Read De Potter's Grand Tour Online

Authors: Joanna Scott

De Potter's Grand Tour

 

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For Geri Thoma

 

Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

To the Public

Part I

Constantinople

Summit to Cannes

New York to Tivoli

Tivoli to Brussels

Part II

The
Regele Carol

Cannes to Lausanne

El Kef to Tunis

A Trip up the Nile

Part III

At Sea

Cannes to Piraeus

The Long Summer Tour

Shelter Island to Nice

Part IV

At Sea

Grand Bois

The Columbian Exposition

Cairo to Philadelphia

Part V

At Sea

Grand Bois

Grand Bois

Part VI

At Sea

Cannes to Boulogne

Constantinople

Part VII

At Sea

Marseille to Red Hook

Part VIII

Somewhere in Greece

The Ridge

Acknowledgments

Frontispiece

Also by Joanna Scott

A Note About the Author

Copyright

 

To the Public

A
JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD
is an important matter, involving considerable time and expense, and should therefore be carefully planned. In judging of a tour and its cost, one must consider the following points: comfort and luxury provided, the manner in which the trip is scheduled, what countries are included, whether each country is visited during the most desirable season, and finally, the length of the tour—whether too short or too long, or of agreeable duration.

My Grand Tour Around the World will be not only
first-class
in every particular but the best which that term, in its widest sense, implies. I have been preparing this tour for some time past, wishing to have all my plans fully matured so as to offer
the most enjoyable trip
ever made around the Globe. The appointments, travel, hotels, carriages, and sightseeing will be unsurpassed. Plan of travel throughout the tour will be such as to make it perfectly comfortable for ladies as well as gentlemen. In short, it will be a
voyage de luxe
, and in the conductorship of the party and the character of our arrangements, the best traditions of the De Potter Tours will be fully realized.

—A
. DE
P
OTTER

 

PART ONE

 

Constantinople

H
E LEAVES EARLY
on the morning of June 10, descending the carpeted stairs to the lobby of the Pera Palace Hotel. He rings the bell at the front desk. He is about to ring again when a clerk appears from the dark interior of a back office, looking freshly scrubbed, smelling of soap. The bill is settled swiftly, and the clerk is most obliging, despite his limited French, when Armand hands him two last letters addressed to Madame de Potter, care of the Hotel Royal in Toblach. The letters are to be held and posted, he specifies, on the twelfth. Does the clerk understand the instructions? “Oui, monsieur,” the clerk says, setting aside the letters and motioning to a porter. He hopes Monsieur de Potter's most recent stay has been pleasant. The coach, he adds, is already in the drive.

Outside, Armand notices that the gas lamp above the entrance to the public garden is still lit, though the sky is already beginning to glow with dawn. He removes his spectacles and rubs the lenses with his handkerchief. After the porter has returned with his trunk and hoisted it onto the baggage rack, Armand tips him a handful of piastres and climbs into his seat. The driver slaps the reins to rouse his horses, and the carriage lurches forward.

Down they go from the summit of Pera, the wheels clattering over the uneven paving stones, the chassis rising and plunging, the horses moving so fast that a small dog doesn't have time to get out of their path. The yelp the dog lets out has a chillingly human ring, and Armand thinks it must have been crushed, yet when he turns, he is relieved to see it scramble out from between the rear wheels and run off, disappearing around a corner. The horses trot briskly on, undeterred.

He resists calling out to the driver to order him to slow down. Pulling his hat on tighter, he sits back and observes the scenery, contemplating the familiar landmarks as if from a great distance—the banks and restaurants he knows so well, and the convent where, two days earlier, the members of his party were delighted to come upon the dervishes right when they were beginning to whirl.

As they pass one of the white mansions housing an embassy, he is reminded of his father, who had been stationed abroad for nearly a decade—first in Paris, then Dakar, and lastly Constantinople. He supposedly worked as a manager for a Belgian trading company, but Armand, who was stuck back in East Flanders with his brother and stepmother, believed that his father was a spy, appointed by King Leopold to pry into the secret affairs of foreign governments. He used to tell himself that he, too, would be a spy someday and travel around the world.

You could say that he did become a spy of sorts, on a self-appointed mission to gather antiquities instead of secrets, with his travel bureau providing an excuse to visit places that were out of reach for other collectors. De Potter Tours is in the business of leading wealthy tourists around the world, and the De Potter Collection is on display at the University Museum in Philadelphia. It has been an honorable arrangement, he believes. It worked for more than a quarter of a century and would have gone on working if he hadn't grown so careless.

At least he managed to keep the Americans on his tour sufficiently entertained. They never guessed that he had anything else on his mind but their well-being as he shepherded them around the city. Even when he put them on the train and sent them off to Broussa without him, they were persuaded that he was sparing them a worse inconvenience. As far as they could tell, Professor de Potter was his usual amiable self, as reliable a guide as they'd been promised in the testimonials he included in his advertisements.

