‘The Art of Travel’

Flying over the Alps
I got to visit booklovers nirvana yesterday — Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Among the millions of books, one of the first to catch my eye was “The Art of Travel

Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere else. But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams.

I’m loving this book that brings to light how delicious anticipation is when compared to the realities of travel. While much of the book so far has shown me I’m not the only one who has felt a letdown at finally seeing in real life something like the Parthenon, the author nails the joy of dreaming about travel. I marked the page with this passage last night because it put into eloquent words how I’ve always felt about airports (italics mine):

Nowhere is the appeal of the airport more concentrated than in the television screens which hang in rows from terminal ceilings announcing the departure and arrival of flights and whose absence of aesthetic self-consciousness, whose workmanlike casing and pedestrian typefaces do nothing to disguise their emotional charge nor imaginative appeal. Tokyo, Amsterdam, Istanbul. Warsaw, Seattle, Rio. The screens bear all the poetic resonance of the last line of James Joyce’s Ulysses: at once a record of where the novel was written and, no less importantly, a symbol of the cosmopolitan spirit behind its composition: ‘Trieste, Zurich, Paris.’ The constant calls of the screens, some accompanied by the impatient pulsing of a cursor, suggest with what ease our seemingly entrenched lives might be altered, were we to walk down a corridor and on to a craft that in a few hours would land us in a place of which we had no memories and where no one knew our names. How pleasant to hold in mind, through the crevasses of our moods, at three in the afternoon when lassitude and despair threaten, that there is always a plane taking off for somewhere, Baudelaire’s ‘Anywhere! Anywhere!’: Trieste, Zurich, Paris.


One response to “‘The Art of Travel’

  1. I’ve read and enjoyed ‘Art of Travel’ myself. Alain de Botton had a short series of the same on BBC TV a few years ago in which he developed his thesis that you can make any place into a journey, even without going anywhere – there were many references to ‘A Journey around my Bedroom’ (Voyage autour de ma chambre), in which the french author described the objects and furnishings of his bedroom as if he was a visitor, a traveller, and these were strange objects to him.

    I always thought that the best insight he gave was that you never travel alone, you always take yourself; i.e. you take all your normal prejudices, assumptions, likes, dislikes etc with you when you got to new places, and inevitably you perceive these places through them.

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