Ode to the Road Part 1 – Introduction

Ode to the road

Northern Europe




Our travelogue will be dominated by the road, this incredibly powerful and addictive invention. Its effects are everywhere around us; even if one doesn’t use it, its simple, unassuming presence makes horizons expand and brings the Outside in for all residents, together with all things we tend to classify as good and bad (there is remarkably little we don’t put into these bins). For the traveller, the effects of the road are stronger still. Apart from experiencing more novelty, the constantly changing landscape tends to shifts the brain into a state that records and retrieves things differently, enabling ”the peak achievement of the intellect … turning an incident into a moment that has been lived” (Walter Benjamin).

These effects takes on a extra significance when we realise that once the road has done its job, it cannot be un-done, just like the apple could not be un-eaten in Eden or the good and bad can’t be stuffed back into Pandora’s jar.

Roads are not like high rise building, standing tall and proud for all to see, advertising power and making residents feel superior. Nor is it like some technological marvel, making its creators and users feel a sense of achievement and pride in humanity’s ingenuity. The road is happy to be anonymous, walked upon without recognition. Once brought into existence, it is a silent, enduring force that performs its gentle magic, the effects of which is only exceeded by the power of written word.

Some are excited by the road and its promises and potential, while others decide to focus on the negative possibilities. The latter reaction is easier to turn into a caricature and we are all familiar with characters like Tubbs and Edward Tattsyrup, the shopkeepers of Royston Vasey in the hilarious British comedy “The League of Gentlemen”. Their catchphrase is “we don’t want any trouble here”, and go as far as killing the road workers when they find out a new road is being built connecting their town with the outside world-an exaggeration, but we all clearly recognise the type. We’re drawn to the Walt Kowalskis in the Clint Eastwood movie “Gran Torino” and Derek Vinyards, Edward Norton’s role in “American History X” because they depict the rarely told, but possible transformation of this personality type into one that embraces the new.

Chances are you either like borders or roads but not both. Borders keep the status quo. The road (and all its close younger cousins: the bridge, the port, the air corridor, the waterway and the brand new virtual kid in the family, the information superhighway) does the opposite: it connects people, and with this connection inevitably come products, ideas, philosophies and change. “Inevitable” means lack of control, and that makes people like Tubbs and Edward very nervous, but maybe by reading this running commentary the Tubbs of the world will get a little more confident to face the outside world, and everyone a little more encouraged to explore a slice of our reality.

The slice of our choosing this time is Northern Europe.

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