“Movements makes richest sense when set within a frame of stillness.” Pico Iyer
“In becoming human, man had acquired, together with his straight legs and striding walk, a migratory ‘drive’ or instinct to walk long distances through the seasons; that this ‘drive’ was inseparable from his central nervous system; and that, when warped in conditions of settlement, it found outlets in violence, greed, status-seeking or a mania for the new.’ Bruce Chatwin
When I visited Peru three years ago, I was almost certain that I won’t come to this country any more. And well… Life writes its own scenarios.
The border in Desaguadero. Lots of noise, screams, cries, dust and piles of manure, covered with a riot of colors and variety of flavors, ranging from a pleasant smell of coca leaves, and ending with a shitty aroma of pigskins and salcipapa – pieces of sausages and chips floating in mayonnaise. Lots of people swarming in all directions on a fairly wide street, but not spacious enough to give even a substitute of intimacy. Pushed or pulled carts filled with bags, cans, plastic chairs, mattresses, cardboard boxes hiding any civilization junk, for which someone chases all day, thinking naively that those illusory items of luxury could miraculously transform their lives.
The border. Lopsided lines hiding the nation, that “imaginary community”, that strange thing, considered by majority of people as “substantial, real, homogeneous, easily distinguishable, deeply rooted in the history of social beings, capable of collective action.” I never understood the purpose and reasonableness of boundaries, similarly as I never got the imperative to submit to certain conventions and cultivation of national traditions only because I was born in one place and not in the other. “The real place of birth is that in which for the first time someone looks wisely at themselves. My first homeland were books.” Memoirs of Hadrian
So, there is literature again. Even on the road it is difficult to get away from it. Or maybe more – words on the road appeal to me even more. As if the movement, newly met people and beautiful, changing landscapes added to that imaginary reality a substantial tissue which blends into fictional stories and seamlessly becomes a part of them to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether I read the words and look at the surrounded world, or I see the words and try to read the world. As if literature became a journey, and the journey – good literature. Does it sound naive? “Literature teaches us to want something “different”, to go beyond the circle of everyday habits, beyond the rituals set either by conventions of community life, or simply by the needs of the body, which makes us eat, sleep, and so on.” Ryszard Koziołek
Similiar contents may be found in the works of professor Sławek, a Polish literatus, who writes about “the validation of emotions, about finding that sphere of life which defies any rational perception”, of experiencing something which Piotr Paziński (a Polish writer) called “a metaphysical brainwave”: “Sometimes we experience the moments of incredible energetic revelations or points where we are really astonished by the world and we try to discern in our amazement, sometimes for many years. There might be just a few seconds of extraordinary tension, which, however, could transmit into all of our work or life.”
Is it not the reason why we go out of the house? To live out of the periphery of life to which we are accustomed to? Is it not the reason why we leave what we know, including the most dearest parts of our lives? Travel in order to be amazed by the world, trying to remain in this wonder for as long as possible, as in a fairy-tale reality.
The journey teaches us not to overlook the world, not let our attention escape and disappear in the process of destroying passing of time. While traveling I may realize those ineffable remains which form my existence. Surely, not only journeys give us a sense of meaning. But they prove, however, “that everything is worthy of attention and that everything deserves naming: a single person, an animal, a thing, and everything what happens to them. No other discourse is interested in a single existence, especially that irrelevant in history.” R. Koziołek
Traveling as a kind of reading, and at the same time as a self-writing book. Traveling as a poem, as a verbal gesture, referring to the emotions that are usually beyond comprehension, beyond sense, and perhaps even beyond existence. After all I still do not know why I do what I do. Why I am here. I do not know. I’m just going and it’s fine. I try not to think why. I try to be there. Try to want less. Though still I want too much. “Sometimes the majority of the things we do turn into a chaotic striving for something which is not entirely clear whether it exists or not”. T. Jansson
‘It’s the perspective we choose – not the places we visit – that ultimately tells us where we stand. Every time I take a trip, the experience acquires meaning and grows deeper only after I get back home and, sitting still, begin to convert the sights I’ve seen into lasting insights.’ Pico Iyer
– I’d rather you didn’t put up your tent there. You will break the silence. Look at the cross and the plaque. Haven’t you noticed them before? Ah, well, you young people, you have eyes, and still you do not see. I’d say the same about her. She didn’t pay enough attention, and that’s all. Although who knows who should be blamed. It happened three years ago. That day she was returning home from school, where she worked, when she was run over by the truck. And that’s it. The driver said he horned, but he had no time to slow down. She got straight under the wheels of his car. He wept as a baby, he cried out that he had seen her, but couldn’t do anything.
