by Kerry Ross Boren
He has been called the greatest novelist since Hemingway, and the foremost travel writer of modern times. The American novelist John Updike has described his style as "a clipped lapidary prose that compresses worlds into pages." It is no exaggeration; there were worlds within Bruce Chatwin.
Bruce was a friend of mine. Probably no other person I have ever known had a more profound effect upon my career as a writer, or upon me personally. Certainly I am not alone in this. The novelist Andrew Harvey noted in a New York Times review of Bruce's last travel book, "The Songlines" (1987), "Nearly every writer of my generation in England has wanted, at some point, to be Bruce Chatwin, wanted to be talked about, as he is, with raucous envy; wanted, above all, to have written his books."
Bruce Charles Chatwin was born on May 13, 1940 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, the son of Charles Leslie and Margharita (Turnell) Chatwin. The Chatwins trace their lineage to a Birmingham button maker, but in time they arose in status to become what he termed "Birmingham worthies," firmly established in the professions of architecture and the law. Between the button-maker and the worthies were, in his words, " a number of legendary figures whose histories inflamed (his) imagination." One of these was a seafarer, Charles Milward, Bruce's grandmother's cousin, a sea captain who sent home from Patagonia a piece of giant sloth's skin, which he had found preserved in a cave. His grandmother kept the "piece of brontosaurus" in her curio cabinet and it became the center of his "childhood bestiary," and finding the cave from which it came would become the goal of a "ridiculous journey" to Patagonia which eventually sparked his career as a writer.
During World War II Bruce's father, a lawyer in civilian life, served on a minesweeper in Cardiff harbor, leaving Bruce and his mother to move often, staying with relatives and friends at various places throughout Britain, including Stratford-upon-Avon, where he developed a precocious love for Shakespearean theater. When at last they found a house of their own in Birmingham, Bruce missed the moving and travel, and he "grew sick and thin" with "a case of what Baudelaire called "la grande maladie: horreur de domicile."
The most outstanding memories of Bruce's childhood were the time his father took him and his brother on their first trip into the black hills of Wales - where they slept overnight in the family car by a mountain stream - and voyages to Brittany and Spain in the family sloop 'Sunquest', an eighteen-ton Bermudian vessel built for navigating the high seas.
When the threat of the H-bomb hit Britain, Bruce's "life plan" was "to sail away to a South Sea island and never come back."
His favorite book in early youth was Joshua Slocum's 'Sailing Alone Around the World.' Subsequently, he devoured the sea adventure works of John C. Voss, Herman Melville, Richard Henry Dana, and Jack London. He never like Jules Verne because to Bruce "the real was always more fantastic than the fantastical." With his family he toured Italy, Greece, and the Middle East, and during the summer of his fourteenth year he traveled alone to Sweden as the guest of a family who wanted their son to practice conversing in English. Later in adolescence he was hospitalized with partial paralysis of the optic nerve, which he described as "a psychosomatic condition."
Bruce was educated in exclusive private schools. At boarding school he was "an addict of atlases," was "always being ostracized for telling tall stories," and was unhappy at being forced to act like "o little Conservative." He later recalled, "I never understood - then as now - the motivations of the English class system...Never, even in my capitalist phase was I able to vote Conservative."
At Marlborough College, in Wiltshire, he was "considered to be a dimwit and a dreamer," partly because of his poor performance in Latin and Greek, but he fell into love with "everything French - painting, furniture, poetry, history, food -and, of course, ...was haunted by the career of Paul Gauguin." Although his best subject was English, he did not yet fancy himself a writer, even though at the age of six he had attempted to write a book.
Bruce's parents gently but firmly discouraged his ambition to become an actor...and he himself refused to follow family tradition and study for architecture because he was "innumerate" an realized he probably could not pass the examinations. Finally realizing that his talents were "obviously visual," he accepted the position of porter at Sotheby & Company, the London art auction house, in 1959. With extraordinary speed he advanced at Sotheby's to art auctioneer and then to director of the impressionism department. "I was an instant expert," he recalled, "flying here and there to pronounce, with unbelievable arrogance, on the value or authenticity of works of art." At twenty-six, he gave up his job at Sotheby's because, he said, he was going blind from too much art. An ophthalmologist assured him that nothing was organically wrong but suggested that he might stop looking so closely at painting and turn his attention to "horizons."
