Posted by: Dr Churchill | August 27, 2014

Sublime Traveler

WTO will be renamed WORLD TRAVEL ORGANIZATION if I can help it…

Because travel is now the world’s biggest industry — by far according to the World Trade Organisation.

It beats arms and pharmaceuticals both in turnover and in numbers of people employed.

The only thing bigger is Sovereign Debt… but that is another travel experience.

And despite the post 9-11 dip, forecasts for the travel sector are measured not in billions of dollars but in trillions.

Apparently, Man’s collective endeavours – our god-like technology, our money, our precious time – seem more and more directed at satisfying an oddly unnecessary urge: to be somewhere else.

And we all do it, today but we do it amazingly bad. We travel like consuming Fast Food. With a Mc Donalds and a Starbucks inside the forbidden city of the Beijing Emperor’s palace quarters — I give up. Truly there is no sacred place anymore.

Or so they would have you think.

Because as the scope of our travel widens and we become more efficient at getting there, and as the material standards of hotels and resorts improve, a predictable paradox emerges: the experience itself is tinged with failure and disappointment.

The thing with travel is that we do not do it well, since we are sadly ignorant of the subtleties of travel. The travel industry is quick to tell us where to go and take our payment for the how and the where to stay and what to do once there… but it always fails to help us consider the Why.

Why?

We don’t know.

And we make fools of ourselves like the slapper giving a round of blow jobs to a bunch of strangers in Magaluf, for more days of travel holidays. And much like her, we receive just a stupid drink instead…

And that’s nothing compared to the tens of thousands that die on their way to Meccah and Medina, for the Haj pilgrimage each and every year. And they die in this incredible human stampede because all these many millions of people have to go there all at the same time. Talk about birds of a feather flocking together…

Or what about the downtrodden going to the Lourdes by the Millions to see the black Madonna, all at the same Holiday weekend in the midst of Summer and all hoping to touch the wood and receive miracles on command. All at the same time.

Man, what a cash machine… Cachingggg…

Human Hopelessness is something that religions take very serious advantage of. And they do it massively for profit just like the Magaluf bar owners do, but why should you fall prey to that?

This I do not understand…

Maybe it’s just a different form of the Magaluf fluffer enjoying the Art of travel in the massive company of strangers herded together for a religious moment of a Good God Time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aLlXnCJDCw#t=17

So where do we turn for advise on How to Travel Right and how to do it right and basically the big “Why” do we travel?

Maybe we should seek out and ask the old and the very dead travelers of yore because they surely knew the Why…

Now let’s go way back and see the Stone Age folk who were literally built for journeying farther and with a lot more risk than even the most active and adventurous extreme travelers of today. Stone Age groups’ leg bones, spears reflect remarkably long treks.

Methinks, the Stone Age could just as easily be called the Roaming Age…
These early travelers were great but they didn’t leave behind any significant written record.

As the Graeco-Roman world expanded, so did travel, and consequently so grew the conceptual thought. By the late sixth-century, Ionian travelers developed new ideas about the shape of the world and the very nature of humanity. Hecataeus of Miletus, an experienced traveler, produced a geographical narrative called the Ges Periodos (“tour of the world”) that summed up his extensive journeys across much of the known world of his day.

So I communicate frequently — when bored or planning a trip, with someone who left behind a whole lot of diaries and travel notes from his followers and himself and who is closer to disposition to me. Ibn Batuta… the itinerant traveler par excellence.

Go Ahead and meditate upon his travels, and you’ll see that what most of us world weary super travelers do, is still tourism compared to his epic journeys.

And then we’ve got Tamim Ibn Bahr who reminds us to jump across puddles to get wherever we want to go and even if we get wet — it’s fun to be a kid again. But he was a prince traveler  in his time. Imagine that. A leader with plenty of humour.

The venerable Hwi Chao traveled from China to India and almost all of the SE Asia and the social continent of his day. And he did so as a full scientific expedition. He initially traveled to India and lived there for several years and visited various Buddhist kingdoms in India, Persia and Afghanistan. On the returning journey, traveled to Kashmir, Kabul, passed the Pamirs and entered Xinjiang from Tashkurgan, then skirted around the Taklamakan desert from the northern towns, Kucha, Turfan and Hami. His account Wang wou t’ien tchou kquo tch’ouan or The Record to Five Indian Kingdoms provided valuable information on the Islamic and Buddhist distribution among the Central Asian kingdoms during the 8th century. His book had been lost since Tang dynasty until an incomplete copy (14 pages, ~6000 words) was miraculously discovered by the French explorer, Paul Pelliot at Dunhuang cave in 1908.

