1. Why we travel, 2. Twain, 3. Flaubert, 4. Orwell, 5. Bowles, 6. Theroux, 7. Chatwin, 8. Morris/Davidson, 9. Mahoney, 10. Kincaid, 11. Phillips, 12. Cortazar-Botton, 13. Final reflections
The transgression of former paradigmatic boundaries with regard to travel offers insight on how to become travelers in our own world, from first- through third-order tourism. And this is an idea that de Botton not only defines, but exemplifies in another of his works A week at the Airport. He writes, "Just as passengers were concluding their journeys in the arrivals hall, above them, in departures, others were preparing to set off anew. BA138 from Mumbai was turning into BA295 to Chicago. Members of the crew were dispersing: the captain was driving to Hampshire, the chief purser was on a train to Bristol and the steward who had looked after the upper deck was already out of uniform (and humbled thereby, like a soldier without his regimental kit) and headed for a flat in Reading. Travellers would sson start to forget their journeys. They would be back in the office, where they would have to compress a continent into a few sentences...They would look at an English landscape and think nothing of it. They would forget the cicadas and the hopes they had conceived together on their last day in the Peloponnese. But before long, they would start to grow curious once more about Dubrovnick and Prague, and regain their innocence with regard to the power of beaches and medieval streets. They would have fresh thoughts about renting a villa somewhere next year," (106-7).
This recontextualiziation of de Maistre's idea in de Botton's own writing thus increases the scope of travel propensity created by the initial transgression.
When troubled by the throes of a hyper-consciousness, an immobilizing force, go back to the house we grew up in, a place you can no longer call home. I want you to consider, why you hold dear and tight to the standstill of reflection. What is holding you there? Is it the memory of your youth beaming? Following your present consciousness around the living room, repeating the words that you say with mocking delight? Yawning and coddled, asking with its eyebrows who are you? And of course, where’s mom? Or is it, rather the experience of your youth dying, moving you further to nihility that brings you back, again to your first experience of death in youth? To answer this question, visit these differentiating possibilities. Go back to the house we grew up there, and return the next day. For, I believe in the Soren Kierkegaard’s statement in his philosophical text, Stages on Life's Way“… only gypsies, robber gangs and swindlers follow the adage that where a person has once been he is never to go again.
“With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire, or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discoveries is secret, their rules are absurd, and everything conceals something else.” –Invisible Cities, Italio Calvino
In the dark catacombs of your brain lives a Garden, which has been rejected by sunlight, tread upon by the steps of responsibility, and overcome by the weeds of insecurity. The dusty plants have begun to wilt from each breathe of reality which you take in, stifling their sense of being from the harsh neglect, which age has demanded. This garden is all that remains from the house in Oshkosh. The house, overcrowded by the sense of beginning, was where your family made its start in Wisconsin. Now it lay in ruins, combusted by realizations of progress, dejected by success. The house was your families’ responsibility and so its demise could be shared; however, you deserted the Garden, alone. Thus, you succumb to digression and allow yourself to visit the Garden.
Carefully you turn the rusted handle to the black gate, pleading to God not to let the screech awaken the dormant memories. Though, it doesn’t comply and it sounds, signaling you forward into reverie. Your steps leave prints across the vibration, which has coated the garden with greeting. Instantaneously watered from the pools of remembrance, the plants return to their form shooting past the sky. Your fingers slip out of their callousness and back to the chubby grip of six years. They wander faster than your short legs, into the moistened earth gripping the coolness. The roots caress your fingertips sharing the pulse of growth. The calmness knows no calamity, and you sit among the tomatoes plants hidden from the chaos inside your brick house. The tomatoes are ripe here, filled with the senseless possibility of never being eaten, torn, or sliced. The fireflies glow unrestricted by bed time. They float within you, around you, placing gravity near the sunflowers so that you may greet the music squeezing through the window. Grasping onto the notes of your father’s late night piano practice, you remain.
You could stay there forever, cradled a web of enchantment. They would find you in a hammock of dew, Bach’s symphony spilling out of your pockets. But they don’t.
You heard the news through the window. The piano’s soliloquy stops cold.
“Pop’s passed away.”
