Insiders - More rambling!
This site bears witness to one obvious truth: events, scenes and memories of travel are usually captured and saved in photographic images. For many, the first and most inspirational travel images are the likes of the Manhattan Skyline, The Sydney Harbour Bridge and (bless it!) Big Ben The reasons are not hard to identify: these are more immediate, vivid, sharper and generally easier to manage that such alternatives as art works or – perish the thought – words.
And yet – it occurred to me a weeks or so ago whilst musing over a plate of “spezial currywurst” and a glass of Riesling on the Gourmet Floor of Ka De We in Berlin – just occasionally, words can create an impression richer, more poignant and altogether deeper than their more popular rivals.
Two examples came to mind, conveniently sited on opposite sides of the “pond”. The first – taken from the last chapter of George Orwell's “Homage to Catalonia, when the author, despondent after his experiences of the Spanish Civil War, reflects on the England he left and will soon return to. It is of course a highly idealised image, but still wistfully evocative – and prophetic:
“And then England — southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way......to believe that anything is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don’t worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday. The industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of the earth’s surface. Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen — all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs. “
The second – and for me, some of the most powerful lines ever penned – comes from the last chapter of Fitzgerald's, “The Great Gatsby”. After attending (almost alone) the funeral of his erstwhile neighbour, Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway wanders up to the shores of Long Island and envisions the reactions of the first visitors to the US:
“Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. “
All best wishes for the Festive Season,