I came out of the house, I saw everything, and it was me who pulled her out of the road. Maybe she wanted to commit suicide, who knows. She was always a little weird person. Too bad that the driver was found guilty. And the kids didn’t have classes for a month. It was necessary to find them something to do. Why are you nodding as if you understood, you don’t understand anything. Get a move on from here and put up your tent next to the hospital. There is plenty of room there, and leave that palce in peace.
Accompanied by three unbearably barking dogs I obediently followed given advice, and found a good place in an abandoned-looking house, which like majority of adobe structures in Bolivian villages appeared to be uninhabited. And it would be difficult to determine whether anyone ever lived in it or maybe someone abandoned it suddenly long before its completion and left it alone in the wide open space of the wind and the sand, which one day will fill all those earthen walls and will cover them up without leaving any visible traces.
But the building turned out to be a real hospital, and real people worked in it, which I realized only in the morning. I got a cup of coffee for breakfast, a bottle of water on the road and a bag of coca leaves, cause I complained about the stomach pain. A few days earlier I got Delhi belly. Did it happen because of unfiltered water I drank or maybe I ate something wrong, it’s hard to say. Most likely, however, it was not the water, but cocoa I drank for breakfast as a starter for the dried llama meat. I do not know why I did it, the more so because I saw that the milk used for preparing it was not entirely boiled, only slightly heated. A greasy broth eaten a few hours later settled an issue. My biography was cut short for two days. I could not even stand up, I had to go to the bathroom on all fours.
Chewing coca leaves and avoiding Bolivian cocoa, I got to La Paz. The road from Potosi was beautiful, though quite hard. Frequent climbs and descents to the next valley, smelling trucks and everything at a height of about twelve thousand feet above sea level.
And dogs. Even more impoverished than those I used to encounter in Argentina. The only difference is that Bolivian dogs do not come up with sad eyes and do not stop a few meters away, waiting patiently for any human gesture. Those Bolivian beasts throw themselves immediately under the wheels, running along the road, growling, barking, trying to get a steadily moving calf, or at least to snap a red pannier.
Well, you have to stop finally to frighten the dogs away, or begin to talk to them. Surely, without any words. Words won’t help here, they are absolutely useless. Those dogs are psychotic, so you have to treat them as some psychic creatures. Forget about throwing stones – the beasts will make it up on the next passing cyclists, especially on those who are not familiar with appropriate methods of dealing with Bolivian dogs, and God forbid, start running away. Any attempts to escape only infuriate the barking creatures. You have to stop and to look in their eyes to see what’s inside of them. You have to exchange energy. Send a warm stimulus and wait.
“Non-verbal ways of interaction are probably phylogenetically and ontogenetically older than manual and verbal. They decide on a direction of movement in the social world. They tell you whether you can get close to the signal source, or whether you need to escape or fight with it.” A. Kępiński
And suddenly the world opens up. Imperceptibly. Just before La Paz I turned towards a snowy massif, which was visible from the main road. Something drew me there. Quite clearly I felt a sort of light pushing. After a few minutes I stopped on one of the hills. There was unbelievable silence around me. Distant buildings of La Paz seemed so unnatural – ridiculous, unnecessary dots glowing in the sun.
I spread my sleeping mat and squinting in the sunlight I looked at the sky. The longer I stared at it, the more its colors varied. They glowed, and then they darkened, as if some geometric, colorful patterns landed under the eyelids, playing a kaleidoscopic spectacle for a single viewer. But I was not alone. There was someone else. A woman. I noticed her only after some time, actually I heard a loud noise of flinging rocks.
I do not know if she saw me. I could not stop staring at her. She was sitting on a top of the hill in the background of the glacier-covered mountains and was hurling stones. Actually, I wanted to get up and to approach her and to say something or to ask, but at the same time it seemed to me that it would be better not to move at all. That actually we still were communicating with each other through the thoughts that we could fill in any words. Any imaginable words created in that mutually understandable language of feelings and emotions.
