The Art of Travel

Fall 2015

1: Arriving

Post by September 2

For a romantic view of travel, read Pico Iyer’s “Why We Travel,” and for an amusing but more cynical view, read the first chapter of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel: “On Anticipation.”  For the first post, try to do two things — introduce yourself to the rest of the class and respond to the readings, directly or indirectly.  You might say something about where you’re from, where you’re studying, why you chose your abroad site, what your concentration is about, what you hope to accomplish while abroad, how you’ve been anticipating your semester abroad, etc.  In responding to the readings, you could discuss a theme or tell a little travel story, perhaps about what happened when you arrived at your abroad site.  As you write about yourself, remember the website is not just for the class but available to the general public on the Internet.

For your first featured image, you could post a picture of yourself or the place you’re studying, or something else related to what you discuss in the post.  (It can be a photo you took yourself, or something off the Internet.)  Take some time to read everyone’s first posts so you get to know who’s in the class.  Don’t forget to write a comment on someone else’s post.

2. Orientation

Post by September 9

“To become completely lost is perhaps a rather rare experience for most people in the modern city,” writes urban planner Kevin Lynch.  “We are supported by the presence of others and by special way-finding devices: maps, street numbers, route signs, bus placards. But let the mishap of disorientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to our sense of balance and well-being. The very word ‘lost’ in our language means much more than simple geographical uncertainty; it carries overtones of utter disaster.”

In his landmark book The Image of the City, Lynch examines the elements of the city that we use to get oriented so we’re not constantly lost — the paths, edges, nodes, and landmarks of the landscape.  Recently, scientists have discovered that we also have other ways to learn our way around — the brain has its own “inner GPS.”  And there’s a whole field of study called “wayfnding,” which is about the ways people orient themselves in space and navigate from place to place.

For this post, write about the experience of learning your way around, getting lost, asking directions, and learning to form an image of the city you’re living.  Think about how maps and landmarks (public and personal) have played a role. To get some ideas, take a look at the excerpts from Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost on Google Books and look over the first chapter of  Lynch’s The Image of the City.

3. Language

Post by September 16

“To alight in a country without knowing a word of the language is a worthwhile lesson,” writes Alastair Reid. “One is reduced, whatever identity or distinction one has achieved elsewhere, to the level of a near-idiot, trying to conjure up a bed in a sign language. Instead of eavesdropping drowsily, one is forced to look at the eyes, the gestures, the intent behind the words. One is forced back to a watchful silence.”

For this post, write about your experiences with language: learning the language, knowing or not knowing the language, misunderstandings, communicating without words, dirty words, idioms, the importance of gesture, the “watchful silence,” etc.  If you’ve used a foreign language app, you might write about that (check out this NY  Times article on the subject).  To get started, read chapter 3 of de Botton’s Art of Travel,  On the Exotic.

4. Strolling

 Post by September 23

“Flâneur” comes from the French word for “stroller” or “loafer.”  The scholar Walter Benjamin described the flâneur as one who goes “botanizing the asphalt” — roaming leisurely, strolling the streets, observing the marketplace, gazing into the faces of stranger, taking in the spectacle of the city. The flaneur walks slowly, writes Benjamin.  In nineteenth-century Paris, the flâneur would take a turtle for a walk to set the pace.

In “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863), Charles Baudelaire describes the blasé dandy in terms often used in connection with the flâneur:

“The crowd is his domain, just as the air is the bird’s, and water that of the fish. His passion and his profession is to merge with the crowd. For the perfect idler, for the passionate observer it becomes an immense source of enjoyment to establish his dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very center of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world, such are some of the minor pleasures of those independent, intense and impartial spirits, who do not lend themselves easily to linguistic definitions.”

For this post, go for a stroll and “botanize” your walk.  Include interesting details about what you see, hear, and smell, and what thoughts you have while you’re walking.

 5. Routine

Post by September 30

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear.  Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” — Freya Stark, Riding to the Tigris

Travel is often seen as a way to escape the boredom of the quotidian, but to a traveler, the details of everyday life can be extremely interesting.  Some of the best travel books aren’t about exotic adventures — they just describe the basic facts of ordinary mundane life.   For this post, write about the everyday, nitty-gritty details of your life abroad: your daily routine, your apartment, commuting to school, how much things cost, doing the laundry, taking out the garbage, dealing with doors and locks, shopping for food, and so on.

Also, take note that the next assignment involves reading a book, so you may want to get started on that this week.

6. Books (1)

Post by October 7

Write about a book related to the place you’re studying.  There’s a page of suggested readings for each site on the main menu on the course home page.  If you want to read a book not on the list, please get approval in advance.

