JUPITER’S TRAVELS – TED SIMON

1. At times, and more frequently now, I could feel the tiredness invading my bones, bleaching my retina and raising a mist on the horizon of my mind. (p.7)

2. Now I saw, with awful clarity, that a large part of my life henceforth would be devoted to the daily grind of packing and unpacking this poor, dumb beast. (p.18)

3. How can one anticipate the unknown? Preparing for the journey was like living a paradox, like eating the cake before I’d had it. More than once I realized the absurdity of what I was doing. The whole point and beauty of the journey was not knowing what would happen next, but I could not help myself striving to work it all out in advance. My mind became a kaleidoscope of scenarios that I had conjured up out of my imaginary future, showing Me Crossing the Andes; Me in a Jungle; Me in a Monsoon; Me Fording a Torrent; Me Crossing a Desert. (p.20)

4. I was aiming at self-sufficiency because I wanted to travel the way Livingstone did, or Columbus; as though anything could happen and all of it was unknown. It was going to be the journey of a life-time, a journey that millions dream of and never make, and I wanted to do justice to all those dreams. (p.23)

5. In spite of wars and tourism and pictures by satellite, the world is just the same size it ever was. It is awesome to think how much of it I will never see. It is no trick to go round the world these days, you can pay a lot of money and fly round it nonstop in less than forty-eight hours, but to know it, to smell it and feel it between your toes you have to crawl. There is no other way. Not flying, not floating. You have to stay on the ground and swallow the bugs as you go. Then the world is immense. The best you can do is trace your long, infinitesimally thin line through the dust and extrapolate. I drew the longest line I possibly could, that could still be seen as following a course. (p.23)

6. What point, then, in worrying about the stars. It was enough to know they were there and that I was heading for them. I thought myself to be the most fortunate man alive to have the whole world almost literally within my grasp. There was no one on earth I would have changed places with. (p.24)

7. It struck me very forcefully that if I went on with this folly I would forever after be the man outside in the gutter looking in. (p.25)

8. Dwarfs, giants, fat men, rubber men, sweeps, touts, pimps, slobs, whores and bearded ladies, throng in the spot lights and cavernous shadows, lurk behind bead curtains and make theatrical appearances on impossible balconies among outrageous articles of underwear. (p.33)

9. At first I thought he was a noisy, obnoxious fool. He was sitting on one of the green, slatted benches on the deck of the Tunis ferry, humming an Arab tune to himself and tracing the course of the melody through the air with fat and grimy thumb and forefinger joined at the tips like Siamese carrots. His face, all pits and wrinkles, wore the determined bliss of someone trying hard to get high. His head was the shape of a coconut and he saw me coming with eyes like black olives buried in old grey cheese. He wore a padded green combat jacket zipped up to the neck, patch-grey trousers and old-fashioned pointed shoes. His body seemed to be coconut-shaped as well. (p.37)

10. Arriving in Africa was, after all, pretty much like arriving anywhere. You used your imagination to make it different. There was a harbour, a passenger terminal, offices and officials, the usual formalities and indignities. Everyone spoke heavily pointed French against a background of murmuring Arabic. (p.40)

11. Does it rain because you carry your umbrella, or because you don’t? It’s a personal matter depending on how you remember it. The way I write my own history it’s low on winning streaks. I never could gamble. I like to work things out in advance, but it bothers me to think of what I might have been missing. I’ve done too much hacking away against the grain of life. Without all that solemn effort, maybe, I could have gone further, faster, easier.

