The Art of Travel

Spring 2016

1: Arrival

Post by January 25

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.” — Freya Stark

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. Language

Post by February 1

“To alight in a country without knowing a word of the language is a worthwhile lesson.  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.” —  Alastair Reid

“Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.” ‒ Dave Barry

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” ‒ Flora Lewis

For this post, write about your experiences dealing 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.


3. Observing

Post by February 8

“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 StarkRiding to the Tigris

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

“You can observe a lot by just watching.” — Yogi Berra

For this post, practice your powers of observation and description.  Just sit somewhere and write down what you see and hear. Write about things static (the space) and dynamic (what happens in it).  Stick to small but interesting details — facial expressions, gestures, light and shadows, sounds, smells, etc. — and don’t comment, analyze, or digress from the picture you’re painting


4. Spirit of Place

 Post by February 15

“It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’ Most travelers hurry too much…  The great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not to much factual information. To tune in, without reverence, idly — but with real inward attention. It is to be had for the feeling…  You can extract the essence of a place once you know how.  If you just get as still as a needle, you’ll be there.” ― Lawrence DurrellSpirit Of Place: Letters And Essays On Travel

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling

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” or the “soul of a place” — its characteristic atmosphere or feeling, as embodied in its architecture, environment, music, cuisine, social manners, clothing fashions, and so on.  For this post, write about something that captures “the spirit of place” where you’re studying.

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, in 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 manifest their neighborhood’s unique sense of place.


 5. Routine

Post by February 22

For this post, write about the everyday, nitty-gritty details of your life abroad: when do you wake up, what do you eat for breakfast, how do you get to school, how much do things cost, how do you do the laundry, where do you shop for food, and so on.

Before you start writing, read some of the contributions to the New York Times column called “Sunday Routine” in which “Prominent New Yorkers recount their weekend rituals.” The articles are archived here.  You don’t need to write about Sundays.  Pick any day of the week.

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 February 29

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.  Focus on how this book represents place and shapes your impression of the place.


7. Travel 2.0

Post by March 7

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.

For this post, write about the article and your own experience in the world of Travel 2.0.  To get started, check out this infographicthis article in the Guardian, and this article, “What is Travel 2.0?


8. Exercises in style

Post by March 14

In his literary classic Exercises in Style (1947), Raymond Queneau retells the same little vignette in dozens of different styles. The story is simple: a man gets into a bus and starts a row with another man who he thinks keeps treading on his toes on purpose; then he sees the same man later in the day. Queneau tells this story in 99 different styles. Some play with a particular rhetorical device (e.g., metaphor), others tell the story from the point of view of different characters (subjective), some parody a style like the epic (“noble”).

For this post, do something unusual with respect to the style of this post. You could tell the same story three or four times in different styles like Queneau, or you could just tell it once in a fanciful style. Use multiple narrators, write a parody, extended metaphor, or just do a dialogue (record a conversation and transcribe it, or just write what you remember as soon as you can). You don’t need to analyze it or comment on what you’re doing, but if there’s any ambiguity (like what you’re parodying or where the dialogue took place), you may need to set it up with a brief introduction or afterword so we get it.

Queneau’s Exercises in Style in online here.  The Wikipedia article has links to explanations of what the stylistics devices are about.  Also, be sure to take a look at this contemporary “remix” that has more styles to play with.


9. Quote

Post by March 21

For this post, start with a quotation about travel and take it from there. You needn’t address the quotation directly or offer an interpretive analysis; you might just tell a story that goes with the quotation. There are several websites that have travel quotations, such as TrekityGoodreads, Brainyquotes, and QuoteGarden (Google around for others), or you may have come across one in your readings.  Check to see what quotes other students have used already and don’t duplication if you can help it.

To insert the quote into your post, first change the Format from Standard to Quote (on the sidebar), then below the text box you’ll find two new boxes where you can paste the quotation and add the name of the person who said it.  This will put the quote at the top of your blog post, so don’t include the quote in your post or it will appear twice.


10. Books (2)

Post by March 28

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. Mishap

Post by April 4

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 or mishap you’ve had — getting lost, getting robbed, getting homesick, missing a flight, becoming ill, losing your passport, a time when things just went wrong.  The Rough Guide has some good examples here.


12. Open

Post by April 11

Sun Magazine has a regular column called “Readers Write” in which people contribute short pieces on a particular theme.  The pieces aren’t usually travel related per se, but they are just about the right length for a blog post, they are written in interesting personal styles, and they should give you some ideas about how to approach this assignment. For this post, choose one of the following Sun topics, read the examples (the links go to the “Readers Write” columns in the Sun archives), and then write your own take on the theme in the context of your travel experiences.

Acts of Kindness; Appetites; Authority; Beauty; Being Alone; Borrowing; Breaking the Rules; Cheap Thrills; Clothes; Doors; Family Vacations; Fights; Flying; Forgetting; Good Advice; Keepsakes; Leaving Home; Making It Last; Medicine; Narrow Escapes; Noise; Paying Attention; Pretending; Promises; Rites of Passage; Rumors; Running Late; Saying Too Much; Security; Shoes; Singing; Slowing Down; Taking Chances; The Best Feeling in The World; The Last Word; Walking Home; Warning Signs.


13. Borders

Post by April 18

“Culture shock is often felt sharply at the borders between countries, but sometimes it doesn’t hit fully until you’ve been in a place for a long time.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson, “The Mind’s Eye”

“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.” — Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

In many ways, travel is all about crossing borders and boundaries, both literal and metaphorical.   You cross the border between one country and another, show your passport and visa, and so on.  But travel is also about borders and boundaries in figurative ways: you cross from one culture to another, from one mental state to another, from one one way of looking at the world to another.  The liminal state of travel is also the occasion for “transgressing” in terms of space, mindset, spirituality — a time for breaking rules, re-inventing yourself, pretending to be someone else.  For this post, write about borders, culture shock, transgression, transformation, etc.  The topic invites vague generalizations, so try to find an approach that is specific and concrete.


14. Tips

Post by April 25

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. Going home

Post by May 2

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” —Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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.  Topics 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?  And check out the Sun Magazine excerpts on “Going Home.”

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