EST. 2009

July 15, 2015

That Voyage Extraordinaire

"THE UNFORESEEN DOES NOT EXIST." said Phileas Fogg, the surprisingly gallant, albeit stolid and mathematical gentleman member of the Reform Club, whose round-the-world adventures and misadventures left him consistently unfazed. "Phlegmatic" was the adjective used many times to describe his character, offset only by his comical traveling companion Jean Passepartout.

Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days kept me company through the unpacking stage of our brand new British life. Begun in the summer of this year, it was coincidentally when the whole of England seemed to have been traveling on holidays. Eleventh in the series of Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires, the novel was inspired by transport innovations current at the time of its writing. The opening of the Suez Canal, the linking of the Indian railways and the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in America allowed a newly-possible, tourist-like circumnavigation of the world.

We take such things for granted today. Over a hundred years since the beginning of global tourism, travel appears to have lost the wonder carried over from the exploration age. Where in 1870, people marveled at the concept of traveling comfortably to where only pilgrims, adventurers or men of means had previously been, in 2015, tourism has become synonymous with selfie sticks, spawning selfie-related injuries and damages, as well as next-generation selfie technologies like the Lily and the Nixie: drone cameras that follow you around taking footage.

Skipping on the sand, sea, selfie-ing and sightseeing this summer, I found pleasure in Verne's rich, cinematic paragraphs, sweeping through "cotton, coffee, nutmeg, clove and pepper plantations," "picturesque bungalows, viharis (sort of abandoned monasteries)," "marvellous temples enshrined by the exhaustless ornamentation of Indian architecture," "jungles inhabited by snakes and tigers," "vast forests of palms, arecs, bamboo, teakwood," "fir and cedar groves, sacred gates of a singular architecture, bridges half hid in the midst of bamboos and reeds," and other postcard panoramas from the British Empire. And as Phileas Fogg did not yet have Instagram in those years, Verne commissioned Léon Benett to masterfully depict his adventures in illustrated scenes that put our travel albums to shame.

The sights and scenes were naturally spectacular but it was Phileas Fogg himself that made the biggest impression on me. I admired his composure in the face of threat or loss, his British "phlegm" and lack of drama in spite of his sensation-rousing, society-stirring actions. "The unforeseen does not exist." he asserted in response to skepticism over his plan. But skeptics are averse to adventure anyway so why bother with their remarks?
Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you some of Phileas Fogg's quiet confidence, to brave what critics say cannot be done, and welcome your own voyage extraordinaire. Unless your intention is to risk your life or violate some artworks in the process of taking a selfie, do mind the critics and avoid the extraordinary. Please let travel be enjoyable for us too.

Around the World in Eighty Days, illustrations by Léon Benett. Images from