Chapter One: Departure
I On Anticipation
If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its 1)ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems—that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are2)inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little of why and how we should go—though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed “eudaimonia”, or “human flourishing”.
One question revolves around the relationship between the anticipation of travel and its reality. I came upon a copy of 3)J.-K. Huysmans’s novel A Rebours, published in 1884, whose 4)effete and5)misanthropic hero, the 6)aristocratic 7)Duc des Esseintes, anticipated a journey to London and offered in the process an extravagantly pessimistic analysis of the difference between what we imagine of a place and what can occur when we reach it.
Huysmans recounts that the Duc des Esseintes lived alone in a vast villa on the outskirts of Paris. He rarely went anywhere to avoid what he took to be the ugliness and stupidity of others. One afternoon in his youth, he had ventured into a nearby village for a few hours and had felt his detestation of people grow fierce. Since then he had chosen to spend his days alone in bed in his study, reading the classics of literature, and moulding 8)acerbic thoughts about humanity. However, early one morning, the Duc surprised himself by an intense wish to travel to London. The desire came upon him as he sat by the fire reading a volume of Dickens. The book evoked visions of English life, which he 9)contemplated at length and grew increasingly keen to see. Unable to withhold his excitement, he ordered his servants to pack his bags, dressed himself in a grey 10)tweed suit, a pair of laced ankle boots, a little 11)bowler hat and a 12)flax-blue 13)Inverness cape and took the next train to Paris. Because he had time to spare before the departure of the London train, he went to G alignani’s English Bookshop on the 14)Rue de Rivoli and there bought a volume of 15)Baedeker’s Guide to London. He was thrown into delicious 16)reveries by its 17)terse descriptions of London’s attractions. He moved on to a wine bar nearby frequented by a largely English 18)clientele. The atmosphere was out of Dickens.
Hungry, Des Esseintes went next to an English 19)tavern in the Rue d’Amsterdam, near the 20)Gare Saint Lazare. It was dark and smoky there, with a line of 21)beer pulls along a counter, which was spread with hams as brown as violins and lobsters the colour of 22)red lead. Seated at small wooden tables were 23)robust Englishwomen with boyish faces, teeth as big as 24)palette knives, cheeks as red as apples and long hands and feet. Des Esseintes found a table and ordered some 25)oxtail soup, a smoked 26)haddock, a 27)helping of roast beef and potatoes, a couple of 28)pints of 29)ale and a chunk of Stilton.
However, as the moment to board his train approached, along with the chance to turn dreams of London into reality, Des Esseintes was abruptly overcome with 30)lassitude. He thought how wearing it would be actually to go to London, how he would have to run to the station, fight for a porter, board the train, endure an unfamiliar bed, stand in queues, feel cold and move his fragile frame around the sights that Baedeker had so tersely described—and thus 31)soil his dreams: “What was the good of moving when a person could travel so wonderfully sitting in a chair? Wasn’t he already in London, whose smells, weather, citizens, food, and even 32)cutlery were all about him? What could he expect to find over there except fresh disappointments?”
So Des Esseintes paid the bill, left the tavern and took the first train back to his villa, along with his 33)trunks, his packages, his 34)portmanteaux, his rugs, his umbrellas and his sticks—and never left home again.
We are familiar with the notion that the reality of travel is not what we anticipate. The pessimistic school, of which Des Esseintes might be an honorary 35)patron, therefore argues that reality must always be disappointing. It may be truer and more rewarding to suggest that it is primarily different.
There was one other country that, many years before his intended trip to England, Des Esseintes had wanted to see: Holland. He had imagined the place to resemble the paintings of 36)Teniers and 37)Jan Steen, 38)Rembrandt and 39)Ostade; he had anticipated 40)patriarchal simplicity and 41)riotous joviality; quiet small brick courtyards and pale-faced maids pouring milk. And so he had journeyed to 42)Haarlem and43)Amsterdam—and been greatly disappointed. It was not that the paintings had lied, there had been some simplicity and joviality, some nice brick courtyards and a few serving women pouring milk, but these 44)gems were blended in a 45)stew of ordinary images (restaurants, offices, uniform houses and featureless fields) which these Dutch artists had never painted and which made the experience of travelling in the country strangely 46)diluted compared with an afternoon in the Dutch galleries of the 47)Louvre, where the essence of Dutch beauty found itself collected in just a few rooms.
Des Esseintes ended up in the 48)paradoxical position of feeling more in Holland—that is more intensely in contact with the elements he loved in Dutch culture—when looking at selected images of Holland in a museum than when travelling with sixteen pieces of luggage and two servants through the country itself.
After Holland and his abortive visit to England, Des Esseintes did not attempt another journey abroad. He remained in his villa and surrounded himself with a series of objects which facilitated the finest aspect of travel, its anticipation. He had coloured prints hung on his walls, like those in travel agents’ windows, showing foreign cities, museums, hotels and steamers bound for 49)Valparaiso or the 50)River Plate. He had the 51)itineraries of the major shipping companies framed and lined his bedroom with them. He filled an 52)aquarium with seaweed, bought a 53)sail, some 54)rigging and a pot of 55)tar and, with their help, was able to experience the most pleasant aspects of a long sea voyage without any of its inconveniences. Des Esseintes concluded, in Huysmans’s words, that “the imagination could provide a more-than-adequate substitute for the56)vulgar reality of actual experience”. Actual experience where what we have come to see is always diluted in what we could see anywhere, where we are drawn away from the present by an anxious future and where our appreciation of 57)aesthetic elements remains 58)at the mercy of perplexing physical and psychological demands.
I travelled in spite of Des Esseintes, and yet there were times when I too felt there might be no finer journeys than those provoked in the imagination by staying at home slowly turning the Bible-paper pages of the British Airways’ Worldwide Timetable.
The Art of Travel(《旅行的艺术》)是小编最近阅读到的绝佳的英文文学作品,其作者是去年11月号CR选摘的The Architecture of Happiness(《幸福的建筑》)一书的作者——“英伦才子”Alain de Botton(阿兰·德波顿)。这本书之所以能引起我的强烈共鸣,全因我也是个心怀“游遍世界”梦想的旅行爱好者,也经历着下文提到的“对旅行的期待幻灭”等种种烦心的问题。令我记忆忧新的是2007年夏天江南游的七天里,我每晚都躺在旅店陌生的床上细数这一天里的种种失落,感叹着——一切怎么都和书里、电视里、宣传册上描述的不同,左看右看,那些都不过是一座座和广州长得太过相似的现代化城市……我知道我需要一些指点,去更好地展开往后的每一段旅途,直到遇上这本书,我对旅行才有了更深的感悟。