Though my ostensible goal there was to learn about the effects of inbreeding on asthma, what I was forced to study firsthand, in an isolated village of fewer than 300 blood-related souls, were the ways humans try to control each other to protect themselves from one another and from the outside world.
Although I’m scheduled to fly upwards of 100,000 miles this year, I don’t call myself a traveler. And particularly after last week’s rain-soaked musings, I’ve come to think that travel should be more purposeful than that.
At one point, de Botton points out, there were 46 sanctuaries in France alone that welcomed women who were having trouble breast-feeding.
Similarly, those who suffered from a painful molar could travel to the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Rome, where they could touch the arm bones of Saint Apollonia, the patron saint of dentistry.
In a landscape of so much hopelessness, the legacy of an oppressive dictator, and a morally corrupt ideology, these were the things that struck me most: the power of love and a people’s sheer ferocity in the face of complete tragedy.
And that is what the best travel is to me, the opportunity to strip life to its essentials, not in order to go beyond the culture in which I live, but to remind myself of what culture is for in the first place: to help us survive life’s travails and keep us going.