The English have always travelled afar — ostensibly in order to get away from England (something which has seemingly been elevated to the status of a fundamental human right during the pandemic) — but the French are better known for holidaying closer to home. Though perhaps never as close as this.
Samuel Johnson distinguished between things which are worth seeing and those that are worth going to see. Here in A Journey Around My Room, Xavier De Maistre dispenses with much of the hassle associated with arrival and departure. A frustrated aeronautics enthusiast who longed to undertake a transatlantic journey — airborne — he penned his 1790 bestseller when residing in a Turin apartment block.
It resulted from the intimation that perhaps a good deal of cost and effort — as well as untold other hazards — might be saved by treating the familiar as the un-familiar, whilst wearing one’s silk jammies.
In other words, he distinguished the essential mindset of the traveller as a kind of heightened receptivity.
This is undoubtedly part of the story, yet in my own experience there also needs to be something adversarial about our encounters with the foreign, a degree of push-back from elsewhere which satisfies some of our more masochistic inclinations. Could it be possible to feel homesick…at home?
And unless one orders in some takeaway food (and foreigners), how will one be obliged to digest strange customs and comestibles?
Evidently, seasoned travellers do not end up exclusively seeking out novel versions of themselves in new locations. Retreading life’s most important journeys, in a quest for bittersweet nostalgia and its learnings, has always been an essential part of the scene, and I suppose one’s own bedroom is as good a place as any to start.
This little book, like that other, heftier French classic, In Search Of Lost Time, could be considered pandemic-appropriate reading. It had a sequel, as may yet Covid-19.