Sex, black markets and fine dining. Yes, it sounds like the juicy trappings of a Bond novel, but it’s actually an intriguing non-fiction travel guide that develops into a–sometimes troubling–snapshot of early post-World War II Europe and the U.S. — at least through Temple Fielding’s eyes. The Time cover gives it away; he was a successful and popular travel expert, a real travel guide guru of his day. But, this is supposed to be about the book, a vintage travel guide book. So why am I bothering with Temple Fielding, the author?
Let me just say as I reached further into Fielding’s mid-20th century Europe, Temple kept…well…creeping into my temple. This author’s point-of-view played as much of a “character role in the plot” as did Europe. I felt compelled to search into his life to try to understand him.
It’s first important to note that travel guides aimed for anyone other than the gentry were not available. Until the US economy began booming after the war, most Americans could not afford to travel outside of the country, but that quickly started to change. Eyeing an opportunity, Fielding traveled, penned and published the first of its kind “insider’s scoop” for the every-day overseas traveler, at least for those heading to Europe. He published his first travel guide in ’48 and continued them annually over the next thirty-five years — with input from his wife, Nancy, their son and a few others, affectionately dubbed the Fielding Family. (NYTimes, 1983)
Certainly I was fascinated by the history and nostalgia of 1950’s air travel, and Fielding covered it well, from full-out descriptions of commercial airlines and the cabin crew to the lists of proper travel attire and what to expect from the in-flight menu.
*did he say, hostess?* I am old enough to remember such dining pleasures on domestic flights. On my first and only trip abroad to England in 2003, I was instructed to grab a sandwich-filled paper sack on the way to my seat. Yummy and classy.
Fittingly, Mr. Fielding supplied the traveler with tips on the female crew members too, or as they were known, the hostesses.
Aye yi yi. Written in the early ’50s, I suppose one should half-expect a Mad Men mentality, and sure enough, Fielding delivered. Now remember – he is on a Time magazine cover! Given the guide’s growing readership, this sexist banter was excepted and well received.
Female antennae raised, it was at this point that I really began to wonder who this Fielding guy was, and how he could be so unabashedly chauvinistic, wife in tow, traveling and working on the same material!?
I had to dig further.
Fielding’s Travel Guide to Europe covers a vast geographical area — from Albania to Yugoslavia (a magnificent land ruled by King Peter, yet not worth a visit with the OZNA secret police making it uncomfortable, according to Fielding who served there as a young Army officer).
I counted twenty-six countries in all, each revealed in its own time capsule of life after the war. The bulk are covered in short paragraphs under subject headings Fielding believed to be important to the traveler. Fewer are much smaller entries for reasons that speak to the times; for example, here is the only terse entry for post-war Poland:
As a learned man from Princeton and with his stint in the war, Fielding’s guide easily lends itself as storied history and cultural lessons at the turn of every page. It’s not a textbook read, especially with Fielding’s opinionated hokey voice, and is most definitely politically incorrect by today’s standards. Witness a master at the art of the backhanded compliment.
But then quickly about-faced with this admiration:
Surprisingly, Egypt was made a participant. Fielding described the people as “shrewd, sensitive; contemptuous to foreigners, cruel to animals; uncomplaining in adversity; quick to take advantage, too often dishonest; unsanitary from lack of education….Egypt has many wonderful people, of impeccable standards *wait for it* it also has more rouges per square inch than any other country I have ever visited”
Oh, and about those women:
“There are more beautiful girls in Cairo and Alexandria than you can shake a stick at….They age fast, but no women in the world are more striking when they’re young.”
Yikes! to the insensitive verbiage.
The guide covered items that you might expect, such as: the Local Tourist Centers, best places/prices for Laundry, Language spoken, Restaurants, Taxis and Tipping do’s and don’ts, among others. Glaringly, Fielding spent little time on the cultural things to do, something he was criticized for (mostly by that other guy, Frommer). He pulled no punches on his intent:
“The fact is that most travelers don’t give a damn for the sights, except for the very famous ones,” he said. “They pay lip service to museums, tombs, battlefields, but they care the most about their hotel – and if they’re comfortable there, they generally like the city. Their second concern is restaurants and shopping. Sightseeing comes quite a bit down the list.”
What I found most interesting and telling of the times, the author, or both, are these sections that were included under nearly every country listing: Tobacco/Cigarettes, Customs, Shortages, Black Markets and Night Clubs (wink).
On Tobacco and Cigarettes — yes, this was the ’50s. Here’s a great example–showing Austria–of how Fielding not only wrote of where to find the smokes, but captured an historical economic and political tidbit.
It seems Fielding was a smoker; I’ve found photos that show him with a cigarette in his hand. Living a travel career life added second hand smoke from restaurants, bars, night clubs, the airplane. Sadly, in April 1983, Fielding succumbed to a second heart attack, at 69, only one month after he gave an interview in which he said he was looking forward to settling down in one place with Nancy.
In a post-9/11 world, the sections on Customs is almost laughable.
The subject of Shortages was approached in almost every country, a good measure of what life was like, more than half-a-decade beyond WWII.
I still take my french toast warm, buttered and liberally sprinkled with table sugar. A war-shortage breakfast handed down from my Dad’s family.
Of course, war, staple shortages, hunger and opportunity will lead to crime and black-markets. Fielding openly and nonchalantly tipped off the reader on how and where to get the best price for currency exchange rates, liquor and more.
So cloak and dagger.
steamy novel travel guide provides the reader with sexual innuendo. Right? Again, Fielding did his research.
In nearly all countries in the guide, Fielding covered the night club scene, from fantastic shows to seedy dives. He was not shy about pointing out the places where men could entertain ladies of the evening.
and, in Denmark…
“Fidelity…as long as the attraction lasts.” Hmm.
Fielding did show concern *cough* for the wives and gave hubby tips on places he could take her and ones he should “definitely not” (pay attention, traveling business man!).
After discovering that Mr. and Mrs. Fielding met, fell in love (I presume) and married a short two months later — then traveled and worked a successful writing and publishing business together for nearly 40 years — I wondered how this “night club” openness played out in their marriage.
From a July, 7, 1980 People magazine interview:
“It is part of life and a part of travel,” [Fielding] says. “It’s not for some husband so he can sneak off while his wife’s shopping, but for men who travel alone, whether they are married or not.” In the early days of their marriage, he made an agreement with Nancy. “I knew I would be traveling for five months in Europe, and I was not going to be a monk,” says Fielding. “So I told Nancy that when I was away for that length of time I would be with other women, and that when she was alone she could be with other men. I was always honest with any woman I was with and told her I was married and would never change that. Nancy never asked questions and always greeted me with, ‘Did you have a nice trip, dear?’ ” However, Nancy didn’t take advantage of Temple’s beneficent ruling. “It was not for me,” she says quietly.
That answered so many of my questions about this travel guide author’s point-of-view — on women, on fidelity and his non-fiction writer’s choice of subject matter. It may also explain Fielding’s bold outspoken cultural views — perhaps he believed that open honesty trumped tactful consideration.
I’ve only shown a fragment of my vintage 1952 copy of Fielding’s Travel Guide to Europe. The setting is post-WWII Europe–a fantastic historical viewing–yet laced between the words is the voice of an educated, worldly, honest-to-a-fault, culturally-opinionated, good-intentioned, stereotypical 1950’s man.
In an interview last month, Mr. Fielding summarized his major achievement thus: “Easing the path for good-hearted, well-meaning people who didn’t know where they were going or what they were going to do when they got there. Europe was a jungle to them so we tried to assuage the hardships, take away the strangeness, make them feel at home. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we probably succeeded.”