| New Delhi |
Updated: March 29, 2020 5:59:12 PM
IF OUR lives are dominated by the pursuit of happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal much of the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardor and paradoxes – hence our travels. They express, however inarticularly, a position on what life could be, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival, “writes Alain De Botton in The Art of Travel (2002).
Yet while a besieged world tries to overcome a pandemic, locked up at home in a city in a state of blockade, if there is something one is certain of, it is that traveling will never be the same again. Now, with families scattered on all continents, parents who age alone in cities where they can’t be reached at will, the distance they took for granted seems to yawn. How do you learn to live with something you have no control over? Or, to reconcile with a world that turns uncontrollably in unknown and uncertain territory?
“We care about things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it is their fragility that adds sweetness to their beauty “, writes Pico Iyer, in Autumn Light: SeasonofFireandFarewells (2019), a meditation on the reassuring comfort of family routines and how death reminds us not to take anything for granted.” The Autumn asks the question we all have to live with: how to cling to the things we love even if we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, but find light with that truth “, he continues. Sometimes the answer it can be where we rarely choose to look. Far from the exotic and in the midst of the dispersion of our everyday life, in the depths of our homes. It is a space in which we return daily to recover but which, given the frenetic pace of our life , is the only place where we spend less time.
Over the past few weeks, people, despite the darkness and panic, have observed the stillness of their days, recorded their pleasure in recording the calls of birds that seem suddenly stronger, more noticeable in cities that are suffocated from pollution for most of the year. The house is at the center of who we are, be it the cities with which we transport our migrant souls or the spaces we currently live in, which we model to best represent what we are as a people. For the middle class, often relying exclusively on the services of others to make their homes work, this crisis and the necessary confinement, could perhaps allow a moment of introspection, on how much we depend on the kindness of those who are less fortunate than us, and, to which we are often not grateful enough.
In his At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010), writes Bill Bryson, “… it came to my mind, with the strength of a thought
experienced at 360 degrees, this is what history is mostly: masses of people doing ordinary things. Even Einste in the will
he spent most of his life thinking about his holidays or his new hammock or how delicate the young lady’s ankle was getting off the tram across the street. These are the things that fill our lives and our thoughts, yet we treat them as accidental and hardly worthy of serious consideration. “
DeBottonspeaks by XavierdeMaistre, a Frenchman, who introduced a travel mode in 1790, which was never exalted
in history – “room-travel” – in The Art of Travel. Maistre called his story, Journey Around My Bedroom, recommending it, not as a means of underestimating the heroism of those men who had traveled to the unknown, but for those who were, perhaps,
lacking the means to undertake such a journey. “Millions of people who never dared to travel before me, others who did
I have not been able to travel and even more those who had not even thought of traveling will now be able to follow my example, ”Botton quotes Maistre in the book.
A day today equivalent to this would, perhaps, be something that all the great travel writers claim – awareness – or the ability to focus completely on the present and, therefore, to be able to let go of our arrogance and deliberate on the joys that such a slowdown it generates, despite the inconveniences that can be encountered along the way. DeBotton calls this ability to approach a place with humility, the “itinerant mentality”; it is the potential to “be alive to the layers of history below the present”, remembering it for posterity, because tomorrow is a new country.
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