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As previous posts signal, I very much enjoyed Paul Theroux’s ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’. Theroux retraces a route from his earlier life, a route which aligns frequently with my own.

It has been simultaneously inspirational and stifling for me; what better feeling than to discover someone shares many of your thoughts, what worse feeling than to discover that they can express them better. Admitting defeat, I instead plagiarise some of his words here…


Travel means living among strangers, their characteristic stinks and sour perfumes, eating their food, listening to their dramas, enduring their opinions, often with no language in common, being always on the move towards an uncertain destination, creating an itinerary that is continually shifting, sleeping alone, inventing the trip, cobbling together a set of habits in order to stay sane and rational, finding ways to fill the day and be enlightened, avoiding danger, keeping out of trouble, and, immersed in the autobiographical, for my journal, writing everything down in order to remember, reflecting on where I am and what I’m doing.

(Draft of a story, ‘The Elephant God’)
She had come to understand what the solitary long-distance traveller eventually knows after months on the road – that, in the course of time, a trip stops being an interlude of distractions and detours, persuing sights, looking for pleasures, and becoming a series of disconnections, giving up comfort, abandoning or being abandoned by friends, passing the time in obscure places, inured to the concept of delay, since the trip itself was a succession of delays.
Solving problems, finding meals, buying new clothes and giving away old ones, getting laundry done, buying tickets, scavenging for cheap hotels, studying maps, being alone but not lonely. It was not about happiness but safety, finding serenity, making discoveries in all this locomotion and an equal serenity when she had a place to roost, like a bird of passage migrating slowly in a sequence of flights.

You think of travellers as bold, but our guilty secret is that travel is one of the laziest ways of passing the time.

The topography of literature, the fact in fiction, is one of my pleasures – I mean, where the living road enters the pages of a book, and you are able to stroll along both the real and the imagined road.

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