“But romance and rapture, the capacity for wonder and admiration will reamin wherever there are young unregimented hearts.”
I read a fair amount. I haven’t always been this way, and in fact, until college I rarely read for pleasure at all. But now, it is somewhat of an addiction, a transportation, therapeutic, riveting, disarming. And it would come as no surprise that I spend a decent amount of time reading travel literature. For obvious reasons, I connect with the stories of adventurers. Aside from entertaining, these books serve as inspiration and a reminder that this obsession I have with travel isn’t so strange; there are many of us out there, dreaming of adventure. I’ll read most anything related to travel from classics (Bruce Chatwin) to contemporary (Theroux) and everything in between.
Right now, I’m reading Richard Halliburton’s “The Royal Road to Romance.” Though I’ve just begun, I already know it’s going to be a favorite. His language is so poetic I feel as if I’m physically being pulled into the book, savoring every word, repeating passages in my head as if I didn’t get enough in the first read; of its flow, its abundant truth. I have rarely been entranced and so captivated by the style of an author. Though the book is from the earlier part of the 20th century, I relate, profoundly. Within the first few paragraphs I read excerpts that so clearly define my own feelings that I’m almost brought to tears. Ideas I have found difficult to articulate he does so with few words, beautifully composed, almost lyrical. The romance to his words is intoxicating, poetic. Even before I read the first chapter, the forward, instead of being a boring dry introduction is filled with it’s own wisdom.
So, to all of my fellow travelers, if you haven’t read him, you really ought to. I have yet to have read an author who so effortlessly captures the essence of travel in such a precise, truthful, and elegant way.
The opening words, on why we travel. Written by the publisher.
“…Is it the hunger of electrons in motion? A genetic survival imperative? The psyche’s taste for a bit of anarchy? Or is it something deeper, a stirring of that need for discovery of the Other—the alien on far shores whom we wish to prove is really only us or the Divinity in a different guise? Surely travel is all of these, and depending on how we respond, when we respond, and especially if we respond, it is intoxicating or toxic. We are born strangers in a strange land, and remain so. Travel simply reminds us of this essential truth…May you walk out of the prison of necessity—the gulag we all shamble to when distracted by the details of living, when the inner gaze is averted from the true life of the spirit .When you wake again, as you certainly will, walk beneath that arch wherethrough gleams an untraveled world.”
“Travel in the end is about people, not places; places only provide different venues, so to speak, for this life in which we are all pilgrims and must talk to one another, pilgrims who may wander far, but return home in the end bearing the gifts of travel, and who do not lose sight of the true riches of home and family.”
Reciting Oscar Wilde
“Realize your youth while you have it…Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, or giving your life away to the ignorant and the common. There are sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age…Sickly, sickly aims. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you. Be afraid of nothing. There is such a little time that your youth will last-such a little time. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty becomes sluggish. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!”
I have, certainly, felt the constraint and impulse to be distracted by the business of living. The temptation to be absorbed into the throngs of the daily pursuit of a collective ideal. Decided by whom, I couldn’t say. But it is so easy to set our sights on the concrete, attainable, expected, accepted. And then to forget that the world in which we live offers much more profound rewards than material possessions and ego satiating status.
Though I would also suggest that youth should be referred to as a mindset, not a physical age, regardless of the author’s intention. Certainly, as we age we have more opportunities to be disillusioned, and thus lose sight of life. But with age comes wisdom, and the ability to view the world through new lenses only afforded by those who have seen before. Youth, is certainly precious, but I don’t believe it’s reserved for the young.
These words ring true to me, igniting something within, reminding me of personal truth. Halliburton, similarly, responds.
“I had youth, the transitory, the fugitive, now, completely and abundantly. Yet what was I going to do with it? Certainly not squander it’s gold on the commonplace quest for riches and respectability, and then secretly lament the prices that had to be paid of these futile ideals. Let those who wish have their respectability–I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous, the romantic”
” The romantic–that was what I wanted. I hungered for the romance of the sea, and foreign ports, and foreign smiles. I wanted to follow the prow of a ship, any ship, and sail away, perhaps to China, perhaps to Spain, perhaps to the South Sea Isles, there to do nothing all day long but lie on a surf-swept beach and fling monkeys at the coconuts.”
“I wanted to realize my youth while I had it, and yield to temptation before increasing years and responsibilities robbed me of the courage.”
Critics then, as now I might imagine, have suggested his romanticism is unrealistic. I would be never short of finding someone who might add a “well that’s nice, but…” to any of these ideas. Ah, but this is so sad! What is life without romance? With a purely pragmatic view of life as some linear route landmarked by certain events we deem achievement? It seems hardly worth the precious time we’ve been given. Sometimes it feels as if few dream any longer, but simply move along. So many with privilege are still unhappy with all the wonderful gifts they have been given, attachment has clouded their vision, they are cynical, jealous, broken. So to say I find Halliburton’s unabashed romanticism refreshing in an overly critical world is an understatement. His writing feels, on occasion, as if he’s plucked pieces of my soul and put them on paper before I would ever walk this earth. It is both wonderful, and surreal, to read the words that have been swirling in my mind uncollected find cohesion on paper, written by someone entirely separate, a lifetime ago.