Book reviews: Jonglez ‘Secret Guides’ to Glasgow, Paris and Los Angeles
Image credit: Stephen Millar/Kevin Mitchell
Latest additions to the series of insider guides to the world’s great cities include a wealth of engineering and technology, and provide a treat for both mind and soul.
The ongoing war in Europe has dealt another blow to a global travel industry already crippled by the Covid pandemic. Many would-be travellers, including myself, have had to put their plans on hold again (I have been planning for some time to visit my native Ukraine) and resort instead to vicarious travels using memories, imagination, maps and the internet. As well as guide books, of course.
For many years, E&T has been writing about the multi-award-winning ‘Secret’ series of guide books from the international publisher Jonglez, now based in Berlin. For me, their main time-tested feature is that they are equally useful both for real travellers and for the so-called ‘armchair buccaneers’ – whether voluntary or forced. By pointing out the hidden and little- known features of towns, cities and countries, Jonglez guides can make readers feel like true discoverers. In that, they are continuing the tradition of such classic publishers as Karl Baedeker and John Murray.
Unlike most modern guide books, full of superficial tips and clichéd descriptions that can sap the joy from travel, Jonglez expects readers to open up their eyes and explore. Usually written by local authors who know their areas inside-out, the ‘Secret’ guides are compact, well illustrated and easy to handle. Freshly redesigned, the ‘Secret’ guides are now available in 40 countries and in nine languages – a huge success for a relatively small publisher.
The latest batch includes titles on Glasgow, Paris and Los Angeles. Having looked through ‘Secret Glasgow’ by Stephen Millar and Gillian Loney (£15.99, ISBN 9782361953577), I realised that as a former columnist for the Glasgow Herald newspaper - between 2002 and 2004 - I should have got to know that great Scottish city much better.
I have an excuse though; I was based at the paper’s Edinburgh bureau and only travelled to Glasgow a couple of times a month. As someone who could be safely described as a frequent visitor, yet not a full-time Glaswegian, I was half expecting to find in the book such iconic technological attractions as the tiny 126-year old subway, with its toy-like carriages, or the familiar modernistic bridge across the River Clyde. Yet, Jonglez guides do not do well-known and popular attractions – technological or not.
Instead, the book immersed me in Glasgow’s glorious engineering and technological past, from the magnificent Saracen Fountain – legacy of the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901, with its industrial hall and pavilions designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh - to the relics and still traceable remains of the lost Monkland Canal, built under the supervision of engineer James Watt, the steam engine creator, and those of the once vital Caledonian Railway. Some of the technological relics have been given a new life that has little to do with their original purposes. A good example is the magnificent Victorian Pumphouse, built in 1877, which once formed the entry to Glasgow’s Queens Dock and since 2017 has housed the city centre’s first whisky distillery.
Having written in the past about the new uses of England’s vintage red phone boxes, I was fascinated to learn about the similar fate of Glasgow’s traditional blue police kiosks, made of reinforced concrete with wooden doors and dating from the 1920s. Each was a mini police station, with telephone and filing cabinets inside. Now repurposed and being used mostly as coffee shops and sandwich bars, they continue to constitute one of Glasgow’s distinctive features.
If I were to come up with an alternative title for ‘Secret Paris’ (£15.99, ISBN: 9782361955021), it would be something like ‘The French Capital, Without the Eiffel Tower’. Such an arbitrary headline would have probably been welcomed by the stalwart of 19th-century French literature Guy de Maupassant, who reportedly hated the structure so much that he liked having lunch at its base, because that was the only place in Paris from which he could not see it.
The reason that the author – Thomas Jonglez, the founder of Jonglez publishers and himself a former Parisian – does not include that super-popular engineering monument in his book’s latest edition, is different: the creation of Gustav Eiffel was too well-known and too easy to spot (or rather hard NOT to spot) to feature in it.
And yet, the name of the great French engineer and architect is not conspicuous by its absence from this guidebook, which has two other Eiffel-related entries. One is the Eiffel Aerodynamics Laboratory in rue Boileau, which the engineer himself ran until 1920. This remarkable piece of industrial archaeology originally had two wind tunnels, one of which was dismantled in 1933, and is now open to the public by appointment. A sheer hidden delight for E&T readers.
