On being told that a man had complained because he hadn’t learned anything in his travels, Socrates replied: “That’s because he took himself with him”.

Changing Temples – Traveling In History
The Travelogue Blog

This is an unusual Travelogue in that it is about real travel but also about the Psychology of Travel, the History and Myth in and of Travel, the Philosophy of Travel. It is intended as a Travelogue in the tradition of Montaigne, Tavernier, Chateaubriand, and countless others one can identify from the 16th, 17th, and other Centuries. It is also an exploration of the Metaphors latent in Travel – metaphors that not only inform the history one comprehends before one’s eyes, but also informs that internal history, which, as Socrates noted, shapes what one learns by shaping the essentials of one’s supposed “freedom” of travel experience on a day by day basis.

Fundamental to the honesty necessary in such an undertaking is some exploration of the compulsion to record the experience. Admittedly, it goes deeper than just recording, than attempting a translation of experiences into a grand and oh so new metaphor for a grand and not so New Age. The very heart of the matter finds one foraging amongst fundamental needs. Those needs are hard to grapple with, for they may be weaknesses, they may be vanity, or they may be that always lurking ego. Whether weaknesses or vanity or whatever else, I know precisely what the fundamental driver is. In the depths of my psyche at least is a longing to want to leave an history that lasts somewhat beyond the perishableness of memory. That is why this Travelogue involves the philosophy of the soul. Some leave children, some leave the grandest of adventures that change or cheapen history itself, some leave multi-volume works on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. My honesty is that I think I will substitute pretending I’ll actually get close to doing anything even remotely approaching a grand contribution to History by writing this travelogue about traveling “in” it.

Perhaps by vicariously walking through the historic, I can translate the vainglorious dream into some productive effort? At any rate, there are other less profound reasons and motivations for this undertaking which I have denominated as “Changing Temples”, as traveling history. Reasons that are, perhaps, more revealing or at least sufficiently justifying.

A broken heart foremost. The seemingly numerous memory triggers that initiate vertigo on the chasm edge of despair. No remedy – home, garden, warm wood stove midst cold winter days, the most calming of music, too much wine – comes close. So, the solution that rises to the top is to run away – into history, for want of a better destination.

So, why describe this as “Changing Temples”? One of the remarkable attributes of three Zen Masters I’ve studied is that each was an artist, calligrapher, poet, (at least one) a lover, administrator, mentor, and all loved drinking Sake with the local farmers. Even when well into their 80’s each would up and change temples. (Three Zen Masters: Ikku Sojun – ‘Crazy Cloud” 1394-1481; Hahuin Ekaku,1686-1768; Roykan Taigu,1758-831, John Stevens. Kodansha Biographies).

Sometimes even a Zen Master finds changed environment a good thing or a necessity, apparently. Why not someone lesser?

A marvelous historian secondarily. Fernand Breudel. ‘The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (2 vols) and The Structures of Everyday Life 15th – 18th Century (1st of 3 vols). If Genoa was the world’s foremost banking center in the 16th Century, what role does banking play there today? Not earth shattering in import, but a modicum of justification to examine and explore. If Venice was the one of the most significant shipping and sea powers in the 16th Century, do they now just ship tourists in and out? Not to be forgotten is Edward Gibbon and his ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. Having read the first three and one-half volumes three times, I find fascinating not only the stunning comparisons with another, significantly more modern Civilization but also the language of the Enlightenment which, as you will likely experience in my posts, still informs my rather overwrought use of the English language.

Third, not ‘hard travel’. There is something to be said for the reasonably familiar – a recognizable alphabet, grammar, and language in which an English Literature major and a traveler who can survive in Spanish and French will not feel alien – Italy, but focused upon it’s Mediterranean aspects ala Braudel.

Not finally really, but also those other reasons that are non-rational, wrong-headed, and altogether fantastical.

Continued . . .

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