The Art of Travel - Alain de Botton
This is a delightful and insightful book that has obviously been written with great care. Some of the phrasing and imagery it creates is exquisite, and the ideas it conveys are quite profound.
By way of introduction, Alain de Botton points towards the vast array of books with advice on where to travel to, whilst we seldom ask why we go and how we might become more fulfilled by doing so. In asking these questions he invites us to explore much more than the nature of travel, but what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudemonia, or human flourishing.
The book, complete with many appropriate illustrations, explores the nature of travel through the eyes of critics, writers, thinkers and travellers of all sorts, all neatly correlated to the authors personal experience. The result is a delightfully well written invitation to explore our own thinking. This process is laced with opportunities for new insights. For example the discovery that when we travel we may leave everything behind, but can’t avoid being accompanied by ourselves, perhaps the very thing we most seek a break from.
I think my favourite chapter is one in which Alain explores the Provence region of France through the eyes of Vincent Van Gogh. He described how on first encountering the region he found no real charm or magic in the scenery. However having explored how Van Gogh saw and captured the region through his paintings he reveals how he was taught to see in new ways. This experience itself reveals a number of powerful insights about how we see and are able to see the world, but beyond this it revealed to me for the first time the true nature of an artist’s role in creating new ways in which to see.
I highly recommend this book. The use of language is beautiful and the insights are delicately observed and delivered with humour and obvious affection.
“A few years after Van Gogh's stay in Provence, Oscar Wilde remarked that there had been no fog in London before Whistler painted it. There had surely been fewer cypresses in Provence before Van Gogh painted them."