I was impressed to learn that the author of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – which I read as a boy and which inspired me to run away from home more than once – also traveled to India, as had I. He knew what it was like to allow India’s multiple traumas and trances to fall over one’s soul. No one comes back the same, although some may happen upon its more degenerate sectors, and judge it all from the gutter. Still, India remains (as does much of China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Myanmar) one of few reserves in our violently modern world where you can still experience what it was like to live within rhythms of ritual leisure and along stretches of geography unvisited by the haste of programmed intervention (whether from Market or from Marx).
I grew up in Kansas, about as far from foreignness as you can get in modern geography (at least it was so in the 50s and 60s). The incredible beauties of Mexico – just a thousand miles away (closer than the route to California, or even to New York) – were never even mentioned as possible vacation destinations for our family outings.
I was left with the impression – through no fault of my parents (who simply consumed the media’s report on all things ‘non-American’) – that south of the Rio Grande you would only find insufferable heat, incessant revolutions, violence, and governments run by family dynasties (I should have asked them “you mean like the Adams, Roosevelts, Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons?”). At any rate, it was a foregone conclusion that we had better stay up here north of the Rio Grande if we want to enjoy the benefits and the security of democracy.
Well, despite our provincialism, my biography seemed already projected in international terms. I had a lady friend in Kansas who offered once to do my horoscope, and as I was then (as now) skeptical of such things, I let her cast my birthchart as a kind of lark. I read through it sympathetically (not wanting to hurt her feelings), and noted a large number of perhaps statistically foreseeable coincidences, but then my eyes fell upon one detail. It was so obviously far from even the most modest expectations for the life of a Midwestern kid, I only laughed. It said I would travel much.