Remember what my headmaster said thirty years ago, that tar-stained old walrus: ‘Simon, you think too much.’ (p.49)

12. Thinking’s like a black tunnel. Once you’re in it you have to think your way through to the other end. At least I think so. (p.49)

13. In the good old days, I suppose, one would have spoken English at the top of one’s voice until the natives just naturally gave way, but then we had Queen Victoria to fall back on. (p.50)

14. (…) I know that I must sleep out in a real desert tonight. (p.50)

15. All I know of Libya is the Road, a thousand miles of road, good fast highway, stretched along the African coast like a washing line. (p.51)

16. It struck me that everywhere in the world I would meet people to whom being there would be an ordinary, everyday event. Was my journey really nothing more than a state of mind? (p.59)

17. I felt rather sorry for them. These were nice people who seemed to have missed the point somewhere, but then I didn’t have to live their lives. (p.60)

18. Euphoria leads to thoughtlessness. (p.66)

19. The discovery was devastating. I had thought I was a man. I had taken risks and come through them in the way a man was supposed to, and yet here I was after all just a boy quailing before the first figure of authority that came my way. It went very deep in me, this fear of authority, and it sickened me to find myself as vulnerable as ever. I knew the robed figure would haunt me for a long time. It was the beginning of a long struggle. (p.66)

20. The corporal’s face was a landscape devastated by pockmarks. (p.67)

21. By a charcoal fire in the Egyptian night the most banal remark can have the force of prophecy, (…) (p.67)

22. His face was distorted by hate, (…) (p.71)

23. There was a lot of waiting, but no attempt at ugliness. (p.73)

24. Could turbulence and change be ‘carried’ and transmitted like a disease? I knew I had brought excitement into those three lives, but the news from the front was not always good. I wondered, unhappily, whether I was destined to leave a trail of grief and misery behind me too. ‘What colossal arrogance,’ I thought, but could not quite brush the idea aside. (p.74)

25. Action has freed me from self-consciousness, and I am becoming a stranger to my own appearance. It is a very satisfying feeling. I no longer think of people seeing me as I see myself in a mirror. Instead I imagine that people can see directly into my soul. It is as though a screen between me and the world has dropped away. (p.77)

26. The sun is getting low now, the light is yellow and grainy. The five men are gathered like a conspiracy of pantomime pirates. One has a black eye patch, another a vivid scar. The one next to me, an Arab in galabia and turban, has a squint and a thin-lipped smile of artless evil. Every child in the audience knows he has a dagger under his robe. (p.78)

27. Is any thing more relaxing than the hospitality of harmless villains? (p.78)

28. (…) and beyond them was only the great velvet night. (p.88)

29. The buildings across the square dissolved in the darkness and were forgotten. The night swallowed all except the little oasis of life by the tea shop. Soon even the shop was closed. The merchant and I lay on the soft, dry sand, the only two mortals left in the universe, waiting. (p.89)

30. Spelling is very optional and distances are vague. (p.97)

31. Why doesn’t everybody do it? I don’t think it’s only timidity. I was afraid as anyone would be. They have careers, of course, and mortgages. They say they would do it ‘if it weren’t for the kids.’ I used to laugh at that, but why should I? It’s perfectly legitimate. Much as they envy me, they are simply too absorbed in their lives to want to leave them behind. They are fascinated, as I pass by, to hear about my plans and my stories, but in the end they are happy enough to let me do it for them. Len and Nell can mop their brows under the pyramids for a week and leave the stomach shrinking to me. (p.98)

32. This is another reason why I am here: to experience (nothing less) the brotherhood of man. Imagine meeting these men in a London pub or an American diner. Impossible. They could never be there what they are here. They would be made small by the complexities, the paraphernalia that we have added to our lives, just as we are though we have learned to pretend otherwise. (p.100)

33. I had to come here to realise the full stature of man; here outside a grass hut, on a rough wooden bench, with no noise, no crowds, no appointments, no axe to grind, no secret to conceal, all the space and time in the world, and my heart as translucent as the glass of tea in my hand. (p.101)

34. We have not one word in common, and foolishly I feel it is impossible to repay such a gift with money. Afterwards I am ashamed to have made him the victim of my idealism. A dollar would have suited him better than my lofty sentiment, no doubt. (p.110)

35. His eyelids are papery and taut and the same colour as his suit, his mouth splutters saliva and his breath is bad. It is hard to like him. (p.113)

36. London to Nairobi. Seven thousand miles. Something to shout about. (p.118)

37. He is the real thing, a huge florid man with a big appetite who loves the life, the business, the whole ridiculous mixture. (p.119)

