The only real way to travel is to travel aimlessly, without a destination, purpose, or agenda. One should have only the vaguest, dreamiest intuition that the country travelled may be of interest. Once, when I was still working as a curator, my then wife and I went on holiday to a Central American country, largely because it lacked a museum, or at least a museum that would prove irresistible to either of us. We were mostly likely wrong in that assumption, but I can’t say, because we never visited the museum. Neither did we visit the capital city’s renowned German restaurant, nor did we indulge a weakness for souvenirs, although we did seriously discuss the adoption of a small mutt who decided to follow us on a late night stroll through a port city. Awakening one morning, we beheld the threatening underside of an iguana perched on a ceiling support over our bed. If we cannot travel without purpose or plan, we should at least cultivate the illusion of it, if only as a literary device, like Norman Douglas in Old Calabria. Travel is fertile soil for illusions, and we should make the most of it.
I’ve been on the road from Rome to Bomarzo, from Bomarzo to Munich, from Munich to Dresden, from Dresden to Paris via Berlin, and back again, going to the opera, concerts, and museums all the way. This can’t be travel! I’ve been bringing all my home interests and my work for the Review with me, as well as all the same thoughts and expections that accompany me week after week, as I drive from Williamstown to New York or Boston. How different is this, say, from listening to all the performances I have heard on the radio in my living room? Whether, I’m in long familiar places like Munich or Paris, or a completely new one like Dresden, I come encased in my own elective affinities, which lead me to Mozart, Eötvös, Rossini, Fénelon, Wagner, and Bruckner, as well as the Alte Pinakothek, the Gemäldegalerie, and eventually, even closer to the hub of my universe, the Dresdener Graphische Sammlung, the Salon du Dessin, and the dreaded Louvre…not that I neglected the gallery of a photographer who calls himsefl Johnny Trash, or the many excellent contemporary galleries in the 6me and 7me, especially an impressive show of Alessandro Kokocinski’s haunting multimedia works.
At least all of these good things distracted me from the kind of found obsession that led Aschenbach to his foreign grave—and to follow Hermes Psychopompos is an even purer kind of travel, one I’m most certainly not ready for. In any case, I’m alive and able to offer you first-hand reports of the magnificent, the ugly, and the perverse, mostly operatic.