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Holiday, Vacation & Tour

 

Travel With Your Muse

There’s a certain kind of traveler that loves art and beauty. She seeks it out and spends hours trolling through museums, wandering around cathedrals and looking, seeing so much that she may develop a sore neck, or worse, Stendhal’s Syndrome. Stendhal, a 19th century French novelist, was so overcome with the beauty of Florence that he developed symptoms of disorientation – dizziness, sweating, and overwhelm. Over the years, others have reported similar symptoms when faced wit...

travel, creativity, art, Muse

There’s a certain kind of traveler that loves art and beauty. She seeks it out and spends hours trolling through museums, wandering around cathedrals and looking, seeing so much that she may develop a sore neck, or worse, Stendhal’s Syndrome. Stendhal, a 19th century French novelist, was so overcome with the beauty of Florence that he developed symptoms of disorientation – dizziness, sweating, and overwhelm. Over the years, others have reported similar symptoms when faced with so much beauty. The lover of art and beauty is forced to take refuge in café breaks and deep naps at the hotel. Art, however, can provide the solution for too much beauty. Not viewing it, but doing it.

Simple art exercises provide a way for a traveler to absorb the splendors of travel in a deep, meaningful, and lasting way. Quick sketches done as a drawing or a brief writing of details offer an opportunity to slow down and really soak up a setting. Artist Frederick Franck, in his book The Zen of Seeing, encourages drawing as a way to turn overwhelm into depth an intimate way. “Atmospheres build themselves up out of a million imperceptible micro details, elements often too minute, too fleeting for the conscious mind to pick up. The eye-heart-hand reflexes notes down, so that the buildings, and even the faces that form themselves on the paper become unmistakably Roman, Indian, Parisian, or Japanese.”

By pausing to capture impressions, a traveler becomes more than a sponge, absorbing paintings, sculptures, and dramatic buildings. When you pause to create something in the moment, you are able to connect from the deep well of yourself to the thing you are drawing. A Provencal place, an array of vegetables from the local market, and a crumbling pile of Roman ruins come alive under the gaze of an artist. The world becomes more vivid when you look to see what you can draw or capture in a paragraph. Everything can be interesting, when you are willing to truly see it.

Franck’s books on the subject of seeing more through drawing are delightful. His drawings are expressive and well wrought. The sketches leap off the page and bring the viewer into the scene. It may be intimidating to the novice artist to see such craft. People often claim that they ‘can’t draw a straight line’, meaning that their artistic talents are nil. The same is true for writing. Postcards home often don’t stray from the formulaic recitation of events. Franck insists that ‘seeing’ rather than ‘looking at’ is the key not only to better art, but richer life experience. Capturing the essence of a place or a moment doesn’t require great artistic talent or extensive polishing. Simply slowing down, paying attention, and releasing expectations of ‘good’ drawing or writing is the recipe for expressing something that months later will recall a special experience from a trip.

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, applies similar concepts to writing. Her technique, ‘free writing’, invites the writer to choose an object or a subject and write without stopping. No editing, pausing, crossing out or judgment is allowed in the process. When using this as a travel tool, you are able to engage with the details of a place. Your verbal snapshot of the bartender at the local café, or of the taxi driver who zoomed you through the streets of Paris become vivid reminders of a moment. Rather than write about a day in which you took in a thousand new impressions, you can zero in on one or two experiences and chronicle them in a deeper way. Like Franck, Goldberg insists that the work be allowed to unfold without judging it. The point is not to produce ‘art’ or ‘writing’ but to engage in the world through art and writing. The process, not the product, is what is valuable here.

What’s the result of all this paying attention? When we slow down, connect to our creative core and really see, we are more present. The whirl of impressions doesn’t tug at our senses, clamoring for attention. A reflective peace settles us deep in the scene, allowing us to become part of the landscape, rather than skimming over or passing through. It is no coincidence that both Franck and Goldberg are Zen practitioners. And while we don’t need to become Zen masters to experience the world deeply, adopting the method of slowing down and seeing can enrich our travels and our lives at home.

Using art as a means to engage with a place empowers you, not just as a witness, but as someone who is involved in the creative act. Journey of the Senses, an American tour operator, leads tours that focus not on a stream of sights, but on engaging profoundly with a few experiences. The trip to Provence includes a visit to a goat cheese farm, an olive oil tasting and a wine tasting. In California, participants are invited to connect with the landscape. Redwood forests, beach coves and grassy hills become the guides for slowing down and seeing. Alongside the visits are lessons in gesture drawing and free writing. Using these creative tools, participants get closer to the experience and take home not only a guidebook of their own design, but a memory that holds them more deeply. Drawings and free writes provide a more personal chronicle than photos. Looking over a notebook from the trip that includes your art and words is a visceral reminder of place and atmosphere.

