Art will release us
For the first time during this interminable lockdown, the desire to simply board a train or plane, just go somewhere, anywhere different, felt overwhelming. I daydreamed of walking through unfamiliar streets or a town square, sitting outside a bar, unmasked and sipping something cold in the sunlight. Unsurprisingly, it was the week, we should have been on a family trip to Copenhagen, twice postponed, so this yearning was entirely understandable.
However, despite the Covid restrictions, I did manage to get away.
I went to Tibet, somewhere I’ve always fancied. I climbed Nepal’s majestic Annapurna mountains, listened to the howling wind and soaked up the extraordinary light. Then onto Bangkok where I wove through bustling markets, redolent with spices, took a Tuk Tuk to the Wat Pho Temple, marveled at the reclining golden Buddha, then finished the day with an awe-inspiring sunset.
Okay. I admit, it was teleportation. That is travel through TV. Nepal came courtesy of Black Narcissus, the remake of the original 1947 Powell & Pressburger film and Thailand’s exotic scenes were a welcome relief from the murder and mayhem of true crime drama, The Serpent, both BBC productions. Thanks to the locations, I was able to project myself to the other side of the world, without once leaving my sofa.
The transportive power of art is a phrase much bandied about but I’ve never been more conscious of this exit route of the imagination. Marooned in our domestic spaces, forbidden from travelling, it’s books, films, poetry and music that can lift us out of our homes, away from its associated duties and allow us to transcend the everyday. Although we may be physically confined by lockdown regulations, mind travel allows us to roam freely.
Whether it’s the Normandy of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or the Cornwall of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, we recognise the power of a great book to take us somewhere else. As readers, we invest our time, not only in the emotional journeys and inner conflicts of characters but in whatever world or ‘precinct’ has been conjured by the writer. ‘That’s the thing I love about books,’ said Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Interpreter of Maladies, ‘They let you travel without moving your feet.’
Some of these places will live in our imaginations so vividly that if and when we visit them for real, it can feel like déjà vu. I felt this keenly the first time I visited New York. It had played such a starring role in my TV education, that I had already been among these yellow taxis, subways and drug stores. On Radio 6 right now in The Happiness Map, travel journalist, Rob Crossan speaks to musicians about their favourite places and the music that takes them there. Elvis Costello accompanied us to New Orleans and Emmy the Great was the tour guide for Hong Kong.
So, until there’s an alternative, let’s yield to the imaginative worlds of artists, writers, dramatists and musicians. No Covid passport necessary.