15 July 2010

The things we no longer carry (portable record player, anyone?)

Temple Fielding wrote the guidebook that Arthur Frommer loved to mock, Fielding's Travel Guide to Europe. "It maps out ... the short, quick road to insolvency that most American tourists have been traveling for years," Arthur wrote.

In 1968, eleven years after the first edition of Europe on Five Dollars a Day--and a year after my mother toured the continent with that same budget-oriented guidebook--John McPhee profiled Temple Fielding in The New Yorker. After Fielding's first book came out in 1946, McPhee, writes, he "was soon operating virtually without competition as councellor to the millions of American tourists who have traversed Europe in the postwar years, and his closest competitors became, as they have remained, scarcely visible behind him."

I don't have numbers to back me up, but I strongly suspect that this is a case of The New Yorker's stereotypically myopic, upper crust worldview getting the best of it, this being the magazine that was, famously, “not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.”  There's only a cursory mention of E5D and Arthur Frommer in the profile, in this dismissal: "Fielding does not think much of Arthur Frommer's Europe on Five Dollars a Day. 'We don't respect Frommer,' he told me in an even, sad voice." But even though neither McPhee nor Fielding get any deeper into the subject, E5D was gaining ground rapidly was already a cultural touchstone by this point; it's telling that Fielding came out with his own Super-Economy Guide to Europe in 1967.  E5D already was the go-to book for the younger, more frugal set (like my mother). The first run of the original edition of the book was 5,000, and according to Arthur, "it no sooner reached the bookstores than it absolutely disappeared." In Mom's letters, she mentioned Fodor's guidebook and Europe on Five Dollars a Day. Not a word about Fielding's.

The most telling difference between Fielding and Frommer, to my mind, is not in the places they recommend staying or eating (although the contrasts there are indeed profound) but in how they packed, the things they carried:

Temple Fielding's packing list (from McPhee's profile):
The [large raffia] basket and its standard contents go with fielding around Western Europe on all his annual trips, which ordinarily last for five interrupted months. In it Fielding keeps a bottle of maraschino cherries, a bottle of Angostura biters, a portable Philips three-speed record-player, five records (four of mood music and "one Sinatra always"), a leather-covered RCA transistor radio, an old half-pint Heublein bottle full of vermouth, and a large nickel thermos with a wide mouth.  
... Fielding also carries a large calfskin briefcase that was designed by him (it is full of compartments) and was made by Loewe, a Spanish purveyor of stunningly fine leather goods. The forty-one items inside the briefcase are standard on all his travels. [These include] his sterling-silver paper stapler (by Tiffany), his plastic fork, his plastic spoon, his stud box, his dwarf American cigars, his standard toothbrush, his collapsible toothbrush, his rubber bands, his paper clips, his eraser, his credit cards, his peanuts, his two-inch bottles of Johnnie Walker ... his Fernet-Branca ... his working notebook ... his ink, his Scotch Tape, his ballpoint-pen refills, his undercover notebook for surreptitious notes ... his alarm wristwatch, his Buech-Girod alarm clock ("It's the world's smallest; it yodels") ... 
Fielding uses two suitcases, and in them he packs thirty-five handkerchiefs (all of hand-rolled Swiss linen and all bearing his signature, hand-embroidered), ten shirts, ten ties, ten pairs of undershorts, three pairs of silk pajamas, eight pairs of socks, evening clothes, three pairs of shoes, a lounging robe, a pair of sealskin slippers, and two toilet kits. ... He wears one suit and carries two. 
Okay, this list goes on. There's also a spinning top. And a mink-covered beer-can opener. You get the idea--the idea being that, goodness, (a) that's way too much, and (b), that sounds like the packing list of a Bond villain. Five bucks says Fielding knew how to use each of those items as a lethal weapon.

And here's Arthur, or rather, his wife, Hope, who wrote the "Packing to Save Money" chapter:
The tourist who carries heavy luggage and a complete wardrobe to Europe spends a great deal of money unnecessarily. ... A light suitcase means freedom. ... If you make the right decision, you'll do the following when it comes time to pack. You'll first buy the lightest suitcase available. You'll then fill it with the skimpiest set of clothing your courage will allow. Having done that, you'll then remove half these clothes from the suitcase, and depart on your Europe trip. 

For men, this is Hope's packing recommended packing list:

3 pairs of shorts (dacron or nylon)
3 cotton T-shirts
3 pairs of socks (at least one pair should be nylon)
2 handkerchiefs [recall that Fielding packed 35]
1 sweater
2 Wash 'n Wear Drip-Dry sport shirts
1 Drip-Dry white dress shirt
1 pair dress shoes
1 pair canvas shoes
1 light bathrobe
2 pair of nylon or dacron pajamas
1 tweed sports jacket
1 pair of heavy slacks
1 pair of chino slacks
1 summer suit
1 raincoat 
2 neckties
1 bathing suit
toilet and shaving articles (adapted for European use, if electric)

Don't take another thing!
Of course, to the modern reader, this still seems like an absurdly long list. Two suits? A bathrobe? Even if you take care to be a bit more formal than the average tourist, you're still probably packing fewer garments and of lighter material.

One final, amusing thing to note: Hope also suggests that you "roll into scroll-like shapes whatever is rollable: underwear, slips, bras, and so forth--all the things that don't have to be wrinkle-free. In that manner, these items can be placed along the sides of your suitcase easily, or into the most unusual cracks and crevices (you'll discover plenty of them while packing)."

Does that sound at all familiar? If you travel at all or read any travel-related web sites or publications, you've probably heard this before, always presented as a modern innovation. A mere two months ago, the New York Times breathlessly reported that "many flight attendants roll their clothes rather than fold them to save space."

Yeah, well. E5D got there first. Again.

For more on packing, innovative or otherwise, check out these past posts:

What's in my backpack?
The burdens of baggage


  1. I was thinking that Fielding's sounds like the baggage (in every sense) of a Wes Anderson character.

  2. You're so right, Andrew. Upon further consideration, that's proper Hollywood archetype, not a Bond villain. And I do think Fielding or Frommer--or both--would be a great subject for a biopic.

  3. I'd love to hear a sample of those four "mood music" records.

  4. Earlier travelers packed for steamer crossings and docks crowded with porters and a different social environment. When I went to Spain in 1964 (Frommer in hand) I took a summer suit because in Franco's day people were supposed to dress properly. Years later, when I was arranging an interview with a government official in Guatemala I was pointedly advised that I should "dress respectably", i.e., not as I was, in my early Banana Republic bush jacket. So I bought a necktie and a white coat to go with my white trousers and I fitted right in.

    Nowadays, all you really need bring with you are passport and credit cards: everything else you can buy when you get there, or do without.


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