Building connections to Hall

No more than three or four Lippincotts will read Hall’s journals from start to finish. That’s exactly the reason it has taken so long to do anything with them. I started to type them—meticulously hand-copying the illustrations—in 1964 when I had a spiffy IBM Correcting Selectric (and a whole lot of extra time) at work. There wasn’t much incentive to finish, though—the potential audience wasn’t a whit larger back then, Dad had already read them fifty or a hundred times, and the rest of us could simply borrow the originals whenever we wanted.

Some ten years ago Hall’s granddaughter, Darby, worked for a while to see whether the journals could be excerpted and published as an adventure story, but there aren’t just a whole lot of thrills and chills here—penny-pinching, bedbug-bitten cyclists don’t morph into charismatic action-heroes, no matter how risqué their first moustache might seem to them. (I can’t resist noting that Hall’s brief flirtation with growing a moustache and whiskers occurred not long after he commented that his new friend Cecil Headrick . . . has the courage of his convictions to grow not only a moustache but a goatee.

Just about the time that Hall died in 1991, along came the World Wide Web. While we were still trying to get our heads around how we could use this magical series of tubes to enhance our business and personal lives, untold numbers of people around the globe already had that figured out: the Web’s main function would be to allow people everywhere to openly share information—all kinds of information, be it scientific data, genealogy charts, breaking news, ancient history, travel information, gazillions of goods and services for sale, jokes, Attu birdlists, what Kelli shouldn’t have done last Saturday night—absolutely anything that another person might search for or stumble upon, need, devour, get excited about, use, disagree with, whatever.

I wasn’t watching the Web’s explosion very closely—but one day, without realizing that something had forever changed, I had turned google into a verb rather than a proper noun, I was able to make a decent living for a couple of years by eBaying—until everybody and their brother spoiled it, and Wikipedia became my encyclopedia of choice. People shared, were sharing, and would continue to share in the spirit of a global community—or at least those of us who had computers and paid the monthly fee.

There’s a decent chance now of being able to find out something about Hall’s relatives, friends, casual acquaintances, and the countries and places he visited. The same queries about Blanche Corelli and and Duck Quackenbush that we made to Google or Wiki several years ago now yield far better results. People that Hall mentioned in passing—those two authors, Ames and Grieg, that he photographed in Gibraltar, for example—have morphed into full-blown personalities, fleshed out by any number of sources and contributors. Now we are able to place Hall’s journey into a rich fabric woven from untold millions of other people’s stories, threads leading out dendritically—if every story were told—to connect every human being who has ever lived upon this Earth.

So how does the Web change the tale of Hall’s journey? It doesn’t. It’s no more exciting than it was in 1940 or 1960 or 1980, but now we have the means of connecting to it, however obliquely. For example, on September 24, 1928 Hall mentions running into Dale Pontius, . . .  a Columbus boy. He is starting in the Universität of Berlin for a year. We had a long talk and then I went to the war museum. That chance encounter didn’t sound particularly promising to me, but I dutifully wrote down Dale’s name and googled it. My interest was piqued when I saw that the snippet that Google handed me for free was from the Wilson Bulletin: F. Dale Pontius, Columbus, Ohio, reports the following amusing incident: ‘The time of my first capture of a bird, I went over to the traps at dark. . .’ and that was it. Without being an academic, I could not breach the JSTOR archives to discover the rest of the citation, but it was enough. I’m a birder, Dad was a birder, and this guy was obviously a bird-bander, so I knew exactly how to search for Dale Pontius and within a minute there he was—right under Hall’s nose in Chicago! He lived to be 100 or so, which meant that our Chicago-area birding friend Larry could have known him. . .a quick phone call. . .yep! To complete the circle, Larry also knew Hall.

