Book Reviews: Juggle ‘Secret Guides’ to Glasgow, Paris and Los Angeles
The latest additions to the series of insider’s guides to the world’s major cities include a wealth of engineering and technology, and offer a feast for the 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 travelers, myself included, have had to put their plans on hold again (I have planned for some time to visit my native Ukraine) and instead resort to vicarious travel using memories, imagination, maps and internet. As well as guides, of course.
For many years, AND wrote about the award-winning ‘Secret’ guide series from international publisher Jonglez, now based in Berlin. For me, their main time-tested feature is that they are equally useful for both real travelers and so-called “armchair buccaneers” – whether voluntary or forced. By pointing out hidden and little-known features of cities and countries, Jonglez guides can make readers feel like true discoverers. In this, they carry on the tradition of classic editors such as Karl Baedeker and John Murray.
Unlike most modern guidebooks, full of superficial advice and clichéd descriptions that can undermine the joy of travel, Jonglez expects readers to open their eyes and explore. Generally written by local authors who know their region inside out, the “Secrets” guides are compact, well illustrated and easy to handle. Freshly redesigned, the “Secrets” 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. After leafing through ‘Secret Glasgow’ by Stephen Millar and Gillian Loney (£15.99, ISBN 9782361953577), I realized that as a former columnist for the Herald of Glasgow diary – between 2002 and 2004 – I should have known this great Scottish city much better.
I have an excuse though; I was based at the newspaper’s Edinburgh office and only traveled to Glasgow twice a month. As someone who could safely be described as a frequent visitor, but not a full-time Glasgow resident, I half-expected to find iconic tech attractions such as the tiny old Glasgow subway in the book. 126 years old, with its toy-like wagons, or the familiar modernist bridge over the River Clyde. However, the Juggle guides do not make known and popular attractions – technological or not.
Instead, the book immersed me in Glasgow’s glorious engineering and engineering past, the magnificent Saracen Fountain – a legacy of Glasgow’s 1901 World’s Fair, with its industrial hall and pavilions designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh – to the relics and still traceable remnants of the lost Monkland Canal, built under the supervision of engineer James Watt, the creator of the steam engine, and those of the once vital Caledonian Railway. Some of the tech relics have been given 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 entrance to Glasgow’s Queens Dock and since 2017 has housed the city centre’s first whiskey distillery.
Having written in the past about new uses for England’s vintage red telephone boxes, I was fascinated to learn of the similar fate of Glasgow’s traditional blue police kiosks, made of reinforced concrete with wooden doors and dating back to the 1920. Each was a mini police station, with a telephone and filing cabinets inside. Now converted and used primarily as cafes and sandwich shops, they continue to be one of Glasgow’s distinguishing features.
If I had to find 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 title would probably have been welcomed by the pillar of 19th century French literature, Guy de Maupassant, who would have hated the structure so much that he liked to have lunch at its base, as it was the only place in Paris to where he couldn’t see it.
The reason why the author – Thomas Jonglez, the founder of Éditions Jonglez and himself a former Parisian – does not include this super popular monument of engineering in the latest edition of his book, is different: the creation of Gustav Eiffel was too well known and too easy to spot (or rather hard not to spot) to be included.
And yet, the name of the great French engineer and architect is not conspicuous by its absence in this guide, which has two other entries related to Eiffel. One is the Eiffel Aerodynamics Laboratory, rue Boileau, which the engineer himself ran until 1920. This remarkable piece of industrial archeology originally had two wind tunnels, one of which was dismantled in 1933 , and is now open to the public by appointment. A pure hidden delight for AND readers.
Another Eiffel memo, or rather couple, could be spotted at the former Crédit Lyonnaise headquarters at 18 rue du Quatre-Septembre – an Eiffel-designed building that was virtually destroyed by fire in 1996, but still features the original cupola and facades. The third – and most interesting as well as the best hidden replica – a magnificent Eiffel window – is less easy to find. Jonglez recommends admiring it from the corridor of n°18, accessible to the public.
After a quick vicarious tour of several hundred hidden gems of the City of Light, listed in “Secret Paris”, I might mention such technological gems as the site of the original guillotine, the Liège and Port Dauphine metro stations ( I’m a big fan of the Paris metro and its particular Art Nouveau design), or the “very curious” 17th century seat of the king’s hydraulic engineer, and many more. Reading this book gives you the impression of being accompanied by a learned friend, who does not try to steal the show by shouting out loud everything he knows (like some Parisian guides do in real life) , but share its esoteric knowledge by gently whispering it in your ear.
From the city of lights, we cross the Atlantic to the city of angels. To me, Los Angeles, or simply LA, is the most remarkably hidden or “secret” city in the United States. With its stereotypical popular image dominated by Hollywood and a cluster of skyscrapers in the CBD, it is in essence a city of surprises and therefore an ideal subject for a ‘Secret’ guide.
I spent a week in Los Angeles in 2000 on an extended assignment in the United States for the The telegraph of the day, during which I visited 39 states of the Union. LA was one of the last points of my itinerary, and for the first two days of my stay there, I was totally impressed by the modern architecture of Tinseltown, its wide streets and boulevards that are always deserted, and its highways constantly jammed, with traffic so heavy it felt like crawling backwards. The biggest disappointment has been West Hollywood – boring and overtly parochial, despite all its luxury villas and wildly overrated Walk of Fame. Steeped in its past, the region was populated by thousands of dull and difficult Soviet immigrants.
On day three, I was treated to a city tour by one of LA’s foremost architects, and my perception of the place completely changed. He showed me dozens of charming Mexican and Latino neighborhoods – with basilicas, old Spanish-style houses, street markets, with vendors dressed in traditional folk costumes and street musicians playing guitars – tucked behind modern facades and under viaducts. The architect introduced me to the brand new metro, beautifully designed, but almost empty. He took me to the biggest newsagents in the world and the only street stall in the world – as long as a train platform – exclusively selling yesterday’s newspapers. At the end of the day, I was head over heels in love with Los Angeles.
That’s the difference a good guide, or guide, can make. And ‘Secret Los Angeles’ by Felicien Cassan and Darrow Carbon (£15.99; ISBN 9782361953515) is one such guide. It is also full of technology-related entries. Flipping through the book at random, I’m happy to point out the Coca Cola Ocean Liner – a still-working Art Deco nautical bottling plant, camouflaged like a ship, with portholes, decks, hatches and rivers: “a unexpected gem, only visible from the street of the industrial wasteland where tourists and locals very rarely venture.”
Opposite the ship is the tech-rich African American Firefighters Museum, the name of which speaks for itself. Then there’s “the smallest railroad in the world” – an orange funicular that goes up (or down) a few steps from 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 his mystery here, I would encourage readers to solve this riddle for themselves by visiting); Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, where “telescope viewing” can be booked; and many others. It’s a journey – whether vicarious or real – worth taking.
Finally, LA is also the subject of one of the first books in Jonglez’s promising new “Soul of…” series, illustrated guides to “30 Great Experiences” to have in the world’s major cities. In Los Angeles, the city of many clichés, experiences suggested by author Emilien Crespo in ‘Soul of Los Angeles’ (£13.99; ISBN 9782361953423) include a post-modern lunch, a visit to a “California home perfect” and the oldest Martini drink in Hollywood.
Since “soul” and technology don’t always go hand in hand, the most appropriate experience for a music-loving technocrat and fashionista (a not-so-rare hybrid), would probably be “Buy Vinyl [sic] and a dress from the same year” in a boutique created by former fashion designer Carmen Hawk who now sells more than 6,000 records a year.
Vinyl, as we know, is enjoying a comeback these days. Just like a good old Juggle style guide – a treat for mind and soul.
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