Art Of Travel Paperback – Apr 29 2003
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The urge to be somewhere else is one of the abiding traits of human nature; in The Art of Travel author Alain de Botton (The Consolations of Philosophy, How Proust Can Change Your Life) sets out to discover why in his own inimitably witty and discursive way.
Of course, the proximate reasons we travel are many and various: as de Botton explains. Using the travel experiences of great writers and artists, like Van Gogh, Ruskin, Huysmans and Wordsworth (in Provence, Venice, Belgium and the Lake District respectively), de Botton shows that men will travel to see beautiful buildings, or climb beautiful mountains, or make love to beautiful (and comparatively amoral) women. But, using the same artists, de Botton also shows that there is an underlying theme to all travel: the urge for difference, for the rhapsody of change. That this is an urge more often disappointed than gratified only makes the condition more poignant. One of de Botton's best chapters, on Flaubert, amplifies this tragicomic point: the French novelist spent enervating years in genteel Normandy longing for the sensual splendours of Egypt, then, when he finally reached the pyramids, he promptly lapsed into maudlin nostalgia for rainy, bourgeois Rouen.
If there are flaws in this, de Botton's latest and perhaps most readable book, they are the usual suspects: just occasionally the author comes across as a bit long-winded and self-regarding. However, this is such a pleasant and effortless read even these flaws can be taken as endearing characteristics--like the lizards who kip in the bath in your otherwise idyllic holiday villa.--Sean Thomas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
An experienced traveler and the author of five books, including How Proust Can Change Your Life, De Botton here offers nine essays concerning the art of travel. Divided into five sections "Departure," "Motives," "Landscape," "Art," and "Return" the essays start with one of the author's travel experiences, meander through artists or writers related to it, and then intertwine the two. De Botton's style is very thoughtful and dense; he considers events of the moment and relates them to his internal dialog, showing how experiences from the past affect the present. In "On Curiosity," for example, which describes a weekend in Madrid, De Botton compares his reliance on a very detailed guidebook to the numerous systematic measurements Alexander von Humboldt made during his 1799 travels in South America. De Botton compares Humboldt's insatiable desire for detail with his own ennui and wish that he were home. There are also details about a fight over dessert, the van Gogh trail in Provence, and Wordsworth's vision of nature. Although well written and interesting, this volume will have limited popular appeal. Recommended for larger public libraries. Alison Hopkins, Brantford P.L., ON
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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I remember one such party where I met an acquaintance who just got her degree in philosophy. I asked her if she was planning on her more or less mandatory world trip as well. But she just gave me a weary smile, tapped the side of her head and said: `Travelling is something you do in here'.
In a nutshell that's the question and the essence of the answer in Alain de Botton's thoughtful book on travel. Why do we bother? What do we expect, and why are we so often disappointed? And then again, why do our memories of the trip rarely reflect the disappointments? And what is the clue to not being disappointed? How do you go about really experiencing the place where you are and making it part of yourself? On all such questions De Botton has interesting and often entertaining observations to make. He shows us that the exotic is not defined by long-haul flights and palm trees, but can be found literally on your doorstep if you just know how to look. He explains why a travelling Englishman can be depressed on far away and exotic Barbados and euphoric in nearby, but in many ways equally exotic Amsterdam, or even around the corner in Hammersmith where he lives. As a Dutchman I was fascinated by his detailed analysis of a sign in the arrivals hall of Amsterdam Airport, explaining its exotic nature from a British viewpoint, and the reasons you would never ever find a sign like that in the UK, just across the Channel. De Botton is a master at finding such surprising angles to elucidate his subjects. Moreover he has considerable erudition to add, resulting in an engrossing mixture of philosophical insight, personal experience, and references to artists, writers, explorers and scientists of the past. Mostly these historical figures, Flaubert in Egypt, say, or Humboldt in South America or Van Gogh in the Provence, are exemplary `artists of travel', people who knew how to make the most of their expeditions. By taking their mindset, involving energy, patience and an eye for detail, as a template, De Botton generates some useful suggestions for the modern day traveller who no longer wants to bore himself by `scoring' obligatory highlights in the guidebook star-rating order, or who refuses to be a slave to his camera any longer. He may even give you some clues as to how to deal with that greatest travelling problem of them all, the fact that wherever you go, you always have to take yourself along.
