De Botton’s views in The Art of Travel are so beautifully articulated that it forced me to think about how I experience travel. I’m soon to be venturing through Spain, France and Portugal and I’m already thinking about it in a way like never before.
These thoughts preoccupied my mind to the extent that I had a nightmare that I’d returned to New Zealand, the wedding was over, and I couldn’t remember any of it. I hadn’t put any of my new ways of experiencing travel into practice. It was terrifying.
The first thing De Botton teaches about experiencing travel is that,
“the pleasures we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”
De Botton 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 he,
“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.”
I 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.
Future 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 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 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 to learn of his impact on Spanish Cultures. So far, this book has affirmed it’s absolutely not ok to mention Franco’s name in Spain.
I will hopefully take from this book, and the other two 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.
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”.
I plan on sketching the crap out of Portugal.