A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople

I love books about walking long distances, but this is one I rage-read, furiously flipping the pages and muttering to myself. Rarely do I read to the end a book I hate, but such was the case. If I’m not enjoying a book after ~50 pages, it’ll usually end up on the trash-heap without an entry on the site. This was an exception, due to not having anything else on hand to read, and wanting to congeal exactly what I hated about it into a coherent thought.
First and inexcusably, the writing sucks – pumping adjectives, adverbs, and $5 words into limp sentences like a Botox injection. Oh yes, I’ve dogeared a few delightful examples: “As he spoke, fashionable Europe at the turn of the century rose like an emanation of absurd and captivating splendor. Sovereigns and statesmen confabulated in a rose-colored, dove-gray mist. Ambassadors, proconsuls and viceroys, winking with jewelled stars, postured in colloquy.” Hollow, meaningless tripe. Or this: “My polymath neighbor’s reassuring pats on the shaggy scalp at his side were rewarded by a languorous gaze and a few tail-thumps…”
Secondly, I want to give further emphasis to the egregiousness of using fancy words that taste like cardboard when you look them up in the dictionary: “It was Melt at last, a long conventual palace cruising above the roofs and the trees, a quinquereme among abbeys” or “he was learned and amusing and the ideal cicerone for all that lay ahead.”
Last, and worst (?), having to listen to this wealthy, upperclass, white Englishman get free lodging across Europe in 1934: “The kind old landlady of the place accepted payment for my dinner but none for the room: they had seen I was tired and taken me under their wing. This was the first marvelous instance of kindness and hospitality that was to occur again and again on these travels.” Thereafter we follow his adventures through the countryside, taking advantage of poor families’ hospitality, sometimes sleeping in haystacks, and then finding himself invited to stay at a baron’s castle for a few nights. His connections netted him a safety net of comfortable lodging across Europe on his clever goal of walking to Constantinople. He stayed with one friend for three weeks in Vienna.

Remembering the advice the mayor of Bruchsal had given me, the moment I had arrived in this little village, I had sought out the Bürgermeister. I found him in the Gemeindeamt, where he filled out a slip of paper. I presented it at the inn: it entitled me to supper and a mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning; all on the parish. It seems amazing to me now, but so it was, and there was no kind of slur attached to it; nothing, ever, but a friendly welcome. I wonder how many times I took advantage of this generous and, apparently, very old custom? It prevailed all through Germany and Austria, a survival perhaps, of some ancient charity to wandering students and pilgrims, extended now to all poor travelers.

At one point, he almost attains self-awareness, wondering how differently a German wanderer would be treated in London if attempting the narrator’s Grand Scheme of walking to Constantinople. For the most part, the writer comes off as completely tone deaf to his own privilege, the ability to float through Europe in 1934 on the kindness of strangers and in the magnificent castles of the wealthy titled class he belongs to.