For the post, write about what the book has to say about the experience of travel in the place you’re living, or how it represents the place, or how it may contribute to one’s understanding of the place. Be specific by referring to details in the book and perhaps quoting a couple of passages.

It’s impossible to do justice to a whole book in a few hundred words, so stay focused on what the book has to say that’s relevant to our travel themes.  The post should not be a summary of the book or an Amazon-like recommendation, and it should be mostly about the book, not your own experiences.

7. Travel 2.0

Post by October 14

The internet and social media have changed travel in countless ways.   Online booking sites have replaced travel agents, AirBnB provides an alternative to hotels, cellphones keep travelers in constant contact with friends and family, hand-held digital maps make getting lost a rarity, travelers share their experiences and recommendations almost instantaneously via blogs, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Do a little research about one aspect of how contemporary technologies are changing the way we travel, and link to an article you found interesting.  Write about the article and your own experience in the world of Travel 2.0. To get started, check out this infographic, this article in the Guardian, and this article, “What is Travel 2.0?”  (To create a text link, highlight a few words in your post — the title of the article, the website name, etc. — and click on the editing icon that looks like a chain link.  Then paste in the URL.)

8. Style

Post by October 21

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country,” wrote Rudyard Kipling, “is to smell it.” In the ancient world, the genius loci was the deity who protected a place, its guardian spirit. The term now refers to the “spirit of place” — its characteristic atmosphere or feeling, as embodied in its architecture, environment, cuisine, social manners, clothing fashions, and so on.

For this post, write about some aspect of style — art, music, fashion, architecture, etc. — in the place you’re studying or a place you’ve visited this semester.  You might focus on the work of a particular artist, the way people dress, etc.  Think about how the style of the buildings in a neighborhood or the music scene captures the spirit of the place.

To get started, please read de Botton, The Art of Travel, chapter 7: “On Eye-Opening Art” and check out a few of the Intersection videos at the New York Times, n which people from all over the world are stopped on the street and asked to describe the clothes they’re wearing as a way to capture their neighborhood’s unique sense of place.

9. Great good places

Post by October 28

A “great good place” refers to cafes, bars, corner stores, parks, street corners, bookstores, study halls, libraries, and other places where people hang out and have a good time. Describe such a place in the country you’re living. As you’re working on the piece, take a look at some of the travel books you’re reading and see how these authors describe such places. There’s also a book called The Great Good Placeby Ray Oldenburg, and you can read an excerpt on Google Books, here.

10. Books (2)

Post by November 4

Write about the second of the books you’re reading for the course.  The Suggested Reading lists are on the sidebar.  If you want to read a book not on the list, please get approval in advance.  The post shouldn’t be a plot summary or recommendation.  Instead, focus on what the book has to say about the experience of travel in the place you’re living, or how it represents the place, or how it may contribute to your understanding of the place.  Be specific by referring to details in the book or quoting a couple of passages.

11. Open topic

Post by November 11

For this post, write about whatever you want.

12. Misadventure

Post by November 18

The word “travel” is thought come from the word “travail,” probably from a Middle English word meaning torment, labor, strive, or work strenuously. According to Simon Winchester in his book The Best Travelers’ Tales (2004), the words “travel” and “travail” both share an even more ancient root: a Roman instrument of torture used to impale.

Travel often involves painful experiences, misadventures, and ordeals. Write about a particular travel ordeal or misadventure you’ve had over the past few weeks — getting lost, getting robbed, getting homesick, becoming ill, losing your passport, a time when things just went wrong.

13. Transformed

Post by November 25

It’s idiomatic to say that travel broadens the mind.  As Mark Twain writes in The Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

For this post, write about how your mind has — or has not — been broadened by travel and how your own travel experiences have been transformative in terms of how you look at yourself, other people, and foreign cultures. The topic invites vague generalizations, so it might help to focus on one specific experience or a particular moment of self-realization.

14. Tips

Post by December 2

Write a post giving advice to other students planning to study where you are. Would you recommend this study-abroad site? What would it help if they knew in advance? What do you wish someone had told you? If there are choices about where to live, what would you recommend? What tips do you have about preparing in the weeks and months before the abroad semester begins? What places have you discovered that you want to tell people about? As always, remember to [ost a comment on someone else’s blog.

15. Looking back

Post by December 9

Write something for a little closure: saying goodbye, some final reflections about your study abroad experience, a few words about doing the Art of Travel course. Some possible questions to consider: What was the most rewarding aspect of the experience? What were the biggest problems you faced? What do you think you’ll do differently when you get back home? What will you take note of at home that you weren’t noticing before? What do you think you’ll remember years from now? What might NYU do to make study abroad a better program?

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