Some things in life are perfectly complementary. Peanut butter and jelly. Cookies and cream. Strawberries and chocolate. Yum! But being edible is not a prerequisite to complementarity. It turns out that the books you read, and the places you visit, can enhance one another just as well, perhaps even better, than a succulent piece of meat and a fine red wine (or a sumptuous salad and mango juice, for the discerning vegan).
To some, perhaps to most, ancient sites like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Acropolis are nothing more than rubble, rocks randomly strewn like pebbles on a forgotten beach. But to a veteran reader these are magical places; because you know all about them, they almost feel like home. A fine layer of emotion and awe, like cacao on a tiramisu (what is it with these food analogies today, I must be hungry), is added when you know that ancient heroes and philosophers, gladiators and emperors, roamed those gilded sites. You can almost hear the din of swords clashing in the sands of the Colosseum and the clamor of the crowd gathered in the Agora to watch Diogenes urinate on the latest Democratic precept. When you have read about it, history truly comes alive, like a wormhole opening up in the time-space continuum.
Just as amazing is the fact that your reading experience is greatly enhanced by the places you have visited. When reading a book about art, geography, philosophy, mathematics, or just about any subject matter, details that would be foreign otherwise are easily comprehended and truly appreciated. You may now read about the perfection and grandiosity of David in the Accademia and see it in your mind’s eye...it is no longer an abstract concept, but an actuality that you can revive again and again. It is quite difficult to comprehend an architectural description of the Taj Majal if you have never seen it. But what if you have? Reading then becomes the visual aid through which your perception of the place you saw is magnified. Talk about perfect complementarity.
In the absence of experiences, books will always fill the gap. Literature allows us to travel everywhere, even outer space. It creates worlds and circumstances that we may never physically experience; but there is nothing quite like tactile and visual stimuli. I could spend hours upon hours discussing the velvety texture and divine complexity of a well crafted macaroon, but it only takes one second for you to truly grasp it when it goes from the box to your mouth. My point is, read and travel. You may do one without the other, but you’ll only know the true magic of this world when you actually do both.
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