Travel & Art Intersect on the
Road to Understanding.
What inspires your travels?
Are they just about fun? Are they also about learning? You can’t go everywhere so, how do you choose where to go?
For me, traveling is definitely about fun but it is also about understanding our world. And, it’s true, I can’t go everywhere. So how do I choose where to go? Often, it’s the arts – books, movies, music – that inspire a trip. And, when I’m there, the place that artists have rendered in my imagination and the place of my experience converge for a new and unique understanding.
I think this is true for most people. But, I wondered, what about the people who travel almost all the time. What have inspired their travels and how have the places in their imaginations and the places of their experiences converged.
So I asked six serious travelers to muse on how travel and art have intersected in their lives – whether as inspiration or in surprising ways. Here are their responses. Please read to the very end. Andreas’ final comment is a perfect conclusion to everyone’s thoughts along the way.
Growing up in the 80’s, one of the biggest songs on the radio was One Night in Bangkok. It had an even bigger meaning to me as I was a Music Theater major in College and One Night in Bangkok is from the musical Chess. I introduced Dave to Chess when we first met in the early 90’s and annoyed my new heavy metal boyfriend with the constant playing of the cheesy soundtrack.
When we went to Bangkok for the first time in 2000, the lyrics of One Night in Bangkok took on a whole new meaning for us and Dave actually started to like the song. We had never been anywhere so exotic before and suddenly we were standing on Kho San Road experiencing the city that seemed so far away when we first met at the age of 20 and 21.
We had only really known the song’s chorus in the past and had no idea what the double entendres and meanings meant. “This grips me more than would, a muddy old river or reclining Buddha,” we sang as we took the boat along the Chao Praya River to see the reclining Buddha. It all made sense now. He mentions words like Siam, pearls, temples and massage parlors. As a teenager we just sang the lyrics phonically and liked the beat. Now we were in the Pearl of the Orient visiting temples and hearing about the massage parlors in the Patpong District.
We had that song playing in our minds and on our headphones during the entire trip. Bangkok didn’t disappoint and now every time we think of the city, we still have One Night in Bangkok pop into our heads.
I watched (and recently rewatched) Michael Palin’s great documentary on going around the world in 80 days. The first time I saw it I had been to about 50 countries. Over the next few years I went to a number of other places — currently on country #125 — and in each stop I remembered where Michael had been and what he had done.
It’s interesting because that journey of his, along with some of the travel I do, could be considered quite superficial because the time in each stop is relatively limited. However, I think it’s also possible to craft meaningful experiences even with only a small amount of time. As I went from place to place, I definitely found that to be the case, especially when I planned well.
Before leaving home last week (I’m in Manila now), I watched the whole series again. This time I knew most of the places myself, and I liked the nostalgia factor.
The book I purchased before traveling to Japan was the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Embracing Defeat by John Dower.
Much of American understanding of Japan consists of World War II and then its later success as an economic and industrial power in the 80′s. In between, Japan went through enormous changes in the late 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. The book gave a great overview of the construction of the modern Japanese state and society.
Gwen McCauley, Coach, Author, Artist – on Twitter @gwenmccauley
These days music and cooking are my biggest invitations to exploration.
I’ve been in love with Malagasy music for decades. My fascination with Madagascar’s sweet, lively and happy rhythms started in the late 70’s when a friend played a couple of 45s he’d brought back. Then in the 90s I discovered the mind-blowing ‘A World Out of Time’ CD by Howard Kaiser & David Lindley. It intrigued me with the reality of a culture in transition; many of its traditions fading quickly. More recently groups like African Guitar Summit have reawakened my passion and made me place Madagascar high on my list of “Must See” destinations.
Work takes me to Portugal regularly these days. I love the place and can’t get enough of it. I find that even though I know Portugal well, various novels and cookbooks I’ve savored keep me wanting to return to discover more nooks and crannies. Most recently, David Leite’s “The New Portuguese Table” has whetted my appetite not just for dining explorations, but for discovering marketplaces, chefs, farmyards and vineyards, all lush with goodies for the table as well as exquisite panoramas of earth and sea.
Whether it is about first time discovery or getting a richer appreciation for a place and its people through repeated visits, music and books unleash my quest for exploration. Movies and art, in my world, are media I use to reconnect with places I’ve visited. I think especially of Ireland and all the indie films I’ve seen since my several trips to both Eire and Ulster, each one an opportunity to savor the memory of sights, sounds, tastes and conversations already experienced. Be still my heart! Thanks to the arts for enriching this solo traveler’s experiences, before, during and after.
My first foray into foreign travel was to Italy. The catalyst for that trip was the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. And though it’s a glorified Hollywood version (loosely based on the book of the same name) of what life is like in Tuscany, it still stirred something deep within me that made me long to visit. Whether it was the gorgeous scenery or the underlying inspiring story of a newly divorced woman who reinvents her life, picks up and moves to a foreign country knowing not one word of the language, I’ll never know.
Overall, the movie displayed a stylized version of real Italian life, but the book delved a bit deeper and of course gave more detail into life and culture in Italy. Italy is a culture rich in history and tradition and one just has to visit some Etruscan ruins, attend the Palio or a flag throwing to know that. Before my visit, I got the distinct feeling both through the book and movie that Italians embrace life and are gregarious by nature and I witnessed this first hand in my travels. Italians celebrate the simple pleasures – like savoring a gelato and take life at a slower pace – like taking time out to stroll around the local piazza for a nightly passeggiata.
Much of the author’s words center around food and family, two staples of Italian life. As one meanders around Italy you’ll see elaborate food markets, celebrations that center around ingredients coming into season, friends and family sitting down relaxing over hour long meals.
But it’s not until I traveled to the city of Rome that I realized that it’s not all as picturesque and lovely as the book and movie may make it seem. There is dirt, grit, traffic and crowds. But that’s Rome. I often wonder if my desire to travel to Italy would have been so strong if the movie had been a true representation set in Rome, rather than Tuscany.
Of course, I realize that just traveling to a place only scratches the surface. One can still don rose-colored glasses. It isn’t until you actually live in and immerse yourself in the culture that one will see the true Tuscany.
When I was a child, I read a lot of books about foreign countries and cultures but I was not able to see any of these sights for myself. After earning my first money, I decided to lock my library cupboard and to experience all these described places with my own eyes only.
For some years, I enjoyed this new chance to discover several countries and peoples step by step instead of page by page. However, I still read and made an interesting discovery: Books help us to understand better. They even help us to see better how our is world built.
Though I thought I could gain all I wanted from a country just by my curiosity, by sharply watching and boldly asking, I came to realize that a book written by a witty author helps me to get an additional, not foreseen, view on the peculiarity of a region, a tradition or a language.
So I’d like to sum up: The best way to travel the world is using a good pair of shoes but also having a couple of good books at hand. Therefore you will always experience me as a guy who loves not only to speak about worth-seeing destinations but also about worth-reading books in equal shares.