Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Art of Travel

I traveled to China this morning.

There I visited a family in a high rise building and watched their cat "Miss Peach" have a thirteen second encounter with "Sister Pigeon."
Seeing Miss Peach all wide eyed as she watched the bird made me laugh so hard I woke up Bernie.

Wasn't that a great way to start the day?

Sitting in my kitchen as I traveled in my pjs half way around the world via a blog and the Internet.

Apparently Miss Peach spotted Tiggie's pictures yesterday and thought he was a very handsome cat. She left him a note, and via the note I was invited into Miss Peach's home and was introduced to her family.

LOVE IT!!!!

I love to travel. Last year I visited Switzerland, Canada, Minneapolis, Utah, Washington, Louisiana, and Colorado.
Not bad for one year.

While in Switzerland, I had the chance to read "The Art of Travel" by Alain De Botton.

The last two chapters of that book truly changed my life.
Each chapter of the book covered an aspect of why travel is pleasurable.
One chapter talked about anticipation; how some people savor the experience of looking at train schedules, and shipping schedules, and plane schedules, and maps. They may actually never travel at all...for them, the anticipation and planning is thrilling enough.

I know people like that. One friend declares where she is going two years ahead of time, and I get quarterly updates.
"I booked our flights!" she will announce. "I'm looking at places to stay in France" she'll announce the next time.

For two years I will get breathless updates. After the trip I call and ask her to tell me all about the trip, demanding that she tell me everything about the trip in detail, and I will hear something along the lines of "We had a great time! The weather was really good, except a rained a couple of days in (someplace). We had the best time!"

I ask for more details, and getting them is like pulling teeth. She will think hard and say what towns they visited. She will tell me the names of her distant family members that she met over tea. And how long the drive was from place to place. And that she would love to go back there again. The mountains were beautiful. It was cold.

A few weeks later she will begin again with planning another trip to some place new.

I am agog.

I shouldn't be: it is simply her way of traveling. Two years of anticipation for her is two years of sheer delight.

Other people are more like me. Trip arrangements are made in an hour or two, a few months or weeks or days before departure. Only the barest skeleton of travel structure is created: Stay in this place, want to see that place....

As I travel, I vacuum in every detail, sketching on paper, photographing, writing journals. After the trip each detail is savored over and over again. A single picture brings back a flood of memories: The color of the room where I slept, what the sheets felt like, what the view out the window contained, what was served at breakfast, how the shape of the spoon was different, the cologne that man ahead of them in line was wearing.

I savor every detail, and after my trip, I journal every detail that I recall, and I add to my journal as I remember things even later.

Be careful of asking me about my trips!

Be thankful if you are only stuck looking at the pictures!
(although a few friends have asked for and enjoyed reading my travel journals...usually people who have already visited where I have gone...they say it is fun to go along with me to a place they have already been.)



The first big "Ah HA!" of the Art of Travel was in the second to last chapter, where it was discussed how we can capture and savor our travel experience best by observing and sketching. Even if done poorly, the details that we struggle to capture will forever be locked in our mind in ways that a photo could ever aspire to do.
The same is true of writing a descriptive passage or poem about what we observe while we are there.

Golly, I have been doing that for years.
No wonder I have such vivid memories of my travels.

BUT.....

Here was the real AH HA!!!!!!

Actually, in the end, it is the observations that make travel enjoyable. The author talked about how the first time you drive to a new job you see all kinds of interesting and exciting things. Flags, trees, buildings...
The second time you see fewer new things.
A few days later the trip to work is a blank.

The first trip to work was experienced as travel.
The consequent drives were not.
Same path, one with observation, one without.

The author (each chapter has a different author) spoke about a man who put on his pajamas and spent an entire day traveling around his bedroom.
He looked at each thing in the room as if he had never seen it before.
The bindings of the books. The pattern of the weave of the sheets. The lamp post outside the window.
An entire day!
He delighted in discovery, and he honed his ability to observe.

Ever since I read that chapter my life has been changed.
I can travel looking at a single lemon.
I can look at three far off pine trees and be enthralled.

It helps to have a camera handy as it inspires me to stop and capture my travels as I go about my day.
Since I've read the book I am shocked at how much is out there to see that I never saw before.

And I wonder at my friend who spends two years preparing for a trip, and yet apparently sees almost nothing while she is gone.

7 comments:

Lovella said...

Jill, I never really thought about the varied styles of travel planning and then the story afterwards.
I love to plan and anticipate and then look at pictures many many times after it's all said and done. We haven't actually done the touristy thing that much so I guess that will remain a mystery for now and that anticipation is great too.

Sara said...

What a fabulous post, Jill! I guess I've been "traveling" my whole life and never knew to call it by that name! Having a camera at hand, does, however, widen the scope of observation, as you say...my horizons have gotten higher and wider since I got my digital camera.

Anonymous said...

How exciting that you enjoyed my book so much. I'm delighted. I hope you'll get a chance to look at some others I wrote, you might especially enjoy How Proust can change your Life and The Architecture of Happiness.
Alain de Botton

Judy said...

I checked out your blog on the perfect day! Anything about travel and I'm all over it! I didn't really know it was an art...but it's definitely one I'll keep studying. I use mostly pictures to preserve my memories of the places I've visited...along with a little journaling. It's so great to go back & remember. By the way, I've been to Switzerland twice...and have wonderful photos to bring back the experience (along with an authentic cow bell).

Vicki said...

Ah, what a fun post! I love traveling, too, but the opportunities are just too few for us. When we do go, we take lots of photos, and record notes at the end of each day in our little laptop computer (good or bad, it goes everywhere - it has to store the photos!). We enjoy having the photos and notes to remind us of what we saw and what we did. I've often thought of just pulling out an old travel photo and blogging about the memories it brings to mind. That might be fun! (Oh, I just returned from China, too!)

running wildly said...

Hmmmm. I am reflecting on my style of travel. Haven't yet reached a conclusion....
Will let you know.
Very interesting, thought-provoking post. Well done.

Sara said...

How cool is that - a comment from the author, Alain de Botton!