And you fall, a thousand strands breaking. You hit the earth. And within that instant, you grow up. Your brother and sister find you intertwined with the soft leaves. They take your dirty hands and pressed them to their hands, palm to palm, in a circle. They found you, and in the circle, you find them.
The Garden will do both: enchant you and disenchant you, cradle you and let you fall. The duality of this patch of earth displays how life: within you, around you, despite you, lifts and falls. You tried to capture the essence of the garden like a firefly in a jar, and the light failed at the dawn of your adolescence. You must let it go, allow its sublimity to burn around you, and kiss the warmth back into your fingertips.
““Does your journey take place only in the past?””
“… That what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveler’s past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is to which each day that goes by adds a day, but a more remote past. Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again the past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.” - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Along the path I have ventured I have often had to pause. I have had to stop—right in my tracks, and listen to the sounds around me. If, in accordance to the popular axiom “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” then I have found that the eardrums are the trapdoors to the heart. The sounds, songs, and steps of my past have become inextricably woven into the formation of my present ideas. In this way, my present consists of a symphonious collection of memories, experiences, and future hopes all following the magic wand of their maestro conductor New York City. This song has halted me, and egged me towards an epiphany of existence. Only through analyzing my time in New York City have I been able to ascertain the connection between place, self, and sound. I have begun to explore the realms of my own “Invisible Cities”—the myriad pockets of moment that exist in my memory as multiple versions of metropolis. The experiences through which I have lived, the perspective though which I have grown enact as unique narrators in the urban vignettes that encapsulate my time in New York. These “cities” may seem invisible to the naked eye, but through my lens, I see them as beacons of personality. They have fostered my dreams and fears, observed unobtrusively the decimation and renewal of love, and have unlocked truth.
In the empire of New York City, exists a parallel invisible world known only in the sacred collaboration between the wayfaring memories of my lyrical home-life, and the infectious lullaby of city-life. Through imperceptibility my own city evoked my identity with a premise of secrecy and a standard of intimacy. I have returned to this collision of past and present, with the hopes of exposing the subtleness of their connection and of discovering to what beat my next step is directed.
When I arrived in the City of Voices two summers ago, I realized that I must jump into this place, fully submerge myself, until I was covered in waves of vibration. The air was rampant that July fourth, with actions and reactions exuding excess that transcended into ecstasy. The humidity of the summer months is a force, which slows this sublime hum into a quivering legato.
There is a bench on 116th street where I always went, with Mallory, my new companion during my time at Columbia in a creative writing program over the summer. We would watch as kids would run along the cross walk, sparklers galore, cheering at the distant fireworks. The chaos in the sky sounded like Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” and persisted shooting right through the humidity. It broke, Mallory and I stood, allowing the pollution of rain to dilute our senses. Relief. Mallory had grabbed my slippery hand, and pulled me onto the bench next to her. As she discarded her inhibition Mallory lifted her hands into the sky, allowing the zephyr of warm thoughts to breeze through her. Droplets of rain hit the ground splashing shivers upward. From my place, high on the bench, I could hear the mixture of horns, footsteps, greetings, forming a haphazard beat. From my place, I could see the lights of traffic smearing on each side. From my bench, I began to move, unable to contain the vibration of the city; I had to continue, dancing to the sounds around me.
I had thought that the City of Voices, New York City, would pollute my own intonation. As I returned home, I realized, it has the opposite. I lent the city some of my voice, and it lent me the strength to sing out loud.
Though it was fall semester, I could consciously profess the evening was turning into a Midsummer’s Night Dream. The faded light twisted around the blinds hanging on for a second too long before descending into the warm darkness of the room. The sound of Rohin Sethi playing his acoustic version of MGMT’s “Electric Feel” filled the abyss of our over-dilated pupils with a mixture of serenity and wistfulness. My eyes were no longer drowsy with the lack-luster bloodshot of overtiredness; but rather, heavy with the possibility of happiness that lingered in the air. The lone candle burned with an incandescent pulse of its own, gently mocking the flicker of Rohin’s fingertips down the strings. It seemed too simple to be this rare a moment, caught between sleep and the sun. For it seemed now, more than ever, the shock therapy of lyrics rang true. The song became more than the haphazard anthem for the city that never sleeps. Rather, the melody transcended the refuge of benign techno enterprise, to become an afterglow of reminder ringing all "along the eastern shore" to listen. The quiet notes floated above the drowning island as dawn let the tide of a new day wash over the previous night. Yet, the song remained and whispered to me softly the only lyric it had saved: “change the world".
