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THE WISDOM of old guidebooks is often found charming and occasionally even timely by today’s travelers. Donald Sea Briggs certainly had a way with words in his Briggs South Seas Guide, the last edition from 1965 and “formerly published in looseleaf format.”
Briggs defines the South Seas as encompassing Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. I find the Trip Planning advice particularly entertaining. Here are excerpts, including the guide’s topic heads.
It Feels So Good When It Stops. On sea cruises as opposed to air travel: “Some younger passengers do not enjoy the standard steamship parlor entertainments; and the preponderance of matrons on board may be hard put to find dancing partners among the rare males aboard.”
“Many starry-eyed voyagers,” the guide continues, “too soon discover the expected ‘romance’ completely lacking, and the few officers eligible for mixing with passengers tend to hide in their cabins after working hours, or cluster about one or more Lolitas who occasionally brighten the passenger lists.”
Briggs makes an erudite reference. Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita was published in 1955; its Stanley Kubrick film rendition of the nymphet, in 1962.
Back Atlaswards. “Tahiti is the place all the stories are written about and should be the grand climax to any South Seas adventure. Go via Hawaii to Fiji (then interject Australia and New Zealand) and proceed to Samoa, thence Tahiti. Don’t eat your cake before the anchovies.”
Organized Tours. “When renting cars, try to get a convertible if the weather’s nice—you will enjoy Hawaii and Tahiti 100 percent more if you can see upwards as well as sideways.”
Pre-Sailing Do’s and Don’ts. A dozen suggestions include “Don’t expect romance at sea—everyone’s newly wed or nearly dead.” “Do specify second seating for meals if you dine leisurely.” And “Don’t ask for Captain’s table—it’s by invitation—& he’s tedious.”
Unhappy Landings. And for those who choose airplanes over steamships: “Honolulu airport’s baggage claiming areas is a self-service grab-bag affair with interesting possibilities for luggage lifters. Waikiki hotel baggage delivery is unreliable to the extent that you may find yourself in San Francisco wearing naught but a muumuu and a murmur.”
Household Closing Tips, Last Minute Chex. These two lists, 28 items and 23 items, respectively, might well deter anyone from leaving home for any time period. Among them: “Furs in summer storage. Garbage cans scrubbed. Draft board notified.” Forget this one if Canada is your destination. “Library books returned. Absentee ballot arranged.” Yes!
Freighter Balance Sheet. We’re not exactly talking tramp steamer here. However, disadvantages include “night racket in port, no organized entertainment, no air conditioning.” Among the advantages: “economical fares, good food with officers, offbeat ports of call, officers outnumber women.”
Apparently those interested can all be Lolitas.
Polynesian Elysium. “The lot of islanders who ‘live in bamboo huts on milk from contented coconuts’ can be idyllic when circumstances are ideal…. … taro, yams, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane are tended by the women. Masculine tasks—palm climbing, nut cracking, fishing, net making, and canoe building—can be polished off during the cool hours of early morning or late afternoon.”
At least for guys, the guide notes, “The hot, midday hours are reserved for lolling in the shade. Islanders pity Westerners who make a virtue of industry and allow themselves only a few weeks out of each year for leisure.”
Missions to Eden. A shaggy missionary joke from Briggs: “They say missionaries came to the islands to do good and in Hawaii they did well. On some beaches they were served well done.”
But wait, there’s more: “One chief who came up with a stomach ache after dining on a cleric whose collar had been worn backward had his ailment diagnosed as a simple case of kitchen bungling. He had stewed a friar.”
South Seas Whodunits. “The populations of Polynesia were profoundly influenced by the shore activities of American whaling crews, who for fifty years ‘hung their consciences on the Horn’ as they entered the Pacific and ‘picked them up again’ as they rounded the Cape on the way back to Nantucket.”
Briggs notes, “The maidens of Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, and other islands at first gave of themselves unselfishly to the lusty seamen—partly out of pity—assuming that the depraved Americans must have come from a land where there were no women.”
I’ve really enjoyed my collection of old guidebooks, but I must admit this Briggs observation beats anything in the Baedekers. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018
This was a fun post. It is 30 years and at least 3 major life segments since I had my South Sea adventure. I made it back to Hawaii a bunch of times, but never back to Australia and New Zealand. The years slip away, and that is a dangerous thing, as none of us knows how many years we have left.
I’ll second the props for this entertaining entry of SimanaitisSays. Collecting old travel books and guides is an entertaining hobby and it provides occasional fun checking old guides to see what, if anything, might still be relevant. The comments on steamship travel seem spot on — I spent two summers working on the Lurline ferrying passengers to and from Honolulu and California and it appeared to be the best way to arrive relaxed rather than harried and boggled from airport security, baggage claim, etc.