Turning to an interest in archeology, Bruce matriculated at the University of Edinburgh, where he was enrolled for several years, paying his tuition and supporting himself by selling off, piece by piece, his personal art collection. He did field work in Afghanistan and Africa, where, in particular, he developed the interest in nomads and their detachment from personal possessions that is a recurring theme in his books. Bruce never had much regard for personal possessions or material things. "I got into the same trap with archaeology that I had in the art world, because of its reliance on things," he explained. "In the Cairo museum I saw all these masks of the pharaohs, row on row. I asked myself: Where are the masks of Moses? I started liking people who had no garbage to leave. I wanted to find the other side of the coin."
He would not have considered being a nomadic writer as a career so much as a way of life, and he had hoped his greatest work would be about nomads. He collected a mass of relevant notes, "mammoth, unpublished," that eventually became part of his work on Australian Aborginines, The Songlines.
In 1973, when Bruce was virtually penniless, Francis Wyndham, editor of the London Sunday Times Magazine, hired him as an adviser on art and architecture. His association with the magazine brought out what he called his "story-telling impulse," and he traveled an international assignments, writing on such subjects as Algerian migrant workers and The Great Wall of China. He interviewed such diverse people as Andre Malraux, in France, and Nadezhda Mandel'shtam, in the Soviet Union.
Bruce's most fateful assignment was an interview with the ninety-three-year-old architect and designer Eileen Gray, which led to his first published book. In her Paris salon Miss Gray had hung a map of Patagonia which she had painted. "I've always wanted to go there," Bruce told her. "So have I," she replied. "Go there for me." He set out almost immediately for South America and when he got there severed himself from the newspaper with a cable: "Have gone to Patagonia."
He spent six months in Patagonia, a region of South America's southern tip that includes parts of Chile and Argentina, finding the cave where the piece of sloth artifact originated and gathering the material for his first book, In Patagonia (Jonathan Cape, Ltd, 1977). It was at this time, just prior to his Patagonian journey, that I first met Bruce Chatwin, then a relatively unknown writer.
During 1974 I founded the National Outlaw-Lawman Association (NOLA) with headquarters at Utah State University. Not long afterward I was employed by the National Geographic Society to accompany actor Robert Redford on an excursion along the old Outlaw Trail from Canada to Mexico as logistics coordinator and historical consultant for an article which eventually appeared in National Geographic Magazine in November 1976.
Bruce had somehow picked up on my reputation as an authority on outlaw history - perhaps through a series of articles about me featured in the Chicago Tribune and carried by the wire serves - and tracked me down at Manila, Utah, where I was visiting at the home of my parents. Our first contact was by telephone during the summer of 1975. Bruce was then in New York City preparing to come West by bus - he wanted to be close to the people and besides was traveling on a restricted budget - and promised to come visit me "at some point in the near future." He had taken it naturally for granted that I wanted to meet with him and would hang around until he arrived, and, of course, I did. Several weeks later the phone rang again: "I'm here," he announced.
I first saw Bruce Chatwin sitting on the foot of a bed in his room at the Flaming Gorge Motel, an L-shaped mobile trailer unit erected hastily to capitalize on the tourist trade of the new recreation area created by the construction of Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River. He sat on the bed, surrounded by books and numerous yellow legal pads upon which he kept his notes, and unpacking a back-pack, the door of his room wide open "to enjoy the wonderful mountain air."
He was not overly tall but he had ruddy good looks with tossled blond hair, rosy cheeks, and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. He was pleasant to talk to, articulate, and well versed in the subjects of his interest. We became instant friends and got along famously.
I discovered that Bruce had walked the nearly sixty miles from the bus depot at Green River, Wyoming, across the Wyoming badlands to Manila, situated just across the Utah border. When I asked him why he did not call me to come pick him up, I expected him to labor some excuse to the effect that he didn't wish to impose; instead he said, "I wanted to experience the solitude of the badlands, as Butch Cassidy must have known them." After I came to know Bruce better, I realized that his explanation, to him, was the most natural thing in the world. Later, for six months, he would walk the full length of Patagonia.
He had come to Utah to learn as much about Butch Cassidy as he could in order to trace his movements in South America, where he had fled in 1901 to elude the law. Bruce was aware that Cassidy's sister, Lula Parker Betenson, was a long-time friend of mine, and he was anxious for an introduction. But first we spent a few days touring some of Butch's old haunts around northeastern Utah, including branches of the Outlaw Trail and Brown's Park, the infamous outlaw stronghold from near the turn of the present century.
