Travel Article


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For the last decade I have been writing on the subject of pioneering and travelling, as well as the psychological and the spiritual journey of life. I am not unaware of the significance of such writing as an expression of one's philosophy and religion, of one's sociology and ideology, indeed of the very apparatus of one's life. I have written literally hundreds of prose-poems and essays on the themes of travel interwoven with their variegated personal and societal significances.

My prose and poetry is, if nothing else, a definition of my identity, of the way I see my life, see life in general and the complex society in which I live. What follows in this essay is a collection of several pieces, several prose-poems, that I tie together somewhat tenuously for the sake of this exercise, this special posting on the subject of travel. I hope readers find some of the connections I make, often tangentially, on this subject of travel stimulating and provocative.

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Travel Article

  1. 1. SOME PERSPECTIVES ON TRAVEL AND ITS JOURNEY For the last decade I have been writing on the subject of pioneering and travelling, as well as the psychological and the spiritual journey of life. I am not unaware of the significance of such writing as an expression of one's philosophy and religion, of one's sociology and ideology, indeed of the very apparatus of one's life.1 I have written literally hundreds of prose-poems and essays on the themes of travel interwoven with their variegated personal and societal significances. My prose and poetry is, if nothing else, a definition of my identity, of the way I see my life, see life in general and the complex society in which I live. What follows in this essay is a collection of several pieces, several prose-poems, that I tie together somewhat tenuously for the sake of this exercise, this special posting on the subject of travel. I hope readers find 1 Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 1992.
  2. 2. some of the connections I make, often tangentially, on this subject of travel stimulating and provocative. PIONEERS REDEFINED My world, the Baha’i world in which I have been enmeshed for 60 years, is the receiver, the inheritor, of the stamina, the spiritual heritage, of past ages and centuries. This spiritual heritage has only begun to be realized in the wider world, the global society, that has been becoming more and more apparent to even the superficial observer. For more than 100 years, throughout the twentieth century, the Baha'i community has been engaged in a diaspora that has taken this Faith to the far corners of the world making it the second most wide-spread religion on the planet. But the evangelism of this newest of the Abrahamic religions is unobtrusive, quiet, and not possessed of the aggressive proselytizing methodologies of many secular and sacred groups now propagating their messages.
  3. 3. This diaspora has been the venue for several generations of pioneers who have brought a new song and, in the process, these pioneers were transformed “into something different.” 1 I was one of these pioneers. During that 20th century, that century of light and its unbelievable technological and scientific progress, generations of pioneers, each to their own capacity, saw more than a phantasmagoria of continuous impressions and visions, understood the common man as best they could, went deeper into the human psyche, below the surface the society’s structure, penetrated the character of man and society, evinced an imaginative knowledge in their minds and hearts and disentangled, as far as they were able, their ideals from the ideals of a society that was gradually becoming unhinged. It was much more than sensuous sympathy, more than a mass of images without structure, more than a formless flux. Gradually, God was raising up generations, men and women, whom the world had been waiting for. The world was slowly acquiring a
  4. 4. global character and identity. This was an inevitability. “The present century”, one of these Baha'is, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, had written of that same 20th century, “shall stand unrivalled.” These four epochs which have been my life, 1944-2013, have seen “the breaking of the morn” and “the rising of that Sun.” 2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1 George Santayana for his analysis(1900) of Whitman’s ‘song of the pioneer’ in Walt Whitman, editor, Francis Murphy, Pengin 1969, p.164; and 2 with appreciation to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections, Haifa, 1978, p.67. This poem1 does not refer to some act of perception. It constitutes the act itself. This poem is a realization, rather than a description of a reality: that you and I are one.
  5. 5. I act as the tongue of you. I become the reality of my vision and of my words. The self, here, is a dramatic self, identical with the procreant urge of humanity to oneness, with an exploration-voyaging as a mode of existence, in which I and my subject become part of language’s flow..........I imbue this poem with myself, a new stance in which the world takes on very new shapes.2 1 Emerson wrote a letter, from which many of the ideas in this poem come from, about two weeks after Whitman's Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855. Some critics see Whitman's work as inaugurating the era of modern poetry. Baha’u’llah, this new Faith's Founder, was, at this time, in Kurdistan, the place he had travelled to withdraw and which He
  6. 6. wrote of His experience there that it was the mightiest testimony to and the most perfect conclusive evidence of the truth of His revelation.(God Passes By, p.124). 2 See the letter of R.W. Emerson to Walt Whitman about his Leaves of Grass in Walt Whitman, editor, Francis Murphy, Penguin, 1969, p.29. Ron Price Written over the period 2003 to 2013 A PIONEER After a four hundred page review of Western Marxism from the 1920s to the 1970s, Professor David Held discusses Homer's Odyssey for six pages in an appendix. Held wants to "show how, since the beginning of Western thought, the struggle for self-preservation and autonomy has been linked to sacrificial renunciation and repression."1 Repression of instinctual urges, or what 'Abdul-Baha calls the dispelling and driving away of "the darkness of the world of nature," is crucial if the "most wonderful melody"2 is to be raised. The poem's central character, Homer's creation, Odysseus, exemplifies the struggle
  7. 7. for liberation from nature. His lot is a continuous fight against the diversity of life's situation which threatens all unity. He embarks for unknown lands where he is both priest and sacrifice, where he enjoys adventures and risks, where he overcomes temptation and pursues glory, where the boundary between self and destruction is fragile. Odysseus' story is not unlike that of the Baha'i pioneer, indeed, not unlike many in our modern age who would struggle for ideals, and against the evils which seem to multiply with every passing day. -Ron Price with thanks to 1David Held, Introduction to Critical Theory From Horkheimer to Habermas, Polity Press, 1990(1980), London, p.401; and 2 'Abdul-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, 1977(1919), Wilmette, p.67. I often hear the melody of temptation when I'm tied to the mast of the ship which I have been sailing these long years & I am not able to respond. But this is not always the case.
  8. 8. So often I yield to temptation's sweet call.1 So much of the journey is anticipation of things to come, suppression of needs, and the treatment of my fellows as objects--for my survival. And so I sail on and on and on. The Word has power over fact, expression and intention interpenetrate again & again, instinct carries me on and carries me down while reason, reflection and remembrance ultimately triumph in this longing for oneness.2 1 The lower self, often personified in sacred literature as Satan, struggles with temptation's sweet calls. 2 David Held's description and analysis of Homer's Odyssey and the life of an international pioneer, as I have experienced it, have a remarkable similarity. Ron Price 2/7/'02 to 4/12/'13.
  9. 9. Having established, having set, some very broad frameworks for the pioneer in this travel mode, let me continue with a focus this time on the historical and the literary aspects of the journey. I am dealing here, not with Everyman's tourist destination, Las Vegas, nor with a cruise-ship of escape into the Pacific, nor with some post-modern Grand Tour and its accompanying in-flight thrillers where, expansive with airborne wellbeing, one loosens one's belt and suspends disbelief. I am not dealing with tourism as a source of revenue and economic development with its magical cure, with its seemingly free lunch, for those in stagnant and declining economies. I am not writing about tourism which often takes away the soul of a community, marginalizes the locals and changes the local culture to suit tourist tastes. For me the tour, the tourist, the travel, the pioneering takes on a strongly different hue. APPROPRIATING THE LITERARY From the mid-1930s, as the Seven Year Plan, the first organized Baha'i teaching Plan, now more than 75 years in the making,
  10. 10. was about to begin, the Shell Oil Co published a series of Country Guides written by authors and poets with an interest in topography. They were aimed at promoting the touring car on the open road, at encouraging motorists to explore the countryside and historic towns. Car ownership, of course, had begun in the years before WW1 but, when the Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled in 1919 in New York, the car was ready to take middle and upper class Baha'is and their friends from all backgrounds to many places and it did. Car ownership became available to a much wider public in the first plans: 1937-1944 and 1946-1953 as well as during the Ten Year Crusade and the Nine Year Plan, 1953-1963 and 19641973 respectively. Citizen motorists could take the Cause to places it had never gone before on national motorway networks constructed from the 1950s to the 1970s, the years of the ninth and early tenth and final stage of history. -Ron Price with thanks to C. Aitchison, N. MacLeod and S. Shaw, Leisure and
  11. 11. Tourism Landscapes: Social and Cultural Geographies, Routledge, London, 2000, pp. 45-46. An essential restlessness, a lack of anchorage novelty, change, adventure, experience--this first generation of the tenth stage of history, that was I, me and mine. Then came the writing it down, creating some of the first images of pioneering, strong links between pioneering and the poetic, artistic, reciprocal relations. Pioneering appropriating the literary to give shape, form, direction, meaning, an enhancing excitement, the harsh and not-so-harsh reality of this new cultural
  12. 12. aspiration, this religious ethos. One poet for information, another for sentiment, as this predilection for literary pioneering, a literary way of seeing has defined this pioneering, given it a particular potency in the collective imagination, finally taking off in that fin de siecle & the new millennium. Ron Price 1/11/'02 to 4/12/'13. I feel compelled to bring in Mozart, arguably the greatest musical genius of history, as one of the world’s greatest travellers in the world, a traveller in the world of melody. On the surface, Mozart and his life seem irrelevant to my theme.
  13. 13. But on closer scrutiny he needs to have a place in this story, this pioneering mecca which recognizes an historical heritage and a future, one far removed from the entertainment tourism of Las Vegas, its narrative and its analysis. Mozart brings to the discussion here a particular promise and a hope that is part of human destiny and the mysterious dispensations of Providence Itself.2 Travelling without hope, without promise, is not uncommon, even for poets. Many poets and writers are, in fact, seriously pessimistic as they journey on, travelling in their respective milieux. SOME COMPARISONS Mozart's description of what happens to him as he composes has some similarities to the process of writing poetry as I experience it and to the process of travelling. "Once I have my theme another melody comes,"1 Mozart begins. And so it is, for me, with writing poetry. I get the germ of an idea, some starting I find my own work an interesting contrast with, say, Hal K. Rothman, professor of history at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Devil's Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 1998. Rothman's case-study of Las Vegas provides a useful juxtaposition for my own narrative account. I could choose other tourist meccas like Disneyland, the Egyptian pyramids, Israel or any one of many that are now scattering themselves around the world. 2
  14. 14. point, a strong note or theme. Then, another idea comes along linking itself to the first one in a similar way to the linkage of that melody Mozart mentions to his theme. By now there is emerging "the needs of the composition as a whole" both for me and for Mozart. For both of us, too, the whole work is produced by "melodic fragments," by "expanding it," by "conceiving it more and more clearly." Mozart finishes his work in his head and so often this is precisely what we do when we travel, before we travel. Travelling, in fact, takes place because we finish the story in our head. This is often the stimulus for buying the ticket. The composition comes to him in its entirety in his head. In writing poetry, I finish my work on paper and I have no idea of the ending until the end. I travel on an unknown journey. The poem below is an example, drawing heavily on the contents of a book by Chloe Chard.2 -Ron Price with thanks to the 1ABC Radio National, The Science Show, 10.1.98; and 2Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography: 1600-1830, Manchester UP, NY, 1999.
  15. 15. Even the most uninteresting, trivial and repetitive, when seen at a distance with a lively fancy and a determination, with purpose and system to make the most of life, can find a mysterious charm, an entertaining commentary in the hands of a good writer and someone who knows how to travel, to journey, the earth. But this is not the work of a tourist and its trivial, pointless diversion, its innocent gratification, its pleasurable indolence, its gratifying excitements,
  16. 16. its gastronomic indulgences,1 its relief from responsibility, and its identity: escape. I have never been a tourist.2 Always there was the work, the object worthy of life, of commentary: always the profusion of the incomparable, so much intensification, excess, the delights, the dangers, the restlessness, a reaching out beyond the mundane, the observable. The danger of hyperboles, accepting, as I know I must, jarring encounters,
  17. 17. the destabilizing, troubling elements that can't be kept at bay, when calm benevolence can't be maintained and the necessary distraction. Travel has always been difficult.3 1 Except, perhaps, on my two 'honeymoons' for several days in August 1967 and December 1975; and travelling to and settling in to some new places of residence and employment. 2 Tourism in the modern sense began, according to Chard, about 1880. 3 Any history of travel up to the middle of the 19th century tells a story of the difficulties involved in the process. Ron Price 27/6/'02 to 4/12/'13. How can one talk about travel without bringing in Star-Trek, mirabile dictu? There has been a whole world of science fiction
  18. 18. travel since at least the 1930s and 1940s to say nothing of the sci-fi on TV since the fifties. Anyone under 75 has experienced this new world of imaginative travel. Star-Trek is a program that takes us where no man has gone before in the world of the imagination. STAR TREK: THE LAST STAGE OF HISTORY OPENS The Hanging Gardens, a now completed project of the Baha’is in Haifa, Israel, is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. They had been gradually taking shape in the first four decades of the tenth stage of history as Star-Trek went through its first four decades in TV Land. -Ron Price with thanks to Ya’acov Ron, Managing Director of the Haifa Tourism Board, Advertising Brochure, City of Haifa, 1996. Just after the first message to youth in the third year of that Plan,1 a cartoon epic2 began with the thrill of a Saturday morning serial. It took us in a wagon-train to the stars,
  19. 19. the human cause out into the galaxies of people’s imaginations, while the House took those youth right back to basics while travelling in a quite familiar galaxy, dealing with three great fields of service3 and at the same time radiating the Message to the seekers among their, & my, contemporaries. Meanwhile, in a poetic and romantic land of dreams, in far-off galaxies, Rodenberry Land, our perceptual reality was being framed as part of a new shift of vision to planetary civilization, electronic information systems and world-wide webs: we were all getting ready, did we but know it, for a great fertilization of seeds long planted, a begeming of our lives with new and heavenly teachings. For they had come with confirmations and assistance from the threshold of Oneness, now in Hanging Gardens.
  20. 20. Ron Price 1/1/'97 to 4/12/'13. 1 2 The Nine Year Plan: 1964-1973 term used to describe Star Trek in the script of the first TV program “Star Trek-30 Years and Beyond”. 3 Universal House of Justice, First ‘Message to Youth’ on 10 June 1966. Having gone into the future in our travels in the last poem, let us travel into the past, into history, in the next. For in travel we can go to any time and place now. Travel has expanded exponentially, both literally and imaginatively, metaphorically, analogically. PRISONS: OLD AND NEW The metaphor of imprisonment haunts Australian literature. In metaphor the mind travels to places that exist and places that don’t. For the use of metaphor, the habit of analogical thought, is perhaps the basis for all real travel in the imagination. --Randolph Stow, Australian Novelist, Source Unknown.
  21. 21. We’re used to being ill-at-ease, we in Canada and Australia, in our garrisons and prisons1 from sea to sea, wall-to-wall, fated by our history, preoccupied unbeknownst with distant echoes, resounding into the present, in our strategic locations, especially the pioneer, archtype traveller, putting down roots, roots that go all over a continent, in a new prison: coursings through east and west.2 You don’t escape the prison of the past that easily even in these days of tourism, candy-floss, take-aways and endless engines.
  22. 22. It’s fitting really: a new prison can now be found across this land, this hall of mirrors with its vapours in the desert, far from those old prisons and forts, far from those Indians, the indigenes, who were hardly-not-even-human, from exile and expulsion, here on the veranda, here where new dreams are born, where strangeness is removed from the heart and laid with gold, brought by a loyal lover’s caravan even though we have none anymore. And around this house, its intimate space, place of dreams, sign of new spirituality, home for a new Revelation, no darksome well, but place of burning desire, hazardous, tortuous, narrow: no facile pop-psychology here,
  23. 23. no pseudo-political jargon, one level above the ordinary the lover seated in the heart3 and one level below the ordinary where we court restlessness, failure, difficulty, more and more urgency, and eagerness, quicksilver-like, astir, aflame. Ron Price 2/11/''96 to 4/12/'13. 1 Gillian Whitlock compares the early history of Canada and its garrisons to Australia and its prisons. She goes on to compare the Arctic to the Outback. See Australian/ Canadian Literatures in English, Russell McDougall and Gillian Whitlock, editors, Methuen, Melbourne, 1987, pp. 49-67. 2 ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l- Baha, Haifa, 1978, p.236. 3 ’Abdu’l-Baha in Four on an Island, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, George Ronald, Oxford, 1983, p.67.
  24. 24. And, then, there is the ever-present travel amidst the products of our consumer society, as alluded to above. These are products and places where billions of us travel now, even the Thoreau’s among us. COCA-COLA AND CHIP INTERFACE Increasingly, the interaction of three levels of law and custom, of cultural interpretation and convention, are producing an enormous complexity. Our attempts to get resolution between global consumerist, commodity culture and local, indigenous, often tourist-driven culture, is sometimes, fortuitously, successful, but more often impossible; and the labyrinth imposes excessive demands on the institutions and the individuals attempting to resolve the problems. -Ron Price with thanks to The Science Show, ABC Radio, 12:40-1:30 pm, Saturday, 25 January 1997. Whatever model we have of social organization for the planet, a model that is eventually adopted to take us into the future for perhaps a thousand years, must have some essential and
  25. 25. necessary interface with the three levels of society around the globe.-Ron Price with appreciation to Douglas martin, "The Baha’i Model for World Fellowship," World Order, 1976, pp. 6-20. It has become a central issue in both anthropology & management science: the interaction of three levels of social organization: local, national, international. Some integration of all these levels is crucial, as our society becomes more and more global and at the same time enjoys a recrudescence of local culture, a local culture that appeals to tourism, to some native tradition and all that a local region stands for. And with this, at least in our time, Coca-Cola, hamburgers and chips travel to the furthest corners of the planet.
  26. 26. Ron Price 25/1/'97 to 4/12/'13. Any discussion of travel must, as I say above, bring in the consumer society. So let me say a few more things about travel, the consumer society and the two societies in which I have lived my life: Canada and Australia. THIS NEW HOME The ultimate offering of the consumer society is tourism, travelling and the exotic excitement of the unknown. Many, although clearly not most, now have what used to be the priviledge of the few. They can experience a range of glamorous fantasies. Their travel is seen as an adventure, a dream, a pioneer experience, an exploration. The tourist, this modern traveller, becomes a man of distinction, a lord or a lady, an aesthete, a traveller in search of knowledge and the beautiful. Travelling, tourism, is a great art, an escape, consumption, not revelation. It is a rich cake at the end of the meal of modern life.-John Carroll, Sceptical Sociology, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1980, pp. 144-149.
  27. 27. The overseas pioneer experience which has been my life for more than four decades, is about as far removed from tourism as can be. It has taken me to strange and interesting places, but it has wrung from my heart all that is joyous and sad, refilling this ancient and fragile receptacle--and its close companion the mind--with ruminations on time’s best jewels hid in a chest and kept in a cool place. There are ruminations, too, on time’s burden of sin that often melts in my heart and boils in my veins when I contemplate both this burden and His benevolence. -Ron Price with appreciation to Shakespeare, Sonnets; and to Baha’u’llah, Long Obligatory Prayer. There’s a deeply inlaid skepticism here, in Canada and Australia, deeper than the deepest ocean, dark and pessimistic, light, jocular, irreverent. Here tragedy has been sucked out,
  28. 28. perhaps by the dryness, the bitter cold or a heat that can leave you for dead. Softened by consumerism’s seductive pillow and the satire, skepticism’s juices are found everywhere, fill the air with a Voltarian irreverence. But they have taught me how to laugh. I often feel like Odysseus in his end, at home, in peace and familiarity, a sublime space, relaxed, in my wife’s arms, pondering from time to time death’s call and a daily drifting weariness. There’ll be a time when I will be troubled no more by skepticism’s wit and life’s burden. I will melt away in a battle I will fight by myself, alone, in this new home, a battle so old, so quiet as to have no name.
  29. 29. Ron Price 20/9/'97 to 4/12/'13. MY TRIBUTARY Each artist thus keeps in his heart of hearts a single stream which, so long as he is alive, feeds what he is and what he says. When that stream runs dry, you see his work gradually shrivel up and start to crack. -Albert Camus, Selected Essays and Notebooks, editor, Philip Thody, Penguin, London, 1970, p.18. There’s been a stream, scented, I’ve been drinking from it since before I came of age. Its waters have been sweet and deep, with periodic wastelands when the bed runs dry and the blackest and the dustiest soil fills my soul with fear, disorder and an awful desication. A new, a fresh, tributary of this stream
  30. 30. is running in these late middle years. Inspiration is running with a force that I barely understand, nor can I withstand its roving eye and hand making an interwoven carpet, travelling silently like a meteor through a dark, remote, isolated universe and no one sees. Will this tributary shrivel after I have expressed my life and all it means at a deeper, more intense, more clear-sighted level than any thing I could ever have achieved in this daily round? I think not; for it is a tributary of a great and thundering river whose waters will flow on forever into the sweet streams of eternity: As long as I have the will
  31. 31. that wills this eternal flow, some mood will strike me here below. Ron Price 12/1/'96 to 4/12/'13. This last poem alludes to a type of travelling which I am now enjoying as I head for seventy this year. It contains more than any passenger ship, aircraft, pleasure destination could possibly give. Still, like the traveller, I have my down times, my down side. All is not on the pleasure-craft of life. My cruise ship is slowly coming to its harbour, sometimes "festive in the face of death,"3 as the poet Roger White once wrote, sometimes tired and worn, sometimes ill and depressed. For my type of travelling is no picnic. This is no Disneyland of antiquities and religious sites that one can soon encompass in one's camera sights. The heart's frail craft has welcomed some of this journey, has coasted unperturbed, has braced itself to deflect the dips and Roger White, "The Invasion of Israel by Eskimos," The Witness of Pebbles, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981, p.89. 3
  32. 32. swings which threaten to capsize it in unforeseen eddies or fling it uncontrolled to perilous brinks. In its bleaker more depressing moments one thinks, as White puts it again: "I would not have chosen this, any of it, the wringing of the spirit, the remorse."4 This journey is not for the timid, the overwrought, the vainly pious, the pusillanimous of spirit, the bloodless prig. This ardent voyage "on the unvariable storm-lashed brig" with its unreasonable rain to bring the living twig is "not for those wary and in despair of love."5 THE OUTER SUBURBS We might be told to ignore our dreams and discount the rainbow. A cold, winking star, nameless and infinitely remote, might be given us as sole comfort, or a dull black stone. Roger White, "Sightseeing," The Witness of Pebbles, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981, p.74. 4 5 ibid., p.71.
  33. 33. -Roger White, “Question”, Occasions of Grace, George Ronald, 1992, p.61. The answer is not that it is difficult not that there are hazards abounding, but that an empty, bland, yawning gulf drifts which some call liberation, others retirement and still others nothingness. The great gap between an old authority and a creative substitute, how to make use of a new freedom and its bright-coloured patches and its grey-black patterns in symbiosis: a cavernous abyss, tall precipice yawns before us as we sleep, as we try to find the canvass on which to paint the picture-from drift to mastery--
  34. 34. with our lives. Patterns of feeling and meaning can only fill some of the infinitely cold spaces from here to eternity and its distant stars, nameless planets and the miles and miles between us along roads that I keep travelling and will never do again. Perhaps this emptiness is for the heart where inner mysteries unfold and love and hate must not take root. Perhaps it is in these cold and barren places that truth unwinds and error is defined. Perhaps here it is that the lamp of search, earnest striving, devotion, rapture and ecstacy, find its home, its niche, its spacious dwellings, in these cold, clinical and distant planes
  35. 35. where the City of God finds its outer suburbs; where the heart begins its slow, infinitely slow journey to the brighter lights of some downtown and its intense, its brightest lights-upon-lights, where there is a satisfaction that at last fattens and appeases the hunger; where the fragrant trees and flowers, the familiar friends and sublime embers warm me by the fire; where You lay waiting with love, more than I have known. Ron Price 10/9/'95 to 4/12/'13. I wrote this last poem 18 years ago. As I read it now, I do not understand it all, but it tastes of the journey that is ahead of me
  36. 36. down the long river of time. It tastes of eternity where we all travel in whatever form it takes. Ron Price 12/8/'03 to 4/12/'13.