An Amazing story…

So am now starting to be doing all my travels as journeys. Real journeys with the pre-requisite advance Diplomacy to precede the travel plans I have. But that of course takes time, administrative assistance, and huge lead ways. But that’s just fine with me. It costs a whole lot more too…
And yet it is surprisingly worth it.

So my advise to you is to start communicating with all these dead travelers and dead painters and dead poets, the aesthetes and the Romantics, and you’ll find your way to the “East” with Ease.

Read the old travelers, because from King Mu Wang one of the earliest Silk Road travellers, you’ll find Samarkand easier today.

From reading Pausanias’ the Periegesis of Hellas, we experience classic Democracy and it’s shortcomings better than reading 19th century history, and from Byron’s Childe Harold, we get the sense of Justice and Adventurism, unparalleled to this day. Reading Chateaubriand, and following his travels, we get the whole synopsis of the ancient world in light of the Era of Enlightenment and the Renaissance along with all variances of contemporary political systems, politics, and revolutionary splendour and bloody mayhem. Undecided about where his loyalties lay and always shifting his allegiances, Chateaubriand gifted us this inalienable right — to change our mind. He also given us great insights in all knowledge from Liberty to Democracy and comparative Architecture and stylism, and along with whatever we can glean from Lafayette, we get the foreign service experience fighting for Liberty and Democracy wherever we are.

 

So head for the hill countries and get stoked with the great writers of old because that is what we ought to know when traveling. Start traveling with intelligent company.
And you can gather from Flaubert’s horror of staying at home and his yearning for the freedom of the East, so you can understand more of your own traveller’s motive. From that great post-Enlightenment traveller Alexander von Humboldt, with his exhaustive mapping, taxonomy and pioneer botany, we can learn very little because all that stuff has been done now.
And from Alexander the Great we learn that you don’t need to conquer a nation and slaughter it’s people in order to know their daughters in an intimate fashion. If only he had discovered Magaluf… or Malia, or Hersonisos, he would never have ventured to Persia.
We get all that by reading while traveling or preparing to travel. Bit by bit, wisdom of the past drips into our skull and we get the essence of travel but even simply reading Wordsworth on a rainy night in London can certainly improve our appreciation of every landscape.

And if you are inclined on massively damaging religious tourism amongst the masses — maybe God’s answer to Job could also be the traveller’s manifesto – “the joy of feeling small in a big world.”

Dead painters can also help us to see things differently, when we travel: Van Gogh helps us see chrysanthemums always like the sun. His sunshine creeps into my gray bedroom and his cypress trees and Provence are always green in my living room. Ruskin helps me see everything anew. And the pre-Raphaelites give me light and beauty when my Life is bereft.

Reading the iconic example of ancient travel through the adventures of Odysseus in the Odyssey is of course, travel writing. And whether or not we consider Homer to have been an original composer, or an early rapper, or even an oral poet — his hero, Odysseus narrates his own “Hero Journey” as small travel tales related to his princely and kingly hosts, always wooing them with his travails. And turning them on to travel. Isn’t that what the best travel writers do? Even the Phaeacians were embedded in the story, which looks back on ten or twenty long years of wandering through the Eastern mediterranean Sea. As travel writing and travel rioting, Odyssey surely meets all the usual criteria. It is in the first person, it recounts travels that the speaker has experienced himself, and includes digressions about nations, places, and people, most notably about the weird people like the Cyclopes and the unusual places like the Goat Island. For Travel Writing the ambiguous figure of Odysseus — sexy, smart, adventurous, powerful, unreliable, and with an abundant streak of cunning for survival — is perhaps the archetype for the constant traveler.

Though popularly considered adventuresome, in the Odyssey — Odysseus himself, repeatedly insists that he simply wants to return to hearth and home. And also to his errant wife and son. Yet he also displays curiosity when he famously listens to the song of the Sirens while bound to the mast, or when in Hades he eagerly engages with heroic souls and shades of never beings. The opening lines of the poem boast that Odysseus learned of different cultures, and Alcinous,the Phaeacian king, essentially asks Odysseus for a travel tale: “Come,tell me the following and relate it precisely: where you have wandered, and to what lands of men you have traveled, the people themselves and their inhabited cities, how many were rough, wild, and unjust, and who were hospitable and mindful of the gods”

The supernatural quality of the wanderings may not seem suited for Trade and war, the two major motivations for travel, but these and the Social customs are certainly ever present in the Odyssey. And although Ulysses wistful contemplation contrasts sharply with Odysseus’ rueful, and literally nostalgic, and rather dramatic Greek remark that “there is nothing worse than wandering for mortals” Even he the Great Wanderer, got the Blues and wished for a safe harbour…

And if we all do as Homer says and take the time with Ulysses to sail the Aegean Sea in well over twenty years — by drawing fantastic tales and spinning yarn, and painting pictures that nobody will forget — even if we’re not very good, we’ll master the art of Sailing and Traveling rather well.