We came to know each other very well during our travels together, and I shall never forget those occasions when we unrolled our bedrolls beneath the stars on the river's edge and talked until the early hours of the morning. We discovered that we had a great deal in common. We were quite near the same age; we had both studied and shared an abiding interest in archaeology; we were both collectors of artifacts; and, most of all, we shared a passion for writing.
I believe, in retrospect, the basis of our friendship was a mutual respect for writing - that is to say, the methods and styles of writing as much as subject matter. We disagreed on some things, agreed on most, but whenever we disagreed it led to stimulating discussion. He wasn't an English writer, he insisted; he liked the American writers - Hemingway, Steinbeck )with whom I was briefly acquainted, of which Bruce was envious) - while I maintained that English, and even more so Irish, writers were superior. He seldom gave reasons for his views, saying only, when such names as Dickens, Eliot, and Shaw were given, "Oh, no, no."
Personal talk wasn't as interesting to Bruce as literary discussion and he seldom talked about himself. Whenever he did he was a craftsman at subtlety, and a master of subterfuge, always managing to bring the topic around to some place he had seen, or some interesting person he had met. He acted out with elastic facial expressions the stories he told, and when he had finished telling it, he looked totally stunned, as if in the telling it was the first ime he had heard it. If he became really excited about something, his blue eyes would open wide, he would literally bounce with enthusiasm, and his voice would become shrill, he would laugh heartily, and continue telling his story, talking in a squeal. But his stories were always interesting, and often fascinating. The following exemplifies his anecdotes and was one of my personal favorites.
He made frequent visits to Stephen Tennant at his house in the English countryside. Tennant was an eccentric who, at some point in his life, decided to spend the rest of it in bed, putting on makeup in the morning and playing with his dolls all day.
One day as Bruce sat at his bedside, Tennant said to him, "Brucie, I've heard that you're married." Bruce said yes, he was. "I don't think we like married men visiting us," Tennant said, and that was Bruce's last visit.
He could - and frequently did - speak for hours about visiting Andre Malraux, Indira Gandhi, or Konrad Lorenz, and he seemed surprised that I, a simple outlaaw history adherrant, knew about these people in some detail. It offended him a little I think.
Bruce always gave the impression that he knew everything and made an effort to convince you that your original ideas were thought of by him long before; except, once in a while, he would get excited when you told him something he did not know and really wanted to learn about. It was that way when he learned that for many years I had studied anthropological mirgrations in the context of genealogical origins, and had long contemplated compiling and publishing a voluminous work on the origin of names. This paralleled his own aspirations to write the history of nomads, and once he learned this about me he would allow me to talk of nothing else for days. His extemporaneous queries about my knowledge of migrations kept me agiley involved in supplying not just answers, but very learned ones, for I found myself really wanting to impress him. One thing Bruce did was bring out the best in me and ultimately to impress myself.
I don't make friends easily; I don't genuinely like people generally; few people impress me - but I like Bruce Chatwin genuinely, I was impressed by him greatly, and I knew he was my friend almost instantly. Comfortably, I talked with him about topics I never dared mention to others: religion, secret societies, golems and alchemy, races and divine right of monarchs. When I realized there was not a single topic he was not versed in, I almost became convinced that maybe he did know everything.
I published my first book Footprints in the Wilderness in 1970, a full seven years before Bruce's first book appeared. I gave him a copy of Footprints and he insisted I autograph it, which I did: TO BRUCE CHATWIN - A FELLOW TRAVELER ON OLD TRAILS. He said that English writers often spelled "traveler" with two L's. That was Bruce. Nevertheless, I was flattered by his interest.
As I drove him the more than five hundred miles south to visit Butch Cassidy's sister at Circleville, Utah, Bruce casually sprawled out in the passenger's seat, kicked his shoes off, crossed his legs on the dashboard, and read my book, asking myriads of questions.
Which brings us to another Chatwinian trait: Bruce was totally at ease, whether at a formal dinner party or hob-nobbing with natives or some foreign land. In fact, he appeared to have a total lack of self-consciousness, which, as his friend David Plante put it, "allowed him to do in public what people do only in private, as if no one around him could be aware that he, in the middle of a dinner party, was probing his bare chest."
