that the soul invariably travels at the speed of a camel

Writing for the BBC, Alain de Botton — recently writer-in-residence at Heathrow airport — imagines a world of the future without aircraft:

Everything would, of course, go very slowly. It would take two days to reach Rome, a month before one finally sailed exultantly into Sydney harbor. And yet there would be benefits tied up in this languor.

Those who had known the age of planes would recall the confusion they had felt upon arriving in Mumbai or Rio, Auckland or Montego Bay, only hours after leaving home, their slight sickness and bewilderment lending credence to the old Arabic saying that the soul invariably travels at the speed of a camel.

This new widespread “camel pace” would return travelers to a wisdom that their medieval pilgrim ancestors had once known very well. These medieval pilgrims had gone out of their way to make travel as slow as possible, avoiding even the use of boats and horses in favor of their own feet. They were not being perverse, only aware that if one of our key motives for traveling is to try to put the past behind us, then we often need something very large and time-consuming. …

Whatever the advantages of plentiful and convenient air travel, we may curse it for being too easy, too unnoticeable – and thereby for subverting our sincere attempts at changing ourselves through our journeys. [BBC]


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