“THE world is a book and those, who do not travel, read only one page!” This is my husband’s favourite line, actually attributable to St Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury in the seventh century.
There is much truth in the statement, for you always learn something new when travelling, sometimes about the destination, often only when you have arrived home again.
I am looking at a calendar that I bought last year in Brisbane in a museum. It has a very striking painting reproduced from original aboriginal artwork and shows what is captioned ‘Echidnas resting and feeding grounds’. It was not until turning over the page this month that I looked up echidnas in the dictionary: they are spine-covered monotreme mammals of Australia and New Guinea with a long snout and claws. Next time we go to Australia, I am going to try to find one in the flesh, so-to-speak.
I’ve made similar such after-discoveries at art museums, where I spend all my time enjoying a favourite painter’s work before buying a book about the museum at the bookshop. At Museo Nacional Centro de Art in Madrid, I headed straight for Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, one of the all time great modern masterpieces, which really has to be studied for some time to appreciate the details, however horrific. Thus I missed Salvador Dali’s unusually orthodox Girl at the Window.
Sometimes in our travels, we are completely overwhelmed by the spectacles before us, such as the magnificent pyramids on Cairo’s outskirts or the Opera House in Sydney with its easily recognizable architecture. Yet, on reflection, our most vivid memories are of the camel rider who posed for us and persuaded us to mount his mangy steed... and in Sydney, the brooch purchased from the happy, long-haired hippie in a waterfront stall.
Our memories always seem to be selective, when we return home to Europe and describe Dubai’s incredible developments; we omit the endless traffic jams and the ensuing pollution and dust.
Time and again it is the details which delight us... the smile and nod from Pelé in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil... the song made up with a friend motoring around Barbados... the Starbucks coffee on the sidewalk in Vienna, which we chose over the traditional and sumptuous Viennese establishments.
We forget our disappointment with Casablanca, obviously vision-based on the famous film, but remember the cups of chay drunk in the souks of Marrakesh, as we enjoy the mahogany fruit bowl and leather jackets bought there.
When we eventually return home to our respective countries, will we remember the new Mall of the Emirates, the magnificent Burj Al Arab or the four-wheel drives taken in Bahrain to view the 100,000 burial mounds and the Bedouin with his chay and fruit among the sand dunes south of Dubai. I guess it will be the latter for your listeners will already have experienced shopping malls and grand hotels aplenty.
One quotation by MC Escher sums up my reflections on travel: “I want to delight in the smallest of things, a bit of moss, two centimetres in diameter on a little piece of rock, and I want to try here, what I have been wishing for so long, namely to copy these tiniest bits of nothing as accurately as possible just to realise how great they are”.