Bruce got along famously with Butch's sister Lula, a dainty but still beautiful octogenarian. He was a natural charmer, convincing Lula to let him take her picture outside beneath an elm tree because "only the light of the sun would be sufficient to illuminate such a radiant and lovely face." She accompanied us to the old family homestead a few miles south of town near the Sevier River, where the original family log house where Butch was raised still stood. Bruce took numerous photos and afterwards went for a quiet conversational walk with Lula, while I discreetly sat on a pole fence and allowed them to get acquainted.
After saying farewells to Lula at Circleville, Bruce insisted that he could catch a bus to continue his journey south, but I prodded him to let me drive him at least as far as St. George, near the Arizona-Nevada border. I told him there were some historic sites along the way that I could point out which he would otherwise miss, which by itself was true enough, but it was not my true motive for making the offer: I was reluctant to lose his company. Finally he accepted, citing his tight travel budget and admitting that it would save him some funds.
We stopped at various places along the way: Bryce Canyon, Zion's National Park, Grafton, Silver Reef and Leeds. He was impressed with the latter place where he learned that not only was it named for the English city with which he was familiar, but that it was the home of Butch Cassidy's uncle and the place where one of Butch's girlfriends - Ann Bassett - had died in 1956.
When we stopped in one of the small southern Utah towns, Bruce thumbed through the local telephone directory - which I had seen him do on other occasions - and was delighted when he discovered the name "Chatwin" listed. He insisted on visiting the family, unannounced, which he did, being graciously received by spective families. When we departed he wrote it all down in his ever-present legal pads and the only comment he made was: "Incredible." Some years later, in 1983, by which time he was famous and wrote his autobiographical essay for the New York Times, he made mention of this incident, which indicates the impact it must have made on him.
I left Bruce at the combination café-bowling alley bus depot - "How typically American" - in St. George. He had plans to go to San Francisco and to examine the Jack London papers at U.C.L.A. Berkeley. He promised to write to me from various places during his travels, but I doubted that he would, for the remark had been casually made, almost as a platitude. I thought. I still retain a mental image of Bruce's ruddy face in the bus window as he waved almost forlornly, then disappearing from my sight. I drove the long miles back feeling unusually lonely - quite an unfamiliar experience for me. I felt, at the same time, elated, as though I had been to the top of Mount Athos in Greece, in the presence of something - or someone - great.
I didn't hear from Bruce for a long time, but I did hear from him, from Patagonia. Sometimes it was a hastily scribbled card or note, sometimes a lengthy and detailed letter, especially when he discovered something "marvelous" about Butch Cassidy. From Cholila, in the Chubut Valley of Argentina, he sent me a lengthy, detailed account of his travels inland and his discovery of the house built by Butch Cassidy, together with a photograph of it. He commented on how much it resembled Butch's boyhood home at Circleville and demonstrated his architectural expertise by delineating points of significance in the design and construction of both houses. From Rio Pico and Commodoro Rivadavia he sent me detailed accounts of robberies perpetrated by Cassidy and his "Bandidos Yanqui," together with interviews of eye-witnesses; and, from Punta Arenas, Chile - the southernmost city in the world - he sent me an account of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, together with Etta Place, becoming members of the British social club before robbing the local bank. His letters were always filled with vivid descriptions of what he saw, felt, and experienced, in the most fascinating and illustrative style. After some six months I heard no more from him until after his book, In Patagonia, appeared and was an instant success. I was immensely pleased to his references of me therein.
Bruce told the story of Patagonia's natural and human history in a series of short, fascinating anecdotes, stories and sketches, a trove of exotica compressed into 199 pages. He exhibited a gift for precise description: "The Cerro de los Indio was a lump of basalt, flecked red and green, smooth as patinated bronze and fracturing in linear slabs."
He also demonstrated an off-beat talent for presenting information, one of which methods I instantly recognized: "The history of Buenos Aires is written in its telephone directory. Pompey Romanov, Emilio Rommel, Crespina D.Z. de Rose, Ladislao Radziwill, and Elizabeth Marta Callman de Rothschild - five names taken at random from among the R's - told a story of exile, desolation, disillusion, and anxiety behind lace curtains."
