To call writer Pico Iyer well-traveled is an understatement. Having been to places the average traveler would like to visit as well as those one would never think of visiting, it is the latter the travel author will focus on during his Sunday lecture, “The Places We Seldom See,” at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
During his talk, Mr. Iyer will argue that as much as one can learn about a place by seeing images on a computer or smartphone, there’s no substitute for feeling what it’s like to actually be there. From walking along the golden-lit streets of Paris, to watching fireworks explode above the futuristic skyscrapers of Singapore, to visiting the brick houses in which singer Van Morrison grew up, for Mr. Iyer these experiences contain a “simple, irreducible truth” that no two-dimensional rendering can replace
“In an age when reality is so often virtual and intelligence is more and more artificial, in an age when news is increasingly fake, reality has greater premium than ever,” he said.
The seldom-visited places covered in the lecture will include North Korea and Iran. Mr. Iyer said the former epitomizes the distinction between an “interesting” place and an “appealing” one. While the DPRK is likely not high on anyone’s list of honeymoon destinations, Mr. Iyer described it as “harrowing and eye-opening,” likening it to another planet.
While visiting North Korea doesn’t make one any more sympathetic to its inhumane government, Mr. Iyer said it does add a human face to the 25 million people struggling under the regime, which is just a “dark abstraction” for most people.
Asked about what his time in North Korea showed him about how people manage to live under dictatorships, Mr. Iyer said the country’s citizens sadly have little room to work around the strictures its government places on everyday life.
“In North Korea, I fear there’s very little scope for that, which is why in many ways it’s one of the scariest and most pitiless places I’ve ever seen,” he said.
This however is not the case with Iran. While he’s no admirer of the country’s Islamic regime, Mr. Iyer said Iranians are adept at leading different lives behind closed doors than those they lead in the streets.
“I think they’re well-prepared and enterprising when it comes to showing one face to the government and another to their friends,” he said of the Iranian people.
An admirer of Iran’s rich history and culture, Mr. Iyer said it’s the country that he always recommends whenever his most trusted friends ask him where they should go on holiday. Though a trip to Iran isn’t cheap, to him there’s nowhere “so unexpected, so friendly or so diverse.”
Other places he will cover in his talk include Yemen, Jerusalem and possibly even parts of Santa Barbara.
Mr. Iyer started traveling at a young age, flying back and forth between his parents’ home in Santa Barbara to his schools in England. Now, he seldom travels for mere pleasure, and in the first nine months of 2019 will have taken 58 flights and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, will have stayed in at least 38 hotels throughout the year.
He is on a worldwide tour promoting three new books released in the past four months: “Autumn Light,” about the neighborhood in which he resides in Japan, “This Could Be Home, about Singapore, and “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan.”
In addition to sharing his unique perspective on the world’s places and reminding attendees about the value of personally experiencing what they have to offer, Mr. Iyer hopes to share how the “nature of home” has so dramatically changed in his lifetime.
“When I was born, many people had just one home, and it was a given; now, for more and more of us — not least in Santa Barbara — home is a collage made up of all the many places that have formed us, a collection of fragments out of which we try to craft a stained-glass whole, and that for me is exciting,” he said.
Mr. Iyer’s lecture will be held at 2:30 p.m. in the Mary Craig auditorium at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.