It doesn’t surprise me that Hall ran into people with whom he had some connection, and toward the end of the journey he commented on it: Queer where you meet people from your own school—Berlin, Delhi, Canton, and now on the Pacific. In 1930 the world’s population was estimated to have reached the two-billion mark. It was about 2½ billion in the mid-1940s when I was learning that the world was a globe and didn’t just end at the edge of our backyard. A mere seventy years later it has exploded to 6,862,634,239. (Please—feel free to be very, very horrified!) In 1929 most people (were) stuck pretty close to home. Those who traveled abroad and could be expected to pop up at American Express and Cook’s, art museums and Tut’s Tomb pretty much matched Hall’s profile—white, male, Anglophonic, perhaps a little homesick too, willing to see if a connection to apparent strangers could be discovered during five minutes of casual conversation. (We’ve run into people we know in Tierra del Fuego; New Zealand; Oaxaca; Denali Highway, Alaska; Silk Grass, Belize; Glue Pot, Australia; odd places like that, but then, that’s where birders go—anyplace other than where everyone else goes.)

I have searched these journals for a glimpse of who Hall was at 21 and 22 and what he had in mind for the rest of his life, but I find no ready answers. It’s likely that he simply doesn’t know yet. He might well have had an interest in mechanical engineering—at one point he buys a physics book and mentions studying it. If he had thought about going on for a higher degree, the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression would have squashed those thoughts. He’d had his turn—his sister Eleanor still had a year and a half of college remaining at the end of 1929, and in order to manage it, she transferred from Ohio State to Northwestern University so that she could live at home. (Her graduation trip was just to nearby old Mexico, but the compensation for this art major was meeting Diego Rivera at work on one of his murals.) By the time my brother and I met Hall, of course, he was snugly settled in the insurance business and—as with other topics such as Jean—our questions about the “past” were usually deflected, or we simply didn’t know what we didn’t know and never thought to ask them. One’s past was private territory, except for the always-open books of the journals. None of your beeswax.

This reticence was apparently always there. Hall never really writes about what he feels about what he’s experiencing (except for those sunsets), about the dynamics of the relationships he forms with the couple dozen people he spends time with. There are three exceptions that I can recall: George Nakashima boards the boat from Sicily to Tunis: J’ai senti très délaissé pour quelques moments après, mais ce ne puis pas durer pour il y a Monte Pellegrino à escalader. (I felt very forlorn for some moments afterward, but it didn’t last long for there was Mt. Pellegrino to climb.) Cecil Headrick: Was darned sorry to see him go for he is a dandy boy and interesting and intelligent. And written in Hall’s photo album, but not included in the journal: The tin-pan brigade made its second round of the ship warning visitors off. The gangplank was hauled away, lines cast loose, and amid a tremendous cheering and the noise of the ship’s band, we slipped away from the warf. For some reason I felt very sad. I was leaving the Orient behind. I heard someone calling my name and discovered Shiro waving frantically on the dock. I felt less lonely now. He threw me a streamer. The din increased. Our streamer stretched, stretched—broke—and the last tie to the East was broken. The cheering grew fainter and soon Japan slipped down below the horizon.

And So It Begins. . . Tuesday, July 17, 1928—Hall began journals telegraph-style: Jack spent night fighting bed-bugs. (Don’t neglect to click on that bed-bug link—it’s absolutely riveting!) Beautiful sunset. Ocean calm. Just dropped pilot. Virginia Beach in distance.

Here’s another departure involving a river pilot, August 25, 1929 aboard the PongTong departing Indo-China for Hongkong:  . . .we dropped the pilot at the Cape and entered the open sea. St. Jacques is a sea-side resort, and its long line of lights beneath the hill on which winked the lighthouse was a memorable farewell to the indolent tropics shimmering under the hard sunshine; the tangled jungle, moist, cool, its twilight pierced by misty shafts of light; the broad, low expanses of flooded green paddy fields. The pilot climbed down the rope ladder into his motor launch, and a moment later the last connections with Indo-China went careening and tossing shoreward.

How about that two-word description of Hall’s first sunset at sea: Beautiful sunset. He wound up lavishing a huge number of words on sunsets, with a few sunrises thrown in for good measure. His attempts to describe them are scattered throughout the journals and, a surprise, the photo albums contained two fuzzy black-and-white photos of memorable sunsets. I can understand his urge to take those snapshots, but why he thought that anyone might be able to see the beauty he found there is a mystery.

