I am as much of a writer at night as Dracula is a hungry vampire in the day. It’s 20:37 on a Wednesday evening and I haven’t written a word for this Sunday’s post. I have been Production Managing for most of the week from 07:00, which is usually the pinnacle of my writing window where I sit alone before the sun comes up, drink my first flat white and type away in the cafe. Unless i’m inebriated cutting shapes on the dance floor, evenings are not my forte, and this week it’s the only time I seem to have to write my blog post.
Luckily, however, this week I managed to finish Alain De Botton’s book The Art of Travel, and it was so compelling I couldn’t put it down! It’s offered a whole new perspective on experiencing travel and so I have lots to write about. (I warn you, though, that what you’re about to read might shine a light on my ADD night-time brain and you might just think “why are we friends”).
De Botton’s views on travel are so beautifully articulated in this book that it forced me to think about how I can experience my upcoming travels through Spain, France and Portugal in a way that I’ve never thought about before.
These thoughts have preoccupied my mind so much that I had a nightmare the other night where I was back in New Zealand after the wedding which had happened as if I had blinked, and I couldn’t remember any of it and I hadn’t put any of my new ways of experiencing travel into practice. It was terrifying. (Disclaimer: I’m kidding – what a wonderfully middle-class dream to have! If only everyones nightmares were so floral).
The first thing De Botton has taught me about experiencing travel stemmed from one of his quotes:
“the pleasures we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”
He begins this book by telling us that he saw a brochure of Barbados with its white sands
and turquoise seas set behind palm trees and a hammock, and he envisaged a version of himself that’s relaxed, happier, free from domestic trivialities, and financial anxieties, as he sunbathes in the white sand and swims in the clear blue sea, but, he discovers that:
“I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island…I was to discover an unexpected continuity between the melancholic self I had been at home and the person I was to be on the island.”
So I thought to myself, thanks to De Botton’s lesson, I actually want to consciously bring the self that I am today with me to Spain, and not imagine that Chloe on holiday is going to be an improved, more relaxed, more romantic, free from life’s anxieties, version who strolls the streets like Vicky or Christina in Barcelona through the lens of a romantic filter.
I did realise, however, that I was imagining a Chloe in Spain who was more fashionable, thinner, photogenic, tanned, and more or less everything else that falls under the category of ‘shallow’.
I ordered a few things from New Look during this short phase of believing future Chloe in Spain was more fashionable. I ordered a bodice that read “MERCI” across the chest in a size that, it turns out, would fit a 5″3 14 year old with a set of boobs bigger than mine.
I ordered some earrings that I thought were replicas of Yves Saint Laurent but in fact said LOVE in a shade of chav gold, and some shoes that I believed would fit me because I was that size when I lived in England 4 years ago.
It’s safe to say, this is a fine example of how imagining holiday Chloe as a better version of present Chloe is destined for failure and disappointment, because my fashion sense is clearly on pause in the 90s.
So I returned it all. How I laughed at the notion of Chloe in Barcelona being fashionable and sexier with wavy, salt dried, post-beach hair (which is impossible as I don’t swim in the petrifying, life-threatening vast mass of water that is the sea), with a deep bronze tan (that I won’t have because we land in Barcelona from a New Zealand Winter and we’re only in Barcelona for 2 days).
The second thing De Botton taught me about travel was how to capture the moment, because we often encounter sublime beauty while traveling, and we have, as De Botton points out,
“the desire to hold on to it: to possess it and give it weight in our lives…there is only one way to possess beauty properly and that is through understanding it, through making yourselves conscious of the factors that are responsible for it.”
So, with this in mind, I decided I needed to understand the whole of Spain, as I will then fully capture its beauty. Before I try and understand the towns, cities, and everything inside of them, I thought Spanish history was an obvious place to start and bought a book on Franco and how he impacted Spanish Culture from 1938 onwards. So far, this book has affirmed it’s absolutely not ok to mention Franco’s name in Spain.
A discussion on how he built dams to provide water for the majority will not comfort the descendants of the then minority who were living in the villages he submerged in water to make way for his dams. It has made me more mindful knowing, too, that near where we stay in Ronda there is a mass grave of victims to Franco’s regime.
I will hopefully take from this book, and the other 2 books I have bought about Spain, a greater understanding of its heritage, buildings, heroes, villains, artistic marvels and everything and everyone else in between, as it really does accentuate it’s beauty. It’s a big task to take on with 12 days to go, though. Fun nonetheless!
Another method for possessing the beauty of what you find on your travels is to sketch. According to John Ruskin, leading art critic of the 19th Century,
“drawing could teach us to see: to notice rather than to look. In the process of re-creating with our own hand what lies before our eyes, we seem naturally to move from a position of observing beauty in a loose way to one where we acquire a deep understanding of its constituent parts and hence more secure memories of it.”
So, as De Botton says,
“Drawing an object, however badly, swiftly takes us from a woolly sense of what it looks like to a precise awareness of its component parts and particularities…on the basis of this conscious awareness, more solid memories can be founded”.
Therefore, in preparation for my month long adventure, I have my plain paged Moleskin journal packed away in my travel bag to achieve ultimate mindfulness.
What I create will probably be, as my friend Jamie put it, “A Big Book of Shit” (if he were to be the sketcher, not me).
I plan on sketching the crap out of Portugal.