Everyone has that one song. A portal to another time, a weary traveler this song carries one and is carried by one throughout life. A coalescence of words and sound, which have both the audacity and the tenderness to unlock the secrets of one's being. The story behind each person's experience with the song has equal affinity with the experience from which the song was conceived. Though: what is the secret, what is the circumstance, what is the ideal, who is the person, when is the time, where is the clandestine meeting that inspires the musician towards those incendiary musings?
His words became static to the three clicks of a red lighter. Sparks before fire, the dark room cackled with resistance to allow such an obstruction to the surrounding darkness. Finally, the flame appeared and I saw Ray’s soul just beneath his skin basking in warmth. During the last snowstorm of my senior year, I sat next to Mike in a circle of thirteen guys who had been jamming nonsensically while the night smeared on. In a shard of silence Ray interjected: “This is your soliloquy.” I felt the eyes of the room follow the dedication, which glided through the space on Ray’s warm breath, to the space where my smile resided. He had already begun to play. He told me, through the coalescence of letters, everything. This “soliloquy” was the thoughts of my high school ideology played out, played on. The guitar strings cradled the “sol”, the sole interpretation of everything I was and wasn’t to him. The “lil” was sucked underneath the garage door and into the storm, released and caught by “lo,” low. His voice was low in the morning, a grumble of realism, which woke before the rest of his philosophy. Lo was the note that his pinky had to extend to play, for me. “Quy” was the scar on his finger.
All other words, I had tested and tried; but this “soliloquy” encompassed a realization that I would never need another moment, never need another song, never need another word. Only one word hovered near my lips and flickered across my mind. Soliloquy. This word, wrapped in memory breaks the barrier of time and the forgetfulness of my cluttered mind to indulge in existence as an illusion. Without its deeply entrenched reference to Ray’s song, the dedication, the darkness, and the silence only filled with the smell of devious exhales, the word soliloquy would not be seared into my mind.
New York has transformed the seemingly auspicious soliloquy into a transition, a portal to understanding myself. The experience was not fortified with truth; Ray was, as usual under the influence. Despite his discrepancy from reality I did find a drop of truth within the memory, but rather from my reaction than from the experience itself. I felt convulsed with feelings: I was happy, heartbroken, in love, excited, awkward, amused, sentimental, and confused. I was sure of nothing, and wanted for nothing more, than the meaningless and meaningful: soliloquy. By experiencing my time as an undergraduate at NYU through the lens of my former self, I have begun to discern that the colorful lifestyle is more than a mirage of fabulous but rather, a portal into the kaleidoscopic world of the aware. The people of New York City are the designers of awareness. They have espoused the intricate beat that propels the city’s creative engine. This beat encapsulates the echoes of pennies trying to find their way back to the Washington Square fountain, the scuffle of platform heels yearning for the indulgence of a cab ride, and the clicking of a lighter that illuminates the contours of a listener’s face.
I felt as if I had been fully submerged into a pool of oil on a hot pavement, staring up at the reflected colors of the rainbow on the sleek surface of its dark, toxic reality. The Brooklyn loft was filled with strangers sharing first kisses. The newly formed star-crossed lovers must have found themselves inspired by the twinkle lights. The strands of Christmas-past used and reused the bright colors of the tapestry in which they were entangled to enhance their luminosity. The Turkish evil eye stared out from the handprint painted on the canvas. Clearly satisfied from its view from the wall, it remained unblinking and hypnotized by the haze of candles and the unspoken whispers of wonderment. Above the bar, there was a screen fitted in an old window frame, that had a crackling movie of a train, which gained momentum synchronized with the rate of the dancers’ heartbeats projected onto it. As the band began to play, a girl with feathers in her hair stepped up and belted out: “Hey! What’s going on!” that were lyrics from a song by FourNonBlondes. Everyone stood to attention, as if it was the anthem of the lost soul revolution. A revolution led by the ingenious creative freaks of originality that were sharing their insatiable vision of freedom. The freedom to express oneself in a land that has enough open space- in the minds of each nonjudgmental inhabitant- to calm the wanderlust of each spirit, so that it may call this place: home. Thus, in New York City with my friends all around me, and the light of exhilaration commingling with the gust of voices, I felt completely free to listen.