When I finally got up and wanted to move on my way, something whistled in the air. I turned out and saw moving sand, a few meters from me. A fragment of land rose slightly and spining incredibly fast around its axis was moving in my direction. Meter by meter, that slender fragment of a thickened matter was approaching me slowly, and when it was really close, suddenly it left the ground and firmly went straight through my body. And then it lifted high, it whistled more clearly and finally splattered with a dull bang, as if a huge soap bubble went off.
Maybe at the end it looks similar. The earth is moving slowly, the wind wakes up and in the middle of suddenly awakened sounds a slender, undulating, translucent shape takes us high above in the air, hovers somewhere to the stars, and then everything disappears. And only silence is left, with a picture in it, an afterimage, a fragment of something that remained of us. It’s nice to think that we leaves something, something beautiful, which might be seen when you close your eyes.
Finally I came across the other cyclists. I wouldn’t say that suddenly it got crowdy of them, but I did meet some French, Germans, New Zealanders and Canadians. I have to admit that I feel a little bit frustrated with all those meetings, because I still can not understand why I have to stop just because some strangers come to me from the opposite direction, and the only reason to stop seems to be the similarity of means of transport we use. Perhaps this is a side effect of my innate (and then practised over the years) reluctance to group, to associate and to cooperate. Or, in principle, my seemingly bizzare attitude stems from my unwillingness to all sorts of processes of socialization, more or less imposed by the family, school, or other institutions.
Thus, that day, when I saw a couple of approaching cyclists, I was not very willing to stop, because I was not at all in the mood for having a casual conversation. Anyway, they both slowed down and waved to me in a friendly manner, so because I did not want to be taken as a sort of a retarded person, or a cycling bum, I came down to the requirements of the moment and accepted (literally and figuratively) that situational variable and with plastered smile on my face I stopped and said ‘Hallo!’. The Canadian couple began their journey almost a year before and they were heading (as I could have assumed) to Ushuaia.
What really stroke me from the first moment I saw them, was their white teeth – which reminded me some TV commercials of Colgate toothpaste (pronounced here without English diphthong ‘ei’, with the accent on the pronounced ‘a’). They were looking at me while we were talking, but unfortunately, I could not see the expression in their eyes, because huge, dark sunglasses covered almost half of their faces. They seemed to be quite friendly and completely devoid of any signs of fatigue (as it turned out, they were cycling downhill for the last several miles). They were both very happy to leave Bolivia soon and get to Argentina, which country, as they said ‘hopefully would meet their expectations’.
Although I wondered why they were so excited with the prospect of that imminent exit of Bolivia, I asked firstly what expectations they had in relation to another country, lying on the route of their journey. ‘We look forward to having good food, wine, high speed internet access, well-stocked shops, cleaner air and fabulous landscapes’, they said.
For a moment I got still, literally I choked with amazement, because I could still see in my mind’s eyes the images of freshly baked bread, whose flavour filled the whole park, where I sat down in the morning on a bench and gorging golden, crispy loaves, I was looking at all those moving pictures of the people. And it was as if I was looking at some colourful puppets sliding on the invisible sunny weaves; stocky figures with weary shoulders, bony hands, holding an apron, from which a small head of a sleeping child protruded. I still could see the man, who offered me a huge papaya and then brought a cup of hot tea when I almost fell asleep near his cottage. I still could see the images of the parade, organized to celebrate the first day of the spring, when the whole town came out to the streets, dancing, playing, end generally enjoying themselves.
– The cranes are flying – I said, looking at the blue sky. – Cranes? Where? I don’t see any cranes – answered the boy. – Over there, high up in the sky. – These are not cranes – said the girl. – There are just some little birds. – But I can see cranes – I persisted and I promptly added: – Well, it’s time to go now, and I’m pretty sure that Argentina will meet all your expectations.
The boy smiled, showing again his immensely white teeth. – Oh yes, we can not wait. And you, you do not worry, Bolivia is not so big, you’ll pass it quickly. You’ll have to climb now up to Potosi – he said. We exchanged cordialities, nodded, we both thought something and finally set off.
The uphill was seventy miles long. I arrived only the next day. Two hours after the meeting with the Canadians I got stuck in a storm. I hid in the abandoned house I saw from the road. The shelter had no roof, but it had big, earthen walls, which protected me from rain and hail. I wrapped myself in a coat, I took out a thermos, sandwiches, bananas and while eating a delicious lunch I thought about cranes. I saw them, they were flying north. So, as two years before, again, I’m chasing the birds. ‘Listen better. See further. Be aware. Everything oddly sounds’. Italo Calvino
Tristan Corbiere wrote: “Paint only what you have never seen, and what you will never see.” And I would add: Paint what you sometimes see, but not with your eyes. Because “what seems to be the most important is invisible to your eyes,” said the Little Prince. The evening comes, alongside with another great storm. Everyone can see it. And feel it with all their senses. And even with those that eludes perception. The storm is approaching, and I know that there is no point to be afriad of. Because I’m not from here. None of us is. So there is nothing to fear. I run around and play with the lights. In the end, it starts raining. I do not want to get wet. I hide inside the tent, wondering where the cranes got today.
“Happiness is not based on oneself, it does not consist of a small home, of taking and getting. Happiness is taking part in the struggle, where there is no borderline between one’s own personal world, and the world in general” Lee H. Oswald “Letter to his brother”
– Why are you sitting with such a long face? – Daniel asked me. – Is something bothering you? – No. Not at all. Why do you think so? – I answered honestly surprised, because although I could have looked slightly off-colour, I would never guess it was so evident and easy to see; especially for a person, who definitely didn’t know me well enough to notice that.
– Well, it’s obvious that you are thinking about something. You haven’t said anything for about five minutes. – Five minutes? – I repeated even more surprised, and drank my already cold cup of coffee. – I do not know, I got lost in thoughts. But actually I did not think about anything special. I mean I was not thinking about anything in particular. Some empty thoughts were straying like hungry dogs somewhere in my brain. – Empty thoughts? There is no such a thing as “empty thoughts”. So, where were you? – he asked again, fixing his gentle gaze on me. – Where was I? Nowhere. I was here and I am here. – Oh, if you were here, you would have been here, but you are not here.
I wanted to say something. I wanted to deny. In fact, we were sitting in that kitchen for two hours or so, we had dinner, we talked a bit, and kept silent for a while. And in fact, I may have not been very talkative, but I was tired, and suddenly it got very late. I did not used to having dinner before midnight, and frankly speaking, I was very sleepy, and yes, I could have been silent for the last five minutes, because I was actually thinking about something, but really, I do not remember now about what exactly, and I wanted to say it all aloud, and maybe even I did say it, but only for myself, and in the end, instead of my words, the warm man’s voice resouned over the table:
– Well then, I’m going to bed. You may stay here, if you are willing to do so. If you like, you may sit here for a while and wait a minute. Tomorrow you will be gone, and even today you are actually not here. Stay here a little bit more, this table does not like loneliness. Leave it a little of your presence. Words should float over it, not just silence. It will remember you, it carries all traces, every touch, even the most delicate ones. Look at its top, how much history it is written there, how many scratches it has, dents, fingerprints. Stay with it for a moment, and if not today, leave your mark tomorrow while having breakfast.
I already left Argentina, and I am spending that night at the Bolivian border in a town called Villazon. For the last two days I had been cycling with a very strong headwind blowing from the north. As if it wanted to stop me or to turn me around. But to whom? Did I miss anything? I didn’t leave enough of myself? It seems to me that I did, but maybe it is again only my wishful thinking.
In Quiaca I said goodbye to the last Argentine dog. He ran to me in the town and wagged his tail. I stopped for a moment, whistled, he came closer, so I stroked him. He kept up with me for another hour, and waited when I was doing shopping. He went with me to the pharmacy and then lay down under the bike which I had left next to the bakery. He looked so terribly sad. Even when I stroked him, even when he swallowed at once all the sausages I bought for him.
Argentina is not a country of tango, Maradona, papa Franciso, nor it is a country of beautiful women, fantastic landscapes, vaunted (but overrated) beef and burgers that are far worse from Polish chops, not to mention the meet my mother serves at home. For me, Argentina will always remain the country of stray dogs. Dogs with sad eyes.