Xenophon’s “Anavassis” the story of Greek mercenaries cut off far inland within the Persian Empire having fought on the losing side of Cyrus the Great, are a great example of Travel story. Same as Caesar’s Gallic Wars writings, that might also qualify as travel literature with some sections, like the incursion into Britain, constituting a journey travel log still relevant for today’s social custom in Britain with the exception of the tea time. That is not to say that Caesar engaged in the modern genre of “travel writing”, a first-person, subjective description of a travel experience. Caesar famously describes his own actions in the third person. Very similar to Xenophon who appears only as a character in his narrative.

Fort me, travel may provide the essential plot of the hero quest, but this is usually told by “some one else” or by the traveler writing in the third person. To refer to one’s self as an outside observer is tellingly the Art of Loss of Attachment. And this is accomplished when one is able to describe themselves as an outside observer.

Talk about learning to detach.

And some people spend their whole life learning to detach through psychotherapy, and drugs, whereas a good Journey will rock you out of any and all attachments swiftly.

Travel far, is like a Zen koan. Singular benefits like Buddhist detachment and realistic humanity, are the side effects. All Good and some pain but the summation is positive. So travel for travels sake.

But for God’s sake please do not take photos. Not one photo. Nothing. Zip. Not even the I-phone photos. If you make the mistake to have taken photos in your journeys, I have one thing to tell you: Delete delete delete. Delete it all and by the love of Jove please avoid selfies like the plague. Or better avoid all digital image makers and takers, like the Ebola virus outbreak. Don’t even be in the company of people who want to take photos. And need I add anything about group photos?

Stop offending people by whipping out and using the liquid disinfectant, so many of you carry. Please throw that shit away. Stop thinking that others are dirty germ carrying subhumans. People are intelligent and when they see you doing this — they immediately understand that you are suffering from the malady born of the germs of racism and worse.

Liberate yourself from this mindset of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The world is a far cleaner and safer place than you would know by sitting in your armchair watching television. Fear alone will kill you.

Nobody ever died from adventure itself but billions have died fearful and wistful. You’ve got to free yourself off of that. And you can only get liberated by avoiding the tyranny of guidebooks, the dullness of great sights, and the oppression of the “must see” culture. Avoid all of our acquisitive reaction to exotic splendours, and all trite monuments. Avoid the reflexive “must experience” thrill seekers too. Avoid all that crap because all of these dead experiences are part of the traveller’s affliction. It’s a veritable sickness.

If in Greece don’t go see the Acropolis. At least not the first time. But do go see the people’s ghettos. Go see the non existent Social net. Go mingle with the folks living in the city’s refugee areas. And only then go see the Acropolis because by then You are ready to understand it… as an Innovation of a time bygone. Nothing else…

If you are in Egypt please avoid the Pyramids and their camel drivers, but do visit Heliopolis and the local Mc Donalds. Eating crap and drinking corn syrup while looking at the pyramids from afar, puts a certain perspective to the life of the Pharaohs or the rule of today’s Sisi. Avoid the Egyptian Museum but do visit the Jamalek. Go to the tribal areas and have tea with the camel herders. Stick clear off the tourist bazaar traps but go to the Southern Roman ruins that nobody ever visits. Swim in the Nile upstream. But keep a look out for crocodiles…

Just kidding.

If you are in Beijing please avoid the forbidden city or going to Tanjin to see the Great wall of China. But certainly go and visit the old bathhouses of old Peking and thrive in their quiet happiness.

Experience things by always trying to notice the little things, trying to remain curious, and remaining aware of the change of the light and day turning to night. That’s how you experience the culture of the people first hand.

Do this because nature and the sublime can help correct our psychological imbalances, always learning, always growing, always evolving — when we are traveling. And curiously enough the others — the people of a foreign country — can help us see ourselves and the world in a better light. Our racism, xenophobia, ignorance, stupidity, religion, nationality, and our own innate ability to draw quick judgements, and drive hastily conclusions — it all goes out the window.

That’s the sublime traveler.

And through Travel, we change. We become a better vintage. Much like wine. We mature well without turning to vinegar. We become like old master paintings.  It is impressive, when we really observe people and not buildings — how much we learn. When we eat with locals, and sleep with locals, avoiding hotels as best we can, that is when we thrive.