I hope I will never take the silence between my steps for granted. New York City has given me the opportunity to be constantly inspired by the array of sounds around me. Though, I will never forget the fleeting moments of quiet. I have found the silence that the city rarely gives me along my venture, is the perfect time to fall through the trapdoor and begin again. This time I will step in sync with the rhythm beating inside me, and listen to myself moving forward.
Can a travel experience be defined solely by the parameters of distance? Can a travel experience be defined solely by the introduction to or immersion in a new culture? Can a travel experience be defined solely by the method of transportation taken? The readings we’ve done for class have exhibited yes and no answers to each of these questions. I don’t think travel can be solely defined by any of these attributes, as much as that might be how we naturally think of travel (and how I had thought of travel prior to this class). When I was younger, a traveler was an explorer and adventurer who went off to learn about new cultures, discover new things, eat new foods, live a new life (if just for a moment), all very much determined by new surroundings and a new environment. The physical, external world had to be different in order to constitute a travel experience. However, I now see things in an opposite way as I had in my childhood, and agreed very much with what de Botton had to say in regard to de Maistre: “the pleasure we derive from a journey may be dependent more on the mindset we travel with than on the destination we travel to.”
Overall, what I’ve taken away from this class has enabled me to finally understand something my dad had told me years ago. To put this in context, my dad is an extremely hard-working man who has spent most of his life (and most of mine) running his own business and working long hours, something that hasn’t really provided him the opportunity to travel. I asked him once if he ever wanted to travel and why he never planned any trips for himself or our family. He told me that of course he wanted to, but for the obvious reasons (work and money) he couldn’t really afford to. That aside, he said he didn’t see the need to literally go somewhere when there were books and television shows and movies he could enjoy that could take him anywhere he wanted to go anyway. For a long time, I didn’t understand how that could substitute the real thing, but now I’ve realized that travel can be as much a journey you take with your mind as a journey you take with your self. I’ll keep this in mind anytime I need a change of scenery; Paris or Rome or Patagonia is only a page-turn away.
This is insisted in de Botton’s writing as well, first reinforced through his discussion of de Maistre’s ‘progressive’ “mode of travel:” travel by room, or rather, within room. De Maistre set out to incite a novel travel experience by ‘traveling’ within his bedroom. While de Maistre’s efforts weren’t exactly fruitful, they did produce a “profound and suggestive insight: the notion that the pleasure we derive from a journey may be dependent more on the mindset we travel with than on the destination we travel to.” I don’t think this is an insight as much as it is a reminder, but it definitely rings true.
Following de Maistre’s work in light of exploring his neighborhood, de Botton writes, “Once I began to consider everything as being of potential interest, objects released latent layers of value.” This reminded me of my trips home (to Pennsylvania) over my past four years at school, and how my removal from my home environment enabled me, on trips home, to notice things that I hadn’t seen before and for those things that had been familiar, to see them in a new light. I really liked how de Botton ended with, “Dressed in pink-and-blue pajamas, satisfied within the confines of his own bedroom, Xavier de Maistre was gently nudging us to try, before taking off for distant hemispheres, to notice what we have already seen.”
As I’m wrapping up my four years here at NYU, this really resonated with me, as so many times I have taken the same walks to class, studied in the same cafes, eaten in the same restaurants, gone to the same venues, to the point where everything can (and sometimes did) become mundane and too familiar. But it’s true that our mindset has more to do with our experience than our literal environment, and remembering that when I would sometimes get tired or bored of the familiarity enabled me to take something new from each experience that theoretically wearied me. De Botton’s writing reminded me of how lucky I have been to go to school in New York City, where there is always something new lurking around the corner, no matter how many times you may have walked that path before.