I ate the last Argentine dough, which they call here “bread” and went to the border. I came to the bridge, I stopped and turned around. The dog disappeared. I did not even notice when he ran away.
I stayed for the night in a cheap hostel, which offered a windowless lair for an equivalent of three US dollars and went to get something to eat. Finally, you may find good, nutritious, healthy and cheap food. Finally, you may get soup for lunch. Delicious soup with quinoa and a floating pieces of meatbones in it, accompanied with vegetables. It is just a starter. Then, you get baked potatoes with chicken and tomato salad, dessert and a drink – the whole meal for an equivalent of less than two dollars.
You may walk along the street and buy pancakes filled with honey, fresh bananas and oranges for one-fifth of what you pay in Argentina. And there is much more stuff in the bazaar. Fresh mangos, pineapples, boiled corn, lentils, carrots, nuts, raisins and oatmeals. And that nicely looking buzz on the streets – you get used to all those colours, smells and even noise in an instant. You simply flow in it.
It is not so easy to be here and now. Although after all, I’m pretty sure that over the last few weeks I succeeded in that strange endeavour. I was exactly where I was and where I wanted to be. With all those people I had met, dogs, ghosts, spirits, and, surely, with myself. And even with you. The last time I could not. Or maybe I could but I didn’t want to? And now? Now means now.
“Actually, It should be enough to mention only someone’s name, because to find out who one really is, it takes a lifetime, as being now is not the same thing as being before or after. But there are different habits in here, so people ask who your parents are, where you were born, how old you are, and they think that in that way they will see more and maybe even everything.” J. Saramago
I was taking a nap in a park, when the police stopped next to me and after a few casual questions they asked me where I live. Where my house is, saying precisely. After a moment of hesitation, I replied that my house is in Poland, which actually is not entirely true, because in the past few years I spent more time abroad than in the country where I was born. Two policemen nodded, but they were more meticulous than any guardians usually are.
– Where are you going to sleep that night? – they asked. – In a tent – I replied. – But where exactly? – they went on. – I don’t know. And I don’t care. Somewhere on the road I suppose. – I replied truly surprised. They gave me my passport back and wrote something in their notebook. I thought I would get a fine for vagrancy, but no, nothing happened. A few dogs that were sleeping next to me had fled a long time before the police got closer. Surely those animals may have an aversion to uniforms, and certainly they do not tolerate violent movements, but they will return, they will come back as soon as the police depart. They will lay down beside and soon they will get some leftovers alongside with the pink, nasty sausages.
There is not enough food for all of them. They would eat twice as much, or probably even more. Well, anyway I will not feed them all. Two, three, or maybe four, but no more. Maybe it would be better not to throw anything at all and to pretend that I do not see them, that I don’t see anything, especially those terribly sad eyes, in which the whole doggy world had drowned.
In his book “13 pięter” Philip Springer, a Polish writer, quoted several people who were asked to define their home.
“Zuza: Children, cats and books. In any order. (…) Darek: I had to rearrange everything myself, because I always thought that home meant family. But now I do not think in that way. I think that home is the people who are close to you, your friends. (…) Iza: I found out that the space is really unimportant. That I do not have to be attached to it. I just need to feel well in it. Then it will become home. I have felt it recently in Peruvian mountains. (…) Marta Tittenbrun: – The feeling that no one will throw you out. The pleasure of daily returns. And that you can use your own pads cups.”
My two previous books were born out of longing. “Powidoki (‘Afterimages’) grew out of a longing for the road, “Sen Powrotu” (‘Dream of Return’) out of longing for a person. Some new ideas slowly germinate, smothered by the excess of impressions, by warm hospitality, good words, beautiful scenery, tranquility and that incredibly soothing feeling that I am doing exactly what I want to do, or what I would like to do; celebrating fresh mornings in a tent, sleeping under the starry sky, confidently, like at home, where someone in the dark holds my hand, hugs, kisses for goodnight and invites good, friendly dreams.
“I do not know why I am here. Sometimes you have to come to the spring, even if the river has dried up completely.” Filip Springer