To travel around the world at least once has been the dream of almost everyone, at any age and by any means. Jules Verne imagined an impossible challenge in Around the World in 80 Days, and those who have read the book have made the exact same journey in probably less than half the time, eagerly following the adventures of the unflappable Phileas Fogg.
Good news: we can all take a trip around the world, we just need a few things and if we don’t have them, our own senses are enough.
The first object is a globe. If we look at it and turn it slowly, the whole world passes in front of our eyes and we can stop it with our finger and explore a whole continent either with our imagination or, if that is not an option, we can do it through some explorer, writer or traveller who has already taken the trouble to tell us what they saw, or perhaps even what they would have liked to have seen. After all, our imagination is available 24 hours a day.
ACTIVITY – Which book (or which comic book, film or TV series) comes to mind when you look at a globe? Tell us briefly.
There is no time limit, we can watch and imagine for hours, and if we don’t feel like reading we can listen and identify with those stories.
If you read Amundsen’s account of his long voyage, which ended with him being the first to plant the Norwegian flag at the South Pole, it is not easy to fully comprehend the fatigue, the hardships, the fear of failure, or the moments of terror when faced with an expanse of ice without any points of reference. However, it becomes easy to understand if you read without haste, if you pause and try to “feel” and “see” with the eyes of the traveller, if you think of the environment as a place to be imagined, not quickly consumed.
Sten Nadolny wrote the novel The Discovery of Slowness (1987), narrating the thoughts of John Franklin, the ill-fated explorer who sought the then mythical Northwest Passage in the second half of the nineteenth century, in arctic territory that was difficult and hostile to man. But the fascination of this story is not the expedition itself but the slow thoughts of this extraordinary character, who struggled to speak, who fought his own personal battle to string words together and who observed his surroundings carefully, even his ideas that materialised and appeared to him concrete, real, observable. He strung words together in his own way and stubbornly and determinedly constructed desires and landscapes to be discovered and explored. And in fact he claims “The goal is important only for the sake of finding the path to it”.
This is the second element of our task, and it is not even a physical one: knowing how to observe and learn from observation, because each time we learn something about what surrounds us, we also gain an insight into ourselves. That said, this doesn’t mean trying to capture every moment or scene with a photo. Observing means taking your time and discovering that a tree, for example, contains interesting information in its bark, or that its branches may look like letters of the alphabet, or even that its presence in a forest means that the forest is very old or very young, or that the amount of oxygen it provides is very high compared to other types of plants. It is not just a tree, it is a whole life experience!
ACTIVITY – Write a tweet to a friend giving your own definition of slowness.
A Japanese study some time ago claimed that a ‘forest bath’ cures sadness and infuses us with energy. The entire natural world that has this incredible ability to provide silent solutions to life, but it takes time to recognize them and incorporate them into our day-to-day existence. In his famous Jungle Book, there are several scenes in which Rudyard Kipling describes how the man cub Mowgli tries to use the language and gestures of the animals but gets himself into trouble because he has not taken the time to learn them correctly.
It is the law of nature and of the world: watch, learn, interpret.
Shall we return to the world map? How far have you got in your search with your imagination? In what ocean are you navigating and wondering what is yet to be discovered? Maybe Jules Verne could be an excellent guide again, because you can keep one hand on the globe while you dive down in a submarine and end up Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and imagine strange fish and monstrous sea creatures.
However, if the depths of the sea are too quiet for you, or you can’t think of a story you want to read, it is always worth taking a long walk in nature, paying attention to the world around you, so that you can create your own. It could be the slowest and most satisfying novel of your day, because you can add new characters or storylines right up to the last moment. You, and you alone, have the power to decide when your story is finished.
This is the secret of observation and patience.
It makes everyone endlessly creative.
TO GO FURTHER
Organise a trip around the world in small groups or pairs. The rules for planning the trip are:
1 at least three stages
2 For each stage, each group chooses one to three titles from the Black Cat English 2021 catalogue.
3 Each group writes a short text to justify their choices, or explains them orally to the other groups.
4 Based on the titles that make up the stages of the trip, give a title to your adventure.
5 Then share a reflection on what the meaning of this trip could be for each of you with your companions.