If We Cannot Travel…

I was not planning on posting today. Sitting at my desk, though, I happened to see this on Twitter. After that, my mind started whirling and I was off and typing typing typing on here…

If you have watched travel television programming – particularly on PBS – in the U.S. over the last three decades, you have probably heard of Rick Steves. He is on Twitter now too. (Isn’t everyone?) He is best-known for wandering around Europe with his backpack, so the ban on American tourism here is making him stir crazy:

Mr. Steves is hardly alone, of course. Traveling is not easy right now because strangers mixing spreads a terrible and potentially deadly virus as we know. Many have a tough time accepting that virus as a fact, or is all that serious – and as with the “9/11 truthers” COVID-19 has produced its online “conspiracy theorists” and also claims quackery there are effective treatments that are being “withheld” from the public, one of which is repeatedly being cited even by the incompetent corrupt authoritarian buffoon we PRAY will be defeated in November the (current) president (George Washington is spinning in his Mount Vernon tomb) of our United States – but the fact is the virus is a fact, and it is deadly serious.

Worth bearing in mind too is that insofar as I am aware, Europeans cannot easily travel to the US now either: most are still banned. I could travel to the U.S. as a citizen; British Airways has slashed its schedule, but it still does a couple of flights a day to JFK Airport in New York. However, I would also have to do a 14 day quarantine on US arrival.

Americans are banned from visiting Europe because of the out of control nature of the virus in the U.S.; but even if they were not banned they would have to do a 14 day quarantine on arrival here also and that essentially wrecks tourism anyway. That also creates this odd situation for me: If I have to go to the US, I would face a 14 day quarantine on arrival and on returning a 14 day quarantine on UK arrival – a month in quarantines. (As would Americans in traveling in reverse.)

Obviously casual international travel is not happening currently. Thinking back, before air travel, and particularly before steamships (like Titanic), during the age of sail (until about the 1870s) reaching Europe from the U.S. regularly took 4-6 weeks and longer. (If the ship did not sink and you made it alive.) Short getaways were unknown naturally; a traveler was here for at least a year and often much longer. Given the real difficulties and heavy costs of the journey and that travelers were so few (compared to today certainly), there were also fewer frontier and residency formalities. Passports as we understand them (naturally there were no photos then), for example, were irregular items well into the 19th century.

[Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. Photo by me, 2011.]

Only the well-to-do traveled (or “toured”) for work, education, or “pleasure” because they had the time and the personal resources to do so. Sent to Europe in 1784 by the U.S. Continental Congress as first a trade representative and then in 1785 succeeding Benjamin Franklin as U.S. Minister (ambassador) to France because Franklin had been away so many years he wanted to return home, after about a year and a half in Paris Thomas Jefferson had written in 1785 to a friend in Virginia to be very careful about sending his son to Europe for an education. This is a great – if a bit lengthy, but paragraphs were much longer then – excerpt:

…Let us view the disadvantages of sending a youth to Europe. To enumerate them all, would require a volume. I will select a few. If he goes to England, he learns drinking, horse racing and boxing. These are the peculiarities of English education. The following circumstances are common to education in that, and the other countries of Europe. He acquires a fondness for European luxury and dissipation, and a contempt for the simplicity of his own country; he is fascinated with the privileges of the European aristocrats, and sees, with abhorrence, the lovely equality which the poor enjoy with the rich, in his own country; he contracts a partiality for aristocracy or monarchy; he forms foreign friendships which will never be useful to him, and loses the season of life for forming in his own country, those friendships which, of all others, are the most faithful and permanent; he is led by the strongest of all the human passions, into a spirit for female intrigue, destructive of his own and others’ happiness, or a passion for whores, destructive of his health, and, in both cases, learns to consider fidelity to the marriage bed as an ungentlemanly practice, and inconsistent with happiness; he recollects the voluptuary dress and arts of the European women, and pities and despises the chaste affections and simplicity of those of his own country; he retains, through life, a fond recollection, and a hankering after those places, which were the scenes of his first pleasures and of his first connections; he returns to his own country, a foreigner, unacquainted with the practices of domestic economy, necessary to preserve him from ruin, speaking and writing his native tongue as a foreigner, and therefore unqualified to obtain those distinctions, which eloquence of the pen and tongue ensures in a free country; for I would observe to you, that what is called style in writing or speaking, is formed very early in life, while the imagination is warm, and impressions are permanent. I am of opinion, that there never was an instance of a man’s writing or speaking his native tongue with elegance, who passed from fifteen to twenty years of age, out of the country where it was spoken…

Meandering around Europe Jefferson believed created confusion in a young American about where he (it was invariably “he” in those days) really belonged. Jefferson thought it was better to travel when one was older and perhaps more able to… for instance, resist the “arts” of European women: a lot like himself arriving in Europe in middle age, already a father, and a widower.

Although, as we know, none of those traits prevented him in the next summer, in 1786, from falling for (at least) one such woman: he was 43 and she (an Italian-English married woman and artist) was 26:

[Maria Cosway, self-portrait, 1787. Wikipedia. Public Domain.]

Today, the pandemic notwithstanding, given the ease of communication and (usual) transport that did not then exist – aside from probably his point about a main language between ages 15-20 – Jefferson’s advice I believe no longer mostly really applies.

[Page 1 of Jefferson To John Banister, Paris, October 1785. From Monticello.org. Public Domain.]

Near the conclusion of his extended warning, Jefferson adds:

Did you expect by so short a question, to draw such a sermon on yourself? I dare say you did not.

Likely the questioner did not. But two centuries and some on, we are glad he had asked. For Jefferson’s looooooong answer remains fun reading. LOL!

[A 1792 France excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. On Kindle for iPhone and iPad. Click to expand.]

If we cannot travel in our 2020, we can at least still read about doing so. 🙂

Have a good day, wherever you are.


R. J. Nello View All →

Author: “Tomorrow The Grace,” “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains…and the 1700s.

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