I actually do like travel writing; not travel so much, but travel writing is an excellent way to experience the wonders of the world without the travails of travel. Now pay attention here, this is important: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, travel originally meant “bodily or mental labor or toil, especially of a painful or oppressive nature; exertion; trouble, hardship, suffering.” Ain’t it the truth. If it’s in the OED, it’s the truth.
Jessica Mitford, writing in The American Way of Birth, also notes that travail referred to the pain of child birth. Let me tell you, although I have not an iota of moral or physical authority to make the claim, schlepping 50+ pounds of luggage around gargantuan airports may be the closest that I’ll come to the travails of childbirth.
So, travel and travail. Linked with hoops of steel. How much easier to sit in one’s own personal space and experience the world by reading about it. And that brings me to one of my favorite travel writers, Pico Iyer, the British born, Indian essayist best known, at least to me, as a travel writer in such books as Falling Off the Map, The Global Soul, The Open Road, and my favorite, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. What a wonderful concept: adventures in going nowhere. That’s where I want to go next. I am sure it would be my favorite destination. Reached without passports, boarding passes, security checks, schlepping luggage. Erehwon, land of my dreams.
It’s not a new idea, of course. The 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, suggested that “All the unhappiness of men arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.” Believe me, Gentle Reader, I am practiced in the art of “sitting quietly in my chamber.” Nobody does it better than I, I make bold to claim.
So, well I will concede that Dennis Ryan and I had a grand time during our week in Cambridge, I am ready to be home in my quiet chamber reflecting on Pico Iyer’s admonition that, in this frenzied world, sometimes we need to sit still long enough to find out what moves us the most.