Friday, July 30, 2010

Seeing the World Through New Eyes

The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. --Marcel Proust

I have always admired Proust for his profound and insightful words. But when I read this quote, my respect grew to an even greater level. I preach about how people need to travel and see the world, how they need to leave behind their everyday lives and experience something new. However, I have never addressed the highly irritating--and highly common--issue of the close-minded traveler. In a nut shell, this is the person who travels to different places, but cannot open their eyes to what their really experiencing. They go into the trip with the idea that they are going to a new place and therefore they are broadening their horizons, however, when they arrive, they look at everything the same way they do at home. They are the same person, with the same attitudes and opinions and views on life. Nothing has really changed except the setting.

I have had the unfortunate pleasure of traveling with people like this, and they are probably the most annoying travel companion you can have. (Yes, even more annoying than the extreme tourists who hang a camera over their neck, wear apparel that screams foreigner and snap photos of every passing streetcar.) It doesn't matter where they go, or what they see, or who they meet, their minds are forever closed to the beauty and culture that surrounds them. Sure, they can take the tour and learn the facts, but they aren't really soaking it in. What are they actually seeing when they enter that ancient church or world-class museum? They see what they want to see, and close themselves off to the things that they don't understand or care to know about.

I have never been an expert in the field of art, but when I entered the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, I pushed my lack of knowledge to the back of my mind and took the time to inspect each piece. It didn't matter that I didn't quite grasp the idea of brush strokes and lighting, that the hidden meanings behind paintings seemed a little far fetched, or that the artist's name didn't ring a bell. All of that fell away as I listened to our guide tell us the inspiration and stories behind each piece, how the artist captured his or her emotion through oil on canvas or Fresco, and the general characteristics of the paint. Suddenly, something I used to find somewhat monotonous, suddenly seemed fascinating. I was intrigued by the artistic techniques. I wanted to know more about each artist's life: where they lived, how they grew up, who they loved. What I enjoyed most about the experience was that I opened my eyes to something new, and I learned from the experience and stumbled upon an appreciation I never really had before. Obviously, I didn't have to go all the way to Florence to find it--I could have easily discovered it at the Chicago Art Museum--but I found it nonetheless.

For me, that's what travel is truly about. Not just going to a place, but really seeing a place for what it is. Anyone can say I went to Paris, or Egypt, or Thailand. Hell, people can even say they've gone to San Francisco or New York City. But to truly discover those places is to open your mind to the environment, the culture, the vibe, and appreciate everything for what it is. Previously held perceptions and opinions will only block a person from the beauty and distinctiveness that accompanies every destination.

So the next time you go on a vacation, cast aside all your habitual notions, all your conceptions and all your doubts, and just look at what is around you.


  1. Hi Vanessa!
    I totally agree with your post! It's about looking at the world with different eyes. That reminds me that I went to Venise when I was 14 and I went again 3 weeks ago (now I'm 20) and it was such a difference experience!

  2. Your view is what i stand for, for through new eyes is the world appreciated for the beauty it is!