A Description of Distant Roads (book)

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A Description of Distant Roads: Original Journals of the First Expedition into California, 1769-1770, by Juan Crespí. Edited and Translated by Alan K. Brown. San Diego State University Press, 2001.

A Description of Distant Roads cover.jpg

One of the frustrating things about studying early California history is the scarcity of published editions of original Spanish-language writings. Even harder to find is the original Spanish set side-by-side with English translation. Alan K. Brown's massive edition of the missionary chaplain's diary from the Portolá expedition is therefore doubly rare and valuable (and a bargain at $60). And I do mean massive (as shown by the tape measure in the photo) - it's not a book you can tuck into your beach bag, or even comfortably hold in your two hands for very long. For study, a reading stand is highly recommended.

The layout is in four columns, across facing pages. On the left page is Crespí's journal text, in Spanish. Because there exist different revisions of the original field notes, the text is presented sometimes in one column, other times as two (where there are significant differences between versions). The right hand page contains Brown's translations. Brown inserted white space where necessary to keep the text aligned horizontally across the facing pages. This layout makes it relatively easy to compare the Spanish and English - a functionality not available in translation-only editions. A good thing, too, in my view - some of Brown's translations seem far from literal.

This book is an invaluable resource, and of course the first date I turned to was October 17, 1769. On that day, the expedition forded the river Crespí named after San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence). "Quinientos pasos" (five hundred paces) beyond the river, the party came to a smaller stream, which received the name "el arroyo de la Santisima Cruz" [sic] (literally: the stream of the Most Holy Cross). The rest, as they say, is history. At some later time, the superlative was dropped and the name was transferred to the mission founded nearby in 1791.

I hope that Crespí appreciated the great privilege of being the one to give new official Spanish names to dozens of places in California never before seen by Europeans. Not all of them stuck, however. In our county, the only surviving Crespí names are San Lorenzo and Santa Cruz.