Every journey has a speck of discovery. At least when we understand it in the broad sense. In essence, a trip is an assimilation of new knowledge. The route towards the unknown, a place, a group of people, or a topic that we are not familiar with, but where we believe that might have something that will enrich us. The otherness, the other, what lays behind the limits of what is daily (any frontier, no matter how thin, has the objective of putting a distance), but that nourishes us and outlines us when we reach it. It ends up becoming part of us, enriching us. Not only it is a physical distance, but it can also be intellectual and with a more abstract approach. A distance that can be set by the different sensibilities or the lack of curiosity, laziness, indifference, or fear. Because living in a wealthy neighborhood and walking around a poor neighborhood (or the other way around) is a trip. A trip of knowledge if the sensitivity is awake if our observation is sharpened, and it is linked with intelligence. Or a Christian visiting a mosque or a Muslim a synagogue. Like in Renoir’s The River, with the ceremonies before Kali’s altar, one of the goddesses of Hinduism.
There are many examples. All of them are a good starting point to solve this contest call because all journeys are translatable into a short story. Piglia says: “I’d say the narrator is a traveler or an investigator, and sometimes those two profiles overlap.” A seeker of epiphanies: “fleeting moments, almost imperceptible, that condensate what has been left of experience in ruins.” Because narrating entails by itself an experience of knowledge, at least when there is an artistic ambition behind when the creator does not remain in the comfortable domain of the trodden, the repeated, the easy. The scenes made by a sailor in Alain Tanner’s In the White City with a super 8 camera, the predecessor of today’s mobile phone cameras and the sailor’s trips around Lisbon are a good example of this idea. Tapes with mute visual notes (super 8 cameras could not record sound) are transformed in letters when sent by mail to his lover. The story that stems messy, intuitive, unedited, in the original shot sequence, is pure traveling: discovery.
Taine said that we travel not to change place, but ideas. The trip we are interested in the least on is that of the tourist: hedonist or escapist motivations have little to do with the challenge of that other search trip we are looking for but learning and knowing how to nourish with the dissimilar. Ortega said that tourists do not wholly grasp anything at all, a tourist slides over a place without neither grabbing it nor forcing it to give away its content. Or Chesterton, “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” It is all a matter of attitude. Although attitude does not prevent the tourist to also have those sparks once opened to a more ambitious objective for the trip. What Javier Reverte has written: “The adventure of traveling consists of being able to experience as an extraordinary event the daily life of other people in places far away from your own home.”
There are several ways to resolve this new call. For example:
We can make a memory effort to track down those situations in which we have traveled to the other, to the different (even if it was next to us), and then we have come back to reality with the feeling of being enriched. With an exercise that is almost dialectic: the defamiliarization of that reality to apprehend it again with a full conscience.
We can embark on a new travel experience, even if it is just for one day, in case we lack time to face a more aspiring experience. We can choose that other unknown reality that we have never approached with our curiosity and sensibility well awaken. Walking a City is to retrace it, to build and rebuild it, look at it until it yields its mysteries until we perceive its time dimensions, Alejo Carpentier wrote.
We can face a higher dimension of the trip with the adventure that involves a risk factor despite the curiosity and sensibility by opening oneself to the other. Each one of us can dwell on a risky situation and how to surpass its limits. Cervantes wrote about Don Quixote: “he continued his journey, no other than the one his horse wanted, believing that that was the force of adventures.” After all, any art or literature worth reading arises from taking a risk.
A few examples
With Ulysses return trip from Troy to Ithaca, the Odyssey recovers a character from the Iliad in order to enhance it, with a more elaborate face for the hero, stressed on what he thinks and feels when he comes back home. The ancient world epic makes way for a more modern narration in which the personal adventure stands out, the humanity of the character before the power of the Gods. It presents a certain number of traits that served well to Cynics and Stoics to use it as an example of resistance to setbacks, of patience, or of dignity (after eight years in combat, it took Ulysses ten more years to come back to Ithaca). Homer encounters on the trip (or adventure) the best frame to elevate his main character. This is a resource with a proven track record in literary history. This type of journey presents another landmark, the trip that, many years later, Joyce in his Ulysses, twists, resizes, or widens the meaning, by understanding it as well as the few hours that Leopold Bloom walks around Dublin, maintaining under the degradation of the heroic the essence of what traveling means (or might mean).
In Gulliver’s travels there is a critique about travel narratives published in the XVIII:
My answer [to a captain who wants to see his story written, writes Gulliver] was that we were overstocked with books of travels: that nothing could now pass which was not extraordinary; wherein I doubted some authors less consulted truth, than their own vanity, or interest, or the diversion of ignorant readers; that my story could contain little beside common events, without those ornamental descriptions of strange plants, trees, birds, and other animals; or of the barbarous customs and idolatry of savage people, with which most writers abound.
A critique that suggests the urgency to buttress a story based on knowledge behind the exoticism of traveling. The trip can be an incentive to show the individual more receptive towards what is strange to him (“There is nothing like furthering a little to cure the proximity psychosis, of the proximity deformation,” said Pla).
We can write an intellectual trip so that our comprehension of thinking as self-absorption is substituted by the reflection as encouragement of connections between sensibility and thought (also emotions, memories, etc.) Unlike a process of shutting yourself in, the trip can be a process of opening yourself to the environment seeking incentives, like a mechanism of toothed wheels that move each other. Taking into account that exceptional example in the literature that are The Rings of Saturn from W.G. Sebald. A trip that is at the same time external and internal through the coast of England, the description of the landscape and the tracing of its characters and stories: each one digested by the narrator as a personal experience (of destruction, for what he observes) that plunges him into a gloom that is even syntactic. The trip is always an inquiry into something, also if that something is not clear from the very beginning. For example, in his book:
In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.
Or in one of his stories from Vertigo:
In October 1980, I traveled from England, where I had then been living for nearly twenty-five years in a county which was almost always under grey skies, to Vienna, hoping that a change of place would help me get over a particularly difficult period in my life. In Vienna, however, I found that the days proved inordinately long, now they were not taken up by my customary routine of writing and gardening tasks, and I literally did not know where to turn. Early every morning I would set out and walk without aim or purpose through the streets of the inner city.
After all, traveling is a manner of performing freedom. Also, for that writer who pursues to set the rhythm (or even the course) to his/her way of thinking and writing, with the same flux of topics and perceptions that mount with every step. Worst case scenario, it will be a wandering and wondering narrative.