour was impossible to make in a little boat; but it would describe the difficulties of each so that a man in a little boat might possibly make them. It would describe the rush of the tide outside Margate and the still more dangerous rush outside Shoreham, and the absurd bar at Littlehampton that strikes out of the sea, and the place to lie at in Newhaven, and how not to stick upon the Platters outside Harwich; and the very tortuous entry to Poole, and the long channel into Christchurch past Hengistbury Head; and the enormous tides of South Wales; and why you often have to beach at Britonferry, and the terrible difficulty of mooring in Great Yarmouth; and the sad changes of Little Yarmouth, and the single black buoy at Calais which is much too far out to be of any use; and how to wait for the tide in the Swin. And also what no book has ever yet given, an exact direction of the way in which one may roll into Orford Haven, on the top of a spring tide if one has luck, and how if one has no luck one sticks on the gravel and is pounded to pieces.

Then my guide-book would go on to tell of the way in which to make men pleasant to you according to their climate and country; of how you must not hurry the people of Aragon, and how it is your duty to bargain with the people of Catalonia; and how it is impossible to eat at Daroca; and how careful one must be with gloomy men who keep inns at the very top of glens, especially if they are silent, under Cheviot. And how one must not talk religion when one has got over the Scotch border, with some remarks about Jedburgh, and the terrible things that happened to a man there who would talk religion though he had been plainly warned.

Then my guide-book would go on to tell how one should climb ordinary mountains, and why one should avoid feats; and how to lose a guide which is a very valuable art, for when you have lost your guide you need not pay him. My book will also have a note (for it is hardly worth a chapter) on the proper method of frightening sheep dogs when they attempt to kill you with their teeth upon the everlasting hills.

This my good and new guide-book (oh, how it blossoms in my head as I write!) would further describe what trains go to what places, and in what way the boredom of them can best be overcome, and which expresses really go fast; and I should have a footnote describing those lines of steamers on which one can travel for nothing if one puts a sufficiently bold face upon the matter.

My guide-book would have directions for the pacifying of Arabs, a trick which I learnt from a past master, a little way east of Batna in the year 1905 - I will also explain how one can tell time by the stars and by the shadow of the sun; upon what sort of food one can last longest and how best to carry it, and what rites propitiate, if they are solemnized in a due order, the half-malicious fairies which haunt men when they are lost in lonely valleys, right up under the high peaks of the world. And my book should have a whole chapter devoted to Ulysses.

For you must know that one day I came into Narbonne where I had never been before, and I saw written up in large letters upon a big, ugly house:

ULYSSES
Lodging for Man and Beast.

So I went in and saw the master, who had a round bullet head and cropped hair, and I said to him: "What! Are you landed, then, after all your journeys? And do I find you at last, you of whom I have read so much and seen so little?" But with an oath he refused me lodging.

This tale is true, as would be every other tale in my book.

What a fine book it will be!