Monday, 2 May 2016

Floating style

I used the souvenir launch book of the Queen Mary to show more of the ship.  You can see the complete book here:

What a way to go! Though jets ultimately replaced these floating luxury hotels across the Atlantic the idea still lingers on in the cruise line industry. This lovely book covers a relatively short period of fifty years with a very detailed look at several magnificent liners. I think it's worth pointing out that the author's concentrate on maritime architecture and interiors rather than the engineering.

Up until the sinking of the Titanic liners had an enviable safety record and it was the only way to cross the Atlantic anyway. As well as transporting thousands of immigrants to the new world the steamship companies saw a market to exploit with luxury travel. The authors credit German architect Johannes Poppe as the first maritime designer. He created the Lahn, a pocket-size ship in the 1880s. From then on it was a race to launch ever bigger vessels and allow more and more space for the wealthy to enjoy themselves.

The Titanic and World War 1 stopped floating luxury travel until the twenties and then the prized customers were wealthy Americans, sold on the Grand Tour of Europe. Cunard, Canadian Pacific, French Line and Italian Line all competed strongly for up-market passengers. CP's Empress of Britain (at 42,000 tons it was almost as big as the Titanic) was as stylish as any previous liner and advertised the journey as '5 DAYS TO EUROPE' with a crew passenger ratio only matched by the later French Line's Normandie.

I thought the last chapter Climax and Conclusion: The grandest way to cross comparing the Queen Mary with the Normandie quite fascinating. The QM, probably rightly, comes off as a second best with a quote, at the time, from Architect and Business News: 'The general effect is one of mild but expensive vulgarity'. The Normandie (like the QM, floated on massive government loans) now seems to be regarded as the ultimate quality liner. How could any other liner match the sumptuousness of her windowless dining salon (the largest seagoing space to be air-conditioned up to 1935) lit like daylight with concealed and diffused lighting. There are thirty-two pages devoted to this extraordinary ship. Surely a tragedy that she was destroyed by fire in 1942 while being converted into a troopship.

I thought this was one of those books that succeeds because of excellent writing and brilliant visual coverage. The writing has a pleasant slight breezy style very well suited to the subject of over-the-top opulence. For example: To enter the main dining room of the Mary was to be engulfed in an acre of napery glimpsed beyond a Watts Tower of fruit, glazed and fresh, and great cornucopias of straw spilling out other delicacies like honey from a horn. The choice of color illustration can't be faulted. The landscape format is well suited to several brochure paintings of massive public rooms that these liners featured. Cabins, on deck and below deck activities of the wealthy mingling and plenty of profile illustrations of the ships gliding through calm seas probably helped sell plenty of tickets.

This large book can now be picked up quite cheaply.

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