Virtual Travel with Pessoa, Google and the Russian Railways

Noone is better at describing the ‘tedium of physical traveling’ than Fernando Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet – an endless mental journey through aesthetics and philosophy:

Fragment 451

Travel? One need only exist to travel. I go from day to day, as from station to station, in the train of my body or my destiny, leaning out over the streets and squares, over people’s faces and gestures, always the same and always different, just like scenery.

If I imagine, I see. What more do I do when I travel? Only extreme poverty of the imagination justifies having to travel to feel.

Any road, this simple Entepfuhl road, will lead you to the end of the World. But the end of the world, like the beginning, is in fact our concept of the world. It is in us that the scenery is scenic. If I imagine it, I create it; if I create it, it exists; if it exists, then I see it like any other scenery. So why travel? In Madrid, Berlin, Persia, China, and at the North or South Pole, where would I be but in myself, and in my particular type of sensations?

Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.

Why travel indeed? If the book has become an outdated transport medium, Google has just launched a new travel product-experience – virtual ride on the Trans-Siberian Moscow-Vladivostock railine, complete with a choice of soundtrack from balalaikas to a meditative rumble of wheels to an audio recording of Gogol’s Dead Souls (in Russian) should you be so inclined. As you follow the passing scenery from your train window to whatever acoustic accompaniment you prefer, you can also trace your route on the map and explore the surroundings, and that for 9000km, 7 time zones and 150 hours of footage.

In case of motion sickness, Pessoa comes to aid again:

Fragment 122

The idea of travelling nauseates me.

I’ve already seen what I’ve never seen.

I have already seen what I have yet to see.

The tedium of the forever new, the tedium of discovering – behind the specious differences of things and ideas – the unrelenting sameness of everything, the absolute similarity of a mosque and a temple and a church, the exact equivalence of a cabin and a castle, the same physical body for a king in robes and for a naked savage, the eternal concordance of life with itself, the stagnation of everything I live, all of it equally condemned to change…

The Google train ride on the Trans-Siberian in this sense emotionally resembles a frozen TV dinner. It robs the imagination and leaves an empty aftertaste.


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