Register Tuesday | February 20 | 2024

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Letter from the editor

It’s late spring, and people are looking at maps and travel Web sites, dreaming of backpacking through South America, or road-tripping to Alaska, or having an espresso in that palazzo they saw in a movie. Nice thoughts, all of them.

Yet can anyone today feel about travel the way the woman on our cover—fresh-faced in the sea wind, leaning on a steamer railing—seems to be feeling? Created in 1936 as an ad for Canadian Pacific, the image is from the company’s newly opened visual archive.

What’s on her mind? She’s like the prow of a ship come to life, feeling the wind in her hair for the first time, moving—not just “being moved” but “moving freely”—toward worlds unknown. The poster girl for optimism, she epitomizes travel (as CP no doubt intended).

We picked the image for our ninth cover not as an exercise in wishful thinking, but precisely because it reminds us how far we’ve come from those bright, classic, Norman Rockwellesque depictions of travel. Teena Aujla, who continues her remarkable work as this magazine’s art director, decided to “put some Warhol into it”—roughen it up, in other words, to give the image a lively, more present-day feeling, and to suggest the distance travelled since 1936.

Reading over this issue during production, the phrase “memories of transport” came to mind. These days, such a phrase conveys the same feeling as our cover: a dangerous nostalgia—dangerous because the assumptions behind it are so unexamined. Yet there is still a spiritual element to “transport,” despite today’s troubles, which magazines like this one are committed to engaging. People often don’t know why they want to travel, why they’re so restless, yet they set out nonetheless. I think I have an idea why. “Transport” is a more physical version of “transcendence.” The idea of being possessed, captured and taken to another realm of experience speaks to the practice of writing, but also to the practice of spiritual journeys. Travel is a slower, more plodding process, but the end result can be the same.

We’ve tried to acknowledge this dual nature of travel throughout the issue, in such pieces as Andrew Steinmetz’s “Monolog mit Gott” (page 34), Kena Herod’s “How to Follow Mr. B?” (page 45) and David Ng’s “DNA and Nigeria” (page 52).

But the truth is that each issue of Maisonneuve to date has been a metaphor for travel and the surprises inherent in travelling (ideas memorably captured in Alex Shoumatoff’s “I’m a Suitcase.”) The best things that happen on the road are not planned.

The essence of travel will always reside in movement, the excitement and joy of physical freedom, which young people especially crave and which older folk aim to recapture as their parental duties ebb. Tourism doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It’s all in how we conduct ourselves, our style along the way. Nor need we always question if an experience is authentic. Take the northern Quebec mining town of Fermont (page 40)—or consider Mark Abley’s conclusion in “Extreme Travel” (page 26). Travel can be something neither cool nor countercultural, but simply what one does. We can think and experience things that someone in a marketing meeting has not anticipated. There is still room in this world for uniqueness.