Monday, August 20, 2007

Innocents Abroad: Odessa, Russia, August 22d 1867

Before Mark Twain left California for New York at the end of 1866, he secured a job as a travelling correspondent for the San Francisco Daily Alta California. In early 1867 he convinced the Alta to provide $1250 to pay his fare on the Quaker City tour of Europe and the Middle East.
Throughout the five-month trip MT sent 51 letters to the Alta, which the paper published between 2 August 1867 and 8 January 1868 under the running heading: "The Holy Land Excursion. Letter from 'Mark Twain.' Special Travelling Correspondent of the Alta." These letters, together with seven printed in two New York papers, became the basis for Innocents Abroad, written during the first half of 1868.

If there is one thing that is really cheerful in the world, it is cheerfulness. I have noticed it often. And I have noticed that when a man is right down cheerful, he is seldom unhappy for the time being. Such is the nature of man. Now I have often thought that our style of bathing was rather reserved than otherwise, and lacked many elements of cheerfulness. But you cannot say that of the Russian style. I watched a party of them at it this afternoon in the harbor, and it is really nice. The men and women, and boys and girls, all go in together, along about noon, and the men don't wear anything at all, the boys don't, the little girls don't, and the young women and the old women usually wear a single white thin garment with ruffles around the top of it and short sleeves, (which I have forgotten the name of it,) but this would be a very good apology for a bathing dress, if it would only stay down. But it don't do it. It will float up around their necks in the most scandalous way, and the water is clear, and yet they don't seem to know enough to kick up the mud on the bottom. I never was so outraged in my life. At least a hundred times, in the seven hours I stayed there, I would just have got up and gone away from there disgusted, if I had had any place to go to. Several times I had a mind to go anyhow. Why, those young ladies thought no more of turning somersaults, when I was not looking, than nothing in the world. Incensed as I was, I was compelled to look, most of the time, during this barbarous exhibition, because it forced them to make a show of modesty, at least. Yet it wouldn't even have accomplished that, if they hadn't been so fond of show naturally.
Well, you can't conceive of it. It was awful. But sometimes my outraged feelings were crowded down by my fears for the safety of those girls. They were so reckless. One splendid-looking young woman went in with nothing on but a shawl, and she kept it wrapped around her so that I was afraid all the time that she would tangle her feet in its long fringes and drown herself. My solicitude became so unbearable at last that I went and signified to her that if she wanted to take off her shawl I would hold it for her. But she only kicked up her heels and dived out of sight. I just took her to be one of your high-flyer, mock-modest kind, and left her to her fate. But she was the handsomest girl in the party, and it was a pity to see her endangering her life in that way.
I said to Brown: "It makes my heart bleed to look upon this unhallowed scene."
"We better go, then," he said. "If you stay here seven more hours you might bleed to death."
So we went away. But it was marvellously cheerful bathing

(...more on Innocents)

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