Advice At Dark

Chapter XLV – How to TravelTraveling is a spiritual need of everybody: our life actually ends with a trip that we are so sorry we have to take in mourning and without companions, leaving the body to which our soul, which is in fact ourselves, was so much connected. We like to change the places we know, to meet other people, so that, upon returning, we love even more the familiar places and the people among which we live.It is also this desire of extra-ordinary that drives us, the tendency of escaping the daily routine; it is the passion to discover and our being is elevated only by the discoveries that we make. The nomadic man is to be found even in the most earnest, most conservative and most difficult to stir bourgeois of our times. A great French writer that our generation, headed in other directions, doesn't read anymore, Alphonse Daudet, mocked at this passion that many hide, but everybody possesses, creating Tartarin's immortal type, the peaceful chemist from the beautiful mediaeval town of Tarascon, in southern France, who dreams so much of eastern horizons and of heroic deeds, that he comes to believe he had actually lived them and tells others, who are living the same dream, how he fought with lions and thrust the dagger in their ribs, the way he does when he tears off the tow-like bowels of the shop couch with a kitchen knife. Out of this drive towards something new, even if you have to get it by much effort and by everything that turns unpleasant after you leave the so well organised domestic life, there come the summer wanderings, which the pleasure trains cannot satisfy anymore; and the oldest of your family members can't stand being left alone in the house, that being a great insult. The so-called health care is often a pretext, in these migrations, these peaceful and yet so noisy wanderings, with a tinge of ridicule. Talking about migratory peoples we imagine that there were indeed entire nations which couldn't stay in one place. Actually, it was proved long ago, how wrong the older views on migrations and the invasions that come out of them were. Neither the Germans, nor the Slavs, not even the Huns were perpetually agitated people who couldn't stand still; it was only by settling in a place that their momentary turmoil appeased. Among the so-called nomads, some were just transhumant shepherds, who, like the ordinary shepherds here, like the Romanians from Pindus, have two countries, because the food needs of the flocks; they follow the same road, at times of the year that must be scrupulously respected, knowing where the wells are: as our Baragan is for us, with its cross indicators, so is, for the shepherd of Iran, the cistern way, where, in the depth, the precious rain water is kept for men and animals. Other "nomads" are set in motion by rough economic needs, as is the search for plowed field, once they got used with plowing. Many are animated by impulses deriving from wars that were fought in their vicinity, so that they set off out of necessity. As far as our gypsies and other gypsies are concerned, up to Norway and North America, they do not stay in the same place in summer and in winter, and if one examines it carefully, one can see that at certain times, they look for some sources of income, without which they couldn't live. But the German youngster, who in the traditional "sacred spring," would set off driven by his thirst for adventure, like the Prince Charming from our tales, was not rejoicing only because of his victory over the enemy, and for picking up his prize on the battlefield, but also for whatever wonderful or strange new things the Gods laid before his eyes, perpetually on the lookout for novelties. It is, as in many other respects, deep into history that our drive towards travelling comes from, even if we don't realise it. This drive is natural, healthy and useful. We shouldn't stop it, but it is a shame if we don't cultivate it, discipline it and turn it to good account, having in mind certain targets before our periodical wanderings. Let's try to establish certain targets. At first, a remark. Many think that travelling necessarily entails a long way. If you wish to pick up what's necessary for you, you don't have to trek round the earth, to cross the seas and to mark your steps on many different and unknown places. Nearby may also be something worth collecting. A sensitive French writer from the beginning of the last century, Xavier de Maistre, wrote only a pleasant and very spiritual Travel Round His Room. How many things we do have to discover between the four walls of our apartment: things we never took into account, things we were once attached to, but which we have got used not to notice, not to mention the great human view, always very interesting, causing happiness, amusement and pity, which passes by our windows, even the smallest hut being thus witness to the most brilliant processions! And a few decades before this Parisian, what could an Englishman from London, [Laurence] Sterne, come up with, due to his talent of a psychologist and humorist, out of a short trip across the Channel, in his Sentimental Journey to France [and Italy]! Paying attention to every moment and to every little thing, to every man, to every circumstance. Attention should never diminish. It is true that this requires a strain, which may weaken by so much waste of energy, but the reward is so big, that by itself is invigorating. Keep your eyes open! In no other circumstance is this recommendation more useful than when you travel. Even the smallest thing that is not familiar can be useful. Namely, besides its intrinsic value, for another reason. In a place, whatever that place may be, everything is connected, making up one single unit. You cannot understand that unit properly, unless you look in many directions, although at first sight they might not seem connected at all. You are, for instance, at Venice and the great Venetian painting school of Tiziano, Tintoretto and Veronese deeply arouses your interest. However, to understand it fully, you must study nowadays Venetian reality. You see elements of the admired paintings, which came out of the same landscape and of the touch with similar people, contemplating the beautiful sunsets above the lagoons, watching the play of darkness on the canals, stopping for a moment on the large shadows which fall over the facades of the palaces. And equally interesting is today's clerk or merchant or artisan, whose face, look and gait betray something of the former patricians, the descendents of whom they are, whether they know it or not; equally interesting is the last old bagger, who polishes with his broken shoes the stone tread by so many triumphant doges. You see, thus, the importance of the link with the past. So, when you travel, it's not enough to look at what comes up or passes before your eyes. You don't need to be a historian to know and to love this thing called history; on the contrary, this unpleasant scientist guild which is the professional historian – to be placed near the professional philosopher, mocked at by Schopenhauer – is the one who actually is less aware of the essence of some things he never loved. How do you think Paris, as it is today, this magnetic Paris, towards which the yearning of so many is directed, ladies and gentlemen who think it is a large partying place, especially designed for foreigners, and free to the Romanian brothers, a happy and very hospitable gathering of theatres and cabarets, with people having no other business than to smilingly say pardon and merci, how do you think this huge, mysterious and tragic Paris can be grasped, even in a tiny bit, without knowing where it came from, and what the mark imprinted on every place by the centuries of political life and culture means!Read before you leave! That is why I gave away, with much expense and effort, books like Five Conferences on Venice, In France, like many others about Greece Today, about Serbia, about the trip "from Bulgaria to Constantinople," about the Scandinavian countries, about Spain and Portugal, about America. All absolutely unread books, and I dare say they deserved a glimpse. Don't forget, though, when you travel, one thing: the strictest discipline and the most thorough self-observance. There is one type of Romanian traveller that must disappear. The one who looks for the hotel, the restaurant and the spectacle, who makes noise on the street, who argues over the price, who leaves debts and untidiness behind him, who in his vanity, doesn't enquire when he doesn't know – how many times in Venice did they pass haughtily by me in museums, pretending they didn't know me! – and because of whom the name of a worthy people is not esteemed as it should be, anywhere. 1934 

by Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940)