38. They were determined to make a tourist out of me. All right, I said, I’ll BE a fucking tourist, and I bargained for everything in sight. At night I went to the stamping ground beyond the grass huts, where the fire was lit, and watched them doing their magical leaping zoo numbers. Oh boy, I said. Pictures, I gotta have pictures. (p.125)

39. I tried to think like a manual. (p.129)

40. I swore a lot in those days, in a rather dull way but with feeling. (p.130)

41. I had not quite realized that the interruptions were the journey. (p.132)

42. The list was not written down, but in my head, and it tailed off down my spinal column where it sometimes gave me backache. (p.134)

43. At the far end of the courtyard was another feature that impressed me. It was the gents’ piss house, under its own tin roof, a very neat affair of charcoal in a cement trough. (p.136)

44. Naturally I was wondering how my experience would compare with his. I always assumed that, sooner or later, something very painful was bound to happen to me. (p.145)

45. It did not occur to ask myself whether I was insane. I knew I was more or less as sane as most people, for I had decades of experience to support the view. I could get along in society, and make a living. What other definition could there be? (p.150)

46. I sat alone in a fine old cafe where nothing had happened for years. (p.151)

47. In Africa I began to see the human race, sometimes, as a cancerous growth so far out of equilibrium with its host, the earth, that it would inevitably bring about the destruction of both. Not an original thought, but it came to me repeatedly. (p.155)

48. When I finally left I was astonished to have to admit that I had not talked to a single African national there except to pay rent and buy petrol. In part I blamed the highway. It was too fast, too good and took me too far away from the slow-moving people. But mostly it was because I had let the rain enter my soul. (p.158)

49. The word ‘love’ falls to the floor like a cigarette butt, waiting to be trodden on. (p.173)

50. (…) blown up just beyond the limits of decency like an over-ripe fruit. (p.186)

51. I’m going to Rio, I thought, he’s going nowhere. An immense sadness reached out to me and faded as he moved out of sight among the goods wagons. (p.188)

52. At sea she was a lady, but in port she was a trollop. (p.196)

53. They were ridiculously sinister, figure from a fantasy. They belonged to an age of crime which I thought had long since passed, and which to be truthful I thought had only been got up for films and television. (p.197)

54. ‘It is impossible,’ he repeated with a voice like a rubber stamp. (p.200)

55. Walsh and I rattled off to Sao Raimundo on an endless and tortuous route. (p.205)

56. He wore spectacles finely framed to foster the impression of a man whose mind ranged far beyond his immediate responsibilities. (p.206)

57. Again and again I had to be taught that one single life-giving act is worth more than a million speculations. Once, in Ethiopia, I was restored by nothing more than a smile. As I rode out of Gondar a woman walked towards me dressed in pink and carrying a parasol. When she saw me approaching (and I was an unusual, perhaps frightening sight there) her face was transformed by the most extraordinary smile I have ever seen. It shone, it beamed towards me with such life and depth that I was her son, her lover, her saviour all in one. She bowed quickly but deeply several times as I passed, but maintaining that same radiating quality of happiness, so that I was raised to the Gods for a long, long time. (p.215)

58. In the morning I felt grey and unappetizing. (p.220)

59. Clearly there was little to fear from these people, they were the glamorous, acceptable and perhaps naive face of the machine. If I needed torturing there would be specialists to do the job, somewhere else. (p.222)

60. There is no relish like freedom. (p.225)

61. Death itself, I soon realized, was not such a bad prospect. In a way I had invited it by embarking on this journey, and could hardly complain. My life, when I thought about it, had been full of interest. Not a very finished life, perhaps, but evolving nicely all the time, always changing and generally, I thought, for the better. It was not really death that bothered me then. (p.228)

62. I owe Graham Greene a great deal for that afternoon. (p.228)

63. It was encouraging to discover that in coping with terror, as with any other human skill, one improves with practice. (p.237)

64. The driver had obviously escaped from a gangster movie of the thirties. He was what they call used to call a runt. He was weedy and wore an overpadded suit, and on his face were two huge pieces of sticking plaster, in a cross. Al Capone must have sent him personally, for he was full of urgency and self-importance. I was bundled into the back, and the wheels started spinning before the door was closed. (p.240)

