All Over the Place: A Gazillion Antlers
Issue 18: Unexpected Connections
Travel can provide perspective on things that seem ordinary and connect them to things a world away that might otherwise seem very different. We’re used to seeing places we are introduced to on vacation as fascinating and exotic, but there’s a value in taking that lens to places we might otherwise dismiss as mundane.
Bass Pro Shops is an American chain of outdoor stores, and like a lot of stores in the U.S., you can buy all sorts of things related to a theme within its spacious confines. The theme of Bass Pro Shops is the outdoors, and as such, you can buy fishing tackle, canoes, kayaks, boats, tents, water bottles, guns, crossbows, novelty signs, flannel shirts, hats, boots, waders, and fish-shaped pillows.
It would be fun to visit just to look at its products, but adding to the fun are its animal displays. Trophy mounts of North American big game animals greet visitors as they enter. Taxidermied deer and bears pose for pictures above a water tank stocked with several species of live fish, lazily swimming about in front of the fishing section. And visitors can walk across a small wooden bridge above a fish pond next to a moving water wheel.
There are many things about Bass Pro Shops that make it feel very American: its place as an anchor store in a mall, the sheer size of the store, the large number of wildlife mounts, the presence of a firearms department, and the hokey signs for sale.
But in some ways, stores like Bass Pro Shops remind me of a much older European building I visited a couple months ago in the delightful small town of Pszczyna in southern Poland (don’t worry, it’s spelled like it sounds).
Pszczyna’s main attraction is Pszczyna Castle, a beautiful centuries-old palace near the rynek (town square).
No, Bass Pro Shops does not have fancy chandeliers, painted ceilings, a ballroom, or fine art. But from the decor of many of the palace’s rooms and hallways, it’s obvious that its former residents were avid hunters that would have loved to visit Bass Pro Shops to pick up a gun or two (or more).
Antlers and fine art may seem like a strange combination, but the historical connotations of hunting in Europe are different than in North America. Two hundred years ago, most people in the U.S. were hunters, and they hunted for food. But in Europe, commoners were often barred from hunting, with nobles hunting for sport.
Instead of being a salt of the earth activity done at least partly out of necessity, hunting was an aristocratic game done for the thrill of the chase (or sometimes, I suspect, to avoid responsibilities at home). It’s hard to imagine that sixteen year old King Louis XV of France got much done in 1726, when he spent 276 days of the year hunting. And everyone needs a hobby, but I’d guess that the more than 42 thousand deer shot by John George II of Saxony over his lifetime would have preferred that he try macramé.
And that’s one reason why the lavish interior of a palace in Pszczyna, Poland looks like a Bass Pro Shops in Gurnee, Illinois.
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