Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Exoticism in "The Art of Travel" & Today

"The word exotic has traditionally been attached to: snake charmers, harems, minarets, camels, souks and mint tea poured from a great height into a tray of small glasses by a mustachioed servant.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the term became synonymous with the Middle East. When Victor Hugo published his cycle of poems Les Orientales in 1829, he could declare in the preface, 'We are all much more concerned with the Orient than before. The Orient has become a subject of general preoccupation - to which the author of this book has deferred.'

Hugo's poems featured the staples of European Orientalist literature: pirates, pashas, sultans, spices, moustaches and dervishes. Characters drank mint tea from small glasses. His work found an eager audience - as did the Arabian Nights, the Oriental novels of Walter Scott and Byron's The Giaour. In January 1832, Eugene Delacroix set off for North Africa to capture the exoticism of the Orient in painting. Within three months of arriving in Tangier, he was wearing local dress and signing himself in letters to his brother as 'your African'.

Even European public spaces were becoming more Oriental in appearance. On 14 September 1833, a crowd lined the banks of the Seine near Rouen and cheered as a French navy boat, the Louxor, sailed upstream to Paris on its way from Alexandria bearing, in the specially constructed hod, the giant obelisk lifted from the temple complex at Thebes, destined for a traffic island on the Place de la Concorde. (p. 70)" " 'The Art of Travel' by Alain de Botton

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