Tuesday 28 July 2009

A voyage

A few years ago, I discovered what it meant to “do” a city. An acquaintance had just returned from two weeks in Spain with her husband.

‘We have done Madrid, Barcelona, and a few smaller towns….’

‘What do you mean “done”?‘ I asked.

She looked at me carefully, as if she wondered whether the question was a provocation or a language barrier. She generously decided it was a language barrier.

‘Oh, it’s just an expression, for when you travel, and do all the tourist attractions...’

I knew what she meant, more or less. It meant going to all the places of historical interest, and all other places other people thought were of value visiting. When you go to Paris, you visit Eiffel tower. Why? Well, because if someone were to ask, upon your return, whether you visited Eiffel Tower, you’d feel rather silly to say ‘no’.

It struck me how much like traveling reading really is. Being well-read appears to hold as much social currency as being well-traveled, to the point of deceit (as suggested by one of our previous posts). I still squirm when I have to admit I have never read Ulysses. Perhaps this is a vestige of time, less than a century ago, when one could hardly call oneself educated without visiting the ruins of Athens and Rome, just as one could not feel well-read without knowing Latin or Greek, and the ‘classics’.

What has changed is not just what we consider to be ‘classics’. It is how we come to them, without passion, and with obligation. We come to them in the same way we “do” the cities we travel through (tired, with a guide-book, wishing we had more time, and forgetting what brought us there in the first place). Occasionally, there will be a delight that will stop us in our tracks, but not long enough. There are other stops to be made, other things to be read. We forget what is most wondrous about reading, like traveling, is a freedom, a liberty, of leaving oneself behind, a voyage of becoming and being someone else.

1 comment:

Paul Lamb said...

I recently "did" New York, but I didn't visit the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, the Empire State Building, or Broadway. And if anyone should ask, I wouldn't hesitate to say that I didn't, and didn't care to.

I haven't read Ulysses either, but nor have I read John Grisham. Few people I know have heard of Iris Murdoch, and no one has heard of Alvaro Mutis, but I consider myself to becoming a better educated reader because of them.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...