While Redfoot does address some noteworthy complications of tourism as a travel experience, I think his theorizing leaves room for more interaction between the orders. Regardless, overall I disliked how, by nature of being a first-order tourist, I should be made to feel as though my experiences are less legitimate or authentic than those who have the opportunity to take advantage of ‘higher level’ travel experiences. I could see where some aspects of first-order tourism are inauthentic, but I also think if someone in that state travels with an earnest desire and intent of experiencing a place beyond its touristic sites then he or she has elevated in some aspect to a higher order and therefore more authentic experience of traveling. In my opinion, a real traveler or tourist even lives “without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation” (Iyer). This is the beauty of travel, the ability to live in the present and assess our sense of self without concern, if only for a brief amount of time. Iyer concludes, “And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed,” which succinctly summarizes how I hope to experience my travels in the future.
Another theme I found demonstrated throughout Innocents Abroad was that of authenticity. In relation to the sense of expectation in the tourists and as mentioned above, I think their portrayal was actually authentic, especially in light of considering how difficult it would have been for Twain’s companions to have been informed and aware travelers. Additionally, the question of authenticity arises again relative to Twain’s authorship and writing. Considering Twain was commissioned to report on the cruise, does this confound his authenticity? The fact that he was assigned a purpose in writing this material and also that Twain took on a sort of ‘persona’ to develop it suggests that his writing was, to some extent, inauthentic. Authenticity inevitably ties in with expectations and innocence as well, because both themes gave way to preconceived notions of Europe, so that the Europe the tourists experienced was inauthentic. Altogether, the relationship between authenticity and expectations demonstrates that it is dangerous to have expectations and forgo the ability to be a more prepared, knowledgeable traveler. Had this been more of a possibility in Twain’s time, Innocents Abroad would not have been the same text it turned out to be.
Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour was an unexpected change in light of the Twain reading from the previous class. Flaubert’s writing was certainly not as comical as Twain’s had been in Innocents Abroad, and I noticed several themes throughout Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour that I think are worth discussing. One of the most notable themes in Flaubert’s writing is his preoccupation with the grotesque, such as in his observation of an Egyptian boy’s crude language and of a tryst with a prostitute he writes, “the whole thing gave the effect of a plague victim or a leperhouse.” His focus on the grotesque could relate to his awareness of reality in light of the Orientalist context through which he imagined Egypt, which was also prevalent throughout the reading and coincided most evidently with his sexual encounters. In Orientalism, Said writes that, “Woven throughout all of Flaubert’s Oriental experiences, exciting or disappointing, is an almost uniform association between the Orient and sex.” Flaubert’s letters to his friend Louis Bouilhet certainly demonstrate his enthusiasm with this aspect of his travels, and it is easy to generalize that Flaubert objectifies women and sees their sole purpose as being there for his pleasure. He notes the exoticism of the women he sleeps with and it’s obvious they are seen as the mysterious, sensual ‘Other,’ especially in light of the fact that they cannot communicate.
I think that question also speaks to the second aforementioned theme of a preoccupation with the ‘undiscovered.’ Theroux prefers the adventurer’s story to that of the young man in France because it is original and unique, invoking elements of discovery, even though the adventurer was probably not the first man to paddle a long distance in a kayak. I’m not sure why the kayaker’s story is more legitimate to Theroux or why there is such a preoccupation with the ‘undiscovered,’ but this has certainly affected travel writing over years; now autobiographical travel books are now popular. This evolution in travel writing is an attempt to produce more original material and portray the illusion of discovery; if you’re not discovering any new environment, at least you’re discovering some things about yourself! Theroux of course tries to develop The Old Patagonian Express in such a way as to give the illusion of discovering some new environment, but he also appears to learn some things about himself through his trip (even if not outright explicitly stated), at least through engaging in and observing conversation. While I liked The Old Patagonian Express, I almost wish I had read the introduction after I read the chapters, because I think it would been more interesting to consider Theroux’s background then so as not to color my view of the chapters and give way to expectations.
While I highly enjoyed Bowles’ other writing (because it strongly reminded me of my time in the Moroccan cities), I was most affected by Baptism of Solitude. I think it stood out the most because, aside from Bowles’ beautiful prose – “Here, in this wholly mineral landscape lighted by stars like flares, even memory disappears; nothing is left but your own breathing and the sound of your heart beating,” it concerned a travel experience centered on the absence of the very things most people travel for (the sights, the food, the vibrant culture and nightlife, etc.). The Sahara is not somewhere I (and I believe) most people would think of to travel, but of course Bowles describes it and its people in such a way that it is intriguing and captivating. Aside from the Sahara being marked by absence of traveler ‘comforts’ so to speak, it also seems marked by an absence of time, as Bowles notes that “When all daylight is gone, and the space is thick with stars, it is still of an intense and burning blue, darkest directly overhead and paling toward the earth, so that the night never really grows dark.” One would think then there is no point of visiting the Sahara, but Bowles writes, “no other place is quite strong enough.” For Bowles, the hold of Morocco and the Sahara is certainly strong enough to maintain his interest, and he does a great job of insinuating that you should be caught in its grasp as well.
