Sunday, October 28th, 2012

In a recent quest to find an English translation of a text by Anna Seghers inscribed on a wall at Ravensbrück (my work is very much still “all memorials, all the time” at the moment), I landed in the middle of an essay entitled “Last Trip to Ravensbrück” by Welles Hangen, written in 1967. The essay yielded the translation in question—and much more besides.

After I had located the Anna Seghers quote in Hangen’s piece, I started skimming the rest of the essay to get a feel for the context—but I soon found myself reading more and more slowly, and then scrolling back to the top of the page to read the whole excellent (and long!) piece from the start, and then looking around at the website itself and wondering: “What is this amazing thing I’ve stumbled across?”

This amazing thing was The Astounding World of Holiday, a website run by Josh Lieberman and dedicated to Holiday magazine. Holiday was a kind of travel magazine published from the 1940s through the 1970s. I say “kind of” because it’s certainly not your typical ten-best-places-to-eat-in-Venice sort of mag. Most of the long-form essays in Holiday are less about travel and more about places and the people who inhabit them. They transport you to different eras and different worlds: to an Atlantic City clam-shucking contest in 1946, to Kentucky coal mines in the 1950s, to a Tahitian dive bar in 1968, to the Hollywood Hills of the 1970s. They don’t necessary entice you to visit these places, but they give you an insight into what life might be like in each of them.

The quality of the writing is outstanding, probably because the list of writers who contributed to Holiday is astonishing. There are essays by Flannery O’Connor and John Steinbeck, by Joseph Heller, William Faulkner, W.H. Auden and Ernest Hemingway. There’s a touching piece on “The Machine-tooled Happyland” of Disneyland by Ray Bradbury. There’s a guide for tourists traveling to Mars by Arthur C. Clarke (“Take only the stuff you actually need on the ship. I strongly advise you to buy one of the approved travel kits—most of the big stores like Abercrombie & Fitch can supply them.”). Bizarrely, there’s a 1961 profile of two fashion models by Alfred Bester—yeah, that Alfred Bester. There’s even an illustrated tale by Edward Gorey, for crying out loud.

My heart leapt when I found the Holiday magazine site because both the magazine and the website remind me of all the wondrous things that remain to be discovered out there. And like so many of the best things on the World Wide Web (and in the whole wide world), the Holiday site is a labor of love. As site owner Josh Lieberman writes:

“Holiday is a testament to the fact that some things still manage to get lost in an age when almost everything is archived, or at least mentioned, online. As far as I can tell, no one seems to care much about the legacy of Holiday, and no archive exists. By now I own some forty copies of the magazine. I may be the archive.”


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