Cooking instruction is another branch of art that can deepen a traveler’s experience. Dozens of cooking abroad programs can attest to the power of food as a way to explore a region. The palette of a region is a reflection of its unique history, art and heritage. The French call this ‘gout de terroir’ or taste of the earth. A participant in Arles bemoaned the fact that her bakery in California couldn’t make baguette with the same crunchy texture. The gout de terroir, which includes the method of growing, cultivating and cooking foods, provides a unique and regional flavor. Through market tours and a gradual building of palette of flavors, techniques and local ingredients, travelers literally take in the sense of a region.

A fun art exercise is to have participants wander a city’s streets, choosing one detail to draw. In a Journey of the Senses tour in Arles, participants sketched the doors found on one street. This allowed them to gain a deeper understanding not only of the architecture of the city, but of themselves. “When I stopped to draw the doors, I saw so much more. I thought I had a perceptive eye, but it was only when I slowed down to draw did I realize that I could see more detail, and get closer to what was around me,” said Sherell, a 2005 participant.

In a world that constantly calls for more, more, more, using art as a travel tool is an invitation for deeper, deeper, deeper. We travel to escape our normal routine. We refresh our spirits in the face of great beauty and achievement. By bringing ourselves into the creative dance, we give ourselves a richness that surpasses the photos we take and the treasures we buy and bring home. A renewed sense of confidence, a more sharply honed eye and an appreciation for the simple things are treasures that we can use again and again in our own town and on other trips.

 

Travel Writers Need Compelling Reasons To Travel

Just think of the greatest adventurers who ever lived and the greatest journeys ever undertaken: the Jews, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin come to mind. All of them had compelling reasons for setting off on dangerous journeys into the unknown. What they found (in their cases the Promised Land, China, America and evolution respectively) soldered them into history and made them famous, but also opened the world to travel as never before.

Travel writing ev...

travel writing, travel writers, travel books,Bill Bryson,reviews

Just think of the greatest adventurers who ever lived and the greatest journeys ever undertaken: the Jews, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Charles Darwin come to mind. All of them had compelling reasons for setting off on dangerous journeys into the unknown. What they found (in their cases the Promised Land, China, America and evolution respectively) soldered them into history and made them famous, but also opened the world to travel as never before.

Travel writing ever since has echoed the odysseys of these great people. Writers still feel it incumbent on them to have some higher purpose to their journeys beyond mere self-indulgence or curiosity. On the rare occasions when travel writers break this rule they tend to fall ill or become irredeemably cranky when they sit down to put their experiences on paper.

The range of reasons travel writers dream up to focus their journeys range from the absurd to the sublime. Take that outstanding wordsmith Bill Bryson. This man literally thought up journeys he could take, to create fodder for his witty irony and superb humorous descriptions. A walk along the Appalachian Trail with an old school friend (do you remember Katz?) became much more than 'A Walk in the Woods' as it was entitled. It was a humorous ramble through the American nature tourist culture and a lambasting of the authorities responsible for the national parks of the United States. It did not matter that Bryson completed only a tiny part of the trail. This incredibly long hike (Bryson spends a few pages embarrassing all the authorities who cannot agree on its exact length) served one purpose and one purpose only; it gave Bryson something to write about.

Similarly Bryson's book about rural America entitled 'The Lost Continent' has a very thin basis to it: Bryson vaguely travels the roads his parents followed, when they took their children on madcap long haul treks across the United States to see the sights (and sites of famous battles and historical occurrences) and generally scrounged their way along on a shoestring budget, to the mystification of the Bryson children. Again Bryson gets his teeth into a subject without much justification. Not that he needs it, you understand.

Bryson made a career of taking whole continents and wrapping them around his tongue, as in 'Down Under', his dry yet informative take on Australia. He went there because he had always wanted to see it and, as the subtext suggests, he was looking for an alternative place to live. He and his family had already done England and New England. As it happened, the Bryson family returned from New Hampshire to Britain, giving down under the thumbs down. Just too many snakes per square kilometer I suppose.

Now we come to the sublime reasons for travel. There are tales of pilgrimage, such as Shirley MacLaine's account of her walk the length of the Santiago de Compostela Camino in northern Spain, the ancient 500 mile pilgrimage route initiated by St James de Compostela ending at Santiago. 'Camino: a journey of the spirit' never reaches any conclusions and elicits no discernible greatness of spirit in the writer, but it surely gave Ms MacLaine fodder for a bestselling book in the bland genre of Californian spiritualism.