Another reason I preferred Davidson to Morris was because I felt that I got more out of 36 Views of Mount Fuji than I had from Nothing to Declare. I think Davidson definitely engaged more with the Japanese culture (maybe just as a result of her purpose in Japan) than Morris had with the Mexican culture, which came across in her writing and allowed me to feel as if I actually learned something. The multiple references Morris makes to her loneliness or unhappiness detracted from my ability to enjoy or learn from Nothing to Declare and led me to compare Morris to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. I think Morris had a problematic approach to her time in San Miguel that echoed sentiments of Eat Pray Love; she envisioned or intended to utilize her experience as a panacea to her sense of discontent and whatever was bothering her in her personal life. While it could be argued that this worked for Gilbert, I think this is a dangerous approach to take with travel, because (to recall Morris’ Buddhist reference) it generally perpetuates a cycle of discontent. Overall, however, I think there is certainly something to be said for the awareness and perspective travel affords us, especially if it is presented as well as Davidson’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji.
Aside from his intention to study Aboriginal song and his literal excursions to the outback, the people Chatwin encounters, especially Arkady Volchok, relate to the theme of crossing boundaries/territory as well. Arkady, a Russian, embodies this idea in that he has built his life around familiarizing himself with a culture different from his own. As a veritable Aboriginal authority, Chatwin seeks out Arkady’s assistance with his ethnographical trip. Overall, Chatwin's interactions with Arkady and other Australians who have familiarized themselves with Aboriginal culture and customs serve to suggest that a true or authentic travel experience (and ostensibly, life) is marked by crossing territories and familiarizing ourselves with a world outside our own. Altogether, Songlines made me contemplate the notion of territory and travel and consider that perhaps there is some merit to Chatwin’s idea (can’t remember if relayed through the readings or class discussion) that we are essentially nomadic, or travelers, by nature. This belief may manifest itself in different ways for different people, but what is universally imperative is that we never stop trying to travel outside the ‘territories’ of our minds.
Which is so sad about the mom getting called back in by news from home, just after she had let go, and started seeing herself as part of the landscape of Europe.
For Conway's mom I wonder if her highest point of travel - being the one where she finally eats the native food, and begins to appreciate the native culture - highlights one reason for travel. Mom - in the story - and her love of the well defined gardens and buildings - sensibilities so opposite her daughters - feel like she is allowing herself to be incorporated into the fabricated and already romanticized locations from her generation. Taking her away from who she knows she will return to and needs to be.
The daughter - who decides not to return to her old life at the end of this story - is so critical of her mom's approach and finds that the beauty she seeks is not in the preconceived views of Europe, that let her down at first. Traveling is different for her, she travels to find herself, not forget herself (well they are both doing a little of both). Conway doesn't give up and go back, allowing the adventure to be just a footnote in her life..... She makes it a chapter!..... I know it's sappy, but I found this story touching. It's the story I like to hear, where the main character releases their reality for something new. This is the appeal of travel, and the romance of the traveler. Just to keep moving. I agree with Chatwin on this. Maybe not indefinately traveling but at those points when you really are not made any happier by the function you serve in your normal life.
There is a trap I fall into when I travel - I forget my phone and my computer. Don't write friends, don't keep in touch, don't tell people when I"m coming back or where I'm going ---- until I get home, and wish I hadn't... and suddenly want to talk about it... and realize that people are not interested in all the information all at once, and I have a lot I want to share and tell. It is almost painful to come back without proof of the trip, and a way for those closet to you to get a sense of time and space of your travels. Because no one wants to look through all your photos at once. Which is why the facebook timeline is so brilliant, so wonderful for putting together a story... until you get that post "Wow, looks like you're having fun! Can't wait to hear about it! When are you coming home?" - and in that one post, just like Conway's mother's letter - you are back.
