It is said not to judge a book by its covers, and after reading The Art of Travel written by Alain de Botton, I would say do not judge a book by its title. I must confess that I begin to read this book with the expectation that I’ll find some advises on how to enjoy any kind of traveling (from solo to a large group, from living in luxury hotels to sleeping in a tent or even under the sky, in cities, in camp, on the mountain and on the beach and so on) and perhaps some of Alain de Botton traveling art tips. It does not mean that I am disappointed with what I found. No. But this book convinced me more of the fact that author received good education than the fact that he masters … the art of travel.
The book starts with an interesting idea: the pleasure of anticipation, which is almost always disappointing compared to the real thing, says de Botton. However, anytime I travel, be that for pleasure or for some other reasons, I must say that what I feel before embarking me for a specific adventure is a mix of very different feelings: pleasure, yes, enthusiasm, joy, excitement, but also some anxiety, fear and even a suave tone of melancholy. Perhaps, that must be the reason I never actually feel disappointed by the real thing.
The Art of Travel prompts us to meditate on our very reasons on why we travel and to extend the pleasure of traveling by using tried methods of some of the famous poets, painters, writers to make the most of traveling experiences.
Alain de Botton takes any effort to convince us to turn our attention inward, not outward on the journeys we make, and he encourages the travelers to examine their thoughts and reflections, elevating to a discipline that encompasses literature, poetry, painting, history. By doing so, the author invites us to travel not only in different places but in different cultures through the eyes of some “travel guides” like Wordworth, Ruskin, Van Gogh, Humbold, de Maistre and some others.
I liked especially the evocation of John Ruskin’ s erudition. A famous personality of the eighteenth century, painter, philanthropist and art critic, he urged the travelers to paint or draw landscapes and places they visit because that way they pay more attention to details. Well, I do not think we have time to do that today and obviously in the age of digital cameras most of us see cities, buildings, monuments through their lens, who would take time to paint or draw them? However, the idea is interesting. He also urges travelers to write about what they see and feel when they are in a new place – which I think is a great idea, already put into practice by thousands and thousands of travel and lifestyle bloggers. 🙂
“Now, remember, gentlemen, that I have not been trying to teach you to draw, only to see. Two men are walking through Clare Market. One of them comes out at the other end not a bit wiser than when he went in; the other notices a bit of parsley hanging over the edge of a butter-woman’s basket, and carries away with him images of beauty which in the course of his daily work he incorporates with it for many a day. I want you to see things like these.” Ruskin
My favorite quotes from The art of travel
“A danger of travel is that we may see things at the wrong time, before we have had an opportunity to build up the necessary receptivity so that new information is as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.”
“A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give it weight in one’s life. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.”
“Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously: that the universe is
mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves.”
“Technology may make it easier to reach beauty, but it does not simplify the process of possessing or appreciating it.”
“We can see beauty well enough just by opening our eyes, but how long this beauty will survive in memory depends on how intentionally we have apprehended it.”
“Having made a journey to a place we may never revisit, we feel obliged to admire a sequence of things which have no connection to one another besides a geographic one and a proper understanding of which would require a range of qualities unlikely to be found in any one person. We are asked to be curious about Gothic architecture on one street and then promptly fascinated by Etruscan archaeology on the next.”
“It seemed an advantage to be travelling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others.”