Magic in travel? You must be kidding! All we hope is to get there and back safely. When we consider the long lines, the cancelled flights, the rude security staff and the cramped seats on planes, don’t we all feel a lot like cattle being pushed and prodded from A to B? Now you’re asking for magic? Isn’t that a bit much?
Perhaps it is a tall order, but I’m thinking of those moments—and they may be few and far between—when suddenly, on your travels, you see or experience something that makes you view the world in a new way, from a different perspective. The world opens up and that, in itself, may be magical. Isn’t that the real purpose of travel—unless we’re talking about business trips?
So much depends on the traveller’s state of mind and willingness to actually slow down and look at what surrounds him with a fresh outlook. We have all known people who want to do Europe in seven days. They rush from pillar to post [excuse me—monument to monument], snapping photographs with friends standing in the way of every important site. I was there! the photos shout. But was that person really there?
I’m suggesting something different. Why not take your time, slow down and really look? You’ve spent a lot of money to get where you’re going and so, why not spend a lovely evening simply sitting in a cafe, in a quiet square, watching the world go by? You’ll see what happens. I suspect that the images and memories of that evening may well stay with you forever, even if you haven’t taken any photographs.
Someone should write a book on the Tao of the Traveller. To be a follower of the Tao, one must take/make time. One must catch one’s breath, open oneself up to the surroundings—in short, be receptive, not critical of everything. It won’t work too well if you’re on a tour where you have five minutes to catch the bus, before you are on your way again. Maybe, less really is more. Fewer sites, less rush—greater pleasure.
On my first evening in Venice, when I went for a stroll I wanted to catch my first impressions on film. This photograph is entitled Night Time Cafe.
Take a very close look at the mirror on the wall to the left, just above the small table. Do you see the two women wearing what look like ball gowns and men in fancy dress in a beautiful hall? When I took this picture, there certainly was no great hall on my right reflected in the mirror.
Now, I love to fantasize that somehow, my camera caught a window into a different world of bye-gone centuries. And so, for me, that is magic—easy to believe at night in Venice. Such magical thoughts are interesting for me, a lawyer turned writer and photographer.
One of my favourite authors, Robertson Davies, made an excellent point. In his lecture entitled The Novelist and Magic, he spoke of a novel by Georges du Maurier, Peter Ibbetson, written in 1891, which was hugely popular. In the story, two lovers, separated by an unhappy fate, managed somehow to meet in their dreams where they expressed their love. Davies concludes that the novel was so popular because it expressed what everybody wished were true . Don’t we all crave [need] a little magic! And so, according to Davies, that is just what a novelist should provide.
Travel can surely changes our daily mind-set, if we let it. As we do our usual work—whether it is as an accountant, a lawyer or a nurse—have you ever noticed that you have the same thoughts and feelings day in and out. Nothing odd about that, because we travel in our cars or on the bus over the same route, see the same people and perform the same tasks.Your head feels stale. Boredom has set in. Travel, if done in an open and receptive manner, can be the antidote for that.
But you may say travel [especially these days] is too expensive. Who can afford to go jaunting around the world? Well, here’s the secret, I think. You don’t have to travel to get out of your rut. It’s just a matter of adopting a different state of consciousness. Instead of going through your day in the usual fashion, try to work in something new. Maybe it’s just a walk in the evening along a street in your own town or city where you seldom go. Open your eyes to your surroundings. Let things happen and observe. You may be surprised.
If you’re a writer, sit down afterwards with your notepad and write down your thoughts, your reactions and your descriptions. With any luck, you’ll come away with a refreshingly new perception of the world and humanity and maybe a little magic. There’s a good chance you’ll get a great story out of it, which captures your reader with its magical charm. Good luck!