Stephen Bayley: Remembering the journey, an object of desire

Something to Declare

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The Independent Travel

We are each on this page for the same reason: an enjoyment of travel. Sometimes I am not certain I always necessarily like travelling, but I do find it reliably fascinating. As the Taoists say, it's about the journey, not the destination. So much so, that one recent insomniac night I decided to make an internal shortlist of my absolute, best-ever journeys.

There was a childhood drive overnight from the north of England to Cornwall. For some reason I will never now know, my father decided to leave the big car at home. Instead we went in a slow, cold, hellishly uncomfortable Mini Countryman. Up to that point, it was the most intensely romantic experience I had ever had, noting the strange Devonian and Cornish names lit on signposts by the Mini's feeble lights. I think I even heard an owl, but memory plays tricks.

Then, in no particular order. Air France LHR to Nice early in the morning after the wedding, the first time I bought business class seats with my own money. Almost fatally hungover, life-saving champagne over the Alps on a perfect sunny day was a prediction of future happiness. Or cycling from Beaune to Meursault? Not far, but there are many unavoidable distractions en route. Then, a Nord 260 from White Plains to Philadelphia: my bumpiest flight ever, but I remember the delirious, thigh-slapping thrill of it being over.

American cars and American scenery have a disproportionate presence. When I was too foolish to know it was a bad idea, I drove a Ford Mustang from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back in one day. Of course, the most scenic part of this was the epic stretch of Route 1 known as the Pacific Coast Highway.

Impossible to forget the sequence of Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur and San Simeon — or Santa Barbara, where I was arrested at gunpoint (a Remington 870 Police Magnum shotgun) by the Highway Patrol for hallucinated speeding.

Speed is a part of it too. In 1981, I went on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. This was the moment of absolute Japanese pride, possibly even arrogant delight, in its superior technology. It was a supreme experience. If anyone doubts the swaggering romance of the late 20th century, they have not been on a bullet train. But who could overlook Concorde? Here is travel's ultimate paradox: the plane was so comfortable and the service so fine you found yourself thinking "Damnation! Are we in New York already?"

So too is slowness. The Wood's Hole to Vineyard Haven ferry in Nantucket is a stately ship whose company was designed by a choreographer in thrall to Norman Rockwell.

The AVE from Atocha to Seville? Hong Kong's Star Ferry? Naples' shockingly grubby Circumvesuviano which almost leads to the Amalfi Drive, surely the world's most beautiful road?

I can be honest now. This is research for a little ebook I am writing about desire, one of our more complex feelings.

It's not like lust, because that's immediate. Desire is more about a future ideal. It's about getting from one point to another and changing your circumstances on the way. So travel is a definition of desire. That's why we are on the same page.