A Tramp Abroad

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 10. Books (2), Florence by Isabel2 Comments

Twain’s accounts of traveling through Europe in “A Tramp Abroad” are very candid, filled with notes for the future and general observations of the things he and his friends saw. When he finally gets to Italy near the end of the book, I found a few sections that I could relate to, connect to, or disagree with. The first was this instance where the language barrier struck up an event; how to pay for a bus ride: “We took one omnibus ride, and as I did not speak Italian and could not ask the price, I held out some copper coins to the conductor, and he took two. Then he went and got his tariff card and showed me that he had taken only the right sum. So I made a note—Italian omnibus conductors do not cheat.” (524). I love this because it is true; the bus conductors in Italy to this day do not cheat. In fact, they will force you to validate your ticket on an overcrowded bus in front of them to make sure you pay the exact fee (I would know.) I loved how the conductor was not only honest but proud in his work, which is something I see a lot here; people here pride themselves in being honest and fair.

This next line is a very fitting example of the Italian stereotype that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at; “In another quarter we found six Italians engaged in a violent quarrel. They danced fiercely about, gesticulating with their heads, their arms, their legs, their whole bodies; they would rush forward occasionally with a sudden access of passion and shake their fists in each other’s very faces. We lost half an hour there, waiting to help cord up the dead, but they finally embraced each other affectionately, and the trouble was over. The episode was interesting, but we could not have afforded all the time to it if we had known nothing was going to come of it but a reconciliation. Note made—in Italy, people who quarrel cheat the spectator” (526).
This is another instance of a note being made, which I love the candidacy of; it makes it sound as though all of Italy is putting on a show and always wins. There is certainly a sense of drama associated with italian culture; waving arms when talking, interrupting to get a thought in, being loud as all hell. I can identify, and I love how thin the line between love and hate is here; though it is extremely dramatic, it is almost too real and reveals a side of humanity that is constantly in occurrence.

I found the way that Twain speaks about art to be very entertaining and genuine. When he talks about the old works he says; “The Old Masters were still unpleasing to me, but they were truly divine contrasted with the copies. The copy is to the original as the pallid, smart, inane new wax-work group is to the vigorous, earnest, dignified group of living men and women whom it professes to duplicate” (528). He compares Old Masters to women, noting how a woman’s charm might not be in the technicalities of her appearance; her nose or her mouth or the symmetry of her face. But there is a way about her that is beautiful, and while one may say she is technically not beautiful, another may argue just the opposite. I loved this comparison because I definitely spend a lot of time thinking about what beauty is and how it is perceived; this description hit the nail on the head.

I felt connected in a funny way when I read this line: “My sole purpose in going to Florence was to see this immortal “Moses,” and by good fortune I was just in time, for they were already preparing to remove it to a more private and better-protected place because a fashion of robbing the great galleries was prevailing in Europe at the time” (551). Of course, my sole purpose for coming to Florence was not one piece of art, my sole purpose for going to the Uffizi was to see the Birth of Venus, so I can understand his urgency. And this line is very telling of the time period he was in and is reflected now; there is a copy of the David near the outside of the Uffizi that tourists love to take countless pictures of, unaware that the real one is protected in a different gallery. Most things, especially in Italy, that are so precious and rare must be better preserved and moved; this has been going on for a while, though I don’t think art thievery is as common these days.

One thing I do have to disagree with is this sweeping statement: “To particularize: the average American’s simplest and commonest form of breakfast consists of coffee and beefsteak; well, in Europe, coffee is an unknown beverage. You can get what the European hotel-keeper thinks
is coffee, but it resembles the real thing as hypocrisy resembles holiness. It is a feeble, characterless, uninspiring sort of stuff, and almost as undrinkable as if it had been made in an American hotel” (541). I find coffee here to be five times better than back at home; it is stronger and I’d say the more intense of the two. Most people here drink espresso whereas at home we get caught up in foam art and sugaring our coffee like we’re in Spain. But in Italy, I definitely don’t find this statement to be true.

All in all, I found Twain’s accounts to be refreshingly honest and as objective as one can be when they travel.



  1. Hi Isabel,

    I love how invested you were in your book, and how keen you were on making connections, and engaging to the degree of even disagreeing with some of Twain’s statements. I have to say, I also disagree with his perception of European coffee. Grabbing a cup of coffee just feels so European. I never go to coffeeshops in the states to do work but I find myself doing it all the time in Prague! Getting coffee is an excuse to put myself in a sea of locals even if I am not directly interacting with them.

    I also have noticed that it seems to be a larger European trend that people are really honest and fair. For example, the public transportation system here is based on a honor system. There are no turnstiles here but little boxes in which you insert your metro or tram pass. If you have a monthly or trimonthly like me, you don’t need to insert anything and just walk through the little boxes, onto the escalator and onto the platform. Since most people who use public transport are daily commuters, most everyone just breezes through. Occasionally we get controlled by metro employees and we just have to show them our pass. I have seen a couple of people getting fined but not many as I would imagine I’d see in NYC even with turnstiles which are objectively harder to jump.

  2. Hi Isabel!

    “A Tramp Abroad.” That is an interesting title for a book, definitely made me want to read it. I laughed at your comment on how animated Italians are, I haven’t traveled to Italy in a while, but I can imagine the theatrics involved in everyday interactions. There are certainly treasures found in people watching. I also like what you address concerning beauty and technicality. I kind of like how the only way to describe a certain beauty is to say that “there’s something about her.” It’s so vague, but I think that’s part of the definition.
    Also, I feel like you might be right with your disagreement on coffee. In America we definitely get hung up on all the additions and few people just have a cup of black coffee.

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