July 21, 2014

Alden Jones on going back to the places that obsess you

“Here’s what I think: you need to leave and then go back to the places that obsess you. If you want the delight of the unfamiliar you leave yourself enough time between trips to activate the added kick of nostalgia when you return. That is what it means to be a traveler: the desire to immerse yourself, for the ants and the flowers and the sticky heat and the language to become “normal” — but always, in the end, to go home, always with the knowledge (or hope) that the future holds another journey like this.”
–Alden Jones, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia (2013)

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July 14, 2014

Travel writing has a way of being perishable

“Travel writing is perishable. I find that when I’m reading a book of bygone travels I become irritated with curiosity about what the place is like today — can you still swim in the river, as the writer did? Can you still eat the fish? Are the houses still roofed with thatch? This problem has to do not only with travel writing but all nonfiction. If you look in the Classics or Literature section of any bookstore you’ll see mainly works of fiction. Nonfiction is about the physical world, and over time the physical world tends to disappear.”
–Ian Frazier, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)

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July 7, 2014

Growing up involves exploring what makes us feel alive

“A big part of growing up, for everyone, involves exploring what it is that makes us feel not only alive and present, but also competent and respected. With luck, we find passions that are legal and worthwhile, and may be spun upward into hobbies and vocations, rather than downward into self-destruction. These don’t have to center on an adrenalin-filled physical experience. Research by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, of Claremont Graduate University in California, has shown that gardeners, cooks and heart surgeons can experience rapture — the pleasure of being rapt — of the same kind. So can artists and writers. So can gamers, and those who create the digital worlds they inhabit. Happily, mortal fear turns out not to be necessary — though you can see how it helps. That cherished quality of focus and vitality can come from pushing yourself towards the subtler limits of skill, as well as away from danger.”
–Guy Claxton, Get Your Kicks, Aeon, 11/08/2013

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June 23, 2014

Paul Theroux on the “romantic voyeurism” of the traveler

“The traveler is the greediest kind of romantic voyeur, and in some well-hidden part of the traveler’s personality is an unpickable knot of vanity, presumption and mythomania bordering on the pathological. This is why a traveler’s worst nightmare is not the secret police or the witch doctors or malaria, but rather the prospect of meeting another traveler.”
–Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (2008)

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June 16, 2014

Sense of place is tied to the people who live there

“To me, a sense of place is nothing more than a sense of people. Whether a landscape is bleak or beautiful, it doesn’t mean anything to me until a person walks into it, and then what interests me is how the person behaves in that place.”
–Mark Salzman, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)

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June 9, 2014

Human history is more complex than academic Orientalism suggests

“To see the travel writing of 19th and 20th century Europeans as uniquely prejudiced and uniquely politicized, exclusively open to formulating “discourses of difference” or contributing in some unique way to the politics of colonial expansion, seems to be to be historically naïve and clearly factually wrong: Abdul Latif Shustari and Fanny Parkes were direct contemporaries traveling through India at the same time, but of the two it was Fanny who was far more engaged in an open to India; Shustari in contrast was unable to shed centuries of highly cultured Persian hauteur towards and India he regarded as culturally and civilizationally inferior — an attitude that was again tinctured with centuries of conquest, migration and colonial history. Human history is more complex, and human prejudices more varied than many of the academic acolytes of Orientalism would allow.”
–William Dalrymple, in Justin D. Edwards and Rune Graulund’s Postcolonial Travel Writing: Critical Explorations (2011)

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June 2, 2014

Every tourist at some level denies being a tourist

“The structure of the tourist experience involves a paradoxical relation at once to the cultural and ontological Other and to others of the same (tourist) culture. It is tourism itself that destroys (in the very process by which it constructs) the authenticity of the tourist object: and every tourist thus at some level denies belonging to the class of tourists. Hence a certain fantasized dissociation from the others, from the rituals of tourism, is built into almost every discourse and almost every practice of tourism. This is the phenomenon of touristic shame, a ‘rhetoric of moral superiority,’ which accompanies both the most snobbish and the most politically radical critiques of tourism.”
–J. Frow “Tourism and the semantics of nostalgia” (1991)

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May 26, 2014

The best travel stories are connected to the people one meets along the way

Beside travel, another source of reportage is other people, those encountered on the road, and those we travel to meet in order to get them to convey their knowledge, tales and opinions to us. Here Herodotus turns out to be the master extraordinaire. Judging by what he writes, whom he meets and the way he talks to them, Herodotus comes across as a man open and full of good will toward others, making contact with strangers easily, curious about the world, investigative and hungry for knowledge. We can imagine the way he acted, talked, asked and listened. His attitude and bearing show what is essentially important to a reporter: respect for another man, his dignity and worth. He listens carefully to his heartbeat and the way thoughts cross his mind.
–Ryszard Kapuscinski, “Herodotus and the Art of Noticing,” Lettre Ulysses Award Keynote Speech, October 4, 2003

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May 19, 2014

There are infinite ways to experience a single place

“By talking our city’s physical geography and overlaying it with psychogeography — a technique of mapping the psychic and emotional flows of a city instead of its rational street grids — we become more sensitive to our surroundings. [As Guy Debord says in his “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography”: “The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance that is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the terrain); the appealing or repelling character of certain places.” Geography, then — that most concrete of propositions, to which we are bound — is reconfigurable and customizable through the imagination. Psychogeography can take many forms: One could create an alternate map of a city according to specific emotions, for example, mapping Paris not by arrondissement but by every place you’ve shed a tear. Or you could create a psychogeographic map of a city’s language by making a derive from point A to point B, writing down every word your eyes encounter on buildings, signage, parking meters, flyers and so forth. You’d end up with a trove of rich language, myriad in its tones and directives, comprised of peripheral words you’d most likely never paid attention to, such as the fine print on a parking meter.”
–Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing (2011)

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May 12, 2014

Kindness and respect can open doors on the road

“I think when you show genuine curiosity, and when you’re confident enough to walk alone with a smile on your face, people think, he really wants to be here. And you ask a question, and all of a sudden you’re getting invited in for tea and food. If you’re polite and show due respect, I think people get it. When you’re being disingenuous, they get that, too. But when you’re being genuinely kind, it’s so disarming.”
–Henry Rollins, “Punk Rock World Traveler,” World Hum, November 2, 2011

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