Friday, 23 November 2012

Princess Antoine Bibesco

Travel and Travellers

By Princess Antoine Bibesco

Written in 1940.

This is not an ideal moment for talking about travelling. Towns empty by day, invisible by night, the sea carrying an uneasy burden of mines and submarines, aeroplanes playing hide-and-seek among the clouds. These are mere temporary disabilities. A traveller is always a traveller, just as a tourist is always a tourist. They have little in common except, perhaps, the same sturdy obstinacy. A traveller explores the unknown, a tourist pounces delightedly on some confirmed fact. Every strutting pigeon in the piazza of Saint Mark gives him a sense of justification. He was right; there really were pigeons.
But though we can now only travel by mind there still are journeys.
Maps are anthologies for poets.

I spent some years, when my husband was en poste, in Spain.
Among many loves, a major love but a minor town, there was Brihuega. From the strategical point of view it is, I am told – I know nothing of strategy – not a minor town at all. It played an important part in the Peninsular War; it played an important part in the Civil War. It is, in fact, a “pivotal position.”
To me, ignorant of pivotal positions, it is merely a great love. You must imagine the houses split on to the sheer hillside, the churches not poised on a summit but clinging precariously to the lower rungs of a steep incline, hoping to land safely in the valley.
Opposite, bleak, and blazing with colour – not a mountain, an erect rising of earth – there is a palace, circular, down-at-the-hill, threadbare with obsolete dignity.
And a garden – a real garden, with arches of clipped yews through which you see the split houses and the burnished hill opposite…..

To be continued