Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Art of Travel

The book I held back from my last book post is called The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton. I have a little more to say about it than usual, so it's getting its own post...or maybe posts. I heard about this book in another book, My Mercedes is Not for Sale, where the author describes De Botton's chapter about the exotic in travel.

Now, I am all for exotic. If I could choose to go anywhere in the world, I would jump on something like India or Morocco--somewhere completely different from what I'm used to. Our budget and circumstances, however, are better suited to more conventional destinations such as Ireland and Spain, places I'd never had the slightest inclination to visit, because they just weren't different enough! If I was going to go to the trouble of spending hours on a plane and hundreds of dollars, I wanted to go somewhere that would pack a wallop.

And then Gerry's dad returned from his own holiday in Ireland and handed Gerry a fistful of euro coins at the airport. Gerry brought it home and showed it to me, and I was fascinated. Something about seeing those coins resonated with me. I might not see camels in Ireland. I wouldn't see any spice markets at open air bazaars. But there would be differences. Little differences.

Those little differences are what we revel in on our visits to Ireland. (Photos I've shared before.) We haven't seen the Book of Kells or the Hill of Tara. But we've been to the Irish version of Home Depot! We bring back pictures of everyday things that we just don't have here. Pay and display parking? What a great idea! Supermarket trolleys (trolleys!) that you have to unhook by inserting a Euro. Not something you see much of here in the States. (And you can score a few Euros if you happen to be in a supermarket parking lot on a rainy day.)

Cars look different. Houses look different. There are parsnips, everywhere.

And while we're in the supermarket, how about the ubiquitous jamon in Spain or the vast piles of Christmas goodies on offer in Ireland?

A tiny little washing machine, a "Bring Centre" for recycling, a giant jar of Nutella, or a department store sign--we are charmed by the differences we see when we travel. So what does this have to do with the book? From chapter three:
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.
Interesting, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

That was fun!! Why are the washers so small? Is it because fat Americans have bigger clothes, lol?!


Anonymous said...

We have pay and display parking machines here in Berkeley, CA. They are nothing special to me. But once in NYC I ate at an automat, and the locals were amused at how excited I was. There are fun new things to find even if you just travel within your own country. :)

Elizabeth said...

Pay and Display parking and having to use a £1.00 coin for a shopping trolley are real PITA's when it's the norm - you've always got to have the right change on you. That washing machine looks a normal size to me - are washing machines in the US a lot bigger? And, sadly, I suspect our clothes are just as big as American ones!!

Whenever I've been to the US I love to eat in a 'typical' American diner - makes me feel like an extra in a movie!

Diana said...

Pay and Display parking has made its way to Beantown, also. And one of the things I love to do when I travel is to go to a supermarket. It's like a peek into the every day lives of that country's people.

Darling Petunia said...

Mags, glad you liked it! We have so many pictures like this, it was fun to share them!

Anonymous and Diana: I suspected Pay and Display probably existed somewhere in the US. I really like it!

Diana: We LOVE visiting supermarkets. That's where I get most of my souvenirs!

Elizabeth: What about one of those token keychains for the shopping trolleys?

Mags and Elizabeth: This was a particularly small washing machine, even for Europe!

Laura said...

Haha, I love that book and I love your phrase "there are parsnips, everywhere"! I'm from the UK and I never knew pay-and-display parking was less than universal ;-)

Davis said...

Travel is fun, i love to Travel during Wedding times

Bitten by the travel bug!