[ilds] The Enigma of Arriving

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Fri May 8 04:57:09 PDT 2009

More news from the clipping service--


> *Observer Cyprus
> http://www.observercyprus.com/observer/NewsDetails.aspx?id=3884#
> The Enigma of Arriving
> 08.05.2009
> Brian Self*
> "Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing 
> circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by 
> the will -- whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of 
> the demands of our natures -- and the best of them lead us not only 
> outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most 
> rewarding forms of introspection."
> Durrell on Cyprus
> This is Lawrence Durrell's introduction to 'Bitter Lemons', before 
> falling into his trademark descriptive prose to describe Venice with 
> lush phrases which were often the equivalent of showing off: Look how 
> well I can paint with words! The city wobbles cool as a jelly, with 
> colours of wine, tar, blood and ripening grain, floating like 
> fragments of a stained-glass window and much more. But Durrell was not 
> a travel writer, his three best known so-called travel books -- on 
> Corfu, Rhodes and Cyprus - were about places he went to -- and left - 
> out of the exigencies brought about by a war and its aftermath. The 
> precocious diplomat/poet would never have willingly undergone Colin 
> Thubron's long trek with a rucksack hitchhiking through Central Asia, 
> or have decided as Paul Theroux did to take the long way round the 
> entire Mediterranean coast by any means necessary, except flying. 
> Durrell preferred colonial drawing rooms, wine and the pleasure of 
> leisurely conversation to the hardships of the road and an inevitable 
> night in a flea ridden hovel. Yet Durrell's evocations of place and 
> getting there, usually by ship and always with a touch of imaginative 
> exaggeration thrown in were unique, because the novelist in him always 
> had the upper hand. In other words he wasn't writing to satisfy the 
> armchair traveller's desire to experience vicariously how it felt to 
> 'be there'. What mattered was Durrell's world, refracted through an 
> overheated imagination mixing fact and fiction, with enough history, 
> local custom, flora and fauna to keep that world from sliding into 
> complete fantasy; and no world, or place -- or city - received this 
> treatment more fully than Alexandria.
> Tradition of storytelling
> Like certain painters whose influence on young impressionable artists 
> can be seductively dangerous, Durrell's juicy style, a blend of poetic 
> imagery, mysticism, eroticism and black humour seemed easy to imitate; 
> the effect on a writer could be crippling. But it was a certain 
> erudition, an obsession with classical landscape and the antique Greek 
> world which made Durrell want to be a poet; the novels were written to 
> make a living. The author of 'The Alexandria Quartet' felt himself to 
> be the inheritor of a tradition which began with the first 
> storyteller; and the mythic cycles created by Homer's story, repeated 
> through Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods was the same cultural 
> mine explored by Durrell's own poet/heroes. TS Elliot, Yeats, Ezra 
> Pound had in their turn been influenced by Rilke, Heine and the poet 
> of Alexandria himself Constantine Cavafy.
> Broader horizons
> These thoughts were brought on by contemplating a trip to Spain and 
> wondering why I felt a sense of novelty, strangeness in fact at the 
> thought of travelling in a westerly direction. To the thousand 
> different circumstances which give birth to Durrell's journeys must be 
> added a certain genetic make up, some DNA which predisposes its owner 
> to point like a compass needle in a certain direction. Having gone 
> west as a young man to Canada where my professional life would meet 
> broader horizons, I read the Quartet and knew there was a place I 
> wanted to be. Not a specific country or city, but a locus between 
> Athens and Alexandria, Antioch and Samarkand, Cairo and Carthage. You 
> can be driven to go West, but only drawn to the East, through fate, 
> destiny, kismet, and for over thirty years I was and still am drawn by 
> one point of the compass.
> The journey matters
> I once persevered through the sauna of Jeddah afternoons, New Delhi 
> loneliness and the nerve breaking traffic of Cairo for the unique 
> privilege of being paid to study Islamic architecture, both its roots 
> and its later flowerings -- except those to the west. The Alhambra and 
> Cordoba could be found in a wealth of glossy books; but the prospect 
> of finally staring the purest, grandest, simplest form of a movement 
> in its face is hard to imagine. But there is another prospect, that of 
> travel itself. Hemingway's blood soaked bullrings, James Morris's 
> beautiful evocations of landscape written while Franco still ruled and 
> Andalusia was synonymous with poverty, Orwell's Barcelona -- they and 
> other travel writers have all stained my own imaginary mental 
> landscape of a country I always thought would be larger than life. And 
> there are David Bomberg's powerful paintings of Andalucia and Ronda.  
> In 1995 Paul Theroux had already written of the overbuilt horror of 
> the southern coastline and the immigrants who came to look for crumbs 
> falling from the EU table. Now Spain has the highest unemployment -- 
> once again -- in Europe. The title of Leonard Woolf's autobiography 
> 'The journey matters not the arrival' is often invoked in connection 
> with travel but has nothing to do with it. Each arrival is different, 
> as well as the journey. In the end you will not find more than what 
> you are willing to bring.
> Second Glance columnist, Brian Self, will be away for 3 weeks and will 
> continue writing his columns upon his return.

Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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