Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
This is another belated travel tale.
“Should i go to Chernobyl?” I asked my friend Marina over Gchat. She was born in Ukraine before relocating to much sunnier California. I thought she might know something about it.
“What? No,” she replied. “Unlike the Taliban, radiation can’t be sweet talked.” She was referring to my foray into Afghanistan. It was true, and it was the logic I relied on in not going diving — you can’t negotiate with physics.
I didn’t blog on Thursday because I was back in New York City, where this all began. And I was preoccupied with personal matters (not all of them pleasant), catching up with old friends, and generally contemplating life.
The contemplation continues, so here are only some not altogether coherent thoughts.
T. S. Eliot once wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Liu Xiaobo died last Thursday in prison in China.
Liu was a political activist who spent his adult life campaigning for democracy in China. Having already been in and out of prison for his activities since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, Liu published the so-called “Charter ’08” in 2008, a document modeled on Vaclav Havel’s “Charter ’77,” calling on the Chinese government to allow multi-party democracy. The government responded by sentencing him to 11 years in prison for “subverting” the state.
In 2010 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Beijing refused him permission to go to Norway to receive the award. An empty chair symbolized his absence in Oslo.
A bronze statue of Pierre le Moyne d’Iberville looks over the harbor of Havana, the city where he died in 1706 while preparing for an expedition against the English colonies of the Carolinas.
His was a life that illustrated the interconnectedness of the histories of the countries of North America. Born in Montreal in 1661, d’Iberville made his name as a young man in the French struggle against English encroachment in the Hudson Bay area. In 1686 he joined an expedition to James Bay and captured three forts, over which he was made commander. In 1690 he distinguished himself in a battle fought in today’s Schenectady, New York. And the Hudson Bay campaign of 1697 made him the greatest hero of New France.
Facts are stranger than fiction.
The last couple of weeks I was in “California,” or rather “the Californias,” moving from the Mexican state of Baja California (Lower California) to the modern U.S. state of California. Originally the name applied to both of these as well as Baja California Sur (South Lower California) and parts of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
Spanish conquistadors affixed the name to this vast territory in the early 16th century, when they knew hardly anything about it. In fact they thought it was an island and drew early maps accordingly.
July 1 marked the two-year anniversary of my life of nonstop round-the-world travel. In that time I have visited countries from Ukraine to Uruguay, Armenia to Argentina, Estonia to Ethiopia, the Netherlands to Nepal.
Also in that time, to my surprise, travel has become a political act.
Or perhaps, as we live in the age of the unending War on Terror, travel has long been a political act. Terrorists would have us be too afraid to travel; they would have us avoid airports and train stations; they would have us tremble with anxiety in our window seats, eyeing our bearded neighbor with suspicion.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."