The Art of Travel.
To prove to the Internet that I have been reading something other than softcore porn, I’m writing up The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. I stumbled upon de Botton because one of my decor blogs recommended The Architecture of Happiness, and as I’m all about the idea that your home can radically influence your happiness for better or worse, I snapped it up when I found it.
I was so impressed with Alain de Botton’s writing that I went looking for another one of his books and found The Art of Travel in the Harvard bookstore while visiting Sonika. The first thing to say about de Botton is that his books are beautiful- so beautiful that I had to buy post-it flags because I could not bear to mark them up as much as they deserved.
This book is primarily a series of essays that fits together well as a book, but makes for easier reading. For each area the author visits, he observes it also through the eyes of an artist or writer who portrayed the area, such as Provenance and Van Gogh. Other people who he features include: J.K. Huysmans and Charles Baudelaire (rock on, decadents), Edward Hopper, Gustave Flaubert, Alexander von Humboldt, William Wordsworth, Job, Edmund Burke, John Ruskin, and Xavier de Maistre. My only criticism here would be that there were no female artists or writers.
de Botton’s prose is lovely and introspective, and often makes me pause and think, such as the following passage which was worthy of both a post-it flag as well as some intermitent underlining:
Why be seduced by something as small as a front door in another country? Why fall in love with a place because it has trams and its people seldom have curtains in their homes? However absurd the intense reactions provoked by such a small (and mute) foreign elements may seem, the pattern is at least familiar from our personal lives. There, too, we may find ourselves anchoring emotions of love on the way a person butters his or her bread, or recoiling at his or her taste in shoes. To condemn ourselves for these minute concerns is to ignore how rich in meaning details may be.
… In the more fugitive, trivial association of the word exotic, the charm of a foreign place arises from the simple idea of novelty and change–from finding camels where at home there are horses, for example, or unadorned apartment buildings where at home there are pillared ones. But there may be a more profound pleasure as well: we may value foreign elements not only because they are new but because they seem to accord more faithfully with our identity and commitments than anything our homeland can provide.
And so it was with my enthusiasms in Amsterdam, which were connected to my dissatisfactions in my own country, including its lack of modernity and aesthetic simplicity, its resistance to urban life and its net-curtained mentality.
What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.
While the book was not exactly what I was expecting, I would recommend it- even if you only take time to read a chapter that appeals most to you. I didn’t love it as much as The Architecture of Happiness, but I’ll definitely be picking up another Alain de Botton book, you know, to read in between my Nora Roberts books.