A Stuga On the Cusp of the Orust Riviera, tucked away next to a hobbit hole in the woods.
Herodotus’s opus appeared in the bookstores in 1955. Two years had passed since Stalin’s death. The atmosphere became more relaxed, people breathed more freely. Ilya Ehrenburg’s novel 'The Thaw' had just appeared, its title lending itself to the new epoch just beginning. Literature seemed to be everything then. People looked to it for the strength to live, for guidance, for revelation.
I overheard a conversation in the adjoining room and recognized Mario’s voice. I would find out later that it was a discussion about how to dress me, seeing as how I had arrived sporting fashions à la Warsaw Pact 1956. I had a suit of Cheviot wool in sharp, gray-blue stripes—a double-breasted jacket with protruding, angular shoulders and overly long, wide trousers with large cuffs. I had a pale-yellow nylon shirt with a green plaid tie. Finally, the shoes—massive loafers with thick, stiff soles.
They were refugees from a civil war, which ended but a few years earlier, between Hindus and Muslims, a war which saw the birth of independent India and Pakistan and which resulted in hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dead and many millions of refugees.
Later I traveled to Madras and Bangalore, to Bombay and Chandigarh. In time I grew convinced of the depressing hopelessness of what I had undertaken, of the impossibility of knowing and understanding the country in which I found myself. India was so immense. How can one describe something that is—and so it seemed to me—without boundaries or end?
India was my first encounter with otherness, the discovery of a new world. It was at the same time a great lesson in humility. Yes, the world teaches humility. I returned from this journey embarrassed by my own ignorance, at how ill read I was. I realized then what now seems obvious: a culture would not reveal its mysteries to me at a mere wave of my hand; one has to prepare oneself thoroughly and at length for such an encounter.
So K comes home and bones up on English language, Herodotus, and all things culturally Indian, whereupon he is promptly sent to China! The result is the same, he is so overwhelmed at the vastness of the subject. How I would love to go back to that young man as he wrings his hands at his desk back in Poland, and whisper in his ear that not one ounce of travelling and research was wasted, for in a few years all you will draw upon this broadening of the mind to become one of the world's best known travel journalists.
And so our intrepid green-stick flies to Africa: Cairo, Khartoum, smokes a little ganga for the first time, goes to a Satchmo concert, then into the Congo, all the while reading Herodotus, which I now have a burning urge to revisit.
5* The Shadow of the Sun
3* Travels with Herodotus