Rules for the Traveling Gentleman (#2)
2.) Travel comfortably.
J. Krishnamurti (I’m paraphrasing a friend of mine) said that things cannot truly be learned by fear of punishment or anticipation of reward. A similar maxim could be applied to traveling: traveling can not be done amidst chaos. If you cannot make the trip without fretting over finances, or without sleeping comfortably, or without eating well: don’t do it. If you have too many events on your schedule to pause to ruminate later over one over a coffee or drink for a good long while: don’t do it. If the transportation is too hectic to allow you to read a whole newspaper, which you should always do when traveling: don’t do it. It is that simple.
Traveling is a kind of translation. You are a person, of your own origin and culture, specific all the way down to the very place in which you were born, in which you were raised. You have, in a sense, your own language of existence. This language derives from your history, from your family and friends. When you travel you confront a different language. There before you is a different language of existence, made manifest in people, habits, architecture, food, literature, music and so on. If you are to understand the language before you, translation must occur. But what kind? How? A small simile from Walter Benjamin evokes the style of translation that ought to occur when traveling. “Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.”
Where others saw a tension between fidelity and freedom, Benjamin saw the potential for harmony. So too the traveler must reconcile these two forces: do I stick to the purest interpretation of this form of existence (e.g. these people only eat this sort of thing at this particular time; there exists a well defined rhythm of life here, so I should not change it), or do I wander aimlessly with open eyes and ears, letting things happen to me. (More along the lines of this last sentence will appear in the next section). The traveler must find harmony, recognizing that tension only comes from severe discomfort with his own language of existence, and also that harmony cannot arise from hunger, lack of sleep, anxiety, or the misleading idea that complication is the same as profundity.