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Aristotle at Afternoon Tea participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. This means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support my writing in a small way, so thank you. Happy reading!

© 2014-2018 Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved


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On a Poet, a Painter, a Cellist

April 2, 2015

'Our nature lies in movement; complete calm is death.' 

– Blaise Pascal


© 2014-2015 Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved


The Lumière brothers released their first silent, black and white film to the general public on the 28th of December, 1895. The subject they chose: a fifty-second shot of a train pulling into the station at La Ciotat. The film’s frame composition ‘created the illusion of a real vehicle, growing in size, making its grand entrance into the lives of the spectators.’

People shrieked and applauded. Instant success! The Lumières called their masterpiece… the moving picture.


It is inherent to our nature; we are drawn to movement from the moment we first open our eyes. Movement as motion, movement the physical transition from place to place. Aristotle claimed that movement was the key to intelligence; unlike a plant, whose roots condemned it to remain in a certain place, an animal (or man) had the power, and freedom, to be in two places at once. The more contemporary, and slightly more poetic, travel writer Bruce Chatwin described the compulsion to travel as an ‘inveterate impulse’ rooted in our species.


No, we were not made to be sedentary. The proof is all over our history; from the expulsion that launched the biblical journey to Herodotus’s Histories, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Icelandic Sagas, the Odyssey, the Travels of Marco Polo, those of Gulliver, and the one that still makes me dream: Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty-Days.’ Before the Wright brothers built the first airplane, before Thomas Savory invented the first steam engine, even before someone in Mesopotamia carved out the first wheel and Icarus stuck feathers onto his back, man was domesticating donkeys and crossing continents on foot.


Today, travel is common, and most of it is voluntary and temporary; we travel to work, learn, discover, relax… and pick up postcards on the way home. But we do not all move for the same reasons, and for many, travel has nothing to do with business or pleasure.


© 2014-2015 Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved 


The most radical and tragic form of movement is migration. The immigrant is the only traveler without a return ticket, the one who ‘signs away his safety for a blank cheque.’ In 2013, there were two hundred and thirty-two million such travelers: refugees and asylum seekers, exiles and opportunists, workers and students… two hundred and thirty two million individuals with one thing in common: a brutal rupture with home.


I would like to share three such stories of travel with you. Three very similar stories of three very different men: a poet, a painter, and a cellist… called Pablo.


Pablo Neruda was the ‘literary master who taught Latin Americans who they were,’ shattering social and political divisions with the humanism of his poetry. Pablo Picasso catapulted art into twentieth century political debate with a black and white painting of a massacre in Guernica, three and half meters tall and eleven meters wide. And Pablo Casals infused integrity into music by refusing to play in concert for Francisco Franco and composing transformative anti-war works like The Song of the Birds.


Three men called Pablo. Three contemporaries of the Spanish-speaking world who saw stagnation at home and dared to move. They fled oppressive governments and  found purpose in their exile; their art introduced innovative and revolutionary political ideas and made them giants of the twentieth century.


Just incidentally, the three men died the same year too. 1973.


Our poet, painter, and cellist understood this well: ‘Status quo’ is devolution into decrepitude. The only way to fight it is to move.


Our greatest epiphanies occur when we are not stationary; the Greek root of the word ecstasy is ek-stasis, literally ‘beyond’ stasis. The unfamiliar ‘keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.’


But the unfamiliar is also scary.


‘[…] When we are so far from our own country … we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits.’

- Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1951


I know that fear well. And if you have ever waived goodbye on a train platform, stood in line at border control, or had tin biscuits for dinner in the back seat of a moving car, you probably know it too. When you move, you miss places, smells, flavors, songs, people. Some only for a while, others forever. You can only fit so much into a suitcase.


When that fear does strike, I take comfort in an image a favorite author of mine paints in one of his novels, of mapmakers in the desert who traveled every night at six o’clock, the early evening hour, carrying only a copy of ‘The Histories,’ a few scribbles and drawings, and the names of those they loved.


Well, I could fit those into any suitcase.


‘Man's real home is not a house, but the road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.’

- Bruce Chatwin



© 2014-2015 Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved


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