From Mrs. P. A. Saunders of Cincinnati: “It was a trip I shall ever remember with pleasure. Could I go abroad every year, my choice would be to go under the care of Prof. de Potter and with his party.”

From the late Henry W. Bellows, D.D., of Albany: “I have great pleasure in saying that I am acquainted with Prof. A. de Potter. I do not doubt his trustworthiness and competency to conduct foreign tours in the interest of education, and I can heartily recommend him.”

From HHW of Rome, New York: “There are various ways of traveling, many, as we do, independently and at the mercy of sharks, or in parties with a courier, or with a tourist agent. The only party that we have envied was that of Prof. Armand de Potter of New York, an unassuming gentleman, speaking nine different languages. To him we shall commend any friends in the future who wish to make a tour of the Old World.”

The friends of HHW would have to find another guide, since Professor de Potter won't be conducting any more parties. Never again will he have to worry about making arrangements for packs of inexperienced tourists, keeping track of their tickets and explaining the sights. On this trip, he is traveling alone.

Down, down, down rolls the coach, past buildings fronted by broken terraces and wilted gardens, to the boulevard skirting the inlet of the Golden Horn. The low angle of the sun catches the top of a minaret on the opposite hill and turns the white to rose. On the surface of the water beside the road, the reflections of the plane trees look as though they are frozen in ice.

They reach the lot beside the customhouse, where Armand pays the driver and hires a handler for his trunk. The official greets him with a yawn, waving him through without asking him to open his satchel. On the quay, he takes out the gold-plated pocket watch his wife gave him on his thirty-ninth birthday and checks the time. It will be an hour or more until the ship is ready to receive passengers. There is nothing to do but wait.

 

Summit to Cannes

T
HREE YEARS BEFORE
her husband disappeared at sea off the coast of Greece, Aimée de Potter sat at the dressing table in her stateroom on board the
Noordland
, fished her pencil from her purse, and opened her diary.

“May 17, 1902,” she wrote.

She paused to reflect for a moment, then added, “Left Summit by 7:35 a.m. train.” And paused again.

Odd moments from the day came to mind. She thought about blinking awake in the darkness of her bedroom of their rented house at 78 New England Avenue, stirring a sugar cube into her cup of tea at the station in Summit, walking with Victor and Armand up the gangway of the
Noordland
, and turning just as the porter behind her stumbled and nearly dropped the huge birdcage he was carrying into the water. She had caught sight of a white bird with a frothy plume inside the cage, and she'd almost mistaken its loud squawking for someone calling her name. In fact, she had heard her name right then—“Amy!”—being called out by an old family friend, Mrs. Murray, who stood on the pier wafting a lavender handkerchief above the crowd, pronouncing her name the way all her friends and family insisted on pronouncing it, no matter how often she had tried to correct them.

“Amy—here I am, over here!”

Hello, Mrs. Murray! Goodbye, Mrs. Murray! The de Potters were going abroad. There was nothing unusual in this—they went abroad every year. As far as Mrs. Murray knew, the de Potters were leading another of their famous High-End Excursions, this one a four-month jaunt through Northern Europe. And because she lived a short train ride away from the Hoboken pier, she had come to see them off.

“Bon voyage to you all! I'll meet you here in September!”

No, Mrs. Murray had better not plan on meeting them there in September, for this trip abroad wouldn't be like all the others. After they were done with this tour, they intended to stay on and look for property in the south of France, in the cosmopolitan town of Cannes, where there were plenty of English churches and a variety of clubs to join, roses bloomed year round, and the refreshing, salty wind was known to have a beneficial effect for men like Armand, who suffered from nervous headaches.

Aimée thought of her sister Leila, recently widowed and living alone with her youngest daughter up in Poughkeepsie. She hadn't been able to bring herself to tell Leila that she wouldn't be back anytime soon. And since she'd kept their plans a secret from her favorite sister, she couldn't tell the rest of her family and friends. Not even Victor knew what to expect. She was hoping he'd be happily surprised when he learned that they would be staying behind in France while the rest of the party returned to America. He associated France with bonbons, carousels, and seaside vacations. He might not be pleased to hear that he'd be starting at a French school in the fall, but he was a resilient boy and would settle in soon enough.

She didn't bother to include any of this in her diary. Nor did she take up space complaining that the corned beef at her first dinner on board tasted as if it had been boiled in seawater. She didn't describe Victor's squeal of delight at a hooded gull that caught a piece of bread he tossed in the air as the
Noordland
passed Sandy Hook. She didn't report that as she sat at the table deciding what else to write, Armand and Victor were across the stateroom paging through a book of nautical maps they'd found in the ship's library. She simply wrote, “Mrs. Murray came to see us off. Sailed at 10 a.m. on
Noordland
for Boulogne,” then put the diary aside, retrieved her silver comb, and unwound her braid from its bun.

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