In all, an elegant, intelligent, thought-provoking, amusing and useful little book, that nobody who takes travelling seriously should miss. Don't take it with you though - it won't last you much longer than an afternoon on the beach...
de Botton is well read, and he draws upon his knowledge of artists, philosophers, naturalists and poets, combined with first-person narrative, to illuminate his points. If you take the author's suggestions to heart, wherever you go -- across the globe or in your own neighborhood -- you will immerse yourself in your wanderings to a greater and more satisfying degree.
Having said that, I should add that this book is not just a means to an end. The journey itself is enjoyable. de Botton's writing is as engaging as his philosophy is attractive.
Personally, I found the most rewarding and instructive chapter to be, 'On eye-opening Art', using the views and paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Just as instructive, however, is the chapter, 'On Possessing Beauty', drawing on the works of the 19th century critic and writer, John Ruskin. The message from both these individuals are quite similar. One of the tasks of art, specifically painting, is to provide us, the viewer, with new perspectives in which to view the world. Vincent van Gogh's exceedingly original style and use of colour, for example, transformed, for some of us, the way we see a sunflower, a wheat field and a Cypress tree. When viewing these works of art, or any work of art, we are inspired to travel to these places where the artist created, and experience the subject of the works first-hand.
John Ruskin believed that one of our primary needs in life is beauty and its possession. He suggested that the only meaningful way to possess beauty was through understanding it: '...making ourselves conscious of the factors (psychological and visual) that are responsible for it,' (P.220) The way to attain this understanding, he suggests, is to draw and write (word paint) those things and places we come across in our travels that strike us as beautiful. A person sitting down in front of an expansive landscape, and sketching its many features, will discover aspects about the scene that would be invisible to the casual observer. When travelling, take the time to draw and write about those places and things one sees, and the experience will be much richer as a result.
~The Art of Travel~ is a helpful philosophical guide to the budding and seasoned traveller. Where other books on the subject instruct us on where to go and what to see, Alain De Botton tells us how to approach our journeys and some useful tools on achieving a much more meaningful and rewarding experience.
In his other books that I have read -- HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE and THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY -- Alain de Botton has succeeded to taking very complex material and distilling it down to a few home truths that are as enlightening as anything I have read on the subjects.
You can imagine that I was eager to see what de Botton would do with travel, about which I know something because I love it above all other things in my life. Before going on a vacation, I start a six-month reading program encompassing guidebooks, histories, biographies, and the literature of the country or countries I am visiting.
When I visited Iceland in 2001, for example, I read all the major medieval Icelandic sagas, anything I could find by Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness, histories, travel books by W. H. Auden, Lord Dufferin (19th century Governor General of Canada), and others. That would place me in the category of J. K. Huysmans's hero Des Esseintes -- with one major difference: I also took the journey and enjoyed it. I am doing the same prep now for an upcoming visit to Patagonia.
People travel for many reasons, but they sometimes forget that travel will not necessarily open their minds and hearts to anything. There is an old 1960s saying: "Wherever you go, there you are." De Botton exposes our motives and shows that, in effect, the way to enjoy travel the most is to be prepared for and open to change, to in effect change the "you" that is travelling.
Both Pascal and Dostoyevsky have noted that man is unhappy largely because he does not know how to stay quietly in his own room. If so, man will be no happier under a palm tree in Bora Bora.
There is one scene in the first chapter, "On Anticipation," that summarizes it all for me. De Botton and his travelling companion get into a spat over who gets which portion of dessert. Despite the idyllic setting in Barbados, the day is spoiled for both of them:
"There is a contrast between the vast projects we set in motion, the construction of hotels and the dredging of bays, and the basic psychological knots that undermine them, How quickly may the advantages of civilisation be wiped out by a tantrum. The intractibility of the mental knots points to the austere, wry wisdom of those ancient philosophers who walked away from prosperity and sophistication and argued, from within a barrel or a mud hut, that the key ingredients of happiness could not be material or aesthetic but most always be stubbornly psychological..."
And there we get to the rub: This is a book about how travel can make you happy -- if you're ready for it!
If nothing else, this book left me with the desire to read van Gogh's letters (which I own) and anything by Ruskin (which I don't own but will certainly start looking for on Amazon.com; I found Ruskin's observation about the twin purposes of art to be as true today as when he noted them: to make sense of pain and to fathom the sources of beauty, p. 233.)