There was a wonderful article by Alain de Botton in the FT How to Spend It arts section on Saturday 21st March entitled 'how to travel from your sofa.' What a wonderful idea - luxurious travels of your dreams. He argued that we talk endlessly of virtual reality and yet we have the finest virtual reality machines in our heads already. And we certainly don't need a camera: there is also one of those in our minds too. He is SO right!
Possibly, some of the trips we have all taken in recent years were rushed, and we ran out of time to see everything. So now in this new Coronavirus world, though we have lost much, we have one thing in abundance, and more than we have had for a long time: TIME. Time to do things, to revisit the countries we saw, reflect on the brilliance of the art and maybe even, now, with TIME, look up a little about the brilliant artist, architect or designer who created it. Something that we longed to do but 'just ran out of time'!
The other day, I found myself doing just this, even before reading Alain's brilliant article. I was doing some research for my upcoming 35th anniversary this year to celebrate 35 years of designing. I wanted to revisit a trip to Italy in 2001 I made with cousins to Pisa. I remembered a design I sketched one afternoon back then after a fine lunch, (spaghetti alle arselle, octopus, delicious wine and of course zabaglione - my favourite dessert). It was of a detail of the cathedral pulpit designed by Giovanni Pisano, ( note no false modesty for this designer. His inscription on the pulpit describes him as: "endowed above all others with command of the pure art of sculpture, sculpting splendid things in stone, wood and gold"). I closed my eyes and I was taken back there, savouring the pasta and the espresso coffee after lunch. Next, I remembered strolling with Zio Francesco to the Duomo, talking and walking and looking and thinking... those sketches later became a necklace of gold with aquamarines and pearls.
Every time I think of it now I see the pulpit. I remember Zio Francesco pointing out details in the structure - like the text at its base written by its creator. I remember the hot summer's day in Italy - the land I love!
Could we make these travel memories, in a mad turning of what Alain de Botton refers to as the 'hierarchy of travel prestige', into the MOST incredible experience? Is there truly a need to stumble around Italy in the searing heat, with hoards of tourists and ice cream dripping, stickily through your fingers and down to your wrist? When you can sit, quietly, with eyes closed and re-remember your journey. If you sit quietly, everything will flood back, even the smell of freshly broken ciabatta dipped in peridot green olive oil at the restaurant, even the chattering of children, the glint of sun on sunglasses and the feeling of warmth on your back. We can enjoy the very best that any place we have visited can give, just by closing our eyes and thinking about it. And to comfort you, that you are not being ridiculous - some of the world's greatest thinkers have done just this by being alone with their thoughts in their room at home. And all of us have travelled somewhere in the last few years, we all have memories to feast on and now to embellish and enjoy even more because we have TIME.
So take a moment, one afternoon after lunch to re-member. I like splitting this word up - something the Rtrd Rt Revd Bishop of London Richard Chartres spoke of at his Goldsmiths Lecture in 2019 when he talked of "re-membering" the future of Europe for the 21st century post Brexit. He reflected on the inspiration offered by the treasury of art stored in the cellars of the European imagination. Splitting the word up reminds you what the word means and, even more importantly, what we need to do for ourselves and our communities in the new world we find ourselves in.
Stay safe. Keep smiling.