Do this and you’ll realize that our “sharing” is in itself the understanding. Do this and the work of Civilization will no doubt become clear to you and you alone. Then you’ll understand that this is masterful travel.

Today Provence looks a little grey and raining, so rather than spending time indoors with a book, I joined a group of strangers in a café to practice my language skills and share their Life together. You know it goes both ways because what you receive is what you give, and vice versa.

Give me five minutes of a man’s life over all the books in the world, said Borges – a lesson as relevant for travellers today, as for pallid bookworms, and unrepentant Magalufians.

Of course a dispassionate attitude to travel, is required in order to accomplish all this. And this difficult for people to understand let alone practice, because their problem lies in the diversity of experiences. We all travel for different reasons. For me it’s always for work, work, work, and sometimes for relaxation, for more work, occasionally for adventure, rarely for self-fulfilment, and almost always for knowledge.

For all of us Travel is usually the draw of what we find exotic abroad because it may be what we hunger for and what we lust after in vain, at home… Soft pleasures that we can’t fulfill at home are de rigueur the very pleasures we seek and receive in our travels. We derive pleasure and pain from our journeys, all in strictly equal measure.

This perhaps is dependent more on the mindset of equanimity, with which we travel than on the destination we travel to, but it holds true. The averages are set. Equal parts pleasure and pain make for a good travel. When you are out of balance your travels suck.

Either way you slice it and even if you are a serious hedonist, still, please avoid Majorca, Minorca, Myconos, and all the Cretan and Cypriot mass market holiday spots, because they will make you dull. Or turn you into a Magalufian…

Don’t go to St Barts, or the Barbados, because they suck. Just like all the Virgin islands do. They are no longer Virgins there any more than there are in Santo Domingo. Avoid all the sex holiday and the religious holiday destinations a well as the alcohol frenzied resorts or the posh enclaves. It’s a simple rule of thumb that will keep you honest to goodness a TRAVELER. Stick to lesser destinations. Avoid Switzerland altogether and drive by Monaco in a hurry as if chased by the police, which is sure to chase you if you do above 90 mph on the winding roads off the Le Mans circuit time. Escape the South of France altogether in the Summer head for the hills and the norwest rain coast…

It’s a big world out there and you can find your interesting places. Places just for you. So please go to places nobody has spoken to you about. Don’t read travel magazines they will only make you feel stupid. Do not follow wealthy travel shows, they will make you jealous and avoid the San Francisco crowd doing Burning Man and then going off to Bali for Detox… they will make you stupid. Hanging out with these type of folks will only result in more followers. Soon thereafter… you’ll be following yourself. So avoid all that and never post anything travel related on Social Media. F__ Facebook and Instagram and Foursquare boasting about being the mayor of Sahara or something equally stupid. Never ever post pictures of your foreign food because you will appear like the germans posting photos of beignets made and eaten fresh in Paris and of Americans eating insects in Pnom Penh.

So don’t do that and Start with the beginnings.

Craft your very own odyssey…

Start this travel by consulting with Homer and substituting all his name places with the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. or find your own archipelago, anywhere else. It doesn’t even have to have sea. Just map the cities, towns, hamlets, and geographical toponyms like in a desert. Cross the desert and seek your own archipelago — just make sure it is not a gulag. And if it is then communicate with the Russian Alexander on how to survive it.

Or travel with Herodotus because he recognises the naivete of supposing that life’s station, distance, and time, can separate us from ourselves, and death. The common destiny of all men…
He sure as hell knows the value of Life and the valuelessness of our earthly endeavours.

All of his stolen Kings, are expert witnesses to the futility of Life and they offer us abstractions of experience. And that, surely, is History. The diplomacy built into the art of travel. This is no different from the art of war but is more sublime.

Yours,
Pano

PS:

As the rain drips down, in Provence, am far more aware of myself. And we all are more ourselves, when travelling. Yes even when we are depressingly wet, our spirits are dumb, and our bodies cold, hot, ill, exhausted, isolated, depressed, or sick far from home — we are all more fully human.

Travel cause in the end it’s some kind of a Right of Passage and a gateway to understanding that we are born alone, travel alone, and die alone.

Got this?

Travel even when suffering because without these discomforts we would never be allowed those moments of transcendence that justify our efforts.

The world is still full of wonders. Being able to fly to any country in a single day has not really brought these wonders any closer. Finding them is just as difficult, and just as rewarding, as ever.

Ah and travel alone. That is the cardinal rule. No ancient traveler took a woman with him to Bangkok and yet many contemporaries do just that.

Travel alone but in the company of strangers, by always carrying a book of poems with you.

Am travelling with Tagore these days…


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