Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Art of Travel

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. Penguin books. 2002. 

This review was written on December 30th 2011 

The nine chapters are made up of a pot-pourri of essays about travel, observation and the appreciation of beauty. Chapter 1 On Anticipation starts with a holiday from home;  later chapters deal with business trips, scientific exploration and finally with the appreciation of one’s own bedroom. It was bought by Louise on an impulse about possible holiday reading.

Holidays - Irish style.
The author provides insights into why we travel and into the problems and the impulses that induce people to travel rather than remaining at home. To the holiday seekers it provides an answer to the question ‘’ How did you enjoy your holiday?’’, the answer being not infrequently ‘’ It was fine but I was glad to get home’’. 

Ahhh...that's more like it
Chapter one is about the author’s holiday in Bermuda. He makes the point that the boredom which drives us to need a holiday is not necessarily avoided with our change of scene. There is a compulsion about a regular need to satisfy our challenging expectations in being elsewhere. During his stay with his accompanying person in Bermuda, a holiday he chose after seeing an alluring photo of a dazzling beach, some palm trees leaning in the breeze and an azure sea, he found that interpersonal domestic hazards are not unusual even during such idyllic times away. After a silly squabble the second day out, they did not speak for the rest of the day. He spent his time alone on the beach and in general felt miserable.

The Beach - China Style
Other chapters deal with his belief, or rather hope, that we can find many features to occupy our minds whether we are following the tourist guide to the parks and churches of Madrid or standing alone in the Sinai Desert with apparently nothing to see except limitless expanse of sand. His account of his visit to the Sinai was full of observations and impressions sufficient to provide a separate chapter. It was clearly more exciting than wandering around Madrid.

Chapter 4 entitled On Curiosity provides an account of the German, Alexander von Humboldt, and his extraordinary explorations and scientific discoveries during the five years starting 1799 in South America. This chapter is advanced to emphasise how our observations of strange places can provide us with an unlimited amount of interest and information as in the apparently absorbing desert.

The book makes light reading suitable for going on a holiday, although the author’s last chapter about the many fascinating things to be found in your own bedroom might tempt you to stay at home!

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