September 14, 2013

To Travel is to Possess the World

Lunchtimes at work is reading time for me. I just finished Thomas Heatherwick's gigantic encyclopedia of all his crazy projects and today I picked up Burton Holmes' "Early Travel Photography"; a photologue of some of his early travelling. The prologue of the book is one of the truest and most apt travel pieces I've read. I just had to share it.

To Travel is to Possess the World

"These words I have set down in many an autograph collector’s book.

They are, I think, true words. I know that through travel I have possessed the world more completely, more satisfyingly than if I had acquired the whole earth by purchase or by conquest. There is no implication of selfishness in the kind of possession of which I speak. Whoever possesses the world through travel takes naught from any man. No one is the poorer because you have made the whole world yours.

You have gained everything, but you are no monopolist. The wealth is there for all to share. It is not yours alone. You may invite all men and women to travel with you in imagination and they too may feel that they, like you, are rich in vivid mental pictures of places worth going to, of people worth knowing, of things that are world famous.

I have tried to convey to others with the spoken word the enthusiasm for travel that has been mine. I have done my best to make my hearers SEE the things that have thrilled me in the course of my more than sixty years of travel.

Now I am asked to do this without the aid of pictures glowing on a screen, without the help of the spoken words which can be made to mean as much by a shading of a tone or the stress of an inflection. Now I am at work with nothing but a sheet of paper and a pen to help me re-create the atmosphere of “otherwhere,” to help me make real to those who have not seen, the things which I have seen and can still see so vividly with the mind’s eye.

Word pictures are hard to paint. We are told that “words are the only things that last forever.” Therefore words should be the most durable pigments with which to paint pictures of the things that have seemed worthwhile, the things that have become one’s property, in the sense in which travel endows one with a title deed to the entire world.

One great advantage of possessing the world through travel is that one may enjoy all the satisfaction of possession without the responsibilities of ownership. Now, in days when our most valuable assets become or threaten to become our most crushing liabilities, it is good to contemplate property which cannot depreciate but must increase in value, property which cannot be taxed by federal government, or state or city authorities, property which calls for no repairs or alterations.

Everything from real estate to diamond tiaras has had its vaunted worth reduced to pitiful and sometimes complete inconsequence. Stocks, bonds, and all manner of gilt-edged, beautifully engraved certificates of value, to secure which we have slaved and saved and denied ourselves the joys of travel, may sink in worth to such a point that it will seem absurd to pay the rental charges on a safe deposit box.

The only things which are still worth what they have cost me are my travel memories, the mind-pictures of places which I have been hoarding like a happy miser for more than half a century.

I have done my best to convey with “word pictures” the things I have seen and can still see. I have been aided by all the increasing wonders and beauties of photography. I still recall with pleasure my first camera, a heavy clumsy box with six double holders for 4×5 glass plates purchased in 1883 with my life savings of $10.00.

In the past I have reproached myself for my extravagance, my lack of foresight, for my disregard of proper provision for the future. My wise friends saved and economised, went without things they wanted, denied themselves the costlier pleasures of the table, the bouquet of vintage wines and the, to me, supreme joy of going places and seeing things.

And now where are we? We, they and I, are all at the same dead-end of life’s highway. They are weighted down by all the leaden burdens of their golden hopes gone wrong. They have their memories, but these are memories of wise, dull and frugal days of piling up with hard earned dollars in safe places where those dollars would increase and multiply and be there to console for all the pleasures that their owners had denied themselves and all the fun that they had missed.

I, too, have nothing but my memories but I would not exchange my memories for theirs. I have a secret treasure upon which I can draw at will. I can bring forth, on the darkest day, bright diamonds of remembered joys, diamonds whose many facets reflect some happy dream come true, a small ambition gratified, a long-sought sensation, caught and savoured to the full, a little journey made, an expedition carried to success, several circumnavigations of the world accomplished.

Yes, it has been a good life. And it is good to rest, with nearly all of one’s dreams realized. Dreams of going, seeing and doing most of the things that seemed worthwhile – good to know that I have, in my own way, possessed the world."

- Burton Holmes 1953

I would have typed it out myself, but was lucky enough to find it on this blog- 'I Will See the World'- another inspiring traveller with tonnes of interesting stories.

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