November 2011

A travel book may tell us, for example, that a narrator journeyed through the afternoon to reach the hill town of X and, after a night in its medieval monastery, awoke to a misty dawn. But we never simply journey through an afternoon. We sit in a train. Lunch digests awkwardly within us. The seat cloth is grey. We look out of the window at a field. We look back inside. A drum of anxieties revolves in consciousness. We notice a luggage label affixed to a suitcase in a rack above the opposing seats. We tap a finger on the window-ledge. A broken nail on an index finger catches a thread. It starts to rain. A drop wends a muddy path down the dust-coated window. We wonder where the ticket might be. We look back out at the field. It continues to rain. At last the train starts to move. It passes an iron bridge, after which it stops inexplicably. A fly lands on the window. And still we might only have reached the end of the first minute of a comprehensive account of the events lurking within the deceptive sentence ‘he journeyed through the afternoon’.

— Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel