Alain de Botton on “The Art of Travel”

The first time I laid eyes upon The Art of TravelI immediately knew that I would adore it. Not only did its giver have an impeccable track record for book gifts, but travel, art, and beauty, all explained through the eyes of a witty English philosopher?* How much better could it get? If we could eat books, this would be my first course.

And now, precisely a year later, I have reopened the pages (to be welcomed by a small shower of Domincan sand) to once again meet the text for use in a short speech assignment. I’ve come to the sad realization that rarely do friends take my fervent book recommendations into serious consideration (God bless them when they do), and so the speech is a fun way to share my favorite portions. The chapters chosen were “On Curiosity,” “On the Country and the City,” and “On the Sublime.” Although my real presentation includes a notes-sheet packed with delicious verses, for simplicity’s sake I’ve included just one per chapter here, along with my Prezi:

I. On Curiosity

“Curiosity might be pictured as being made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over huge distances, form a central hub composed of a few blunt, large questions. In childhood we ask, ‘Why is there good and evil?’ ‘How does nature work?’ ‘Why am I me?’ If circumstances and temperament allow, we then build on these questions during adulthood, our curiosity encompassing more and more of the world until at some point we may reach that elusive stage where we are bored by nothing. The blunt large questions become connected to smaller, apparently esoteric ones. We end up wondering about flies on the sides of mountains or about a particular fresco on the wall of a sixteenth-century palace.” (pg. 116)

II. On the Country and the City

“Of what moment is that when compared with what I trust is their destiny, to console the afflicted, to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier, to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous; this is their office, which I trust they will faithfully perform long after we (that is, all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves” –Wordsworth in a letter to Lady Beaumont after his poetry was initially described as “namby-pamby” and “a piece of babyish absurdity”

III. On the Sublime

“‘Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me’…When divine wisdom eludes human understanding, the righteous, made aware of their limitations by the spectacle of sublime nature, must continue to trust in God’s plans for the universe” (pg. 171)

Surely there is nothing more enthusing than the prospect of traveling, not only to new places but with such playfully enlightened eyes.


 

*If you need any more reason to read the text, consider that there is a portion entitled “The Exoticism of Shitting Donkeys.”

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John Donne on Religion

What a week! Though the frigid air swirls and chills the earth ever more, I’m tempted to argue that the cozy winter months bring out the warmest times amongst friends. Since such present living has left me with little time for reflective essays, this week’s passage will be a remarkable poem that never fails to leave quite the impression. No further words are needed:
By: John Donne
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Learning a Million New Things Everyday

Yesterday, the Comunidad 19 participated in an engaging tour of Centro León, feasted on “La Bandera”, and sang Prince Royce’s “Las Cosas Pequeñasen nuestra clase de español. While this was all wonderful, the real unexpected treat for myself came after dinner in the form of a casual talk by the Dominican Director of ILAC. He began per usual with his background, talking about how he grew up as the youngest of eight brothers on a farm, worked hard in a factory, educated himself enough to own his own farm, and how he now helps run the ILAC center by teaching the campesinos, or Dominican countryside farmers.  As soon as the words “opportunity cost” came out of his mouth during an example, the economist in me was hooked. Rightly so, because it was at this point that he began to speak about the economic differences in the Dominican Republic, and how it was important for our Comunidad to observe the differences but keep in mind that there was most likely an unnoticed rational behind them. “Observe, but not judge,” he repeated over and over as he described how they no longer took American groups to tour the factories where people worked, since in the past people had staunchly objected to the fact that the Dominicans were working such long hours and being paid only about $1 per hour. He pleaded that we do not realize that Dominicans are able to stretch that weekly $50 to support themselves better than we could imagine, since we Americans frankly have little clue about the art of being frugal in a developing country. He added that some people once suggested that the government double the minimum wage, but that this would be completely counter productive as it would cause the factory to relocate to another more lucrative country, leaving behind poor and now job-less workers. The way to break the poverty cycle was not through free handouts, but rather through supporting jobs and education. And here I will interject, because earlier in the day, on the sunny ILAC rooftop, I had read the universal proposition derived from that exact logic. It was a great hour during which the principles that I held by my own reason and logic, here specifically faith in the free market, were confirmed by a completely foreign source who had also arrived at the same principle, but through sheer personal experience. I mentioned in the last post that I had recently read Fr. Sirico’s wonderful book, Defending the Free Market, and found it informative and logical. Here is an important portion from his chapter on foreign aid that was unknowingly repeated almost verbatim during yesterday’s discourse:

“What then can wealthy nations do to assist developing countries? First, don’t make the matter worse by encouraging corruption and governmental irresponsibility, which is exactly what government-to-government aid tends to do. Second, stop undercutting businesses in the developing world by flooding their markets with free goods year after year. Save emergency aid for genuine emergencies, and when you rush in to help, see if there are any local producers already there with whom you can partner to source emergency provisions. Third, open the world’s markets to the businesses of emerging economies. As things stand today, many Western nations practice the confused and contradictory policy of protecting domestic firms through tariffs and subsidies–thereby shutting out the products of developing nations–and at the same time sending billions of dollars in tax money to developing nations to supplement their failing economies. This is the misguided strategy we have used to ‘develop’ Haiti for the past few decades. Is it any wonder Haiti’s people are still struggling to develop?”

The director, a neighbor and eyewitness of Haiti, added vibrant language of his own and described the foreign aid as “handicapping” the Haitians– they don’t need free things, he said, rather they hunger for education so that they themselves may be creators. Work allows individuals to have the necessary responsibility, independence, order, and sense of purpose in their lives. If you truly want to help people and break the cycle of poverty, advance education. And so I climb (through my loathsome mosquito net) into bed tonight feeling content. Content because while La República Dominicana and this experience outside of my comfort-zone has already embellished my surface interests (e.g. bachata music, yuca, siestas, etc.) my core beliefs stand not only unshaken, but triumphantly confirmed. But the best part yet: my Comunidad and I have the privilege of being a part of this legitimate foreign aid since, beginning next Monday, we will be teaching English in three different schools throughout the semester. Here’s to learning–now hopefully teaching–a million new things everyday. 🙂