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Toothbrush bikini and dead poetThe Art of TravelAlain de BottonHamish Hamilton 1499 pp272Travel is now the worlds biggest industry according to the World Trade Organisation It beats arms and pharmaceuticals both in turnover and in numbers of people employed Despite the post-11 September dip forecasts for the sector are measured not in billions of dollars but in trillions Mans collective endeavours - our god-like technology our money our precious time - seem more and more directed at satisfying an oddly unnecessary urge to be somewhere elseAs the scope of our travel widens and we become more efficient at getting there and as the material standards of hotels and resorts improve a predictable paradox emerges the experience itself is tinged with disappointment Cue Alain de Botton the young high priest of humanismHe begins with a common complaint When he gets to Barbados with its bare blond beaches and coconut palms he is surprised to find himself worrying about petty things - a sore throat a colleague he has failed to contact before he left Then he has an argument in a restaurant with his girlfriend about puddings and his whole day is spoilt Why Why in such exotic surrounding should we be assailed by the same old woesThe answer he suggests is that we do not do it well - we are sadly ignorant of the art of travel The travel industry is quick to tell us where to go but not how and why With the aid of a team of dead painters and poets aesthetes and Romantics de Botton explores this very modern malaiseThus from Edward Hopper we can learn the poetry of train journeys and gas stations and half-empty cafs From Flauberts horror of home and his yearning for the East we can understand more of the travellers motive From that great post-Enlightenment traveller Alexander von Humboldt with his exhaustive mapping taxonomy and pioneer botany we can learn little because all that stuff
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