Paul Theroux on the art of travel

Published 19.05.2011 12:26
Updated 19.05.2011 12:31

Author Paul Theroux began globetrotting 50 years ago which led to the publication of his first travelogue "The Great Railway Bazaar" in 1975, considered by many as a classic in travel writing.

In his newest work, "The Tao of Travel," published in the United States next week, he collects the best in travel writing over the past decades, as well as his own enlightenments.

Theroux, also the author of acclaimed novels such as "The Mosquito Coast", talked to Reuters about the art of travel, loneliness and being agitated at the age of 70.

Q. How does "The Tao of Travel" reflect spirituality?

A. "I think of it is as both spiritual and secular. It is the rules of travel. If you talk about journeys in general, travel in general, you really are talking about a big concept. Because it is like going through life, the average difficult trip is like living a life, overcoming obstacles. But it is also all the things I never read about in other travel books. It is a personal book; it is not just an anthology of quotations."

Q. You extend Chekhov's quote, "If you're afraid of loneliness, don't get married" to "If you are afraid of loneliness, don't travel"?

A. "A lot of travel is lonely, it is solitary. It is probably why people do take their wives and children and expedition members with them. But solitary travel is lonely, but it is also rewarding and that kind of solitude, which is a rarer and rarer thing in life."

Q. Apart from travel, writing is also a solitary experience. Did you become at ease with your own loneliness?

A. "You overcome loneliness by connecting yourself to where you are, not to where your home is or to your family, but to being in the moment and making a friend, finding out about the place that you are in and not phoning home all the time. Loneliness may be the human condition, but your work takes you out of yourself and being constructive, being creative, learning a language.

"The kind of solitude that people once knew as travelers is disappearing because people in general are so well connected. But that solitude is a valuable thing, it allows you to meditate, consider where you are."

Q. You talk about connectedness in what way?

A. "There is something promiscuous about people phoning all the time. It's like if someone has an unlimited access to sex, has a lot of boyfriends or a lot of girlfriends. They really don't experience sex in a rational way. And if you can make a phone call every two minutes, if you can be connected, you really don't have any solitude at all."

Q. What makes a place interesting?

A. "It is where you make a discovery. I have often thought the place where you want to live is the place where you wouldn't mind dying. I used to think in England, God I don't want to die here, I will stick it out ... I live in Hawaii most of the time now and I think I love living here because I would not mind dying here."

Q. You quote writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens. How did you choose all the writers you quote?

A. "I chose many books that I read as a child or as a young adult but I had never seen mentioned anywhere ... and then there is an impression that I wanted to correct -- 'Oh you think that this person was a great traveler, well here is someone that was a better traveler.'"

Q. You once described yourself as agitated, aged in your 20s. How would you describe yourself now at 70?

A. "I am agitated still. When I was in my 20s I was very opposed to the war in Vietnam, opposed to the war in the Pacific, very unhappy about the civil rights movement in the states ... I find myself actually going back to that and feeling very aggrieved. I think there is not enough diplomacy. We are fighting in Libya. We are fighting on Afghanistan. We are fighting in Iraq. It is costing a fortune. It is killing people. People are getting their legs blown off."

"I am getting agitated again, I am feeling a great disenchantment with politics and politicians and this problem solving, which is just 'send in the planes.' It is really horrible. It is not going to have any kind of resolution."

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