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Lost Diary of the Aquitania


I was borrowing a cup of sugar from my neighbor down the street and noticed that in her dining room, she had artfully stacked books on the table and chairs. The volumes belonged to her parents, both of whom who had passed away. As my friend was sorting through the estate, the books found a home on the table, and the effect was utterly charming. I had to take photos.

Incidentally, this is why I borrow cups of sugar. And why some friends don’t always answer my ring. Who can blame them? I’m Gladys Kravitz with a DSLR and a tripod.

Anyway among the collection of books was the most lovely little travel diary I have ever seen. In 1932, my friend’s mother, Marion, voyaged to Europe aboard the Aquitania and recorded her impressions inside a leather-clad book.






And now let us take a moment to wring our hands over what we have lost. Many things, I can think of. How about you? Look carefully at the photos above and let’s list them.

First is the lost art of travel journals. Not that it’s completely gone, but what was once commonplace is now rare, and we know why. Facebook is our travel journal. Twitter is our postcard. Instagram is our Kodak carousel.

Second is the practice of writing with a fountain pen. Young Marion would have to wait another eleven years before the invention of the ballpoint pen in 1943. Let’s be honest. Maybe we shouldn’t mourn the ole fountain pen, as I can only imagine the suffering of those without the fine motor skills necessary to put ink to paper without explosive blots ruining shirt, desktop, your lunch.

Third I am sorry about the loss of 1930’s language. That era’s vernacular had a sort of innocent, fun, breezy jocularity to it. Here’s an excerpt from a 1932 postcard:

Dear Marjorie,

You ole Punkin-Eater. You’re a keen friend to have and you may lay to that.

Just one of the gang, Dorothy

Fourth and most glaring is the change in modes of travel. Marion and her family crossed the Atlantic aboard the Aquitania, one of the most luxurious ocean liners in the Cunard line, behind the Lusitania and the Mauritania. It was a voyage of refinement in a ship with ballrooms, theaters, gymnasiums, and swimming pools. God knows you couldn’t get hauled out of your deckchair and tossed overboard because the staterooms were oversold.

Maybe one day our ancestors will look at our keyboards, our fixation on the word, ‘like’ or our disgusting airplanes and see romance. Just as a ship plows smoothly through the dark ocean waters, time carries us along its currents from one age to another and nothing changes at once.

Photos by Renn Kuhnen.



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Mithra Ballesteros sells vignettes of art and antiques at Her one-of-a-kind collections have been featured on Apartment Therapy, Anthropologie, Huffington Post U.K., and Uppercase Magazine. She pens a popular weekly blog, The Bubble Joy, and her readers liken her to Nora Ephron but with a lesser-developed vocabulary. On weekends, Ballesteros scours the Wisconsin countryside for antiques in a ’53 Ford pick-up named Betty.

16 thoughts on “Lost Diary of the Aquitania”

  1. Most striking — the 1930’s vernacular. I guess that’s when you could be one cute tomato and also the cat’s pajamas at the same time. The travel journal — What a wonderful treasure to find!

  2. Such a lovely and funny article, and I have to say that I am envious of your neighbors dining room – absolutely gorgeous!

  3. I, too, had the pleasure of reading a 1930’s travel journal written by a 12-year-old girl. She and her girlfriends attended boarding school in Switzerland. Her father was president of Holland America cruise ships, and the girls had traveled to NYC on the ship and were staying at the Plaza Hotel. They had a nanny and stayed up late playing mahjong! What a life! I’d love to do that now!! xoxox, Brenda

    • Brenda, this sounds marvellous! I’ll meet you there, when are we leaving?! Essie xx

  4. Wow, that wallpaper! Those books! No wonder you wanted to take photos. And that travel journal is really beautiful, you’ve inspired me to start one of my own…who knows, maybe it will become someone else’s treasure some day. Lovely writing, as always! Esther xx

  5. I love this room. Every detail is perfection to me. And the travel journal….what a treasure!! It won’t surprise you at all to learn that I keep a journal and I ALWAYS use a fountain pen!

  6. I was so taken by the bold wallpaper in your neighbors home, I didn’t notice the books until I read your story. Indeed, you take your camera and tripod on your sugar runs. Mithra, you are crazy funny. Speaking of lost arts, I just told my husband that I want to get all my photos off my phone and into photo albums. I wonder if stores still carry them?

  7. Did you look at the flags in the travel journal? One is Persia. A variation of the former Iranian flag. No top and bottom stripe. I don’t think I ever saw it. I looked because I figured there would be flags of countries that no longer exist. I couldn’t read them all, but Congo is there and I don’t think that they use the same name anymore.
    Most flags were from South America, Asia and Africa – not North America and Europe. That must have told some story about where it was purchased. Thanks for the read.

    FIRST off THAT wallpaper!!!!!!!!!!!!
    THIRD,My parents complained of the word LIKE used TOO MUCH in the days Vocabulary when I was a child!!
    I’m getting on an AIRPLANE SOON………………….NO WAY WILL I BE EJECTED FROM THAT SEAT NO MATTER HOW UNCOMFORTABLE It will be for seven or eight hours……………I MUST GO BACK IN TIME!

  9. WOW, I can’t stop staring at the symphony of colour in that first photograph! How beautiful.

    I love reading anything which highlights how much language has evolves. I’d love to snoop through a book like this just to see the turns of phrase. Thank you for sharing your aesthetic adventures with us!

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