The Relativistic Arc: Maturity in Travel


“Travel is usually thought of as a displacement in space. This is an inadequate conception. A journey occurs simultaneously in space, in time, and in the social hierarchy. Each impression can be defined only by being jointly related to these three axes, and since space is in itself three-dimensional, five axes are necessary if we are to have an adequate representation of any journey.” – Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques.

When you’re young, when you first start off travelling, there’s a romance that comes from the poverty attached to travel, the way a light purse leads to lightheartedness in living rough. When you’re older and (presumably) better off, travel acquires a glamour through the fine hotels and restaurants and bespoke tours, the exotic of travel set before you on a gilded platter that lends a gilded kind to everything.

At its heart, though, mature travel is neither — neither the backpacker’s romance of the $2 fleapit and buses stuffed with live chickens, nor the rich man’s villa in Bora Bora, a posh corruption of travel’s basic dailiness and an insulation from it. Travel instead, I think, at its heart is a chiefly a kind of meta-movement, exemplified by Kapuscinski’s liminal act, the crossing of a border, and all that that implies. I think of Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, movements between transcendent sagacity and simple bodily misery, til both states are gone beyond, and all that remains is the movement itself.

I think of the traveller mostly as mutable ghost, wearing shifts of character and appearance to suit, wielding manners and pragmatics and languages to suit, until the borders between nations, geographies, people, classes, situations are as porous as the gates between this world and the world beyond. In its mature form, you move between each mood of the Earth as you encounter it, graceful as a season as it embraces the ever-changing conditions of the turning world, on and on and on.  And on.


One thought on “The Relativistic Arc: Maturity in Travel

  1. Beautiful and so expressive! I understand, I think, what you mean – you change as you travel, you are a different person depending on the time, and place that you are in, with different manners, different languages, a shifting of your own self, to suit the time and place you are in, walking between worlds.

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