65. He was in a remarkably jovial mood. We might have been making a date for tennis. (p.241)

66. Yet the time dragged by as heavily as ever, and now there was not even fear to spice the hours. Another full weekend at least, alone with Ignacio, with not even the antics of my captors to amuse me. (p.242)

67. It was the humorous residue of craving which had once been corrosive enough to etch her face. (p.259)

68. I think it was in Argentina that I turned professional. I had been on the road for a year; I had been very high and very low, and everywhere in between. The world no longer threatened me as it had; I felt I had the measure of it. (p.264)

69. A large-bellied man in white shirt and trousers presented himself in a ceremonial fashion, as though his fatness entitled him to represent the other men, who were mostly thin. (p.267)

70. There was a flash of gold teeth, and he took off his hat. A crow dropped a small medallion of black and white shit on the crown of his head. He replaced his hat. (p.268)

71. I knew it was dusty in there, and that their vision was limited, and I was glad to be outside and alone, free to escape from my own ordinariness and the train of other people’s thoughts. (p.269)

72. We guarded each other’s liberty as though it were our own. (p.269)

73. (…) and you had to pay the price for company. (p.269)

74. There is a way to convert fear into positive energy. When I had discovered it for myself along the way, I used it quite deliberately to project confidence and sympathy. It had never failed me, and it gave me an unusual and exhilarating sense of power over circumstance. But it seemed to function only when I was alone. (p.272)

75. So as I left Abancay and started climbing the dirt road I wondered whether it was time, again, to go on alone, not to go faster but because I thought I might lost my power in the group. (p.272)

76. (…) and I felt myself to be the most privileged person on the earth to be able to pass through where others saw only normality, and to think myself in paradise. (p.273)

77. By comparison I was as agitated as a scarecrow in a gale. (p.278)

78. ‘Por essos que llegen en coche, ochenta. Pero essos en moto son muy hombre,’ said the clerk with a grin. In other words, car dirvers pay the full rate but there is a discount for heroes. (p.282)

79. It was liquid coffee essence, something I hadn’t seen since Hitler blockaded the British Isles. (p.283)

80. The Peruvian Indians, on the whole, looked very apathetic and ground down by their toil and dreary poverty. The colour and vitality of their weaving always seemed in direct contradiction to their lives, as though the inspiration for it had died centuries before and the fingers were simply reproducing it by some freak genetic mutation. Sometimes the apathy gave way to resentment, directed mainly at gringos. Though it was the Spaniards who had set their heels on the necks of the Indians long ago, the yanqui was the enemy now. All European travellers took the brunt of it. (p.284)

81. The view everywhere were quite extraordinary, and would have been unforgettable had there not been so much of them. (p.285)

82. The man glanced around the room, looked questioningly at his consort and uttered two words straight from the trenches of the first world war:

‘Same hole?’ he asked. It would be hard to imagine a more eloquent phrase, provided you knew the code. (p.286)

83. To create so much filth at fourteen thousand feet is a quite diabolical achievement. (p.286)

84. He was a good traveller, tough and inquisitive and (it must be said) unusually flexible for a Frenchman. (p.294)

85. In the land of No Hay, they play Hunt the Scapegoat, and every gringo qualifies. It was a constant preoccupation to escape that label, and find a way to meet with people in a more human and personal way. (p.303)

86. So far, on my journey I had scrupulously resisted travelling as though to a destination. My entire philosophy depended on making the journey for its own sake, and rooting out expectations about the future. Travelling in this way, day by day, hour by hour, trying always to be aware of what was present and to hand, was what made the experience so richly rewarding. To travel with one’s mind on some future event is futile and debilitating. Where concentration is needed to stay alive, it could also be disastrous. (p.305)

87. (…) but there were dark stains spreading around his eyes like a kind of rot. (p.305)

88. That’s how I like my corruption – honest. (p.311)

89. Then there’s so much fat around. Everyone is prosperous, though they might not know it, with a house and a refrigerator. There isn’t anyone who couldn’t afford to help me if they wanted to, and they would want to, I know it, because their minds can grasp what I am. Also I am not black or crippled or ugly, and I have this cute English accent. (p.317)

