How to travel in the captivity of your home

2 August 2020

5:00 PM

2 August 2020

5:00 PM

We can’t travel with ease anywhere, anymore. First it was Spain, now Luxembourg is the latest holiday spot to require a two-week quarantine on return. But there is one destination that is guaranteed to be hassle as well as quarantine free: your home.

If you’re wondering how you can make your 15-foot square lounge the border of your annual vacation, there’s a guidebook to help. It was written in 1790 by young Frenchman and amateur hot-air balloonist Xavier de Maistre. Maistre had been condemned to 42 days confinement in his Turin studio flat for taking part in an illegal duel. Rather than sit on his sofa and mope, he took up his pen and wrote A Journey around My Room, a manifesto on how to travel while going nowhere. It became a cult classic, influenced many writers including Victor Hugo and Marcel Proust, and is still in print over two centuries later.

Maistre called his new style adventure ‘room-travel’. His journey begins on his armchair, which he soon starts to admire with a whole fresh set of eyes. Habituation, he realises, has made him blind to its beauty. From this fascinating sofa spot, he spies, towards the North, his pink-and-white bed and decides to strike out for it. His journey without maps follows a zigzagging path and the borders of his world have so shrunk that the bed seems impossibly far away. Gathering his strength, he takes the first steps. It’s well worth the effort to reach this first resting place.

‘A bed witnesses our birth and death; it is the unvarying theatre in which the human race acts out, successively, captivating dramas, laughable farces and dreadful tragedies.’

Excited by the slumbering landscape, he declares, ‘I am making discovery after discovery!’ He continues on, exploring the ‘vast terrain’ of his novel and poetry collection. But even room-travel has its perils. En route from bed to desk, he trips over his sofa.

It takes until chapter 34 for the wanderer to eventually arrive at his writing case, sharpened pens and sealing wax. On top of a notebook lies a crumbling, dry rose. Rather like a museum object evoking a whole history beyond the glass cabinet in which it sits, Maistre sees the objects in his room as vehicles to take his imagination on a trip. He’d bought this rose at the previous year’s carnival for a woman he admired. But it was unrequited love, and she had abandoned it on her dressing room table. He took it home where it had lain on his desk ever since.

Maistre is keen to extol the advantages of this ‘new way of travelling that I am introducing to the world’. He claims thousands who have never dared to travel will now do so. You don’t need a Tilley hat or even a pair of Bermuda shorts. Maistre finds his dressing gown the most comfortable ‘travelling coat’. Anyone, he argues, can ‘travel just as I do’. The cost, he points out, is nothing beyond normal outgoings. If you’re afraid of nature’s most challenging features, such as high cliffs and low valleys, you’re not going to be challenged to conquer them. You don’t even have to climb a steep set of stairs. Most of all, you won’t get mugged. But for more modern-day tourists, the biggest blessing might be not having to weigh your luggage to see if you need to pay for a check-in bag. ‘So, buck up then. Let’s be off!’ as Maistre says.

The voyager finds nothing confining about his rectangular, 36-pace circumference (‘if you hug the wall’) cabin. This room was not his cell but a ‘rich land through which I am so agreeably travelling’. He does not long to hear the door key turning as it’s unlocked. When his promised freedom from confinement grows close, he pines for the loss of ‘the vast space that always lies open before me! They have forbidden me to roam around a city, a mere point in space; but they have left me with the whole universe.’ As anyone returning from a good long holiday, Maistre isn’t looking forward to going back. ‘The yoke of business is going to weigh down on me once again; I will not longer be able to take a single step that isn’t traced out for me by propriety and duty.’

Over two hundred years since this first journey, room-travel could be the answer to tourism in these Covid-19 times. Instead of enticing us to eat out with meal deals, the Government should consider room-travel vouchers as an option. Maistre ensures us that, once experienced, we will want to book room-travel for all our breaks. So much did he enjoy this mode of exploration that eight years later he made a second room-travel outing. On this journey, recorded in A Nocturnal Expedition around My Room, Maistre ventured still further – out on to his window ledge.

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