So I’m in A Coruña for work, I have a free weekend, and I had this great idea: to figure out what the Edwardian lady travellers I’m currently researching saw while they were here in 1908 (Annette Meakin) and 1910 (Catherine Gasquoine Hartley), and to figure out how many of those things are still recognisable today. Typically, I spent *way* too much time last night designing a Google map to help me achieve this. This is actually the beginning of a small pilot for a bigger project I’m putting together, using geospatial data and visualizations to explore how travellers and tourists have interacted with specific sites through time. It’s a work in progress, and the dynamic version isn’t ready to be shown to the world, but you should be able to get an idea from this screenshot:
What you can see on the right of the screenshot is a map of Coruña’s old and new towns, with the markers I’ve inserted to show places mentioned by Meakin (yellow markers) and Hartley (blue). My route today is marked in green, beginning from the Hotel Riazor on the left of the shot, and proceeding anticlockwise in a large and untidy loop. It took me about 3.5 hours all told, including lunch at the Petite Bretagne on the Rua Riego de Agua (Tudela salad – recommended!), many (many!) photographs, and a stop for meringues at La Gran Antilla (of which more later…). On the left of the screenshot you can see a list of the entries associated with the markers for Hartley and Meakin, which are mostly relevant extracts from the two books I used as my sources, Meakin’s Galicia, the Switzerland of Spain (1909), and Hartley’s Spain Revisited: A Summer Holiday in Galicia (1911). In the dynamic version of the map, you can click on a marker and read what the author had to say about the site you’re looking at.
What’s most interesting to me is how travel writers represent (if they do) the spaces between the major sights. Unsurprisingly, the principal sights visited by Meakin and Hartley (the Torre de Hercules or the Tomb of Sir John Moore, for example) are still in existence, although their surroundings have changed hugely during the last century.The cityscape, however, has been transformed to such an extent that the more mundane aspects of the Edwardian travellers’ experience of the city are much less tangible. I had this plan to try and locate the Hotel Francia, where both Meakin and Hartley stayed, which I knew was close to the port (it’s the yellow house icon, towards the bottom left of the screenshot above). Here’s Meakin, on the view from her bedroom at the hotel:
Our room at Hotel Francia had the usual glass-fronted verandah, the glass consisting of small panes let into a wooded framework which was painted white […] From that verandah we took our first survey of the Coruna thoroughfares. Cabs, whose tops consisted of canvas awnings, passed continually below us, and donkeys were so numerous as beasts of burden that they gave the place quite an Eastern touch. The trams and most of the carts were drawn by mules, and nearly every woman carried some burden on her head (pp.155-6).
The hotel, as I discovered, is no longer there, having been demolished in the 1960s and replaced by the tower block you can see on the left.* Although the building is gone, I still learned a lot from visiting the site. For example, the famous Jardines de Mendez Nunez are right across the street – that’s where I took the photo from. Both Hartley and Meakin rave about the lush, exotic foliage in the gardens, but neither one mentions how close they were to the hotel – Meakin only recalls driving through them, which raises interesting questions about how Edwardian tourists perceived the space around their hotel. I always have to do a lap of the block as soon as I arrive at a hotel, to get the lay of the land and find out what’s nearby – but beyond Meakin’s description of the view from the verandah, the ladies give no indication of the hotel’s neighbourhood at all, and nor does Baedeker (1908), who notes only that full board costs 10 pesetas and the omnibus stops outside.
Happily, there was one view I found today that I can be pretty sure my ladies – or Hartley, at least – will have seen during their visit. This is La Gran Antilla patisserie, which has been in business since the 1880s at least, seen from the steps of the Teatro Rosalia de Castro. Hartley and her companions took in a show at the Teatro on their first night in Coruña in August 1910:
On the evening of our arrival, we attended a gala performance given in the theatre, which is situated in the Calle Riego del Agua, one of the chief thoroughfares in the new town. Like most Spanish theatres, the building is unpretentious, the entrance especially showing none of the display that we are accustomed to in our halls of pleasure; but the inside arrangements are comfortable, and the simply decorations, which are carried out in white and grey, give a pretty effect (p.188).
Hartley doesn’t go into detail about the theatre’s surroundings,but I like to think she’d have come out of the theatre and down the steps, then crossed the road to drool over the sugary confections in the windows. Having taken *a lot* of photographs of the shop, it seemed rude not to go in. And of course, once I’d gone in, it seemed rude not to buy something. So I did…
… and aren’t they precious? The girl wouldn’t sell me one of the sky blue ones, which were for display only, but just look at these! I took a bite out of each (for test purposes, you understand), then another bite (to confirm my findings). Then I lay down for a little bit until the sugar rush had passed. The meringues are now resting in the minibar and my teeth are shrieking just at the thought of them. Wonderful … and terrible.
So there you have it. A wonderful day exploring a new-to-me city. A new set of data and some great ideas for my project. Zillions of photos. Sore feet. And more sugar than 30 five-year-olds at a birthday party. Every work trip should be this fun!
* For a fabulous set of ‘retronaut’ pictures showing the Hotel as it was in relation to the site now, visit Volviendo la Vista Atras.