The picture is from my home state - I didn't take it - but it is in every direction you look (on a good day - most days we don't get these pretty textural clouds) - it took a long time for me to realize it was beautiful. Another reason I liked this selection.
Every country that Twain visits he has knowledge of, an impression of before hand, and it seems, some sort of a plan. These plans provide the framework for his writing style and might help shape his experience.
In Italy Twain judges the city based on how they treated their famous dead and their art in relation to the city. In Egypt and The Holly land it is the historical artifacts and locations that are being mentioned. I can't help but doubt if they even saw what they thought they did or if they really did meet the Russian Tsar based on a note they wrote in Rome and brought with them across several different cultures.
Although maybe it is because Twain and his American companions traveled with these expectations that they were allowed to see all these historical places and people. Maybe having the expectations formed a goal, that more free style, non agenda based travelers wouldn't have assumed. It is also because of these expectations that Twain can write with such a satirical style, because he is judging from a point of view. But most importantly it is the expectations, that I feel, make his experience the most American adventure we have read in this class.
This is a stereotype, but generally the people that are looking at travel as a journey, and are writing about it, don't want to be perceived as the standard American tourist (which - amazingly - has barely changed over the past centuries - and neither have the members of pleasure cruises) which stood out to me the most in Twain's travel log. How standard of an American tourist he was. Demanding his rights, wearing local clothes, and complaining about things based on his home-founded expectations.
There are so many theories on how to travel without regret - and Twain subscribes to the preparation form. I would be too afraid to travel like this. With such strong guildines for things to go perfectly, and such high expectations, even though the traveler is ensuring that they are hitting landmarks, I feel there are too many spaces to regret not wandering off the beaten track, and too many things could go wrong. Not seeing one place, even though you saw most of the destinations on the list, could feel like a failure, unfinished buisness, and I'd rather have all loose ends rather than one or two pesky ones. But at the end of the story he says he would gladly take the same cruise again with the same people, even though the cruise itself was not perfect, and they were clearly not his ideal travel companions.
I believe Bowles style of narrative travel writing is incredibly effective for another reason – moving through time, rather than place in terms of how the people of Fez act. This reminds me of my home in Penn Yan where a majority of my neighbors are either Mennonites or Amish. In this case, visiting their homes or purchasing their produce/baked goods is a trip through time, not a trip to Pennsylvania or other Dutch countries. I believe the last paragraph of page 40 and the first full paragraph of 41 demonstrate Bowles’s ability to connect all the senses to a place without dwelling on it. The main story and the main connection is through Bowles’s retelling of his own experience, the sensory details merely elevate the story a bit. Even in the case of 17 Quai Voltaire, where he had stayed 50 years prior, Bowles does a phenomenal job of connecting the reader and even transporting us in time, mentioning such figures as Gertrude Stein and her lover, Ms. Toklas. This was especially effective for me after reading The Book of Salt, told from the perspective of a fictitious cook who had worked for the acclaimed Americans and detailed the accounts of young men who would come for tea.
I also find a certain authenticity accompanying Bowles’s style of travel documentation. As Redfoot explained, people travel for many different reasons. I think this type of writing highlights a reason what is almost always prevelant, yet oftentimes goes ignored – adventure/curiosity. While some people travel to experience the beautiful sunsets, mountains, or lush green fields of other nations, many travel simply for the experience. That is what I feel Bowles brings to the table. Instead of focusing on what most people would – the architecture, the nature, the roads of a place, Bowles mentions them in passing and focuses instead on what people in his situation would probably focus on and remember – a cat who attacked a cook so thoroughly he had to make a trip to the emergency room, a hotel maid who mistook art for kindling and threw it away, a manager who lies about the existence of a bus to appease his customer. These are stories, these are what you will tell your friends and family as they look at the pictures you took; these are the memories that will stay with you.
Not only do I love the way Bowles views travel writing, I love the way he understands travel and exploration as discovering the deserted. “There was nothing I enjoyed more than wandering on foot through the less frequented streets of Paris, which I continued to find mysterious and inexhaustible,” (Bowles, 22). I believe Bowles’s unconventional concept of travel and the way in which he presents his experiences makes travel reading more accessible to those of us who haven’t engaged in it in a conventional sense.