Another Eiffel memo, or rather a couple, could be spotted in the former headquarters of Credit Lyonnaise at 18, rue du Quatre-September – an Eiffel-designed building that was all but ruined by fire in 1996, yet still features the original cupola and facades. The third – and most interesting as well as best hidden replica – a magnificent Eiffel window – is less easy to find. Jonglez advises admiring it from the hallway of No 18, which is accessible to the public.
After a quick vicarious tour of several hundred hidden treasures of the City of Lights, listed in ‘Secret Paris’, I could mention such technological gems as the site of the original guillotine, Liege and Port Dauphine Metro Stations (I am a great fan of the Paris Metro and its peculiar Art Nouveau design), or the “very curious” 17th-century headquarters of the King’s Hydraulic Engineer, and many, many more. Reading this book gives you the impression of being accompanied by an erudite friend, who does not try to steal the show by shouting out loud all they know (as some real-life Paris guides do), but shares their esoteric knowledge by whispering it gently in your ear.
From the City of Lights we journey across the Atlantic to the City of Angels. To me, Los Angeles, or simply LA, is the USA’s most remarkably hidden or ‘secret’ city. With its stereotypical popular image dominated by Hollywood and a cluster of skyscrapers in the business centre, it is in essence a city of surprises and hence an ideal subject for a ‘Secret’ guide.
I spent a week in LA in 2000 as part of an extended US assignment for the Daily Telegraph, during which I visited 39 states of the Union. LA was one of the last points on my itinerary, and for the first two days of my stay there I remained utterly unimpressed by Tinseltown’s modern architecture, its permanently deserted wide streets and boulevards, and its permanently packed motorways, with the traffic so dense that it gave the impression of crawling backwards. The biggest disappointment was West Hollywood – boring and openly parochial, despite all its luxury villas and hugely overrated Walk of Fame. Immersed in its past, the area was populated by thousands of dowdy and fussy Soviet immigrants.
On day three, I was given a tour of the city by one of LA’s leading architects, and my perception of the place changed completely. He showed me dozens of lovely Mexican and Latino neighbourhoods – complete with basilicas, old Spanish-style houses, street markets, with sellers dressed in traditional folk costumes, and guitar-strumming street buskers – nestling behind brash modern facades and under the viaducts. The architect introduced me to the brand new, beautifully designed, yet near empty Metro. He took me to the world’s largest newsagents and the world’s only street stall – as long as a railway platform – selling exclusively yesterday’s newspapers. By the end of the day, I was head over heels in love with LA.
That’s the difference a good guide, or guidebook, can make. And ‘Secret Los Angeles’ by Felicien Cassan and Darrow Carbon (£15.99; ISBN 9782361953515) is one such guide. It is packed with technology-related entries too. Leafing through the book at random, I am happy to point out the Coca Cola Ocean Liner - a still-functioning nautical Art Deco bottling plant, camouflaged as a ship, complete with portholes, bridges, hatches and rivers: “an unexpected gem, only visible from the industrial wasteland street where tourists and locals very rarely venture.”
Opposite the ship is the technology-rich Museum of African American Firefighters, whose name speaks for itself. Then there’s “the world smallest railway” – an orange funicular carriage ascending (or descending) just several steps in South Grand Avenue; the beautifully designed and romantic 1926 Shakespeare Bridge; a somewhat mysterious Museum of Jurassic Technology (in the best traditions of Karl Baedeker, instead of revealing its mystery here, I’d encourage the readers to solve this riddle themselves by visiting); Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, where “telescope observations” can be reserved; and many, many more. It’s a journey – whether vicarious or real-life – well worth taking.
Finally, LA is also the subject of one of the first books in Jonglez’s promising new ‘Soul of…’ series of illustrated guides to ‘30 exceptional experiences’ to enjoy in the world’s great cities. In LA, the city of many a cliché, the experiences suggested by author Emilien Crespo in ‘Soul of Los Angeles’ (£13.99; ISBN 9782361953423) include having a post-modern lunch, visiting a “perfect Californian home” and drinking the oldest Martini in Hollywood.
Since ‘soul’ and technology do not always go hand in hand, the experience, most suited a for a technocrat-cum-melomaniac-cum-fashionista (not so rare a hybrid), would probably be to “Buy a vinyl [sic] and a dress from the same year” in a shop established by former fashion designer Carmen Hawk that now sells more than 6,000 records a year.
Vinyl, as we know, is enjoying a comeback these days. Just like a good old Jonglez-style guidebook – a treat for both mind and soul.
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