On the Dead Sea, afloat with a parasol

U 5.37-9: Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere? Ah, yes, in the dead sea floating on his back, reading a book with a parasol open.

Descriptions of travellers floating on their back in the Dead Sea whilst reading a book or a newspaper may be found from at least the mid nineteenth century. Edward Montague’s Narrative of the late expedition to the Dead Sea (1849) is a typical early example:

Persons will, therefore, readily believe that when one tries to swim in it his legs are buoyed up to the surface of the water, which is a very uncomfortable position for a swimmer. It is not difficult to believe that one can float here, and comfortably read the newspaper, or convey his experiments to the pages of his note-book. (ch. 35, p. 224)

By the time W. D. McCracken’s New Palestine (pp. 224-5) was published in 1922, the idea had already become a traveller's stereotype: "One can float as though lying in bed, and, hoisting a sunshade, can read at one's ease [...]"

As soon as cameras made it possible, the miraculous spectacle was revealed pictorially to the members of an incredulous public, with Leopold Bloom, or rather his inventor, among them.

Harald Beck

Around the Dead Sea. Man floating with book and umbrella in hands

Enlargement from a stereograph dated 1900-20; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

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