Seven months into the journey, he presents one day’s sunrise and sunset at Luxor: At six the eastern sky began to grow pale slowly. Then the gray gave way to a narrow stripe of pale orange sky along the horizon. This slowly widened and grew upwards, forming four distinct shades of oranges in separate bands, the lower more nearly approaching red. But the most extraordinary sight was the color of the sky above this—a green, which very slowly faded to gray higher in the sky. This weird green lasted only a few minutes. The sun did not appear for a long time after the whole east was a light orange. And the sunset: As the sun drops slowly down toward the rugged mountains across the river and the broad fertile plain, it tinges the surrounding sky a pale orange. The sun is a huge golden ball, and slips down behind the mountains, leaving the blue-gray of dusk slowly encroaching upon the fading orange, as mauve night settles over the valley. No array of rainbow colors in this sunset, just a small patch of pale orange sky and that golden ball burning its way down toward the horizon. I could rave on for hours about it. The gently flowing river darkens, reflecting an uncertain image of a sailboat upon the smooth surface.

Something happened to Hall during those seven months that we can speculate about, but which he never commits to his journals in so many words. These are not diaries, after all, to which he confesses his innermost thoughts, etc. etc. Hall probably was asked to keep a journal by his friends and family. He’s not really into this project at first—two, three, four, five days pass between terse entries. When the first book was filled, Hall mailed it home along with his souvenirs. Soon after that time he showed marked improvement in the quality (and quantity) of his reporting as well as the care taken with the drawings. My suspicion is that his parents—for the journals surely were mailed to them—praised the first volume, inspiring Hall to work harder at sharing his trip in this manner. He sort of loses steam after the first year, writing more, pasting in stuff, copying comic book figures—seriously scrunching up his writing so that the individual pages in book 3 hold over twice the number of words as they do in books 2 and 4—a typist’s nightmare. Thank whomever that it was not the portion he wrote in French!

Something else is going on, though. In Jerusalem Hall hooked up with Mort Hartman and Frank Aldridge: I met two American boys who have been traveling as I have, on a bike, through Europe and across the northern part of Africa and were on their way around the world. The three created a formidable, irrepressible team, staying together for several months until Hall’s time ran out in India and he had to hurry along toward home. Mort was writing articles for what was presumably his hometown newspaper, the Greenville (South Carolina) News while Frank did the same for the Tulsa (Oklahoma) World. Hall certainly read Mort and Frank’s articles, and they seem to have inspired him to make an even greater effort to improve his writing style and the journals’ presentation. Whatever the cause, Hall’s writing and his drawings blossomed from Port Said on. It’s not great literature by any means—but it is more interesting to read. Yes, we will try very hard to find those articles.

Here’s something to keep in mind throughout: Hall wrote in pen with exceedingly few strike-outs. Sometimes his sentences completely ran away from him and you can watch him struggle to regain control by creating some strange and convoluted constructions, but for the most part he was able to write page after page of clean text. Few of us manage to do that, relying on our spell-checkers rather than our brains.

Hall’s dashed off a number of descriptions that I find delightful. (You’ll miss some of them, of course, if your name isn’t Lippincott and you’re not reading every word. . .)

There is a large vine of bougainvillea growing up a tree that is nothing less than passionate—a violent, deep, sensuous purple.

The dark gray clouds of night, fluffy, delicately ruffled, took on faint tinges of pink and rose. Near the horizon it ended in a clear line of demarcation to be replaced by a clear light-orange sky.

To port. . .was Annam, a long rugged coast of fringing mountains, the higher inland peaks crowding down to the sea those lesser ones—the whole enshrouded by the steel-blue mist of early morn.

He liked that color: The sun stood above the trees, a large steel-blue disc.

Last night at eleven a half moon, flat side up, rose dripping from a black sea and climbed up through a cloudy sky…

A straying cloud handed us a shower today.

Some descriptions are unforgettable:

Budapest: The streets are full of beggars and old hags, some of whom go around nibbling on old crusts and pitiful expressions.

Men and women who sell papers yell in a dull monotonous monotone.

Kashmiri women: As a rule they are not so bad looking, sapping their beauty from the country in which they live.

