noble tree, or a country road, or a happy table in a café, or some angry boys armed with rusty spears shrieking, “Run you life,
” — orthe sound of a train at night, striking that precise musical note of trainwhistles, a diminished third, into the darkness, as you lie in the train,moving through the world as travelers do, “inside the whale.”Thirty-three years went by. I was then twice as old as the person whohad ridden those trains, most of them pulled by steam locomotives,boiling across the hinterland of Turkey and India. I loved the symmetry in the time difference. Time passing had become something serious tome, embodied in the process of my growing old. As a young man I re-garded the earth as a ﬁxed and trustworthy thing that would see me intomy old age; but older, I began to understand transformation as a naturallaw, something emotional in an undependable world that was visibly spoiled. It is only with age that you acquire the gift to evaluate decay, theepiphany of Wordsworth, the wisdom of
nothing is perfect,nothing is complete, nothing lasts.“Without change there can be no nostalgia,”a friend once said to me,and I realized that what I began to witness was not just change and de-cay, but imminent extinction. Had my long-ago itinerary changed asmuch as me? I had the idea of taking the same trip again,traveling in my own footsteps — a serious enterprise, but the sort of trip that younger,opportunistic punks often take to make a book and get famous.
The best of travel seems to exist outside of time, as though the yearsof travel are not deducted from your life. Travel also holds the magicalpossibility of reinvention: that you might ﬁnd a place you love, to begina new life and never go home. In a distant place no one knows you —nearly always a plus. And you can pretend, in travel, to be different fromthe person you are, unattached, enigmatic, younger, richer or poorer,anyone you choose to be, the rebirth that many travelers experience if they go far enough.The decision to return to any early scene in your life is dangerousbut irresistible, not as a search for lost time but for the grotesquerie of what happened since. In most cases it is like meeting an old lover yearslater and hardly recognizing the object of desire in this pinched and
the eurostar 3
* The list is very long and includes travelers’ books in the footsteps of Graham Greene,George Orwell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Leonard Woolf, Joseph Conrad, Mr. Kurtz, H. M.Stanley, Leopold Bloom, Saint Paul, Basho, Jesus, and Buddha.