Tonight, after cooking dinner and settling down to eat, I picked up a copy of Jonathan Lee’s Fifty Great Escapes. Not to be deceived by the title, I bought this at Booksale because of Lee’s definition of travel which he outlines in his introduction:
Travel is so much more than an act of relocation. It can entertain and revitalize, enlighten, enrage, appall, or scare you witless. It can help you forget, relive or reinvent. Travel can throw burning issues into stark relief, camouflage them behind palm fronds or smother them in a fug of cocktails. The best kind of travel, though, reveals some kind of truth about yourself or the world.
The book features creatives and the places that inspire them. For instance, this first entry features Aldous Huxley and his beloved Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) found in the Guatemalan Highlands. These images struck me so I neglected most of the book just to keep coming back to this one. Perhaps it had to do with my surprise–Huxley isn’t someone I imagined to have lived a very exciting life. He wrote of utopia and was, in my limited world view, someone who was probably not satisfied with his life. To read of him as one who has lived in many places including South America which he would later immortalize through the travel classic Beyond the Mexique Bay–and to learn that his was a varied and itinerant life gave different meaning to utopia. But that’s subject for another post. If anything it just helped me understand why someone like Pico Iyer who has already seen and lived so many lives in different places would have looked up to Huxley, of all people.
I’ve been reading Iyer again–I always seem to when I am most unsure of myself. He once described his writing as intimate letters to strangers and reading him often feels like reading Rilke’s own letters to young Kappus. This time he is the man within my head, brought to me by coincidence and sheer lack of options. I had begun his other book, Falling Off the Map–describing lonely places and the lonely people that inhabit them–only to leave it at my parent’s house. His introduction there triggered synapses and made me recall Paul Theroux who once wrote that all travelers are lonely. This was gripping, especially in light of the January Doldrums but seeing as the reading gods made it impossible to continue, I settled for another Iyer. This time: The Man Within My Head.
It’s part travelogue, essay and memoir detailing the close affinity between himself and Graham Greene. They have much in common and because of this book I’ve resolved to read more of Greene whom I often dismiss for reasons I can’t quite understand.
Today, all I hoped for was a meaningful digression. The uncertainty in the air coupled with my routine has finally caught up with me and I struggled to wake this morning on account of it. Hopefully a little more of Iyer and his reflections on Greene will help me ask the right questions and climb out of this rut.
Note: Realizing now that all these people, writers alike, who were summoned by the synapses are male. Perhaps I imagine them all as lovers? Notes for another post.
Note 2: “The most remarkable thing about these Indian costumes is that they are not Indian at all, but old European. Little scraps of seventeenth and eighteenth century Spain have been caught here and miraculously preserved, like flies in the hard amber of primitive conservatism.” From Aldous Huxley’s Beyond the Mexique Bay. — This I will return to because Iyer writes about this “preservation” too in Falling Off the Map.