Jottings: The joys of a good book
My mother loved books, particularly about travel to foreign places, books on the history of the world and the wonders that they revealed.
Until she was in her early 50s, she never had much opportunity to travel by anything other than a ca, or train, and then only 30 to 100 miles from her home in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
She was born in 1923 and died in 1991. The world changed a lot during her lifetime with the rate of change accelerating, and it still is. She never lost the joy of seeing and experiencing new things, and in such situations would become like a curious girl, in her own private world, without TV, computers, or the internet. Her world was expanded by the wonder of her imagination, her magic carpet to travel the world through the window created by the books that she read.
I got my love of books from her. Now we have access to so many modern technologies that give us a real-time view of the world and its activities. With it sadly, some of the magic of discovery through travel to exotic places by reading has been lost.
My personal interest is seeing the world as it used to be. So I travel back in time, through books written by travelers exploring a world long gone. Sharing their experience, through their eyes, I enjoy discovering the mysteries of human behavior around the world. Reading the observations of travelers who travelled the path that I am now following, only theirs was centuries before.
I find it interesting that we always assume that our way of life, our environment, is how it is everywhere else in the world, and is normal. It is only when we observe, through travel to other countries, and by reading books, old and new, that we realize how wildly wrong those assumptions are.
Books written by travelers giving first-hand accounts of what they saw and did during a visit to some exotic place, without the modern conveniences of transportation, roads, accommodation and their amenities. Things that today, we take for granted. They describe what they saw and experienced; local people, foods and events in the environment they live in, their "normal" behaviors in that environment.
In reading a travel book by Dickens on a visit to London, in the 1850s, he describes staying overnight in a coaching inn and going to bed. He described the water basin left for him to wash in, the candles and their holders in the room to allow him to complete his bedtime ritual, the bed pan underneath the bed for his use. Activities that today we take for granted were very different for our ancestors. Imagine having to get up in the middle of the night, find a candle, and something to light it with, or, just finding the bed pan, oh dear.
A normal day for people centuries ago was dictated by their ability to see what they were doing and taking care of the household duties before going to their paid work.
I have collected early travel books of Brazil, Japan, China, England, and of course Ireland. Through books I have had the opportunity to read how people, because of their environment, behaved the way they did, and today many of these characteristics remain.
Japan was opened to the rest of the world by an American fleet commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry in the mid-1800s, after millennia of isolation. It was a society unaffected by Western influences, a society that even today defies all of our normal paradigms. It is a wonderful thought provoking place to visit.
Reading about Brazil, before slavery was abolished in 1888 (without having to endure a civil war): It is interesting in the context of the current population, how people of every race imaginable mix today.
Yes, there are the haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor, however it does not break down so clearly into racial groups. When living in Brazil I was amazed by the homogeneous grouping of young people where no race within the population was a majority.
As I age, and travel becomes more irksome and inconvenient, I will spend more time travelling through space and time with a good book.
Roy Houston is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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