90. In fact the words don’t say much, but the meaning comes through like a meeting in space. I’m so tuned in to body language and inflections that I hardly need words, but having the words too is so relaxing. (p.318)

92. I arrived there stil smelling the sweat and stale urine, of unruly growth and open decay. I was used to faces that showed the imprint of emotion, the stamp of excess. I was accustomed to things being old, worn down, chipped, scratched, scuffed and patched, but real. Where I had been, people and things were forced to show the real stuff they were made of, because the superficial could not survive the battering it got. I was used to the bargaining, argument and domestic squabble; to the sight and smell of animals; to old people sunning themselves.

Where I had been, children came running. (p.321)

93. I looked into the cars that rode alongside me on the freeway. I saw men and women staring blandly ahead with faint smiles on their carefully carefree faces. No visible signs of life there. I looked around me for a genuine house. They were all simulated. Some looked like ice cream. Some were simulated Spanish. Some pretended to be factories, or monasteries, or farmhouse cottages. All fake. Nothing original. (p.321)

94. For several days I remained a total alien, and out of this alienation grew a feeling of tremendous outrage against the senseless extravagance of it all. It was entirely a matter of perspective. To a Southern Californian, his life-style and standard no doubt seemed like the least he could get by on. To me it seemed preposterous and sick. I wandered through supermarkets and along ‘shopping malls’ disgusted and obsessed by the naked drive to sell and consume frivolities.

When I eventually came to visit Disneyland I realized that the ultimate aim, the logical conclusion for Los Angeles was that it should all become another Disney creation, a completely simulated and totally controlled ‘fun environment’ in which life was just one long, uninterrupted ride.

From the point of view of a Bolivian Indian chewing coca on the altiplano I could see that it would already be pretty difficult to distinguish between the two. (p.322)

95. I discovered that life did after all still go on in Los Angeles, in a clandestine way, lurking in the corners of the waffle. (p.322)

96. The vast majority of Australians were not like that, and yet my first impressions had been correct too, and I wondered how a few examples of extreme behaviour could so stamp and characterize a whole society. (p.340)

97. One day, I thought, they would be leaning against a bar like this and they would just fade and dissolve into the atmosphere. (p.350)

98. I sank deeper and deeper into the luxury of the illusion, which was like a balm to ancient hurts. All the pains of growing and becoming which lingered in me like the rheumatic twinges of old wounds seemed to be soothed away in hot nostalgia. To hell with all the agonies of the Western conscience, the gropings for awareness, the soul-wrenching efforts to root out unworthy prejudices. To hell with the nuclear holocaust and the coming ecological cataclysm and solidarity with the victims of totalitarian oppression. (p.360)

99. I resented bitterly ever reminder that I was not here to stay, that there were plans to make. (p.360)

100. As I sailed for Singapore I felt that dream slipping away. Time passed. Distance increased. The pressure of everyday experiences piled up relentlessly, and I found my concentration on past and future events was interfering with the present. (p.366)

101. The degeneration followed, it seemed, when I gave away control, believing the seductive Californian notion that only good things happen when you let it all hang out. Maybe there was another trip to be made that way, but mine was not open-ended like that. It had to be conceived and executed and complete; more like a work of art than life. The instructions had to be uncompromisingly clear and they had to be regenerated at every step, otherwise what could I expect but a drift towards decay and chaos. (p.373)

102. Or even if I showed them false today, what is to stop them being true tomorrow? (p.384)

103. Let the ash pour, and the honey drip. What do they prove after all? That the world is full of marvels which I don’t understand? I have known that for a long time. There are subtleties here to be penetrated, but not by scientific experiments on the composition of honey and the origins of ash. (p.384)

104. I was obsessed by the idea that to break the journey might somehow destroy it. (p.385)

105. I call it insane because my sanity flourishes with space and distance. India seems like a giant condenser, everybody streaming towards the centre to fuse. (p.387)

