And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 9. september 2011

The Dichotomy of Travel

He looked like one who has undergone a journey,
his face bitten by hunger or by sorrow.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh

(...) that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself.
- Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

In general I remain quite skeptical about dichotomies, believing firmly in the intricacy of things, but from time to time I do concede that there are conflicting states found within the same experience that allow for dichotomies to appear. An example of this is to undertake a journey.

When I decided to return to my friends in York and after having arranged a number of important things, I frequently felt in the consequtive days an overwhelming feeling of expectation and joy, the true happiness, to paraphrase Jane Austen, and I was so eager to see my friends again that I ignored the dreadful complexity of my itinerary. It was only later, as the day of departure drew inexorably nearer, that I realised how silly some of my solutions were, and that most of them stemmed from laziness and naïveté on my part. In sum the trip I had lined up on my schedule was far longer than what I was forced to endure on my trip to England back in January. The difference, however, was that this time the duration was not due to mechanical problems but choices of my own, and this made is acceptable as I had time to let the gravity of the prospect sink fully in before I had to embark on the journey itself.

Some people have expressed that to travel is to live, to arrive is to die, emphasising the joy of being on the move, the joy of the suspended consummation. I for my part do not share this sentiment. To me travel is a transition, a limbo of incompletion, a state of suspension in which I achieve nothing beyond moving closer to the goal I seek. This sensation of comatose time came very strongly to me during my hours in Aberdeen since I arrived shortly after six and came to the train station just as things were closing down and the area was left to the night and its passengers. 


 The Granite City

 Aberdeen Station

What further enhanced this sensation of transience was the city itself. Aberdeen is one of the most depressing places I've ever passed through and as the bus drove through much of it on the way to the railway station I noticed shut down houses, a school and even a church, all granite grey and surrounded by kindred structures, truly earning the city its nickname: the granite city. I understood very well why most of the advertisements throughout the city revolved around how to get far away. After a two-hour wait or so the train finally departed the station and brought me south across the stretch of mossland called, in a Medieval colloquialism, the Scottish Sea, the area between Clyde and Forth once a natural border between England and Scotland.

The toughest part of the journey was no doubt the five-hour stay in Edinburgh for which I was not prepared beyond knowing that I was not prepared, and immediately upon arrival I started to walk about searching for somewhere to rest a couple of hours. However, despite the very bleak scenario I was actually very happy to see Edinburgh again, especially because the city's Victorian Medievalist architecture becomes all the more impressive and imposing in moonlight, but also because of the familiarity I felt when walking parts the royal mile again, recognising landmarks looming vaguely out of the darkness like something half-formed and ghostly. Fortunately I ended up at the Edinburgh backpacker hostel and was kindly allowed to loiter in their common room for four hours, a much needed rest that even allowed me half an hour sleep as I was assured by the kind lady in the reception that she would wake me at four, which she also did. 

  Edinburgh by night

So far I have pointed out the more miserable aspects of my journey, save the joy of seeing Edinburgh at night, but to keep in tune with the title I must note that despite the travail I was constantly alert to the fact that for each minute I was moving closer to York and the the long-awaited reunion with my friends there. This sensation became all the more pervasive as I finally departed from Edinburgh and was brought south into England.

From there on everything went rather swiftly and after having slept a little I beheld, through blurry eyes refusing to stay open, the sun rise above Northumbria in a bleak spectacle that was hauntingly beautiful. It was relatively unostentatious compared to the sunrises back in Norway, but its ghostly pallour seemed a fitting memento of past crimes and trespasses, in particular William's harrowing of the north. In not long I changed trains in Newcastle and was brought with utmost speed past the wonderful cathedral of Durham and the lovely parish church of Doncaster and into the well-known harbour of York Train Station.

Immediately I felt an immense delectation as I advanced through this well-known terrain, rejoicing in the fact that I had returned, that I had arrived, feeling that pleasure which allows one to forget the travails of travel and that makes all tribulations worthwhile. 

  The familiar Ouse

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