Ineffably more substantial is the marvelous book by William Dalrymple 'From the Holy Mountain' in which this handsome young Scot journeys to the places visited by John Moschos some 1500 hundred years before. His beautiful journey through the dying remnants of Byzantium in our own age (he traveled in 1997) is an unforgettable book by a marvelously intelligent Catholic probing the embers of Eastern Orthodox religion.

Between the absurd and the sublime reasons for travel lie many others. In 'African Rainbow' Lorenzo and Mirella Ricciardi traveled along the waterways in Africa, evidently searching for the ultimate noble savage in the European mold. They never found him or her but their book was published. It ends up being an uneasy journey of a couple to a continent they didn't understand.

In 'The Great Railway Bazaar' Paul Theroux travels on the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Golden Arrow, the Mandalay Express, an odyssey on great trains from London through Europe and Asia, across Siberia. And his eye misses nothing as he describes this travel mode of a bygone age and these out-of-the-way places, but I always feel that Theroux travels and writes under duress rather than from compulsion, rather like Shiva Naipaul in 'North of South'.

Naipaul visited the insalubrious African countries: Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, where Asians have been personae non grata in the past, and in some places still are, to find out what makes Africa tick. Of course no one does know what makes Africa tick, not even Naipaul.

Never mind that these men seem to have been uncomfortable about their journeys. Both are renowned travel writers, not least due to their dogged purposefulness. The point, it seems, is to have some intention when moving across the landscape. A traveler without intention is merely a wanderer.

 

Travel Writing As A By-Product Of A Career - Lawrence Durrell

Some of the greatest travel writers had no idea they would be travel writers. They were engaged in other careers and then went on to be the foremost chroniclers of the places to which they were posted. These days, because of the internet and that associated fiction, that we do not need to be anywhere but at our computers, this phenomenon has practically left our screens. But we have been left with a recent legacy of great travel writing, balancing on the back of sometimes lac...

travel writing, travel writers, travel books,Lawrence Durrell,reviews

Some of the greatest travel writers had no idea they would be travel writers. They were engaged in other careers and then went on to be the foremost chroniclers of the places to which they were posted. These days, because of the internet and that associated fiction, that we do not need to be anywhere but at our computers, this phenomenon has practically left our screens. But we have been left with a recent legacy of great travel writing, balancing on the back of sometimes lackluster other careers.

In the case of Lawrence Durrell, his urge to travel emerged from the nature of his family, who loved to wander, but primarily from his experiences in the diplomatic corps. He achieved world fame with his tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet (he resided in Alexandria, Egypt, which inspired the setting for the book) and his oeuvre is in fact considerable, including many titles now almost totally forgotten except by collectors and specialists in his work. But travel and examinations of time and place are common threads that run through them all.

Durrell was a contemporary of diplomat and thinker Harold Nicolson, author of The War Years, Congress of Vienna, Public Faces and Some People – among others. Lawrence Durrell had a spell in the diplomatic corps and out of those experiences arose written classics of time and place: Esprit de Corps – Sketches of Diplomatic Life with its perfect depiction of life in Yugoslavia early in the 20th century. But grave and serious the book certainly was not. Critic John Connell wrote: 'Uproariously funny & shrewd; it is as if Sir Harold Nicolson had gone into partnership with P. G. Wodehouse'. Others in the genre of diplomatic travel literature Durrell produced were Sauve Qui Peut and Stiff Upper Lip set in some of the seamier outposts of the world. These three classics of time and place are tales of diplomatic misadventure by the British Foreign Office, accompanied by memorable and witty drawings by Nicolas Bentley. They are magnificent introductions to the countries they depict, despite the fictitious character, the deadpan, loopy Antrobus who populates all the stories.

His writings based on his diplomatic corps experiences were by no means his only travel books. There were also Prospero’s Cell: A Guide To the Landscape and Manner of the Island of Corcyra, Reflections on a Marine Venus, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, Blue Thirst, Sicilian Carousel, the Greek Islands and Caesar’s Vast Ghost. So much was Durrell a traveller that this expatriate British novelist, poet, dramatist and travel writer resisted affiliation with Britain and preferred to be considered cosmopolitan. It was suggested after he died that Durrell never had British citizenship, but in fact he was classified non-patrial in 1968 due to the amendment to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. Hence he was denied the right to enter or settle in Britain under the new laws and had to apply for a visa for each entry. This travel writer was forced by law, then, to be a permanent itinerant.

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