Friday, March 24, 2017

On Traveling

Each trip (to Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Peru, Morocco, Burma, India, Russia) was thoroughly prepared for with advance reading and orderly itineraries, and then preserved—usually by his wife—in photographs of buildings and cities: pyramids, temples, mosques, streets, columns, ruins [...]

One of my father-in-law’s busy, ephemeral projects fell out of a book about Greek history. A single sheet of paper, with notes written in his careful hand. The date was 2/1/95, and the notes were preparation for a trip to Greece: “History of Ancient Greece. Jean Hatzfeld and André Aymard, N.Y., Norton 1966.” Under this heading were lines in English:
  • Greeks establish themselves during second millennium BC: Greece, Black Sea, Asia Minor, Islands, S. Italy.

  • Common language and tradition but very divided. Hellas = culture, civiliz. (“Hellenes” does not come until 800 BC. “Greek” is Roman.)

  • Geographic identity between Greece and Western Asia Minor: the sea is due to a subsidence which broke up a continent of recent formation and whose structure was very complicated—fjords, deep bays, mountains, capes, islands.
"Shelf Life: Packing up my father-in-law’s library." by James Wood

The one thing I really love about it, that maybe is a little bit weird, is I think that a lot of what is great about travel is focusing your attention on a place in a way that is not necessarily related, actually all the time, to being there.

Often times, when I’m traveling somewhere, part of why I learn so much about the place I’m going is that I’m thinking about it, I’m reading about it as I’m there watching it. A lot of it is the mustering of other kinds of attentional resources, watching movies, or documentaries, or consuming other kinds of culture from it before.

There is more than just the seeing. Sometimes people feel like the learning about a place is just going and seeing it. For me, I find that a lot of the benefits of travel are actually about things that I could have done even if I haven’t been there, but I would have never focused on in the same way, and with the same intensity, for the same period of time.
Ezra Klein on Media, Politics, and Models of the World