Pages

Monday, August 03, 2009

Why I hate the question: Which is your favourite country

Ryszard Kapuściński (1932-2007) had expressed very well what has been on my mind for a very long time, the very essence of nomadism, what attracts me and how quickly I lose interest in that, as well as why I hate answering the question about which places I like best. This is from pages 267-268 of Ryszard Kapuściński's final work "Travels with Herodotus":

Creatures like him are insatiable, spongelike organisms, absorbing everything easily and just as easily parting with it. They do not keep anything inside for long, and because nature abhors a vacuum, they constantly need to ingest something new, replenish themselves, multiply, augment. Herodotus's mind is incapable of stopping at one event or one country. Something always propels him forward, drives him on without rest. A fact that he discovered and ascertained today no longer fascinates him tomorrow, and so he must walk (or ride) elsewhere, further away.

Such people, while useful, even agreeable, to others, are, if truth be told, frequently unhappy - lonely in fact. Yes, they seek out others, and it may even seem to them that in a certain country or city they have managed to find true kindred and fellowship, having come to know and learn about a people; but they wake up one day and suddenly feel that nothing actually binds them to these people, that they can leave here at once. They realize that another country, some other people, have now beguiled them, and that yesterday's most riveting event now pales and loses all meaning and significance.

For all intents and purposes, they do not grow attached to anything, do not put down deep roots. Their empathy is sincere, but superficial. If asked which of the countries they have visited they like best, they are embarrassed - they do not know how to answer. Which one? In a certain sense - all of them. There is something compelling about each. To which country would they like to return once more? Again, embarrassment - they had never asked themselves such a question. The one certainty is that they would like to be back on the road, going somewhere. To be on their way again - that is the dream.

We do not really know what draws a human being out into the world. Is it curiosity? A hunger for experience? An addiction to wonderment? The man who ceases to be astonished is hollow, possessed of an extinguished heart. If he believes that everything has already happened, that he has seen it all, then something most precious has died within him - the delight in life. Herodotus is the anithesis of this spirit. A vivacious, fascinated, unflagging nomad, full of plans, ideas, theories. Always travelling. Even at home (but where is his home?), he has either just returned from an expedition, or is preparing for the next one. Travel is his vital exertion, his self-justification is the delving into, the struggle to learn - about life, the world, perhaps ultimately oneself.

He carries in his mind a map of the world - actually, he is creating it as he goes along, amending it, filling it in. It is a living image, a turning kaleidoscope, a flickering screen. A thousand things take place on it. The Egyptians are building pyramids, the Scythians are hunting big game, the Phoenicians are kidnapping young women...

No comments: