I made a promise to myself when I started this blog that I wouldn’t apologise for any gaps in transmission, however long they might be. Guilt over not having done something often makes you continue not to do it, if you know what I mean. So, no apology. Sorry. I mean, sorry I’m not apologising.
I’ve been distracted lately by thoughts of travelling far afield. Wanderlust has struck again, only this time I’m doing something about it, rather than making do with far flungerie in the Farkas Alvinczy sense. This summer I’ll be off on a big trip, flying to Kathmandu and coming back by train (or sometimes jeep) thus: Kathmandu – Lhasa – Beijing – Ulan Bator – Irkutsk (Lake Baikal) – Tomsk – Perm – Moscow – Kiev – Berlin – London. The heart of the trip will be the Trans Siberian train journey with Katia Shulga and Chris Edis, which involves horse trekking in Mongolia and visiting the Gulag museum Perm-36 in Perm. So lately I’ve barely read anything that isn’t a guide book to one or other of these countries, and have spent an extraordinary amount of time struggling with time zones and what have you on various train timetabling sites, all of which say different things.
Thoughts of what to pack have also been obsessing me. I’m not one of nature’s light travellers, but I thought that this would be the time to test myself that way, to bring as little clobber as possible. Nothing electronic-gadgety apart from my camera. The bare minimum number of books: the Trans-Siberian Handbook, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, a 100-page essential poetry anthology I made myself, and one other book which I haven’t completely decided upon.
But I’ve also been having loads of fun in camping shops and online, picking up bits and pieces that seem essential – a camping mug, sleeping bag liner, torch, and all these clever well-designed things that I could do without but would rather do with. Security matters haven’t really concerned me before, but back in February I got robbed by a gang of grandmothers in Istanbul (long story) so now I’m taking zips and padlocks and things much more seriously.
I’m not quite sure what makes a person leave their home and comfy bed and favourite cats and humans to sail beyond the sunset. I keep thinking of these lines from Flecker:
We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
Modern pilgrimages have no particular prophet or shrine in mind, but are still searches; the goal is in the always a little further. Roaming with a hungry heart, to mix poetic references. It’s noticeable that at the end of his poem, Tennyson’s Ulysses doesn’t say exactly what he is striving for, seeking, finding and not yielding: knowledge, yes, but of what? In its abstract sense knowledge is an endless goal, always a little further away. Reading makes you want to read more, read deeper, and travel does the same thing, for me at any rate.
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.