the art of travel

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

I've suspected for a long time now that once I started reading Botton I would like him very much. 

And I was right!

His essays in The Art of Travel seems to have been the perfect beginner Botton for me. If you don't know of him already, de Botton is essentially a modern philosopher (I haven't delved too deeply, so any inaccuracies are due to my laziness/recovering from surgery). He's written a number of books and runs The School of Life in London. 

The Art of Travel is much less about the destination than it is about the journey. He writes about the anticipation of upcoming (or fantasized) travel, about making our travel decisions with a baseline of wanting to experience loneliness or sublime awe, about being curious or searching for beauty.

Each section is focused on a particular geographic destination and a writer or artist. Sometimes these two elements match up - he goes to Provence and concurrently writes about van Gogh and his experiences and body of work from the time he lived in southern France - but sometimes they don't. He matches Edward Hopper up with one of (Botton's) local petrol stations, for example, which could be considered a tenuous connection, seeing as how he didn't actually travel to the locations Hopper painted (he never indicates this intention in any case). 

I found Botton's philosophies and also the different locations and artists to be rather fascinating - he's made me want to try reading Baudelaire, for sure.

"...Hence (Flaubert) proposed a new method for ascribing nationality; not according to the country of a person's birth or ancestral origins, but instead according to the places to which he or she was attracted."

"If the world seems to be unfair or beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest that it is not surprising that things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places gently move us to acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events. It is not just nature that defies us. Human life is as overwhelming. But it is the vast spaces of nature that perhaps provide us the finest, the most respectable reminder of all that exceeds us. If we spend time in them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great, unfathomable event that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust."

"What, then, is a traveling mind-set? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no ideas about what is or is not interesting. We irritate locals because we stand in traffic islands and narrow streets and admire what they take to be unremarkable small details. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall. We find a supermarket or a hairdresser's shop unusually fascinating. We dwell at length on the layout of a menu or the clothes of the presenters on the evening news. We are alive to the layers of history beneath the present and take notes and photographs."

Consider how slim it is, it took me a long time to finish Art not because I lost interest or found it boring but rather because I was savoring his writing and thoughts. Will absolutely be reading Botton again.