Versailles: Built by Louis XIV. Marie Antoinette also lived there.

Saigon River: . . .works itself into abject contortions in its effort to reach the sea.

The rain this afternoon was a godsend and I even licked my raincoat.

There’s no question that Hall enjoyed a good play on words:

. . .but seeing a Chinese bus weighing angkor, I hopped on and was soon tearing along in the gathering darkness. (He was at Angkor Wat)

Had some corn tonight that would put chiropodists out of business.

He is an amiable chap and speaks at English.

The band wrung out the national anthem.

It’s cold as blazes.

Have to scrape enough together tomorrow to get the shoes resoled as the hole is as large as a half-dollar now and it is too much like going barefooted as my socks are not quilty of feet. (Yes, that’s a Q.)

You have to admire Hall, as I do, for introducing a fair number of new and fun words into the English language. Picturesqueness is one of those creations. Here are a few others much too sweet to have you imagine that they’re my typos. He uses rolly for hills, swelly for waves, squatty for buildings, swetty for armpits. He strolled to the furtherest edge of the village. Persistency winsThe exquisite carving of the trellis-work screen is the acme of artisticness. The Hula—. . .very graceful and expressful when done properly.

Then there are the words he could pronounce, but had forgotten how to spell:

. . .doctor said I have Yellow Jauntis. . .This yellow jauntis sounds romantic enough—’Oh, I was stricken with the yellow jauntis while in the tropics.’ but in practice is a pain and bother.

Armed with a bag of leech nuts (plenty good), we sauntered back to the station. . .

Bloon men and those peddling noise-makers. . .

In the center of the room is a large croque of dust ashes from which protrudes an iron rest for the iron kettle.

Unics; Paper machet and paper machie; beetle juice; two meat paddys ; heighth (always misspelled; maybe that’s an archaic version?)

Siam: There is a navy of nine ships. . .the largest being the yatch yatch boat of the king.

Dragging on slowly, mile after mile, walking because it was too steep to ride, or because I didn’t have enough strength to peddle.

Jerusalem . . .with its narrow maize of narrow streets.

. . .while the nearly perpendicular sides of the valley were masses of green pines and furs.

The yearly rains have made a most frequish place here—wild and open.

Mostly I love the dollar-/coin-substitute words. Hall wrote so much about money that he got creative: suds, cinders, kicks, bones, rocks, clinkers, berries, smackers, and my personal favorite, pluncks.

When I came across the first use of Jap, I calmly typed in Japanese, but later went back and left it just as Hall wrote it. Here’s a link that explains the use of that word over time. Jap It also struck me that Hall used the word native a lot. He always meant it to denote a native inhabitant of whichever country he happened to be writing about, not particularly as a means of separating whites or Europeans from people of color. What struck me as odd, however, was in Japan or China where he talked about eating in a Japanese or a Chinese restaurant. Weren’t they all? Well, maybe not—I suppose there were restaurants that served nothing but English- or French-style food, but they were definitely out of his price range.

Another tangent is looming here—let’s stop a minute to talk about semantics. Hall often refers to males as boys or boyfriends. It’s clear that he—and many others of his generation—differentiated between men and boys, friends and boyfriends based on life experience and social responsibility rather than by physical age or sexual preference as we do today unless we’re using slang, e.g., the boys down at the poolroom. Here’s a sentence where he uses both—for the same person! Met a boy in the prow of the ship today—Victor Sheridan from New York—who is an Ohio State man.

Boy friend has a pejorative ring to it when he writes about someone he clearly doesn’t respect or like: My boy friend didn’t show up with my box as scheduled, so at eleven I started after him. (That’s a fun story—see Kashmir.)

Hall used a word for describing someone’s gay partner that I’d never heard before, but I rather like it: . . .he sports an expensive wristwatch and a gold chain about his wrist. His affinity also wears such a chain and diamond earrings.

