Part of the Invisible Diaries series 
Week 2 / Day 5
This post is dedicated to my husband, Nick,
who, to his regret, left his book on the coffee table.
If yesterday’s post was about the performative opportunities found in public spaces, perhaps the exploration was done in a bit of a haste. Regretfully, I was carried away by my foolish and selfish desire to have some fresh air on a sunny afternoon – overlooking the potential one can find in confinement: travelling indoors.
As I am writing this, the British government has just announced that the lockdown of the country should last for three more weeks – at least!
Naturally, hearing this unwanted news, my first thought was akin to a pupil’s sulky feeling when learning about their extended detention. And I must admit, even the second thought I gave to the prospect of my further incarceration (which, of course, is an indulgence compared to what others have to endure), found the monotony of the environment I have to face somewhat discouraging. Nevertheless, giving it much speculation over lunch, shared in the company of our cat, I realised what an extraordinary opportunity I was presented with! I could not be more grateful for this stroke of luck, resisting my selfish urge to move, and instead enabling me to make up for the time I wasted by my futile desire to get this pandemic over with and get out of the house.
The exciting idea, I am somewhat prompted to take up and relish, has unwittingly came from my husband, who, – as we are navigating our nuclear family and pets around each other in a house that is too tiny to be called home and office at the same time, left his long-awaited book (that arrived late in the post) – on the coffee table: A Journey Around My Room. This baedeker was written by a young and adventurous 18th century Savoyan lieutenant, Xavier de Maistre during his six-week-long incarceration in his room in the citadel of Turin. The 42-day long involuntary lockdown was a result of the young lieutenant of romantic disposition having had a duel, despite a warning, against an officer. (It probably made matters somewhat worse that he was successful in the bout with his superior.)
Despite his successes in affairs of honour, Maistre was less enthusiastic about his military life (during his sixteen years of service he only achieved the rank of a captain) and was more interested in the humanities and arts. He undertook studies in literature, rhetoric, philosophy, took up drawing and painting, and was fascinated by aeronautics. (His nickname, that he preferred to use when signing his work, ‘Ban’ or ‘Bans’, means starling or flycatcher in Savoy dialect.)
Maistre was only twenty years old (serving in the infantry of the navy) when in 1893, the Montgolfier brothers flew their experimental hot air balloon above the royal palace in Versailles, successfully carrying back its live passengers in its basket safely: a ram, a rooster and duck. This experiment brought the Montgolfiers international fame as well as prompted Maistre and his friend to try and build a pair of giant wings from paper and wire and fly to America. An idea that looked, excuse the pun, good on paper, but turned out to be unsuccessful.
Artwork by Leo Tomalin.
Undeterred from his penchant for an expedition, a year later, together with his brother, Maistre volunteered to an ascent in a hot air balloon, in an aeronautical experiment devised by a Savoy engineer, Louis Brun. Wearing his Royal Navy uniform, Maistre took his place in the basket and hid under the tarpaulin, so his father, who was against this venture, wouldn’t see him. The balloon took off from the park of the Château de Buisson-Rond in Chambéry, at the foot of the French Alps, and crash-landed in the local marshes after a short flight.
With this predilection for seeking adventure, one can imagine what it meant for such a free and adventurous spirit to have 42 days’ incarceration! Yet again, adverse circumstances did not prevent Maistre from making discoveries in custody. In fact, he invented a new literary and travel genre – the indoor travel. The book he wrote, and subsequently published, became such a success, that ‘Buns’ had to write a sequel to it: A Nocturnal Expedition Around My Room.
The two books are funny and witty meditation on confinement, and a humorous celebration of the free human spirit: “The pleasure you find in travelling around your room is safe from the restless jealousy of men; it is independent of the fickleness of fortune.”
Maistre must have felt that eventually he would become a trend-setter, since his thoughts on this kind of travel are profound and visionary: “Thousands of people who, before I came along, had never dared to travel, and others who hadn’t been able to, and yet others who’d never even dreamt of travelling, will be emboldened to do so by my example. Would even the most indolent of men hesitate to set off with me to obtain a pleasure that will cost him neither effort nor money?”
This encouragement by the giant of home travelling gives me some consolation and hope. Although I have foolishly wasted three good weeks daydreaming about sharing a picnic with friends in the nearby park, at last, I am now gently guided back to exploring the full potential of travelling indoors.
Exploring the migrating facilities of my room, and the rich potential for crossing the floor from one piece of furniture to another, allowing the vista (as recommended by Maistre) prompted by the caprices of my curiosity and desire, an undiscovered landscape is opening up in front of me. I now worry that having wasted three weeks already, I will not have enough time to cram all the sight-seeing into my three-weeks’ stay as I planned.