The above work is called ‘The Travelling Companions’ painted by Augustus Leopold Egg in 1862. It hangs in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I sometimes used to wander in there just to go and see this painting if I had a spare half an hour before my train.
The picture struck me from the very first time I saw it. I think what appealed was the sense of escapism, the contrast of the grey dresses of the women in the carriage with the warm beauty of the view out of the window. For me there’s a sense of expectation in the air, but also a need to pass the time as the the women nap and read respectively. You get a sense of both the travelling and the destination.
Most of all I really like the calm vibe that the scene exudes. The women seem relaxed in their travels, at a time when travelling was less prevalent than it is today… well at least before the pandemic struck.
I have always enjoyed travel… I love the anonymity of it. I like nothing more that walking through a strange city; being in it, and yet not part of it. That’s why this blog is called ‘The Fragmented Flâneur’, because I like to wander around places, things, sounds, and sights… yet being slightly removed from them.
Travelling is something that I really miss at the moment and, although I am very lucky to have so many great places to walk straight from my house, I really miss going to other places and, potentially, other countries this year.
There is something inherently relaxing just being away for me, it is like a pressure is taken off… a layer of expectation removed. There is the aforementioned anonymity, but I think that it is something more than that. I like to feel as if I belong to the place I’m visiting. I’m less bothered at seeing the sights as tasting the coffee and watching the world go by. There is something wonderful about finding an understated cafe in an interesting part of town.
I also like exploring cities on public transport, perhaps another reason that I like the above painting. Mixing with ‘the locals’ and being an unknown part of that mass. Most of all, though, I like the early mornings… when a place is just waking up. I like the cool air, the sense of hope that a new day brings. I like the feeling of the streets getting busy and the expectation of what may happen.
I also like to be out in unfamiliar countryside, last summer we had a week in the Black Forest area of South Germany. Every morning I got up at around 6am and walked into the local village for a coffee at the bakery, and then took it with me up into the forested hills high up above where we were staying. I loved the solitude up there, but also that it was ‘somewhere else’. The novelty value of finding new ways to go… new forest paths… was just as exhilarating as the tremendous views… it charged my batteries in ways that I am only now just beginning to realise.
That is because a strange thing began to happen as we went into lockdown. I started having flashbacks… seconds of remembering… of looking back at the times we have been away over the last few years. These were different than before. In the past I have definitely withdrawn from the travel bank of memories that our holidays have charged. But these have tended to be long more detailed remembrances. Since going into lockdown it has felt as if I need to use these investments of memory sparingly… perhaps more often and more momentarily vivid, but making sure that I do not run out of them. These are so quick as to almost be subliminal, yet they definitely make me feel better and bring me a lot of pleasure… almost as if one part of my brain is feeding another.
As a family we have always made sure that we spend time travelling, and there is something innately good about seeing how other people live and work. But for me it is more than that. The very act of being somewhere different gives me the sort of feeling that is expressed through those travelling companions… the idea of being at home when I’m away. And now, when I have to be at home, those away times are one of the things that keeps me going… those forays into liminality which briefly take me away from where I am, puncturing the now and giving me a welcome respite; while also allowing me to imagine a time when we can travel again.