106. Have I really been on a long flight from reality, trying to give meaning to something that was meaningless? Was it all just an escape that I have been trying to turn into a legend? I’m teetering on a knife edge between faith and despair. Was the purpose of that return to Europe just to show me that there was no purpose? I arrived there full of wisdom, but nothing I had seen or done or thought seemed to be relevant. I passed through pubs, offices, restaurants, supermarkets, stifled by the boredom of it, but with nothing useful to say to anyone. I felt the failure was mine, that if I had properly understood my experience in Africa, America, Asia, I should be able to apply it to people in trouble with the cost of living or career bottlenecks or sheer boredom. Some of them even asked me, thinking I should know, but my answers seemed to offer no solution. My advice always boiled down to the same thing. Don’t solve the problem, just give it up.

They always assumed I was advising them to move to some tropical paradise. I saw the disillusion growing in their eyes.

‘Well, frankly, old boy, we’d love to but, with the boys just in school and the property market being what it is…’

I might just as well have smiled sadly and said: ‘Ah, those boys…’ (p.393)

107. He’s trying not to talk, but he’s like a kettle on the boil, and he can’t help it. (p.396)

108. They seemed so close to enlightenment, as though at any moment they might stumble over it and explode into consciousness. Their curiosity is extreme. They experiment with any unfamiliar object, a coin, a hat, a piece of paper, just as a human baby does, pulling it, rubbing it, sticking it in their eyes, hitting it against other things. And nothing comes of it. To be so close, yet never to piece the veil! (p.403)

109. The vital instrument of change is detachment and travelling alone was an immense advantage. (p.405)

110. At a time of change the two aspects of a person exist simultaneously; as with a caterpillar turning into a butterfly there is the image of what you were and the image of what you are about to be, but those who know you see you only as you were. They are unwilling to recognize change. By their actions they try to draw you back into your familiar ways. (p.405)

111. The truth obviously does not reveal itself unaided to humans. It has to be uncovered by an effort of consciousness. Or, more likely, it exists only in human consciousness. Without man around to recognize it, there is no Truth, no God. (p.407)

112. Yet it is not consciousness that governs the world, nor even ideology, nor religious principle nor national temperament. It is custom that rules the roost. In Colombia it was the custom to do murder and violence. In a period of ten years some 200,000 people were said to have killed by acts of more or less private violence. Yet I found the Colombians at least as hospitable, honourable and humane as the Argentines, whose custom is merely to cheat. Arabs have the custom of showing their emotions and hiding their women. Australians show their women and hide their emotions. In Sudan it is customary to be honest. In Thailand dishonesty is virtually a custom, but so is giving gifts to strangers. (p.408)

113. Custom is the enemy of awareness, in individuals as much as in societies. (p.408)

114. This kind of information, which most people are sadly conditioned to think of as disgusting, forms a basic element in the life of a traveller, just as its subject matter is a basic element in life itself. The extraordinary taboos that we have raised around the business of shitting has led to far more disgusting prejudices among people, and also to quite serious health problems. To be free of that sense of unreasoning distaste I found to be a major liberation, on a par with freedom in sex. (p.411)

115. I had put my mosquito net up, but the enemy was already within. (p.434)

116. Any minute now…The End.

It should have been tolerable. I should have turned and fled the other way. It was after all a kind of death. The only Ted Simon I knew was the one who moved on. The Hello-Good-bye Man. From person to person, country to country, continent to continent. Half man, half bike; if not Jupiter, then Pegasus, perhaps, or at least a centaur. At least that.

But soon, no more. I would take my things off the bike and put them away in cupboards. I would wear ordinary clothes. And this bike, which had been 63,400 miles around the world, I would ride to the shops. And most of my days, from then on, I would spend trying to remember. Yes, it would be a bit like death, but I welcomed it. I rode on through the sunshine until I came to the avenue, and the sun flickered through the plane trees exactly as I had remembered. (p.443)

117. These things of the imagination are so delicate, they can strained and fractured just as easily as the muscles and bones of one’s body. And they can grow old and lifeless too. I was afraid. (p.443)

 

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