In any event, Hall refers to himself as a boy; most of the males that he ran into were boys because they were footloose and fancy free, without jobs, without marital ties, without adult responsibilities. He, and most of them, were probably not homosexuals; many of them were probably gay in the 1920s sense of the word. He called men Mr. So-and-so and their wives Mrs. So-and-so, at least in his journals. It appears that he called unmarried women by their forenames. I was able to learn many of the men’s forenames only because he recorded them in the address-book section of his journals. But the boys? We learn their full names immediately when they appear on scene, a nice habit that makes googling them infinitely easier!

It’s a mistake to go rushing through the journals without at least sampling some of the links. Putting them in was a little like eating pistachios—it was impossible to know where to stop! Wikipedia  is an amazing resource and you will find that most of your mouse-clicks will lead you there, pure laziness on my part, but it would have taken additional days and weeks to try to bypass Wiki. But sometimes I did just that, finding videos on You Tube that were so perfect they made my feet tap in time to the music or put a wicked grin on my face. (There’s that pesky bedbug again.) I’ll never know if anyone else was entertained by them. Doesn’t matter. My pleasure was in the journey.

The biggest frustration was the photographs. Hall’s Dutchess of York driving by is a blurry mess—Hall thought her quite attractive and so would you if you could see a good snapshot of her. Of the many hundreds of photos, only a few dozen reproduce well, but mostly it doesn’t matter because you can find photos of all of the same towns and temples, mountains and monuments on Wiki. What you can’t find anywhere else are photos of the people, so tons of those—blurry or not—are included.

My vision of this web site going in was patterned after the first Banana Republic mail-order catalogs—an old-timey look, fashioned after a travel journal with little handwritten anecdotes about made-up adventures of fictional world travelers wearing drip-dry clothing with gobs of hidden pockets, elephant-hide suitcases and pith helmets scattered about to give it all a safari-latté flavor. Those blurry photos fit right in, don’t they, though we ought to have done them all in sepia. We had literally hundreds of choices for old-paper backgrounds. The pretty little My Travels logo is from the cover of Hall’s first diary. The general design of the web site and the struggle to make it work exactly the way I wanted it to work is thanks to my husband, Bob. In turn, Bob had some fundamental direction-pointing and technical detail assistance from a talented web guy named Marcus.

Hall lived in an age when world travelers who ventured off the beaten path had a real chance of discovering something new to science—describing a new species of almost any type of creature was high on the list of probabilities; stumbling across a new archeological site was a definite possibility—after all, King Tut’s tomb was first discovered in 1922 and excavated in 1925, just three years before Hall visited it, Angkor Wat was still struggling to shed its tenacious mantle of jungle. In every field of science, the prepared, well-trained explorers and pioneers were exponentially expanding the sum of the world’s knowledge.

Hall wasn’t one of those people. He was a tourist, albeit an unusually adventurous one who wasn’t afraid to trust his own instincts and other people’s good will. He was a careful observer, a faithful recorder. It is almost certain that he did not carry a little field notebook and often he didn’t even have his kodak with him. He was fascinated enough by what he saw to remember it well enough to write about it in detail at some later time. Except for those boring measurements of the damned monuments, buildings, tombs, churches, etc. etc. Those surely came straight from the guidebooks. I have Luxor: How to See it in hand. Bingo! There’s the drawing of the guy praying next to his camel (March 7); there’s the drawing from March 3. I won’t go on. If he copied something—and by no means did he copy everything—it was meant to entertain and inform the homefolks about his trip. He did an excellent job of it. Everyone except Jean wound up loving him for it, and for that fact we remain profoundly grateful.

If Hall felt overly restrained by his lack of smackers, he accepts this situation as a challenge—to make those rocks last longer, take him more places, buy him a few more nourishing meals.  He had clearly read about the places he visits, and regrets not being able to afford the time or the expense of seeing more of Scandinavia, more of Southeast Asia. No such longing for Africa—he would later refuse to travel there with us, postpaid!

Unlike these journals, the Internet affords us the opportunity to bend and flow with the information that happens our way. The Pages—my editorial commentaries—will certainly change with time.   Perhaps I’ll grow to see it as my journal about Hall’s journals, my journey to find a father I never knew. Unfortunately Hall, completely without intent or malice, so overwhelmed Dorothy that we’ll never know more about her except what was most important to her—that Hall was the absolute center of her universe. Period.

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