“We rose at two in the morning and dressed by candle-light. It was a dismal and chilly business. A few stars were shining, but the general heavens were overcast, and the great shaft of the Matterhorn was draped in a cable pall of clouds.” -Mark Twain, in A Tramp Abroad
Title: A Tramp Abroad // Author: Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) // Year: 1880 // 414 p.
I leave the U.S. later this week for a summer in the French Alps, so I’ve been reading and re-reading the books and poems inspired by this area. Most Americans are required to read Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school, and even in university literature courses, I wasn’t required to read much of Twain beyond that. A few bits here and there. Most people wouldn’t even know that Twain was an adventurous traveler, and that he is probably one of the original American travel writers, sending dispatches to American newspapers during two lengthy forays abroad. His Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress was published in 1869, and it chronicles Twain’s journey on a ship to Europe and the Holy Land with a group of religious pilgrims. In A Tramp Abroad, Twain returns to Europe with grand plans to tour the continent on foot with his sidekick “Mr. Harris.” Knowing Mark Twain, readers won’t be surprised to find out that Twain and his travel buddy break their rules from the get-go…hopping on trains, carts, and anything else they can hitch a ride on to avoid traveling on foot. Granted—there are a few moments in which they actually do go somewhere on foot, such as when they attempt a summit of Switzerland’s Riffelberg…while wearing evening dress. Twain wildly exaggerates his tale at this point, telling how he hired 17 guides, 15 barkeepers, 7 cows, 2 milkers, and a Latinist to join him (among many, many others also part of the entourage). Being a mountain-lover and climber, I couldn’t resist loving his chapter titled “The Fiendish Fun of Alp-climbing.” I was cracking up while reading Twain’s descriptions of mountaineers and guides, of gear and climbing practices. He tells his own version of the Whymper Matterhorn tragedy. Overall, I highly recommend Twain’s A Tramp Abroad to other Alps-lovers. And I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to replace tired images of Huck Finn with more hilarious, grown-up adventures such as the ones Twain recounts in A Tramp Abroad.