The reviews of Bruce's first book told the story of his success: "Mr. Chatwin makes a splendid guide because he is learned humorous, and observant, he writes extremely well, and he is resolutely blind to the commonplace" (Atlantic, August 1978). "Mr. Chatwin is a marvelous storyteller - a miniaturist who packs dozens of odd tales, bizarre characters, and unforgettable scenes into the ninety-seven succinct, chapters of his book, many of them barely a page in length...He writes in a style that is alternately grave and comical but always precise and pictorial...It is his gift for...writing about both society and nature with an equally informed and distinguished eye that his book is so impressive and so pleasurable to read" (New York Times Book Review, July 30, 1978). The Wall Street Journal ranked the book as a "true delight" of the travel genre, on a par with the best travel books of Henry James, Rose Macaulay, Sybille Bedford, and Paul Theroux. In Patagonia brought Bruce the 1978 Hawthornden Prize of the British Society of Authors and the 1979 E.M. Forster Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
I saw Bruce again only once or twice before 1980. He spoke to me of a little old Spanish woman who lived at Comayagua, Honduras, who had once had a love affair with Butch Cassidy. This inspired me to make my own journey there the following year. The trip had a lasting effect upon my personal life for I returned with a new bride whom I married at San Pedro Sula. Bruce sent me a card of congratulations with the notation: "You will never make a travel writer if you marry a girl in every country you visit - but I suppose it could make you a good Mormon."
Thereafter I received cards and letters from him from exotic locations all over the world. Some were lengthy and descriptive, others brief but informative: "Dahomey, West Africa: Kerry, Here I am at last in Dahomey. Accommodations deplorable; people wonderful. Bruce."
Bruce went to Dahomey to do research for his second book, The Viceroy of Ouidah (Jonathan Cape, Ltd. 1980), a biography of nineteenth-century Brazilian gaucho Francisco de Souza, who went to Dahomey, West Africa (now the People's Republic of Benin) in 1812 and, after helping a young prince seize power, we given the title of viceroy and a monopoly on the local slave trade. When he traveled to Benin to do research. Bruce was mistaken for a mercenary during the military coup there in 1968 and was briefly detained. A similar thing had occurred to me in Honduras and I could not help but think our lives were again running parallel courses.
A minority of critics were repelled by Bruce's cool, terrifying detailing of violence and "cruel superstition" in the "tricky hybird" of a book, but most regarded The Viceroy of Quidah as "luseiously exotic" and "vigorously visual."
The last time I heard from Bruce was during research for his third book, On The Black Hill (Jonathan Cape, Ltd. 1982), the story of Benjamin and Lewis Jones, identical-twin Welsh farmers. The novel follows the bachelor brothers over a span of eighty years, from their birth in 1900 to 1980, and explores the almost mystical bond that from childhood on enables each to sense when the other is in pain and to experience the same sensations, memories, and dreams.
I felt convinced and extremely flattered that something Bruce and I had once discussed may have inspired the idea for On The Black Hill. Once as we lay beneath a starry sky at night talking, I told Bruce the story of my father, Edward Boren, who was an identical twin, and who died at the age of 81 in 1975, the year I first met my friend Bruce. I told him about my father's twin, Ezra, who froze his feet while walking between Green River, Wyoming and Manila, Utah (as Bruce had done) and lost one of his feet by amputation and how my father always claimed to feel pain in his own leg because of it. Bruce seemed to be fascinated by the concept and made notes about it in his yellow journals. My father, of course, was Irish, but as it happened his mother was Welsh, from the Black Hills of Wales originally, and her maiden name was Jones. I am convinced that this, coupled with Bruce's visit to Wales as a boy was the inspiration for On The Black Hill.
Reviews for On The Black Hill were laudatory, as usual. The New Yorker (March 21, 1983) stated: "His studied style - with something in it of Hemingway's chiseled bleakness, and something of Lawrence's inspired swiftness - touches on the epic." On The Black Hill won Bruce the 1982 Whitbread Award of the Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland.
After this time I never saw or heard from Bruce again. It wasn't his fault. I went traveling around the Mayan ruins in Central America between 1980 and 1982, and late in 1983, after I returned, my life took a downward plunge and I ended up at Utah State Prison. I never had the heart to write and tell Bruce where I was or where fate had taken me.
Once, Bruce had mentioned his life-long interest in the aborigines of Australia. He said if he ever decided to go there he would like me to accompany him. Maybe, had I not been in prison...
With the notes made on his several expeditions through the "dry heart" of Australia, Bruce constructed his book The Songlines (Jonathan Cape, Ltd. 1987), in which the several journeys were compounded into one "imaginary dialogue" with one traveling companion. The Songlines was a best seller in America, critics seeing in it the imprint of "a dazzlingly original mind."
Bruce saw two of his works made into motion pictures. The Viceroy of Quidah was made into the Cobra Verde, in 1987, a loose adaptation, by the German film maker Werner Herzog. A meticulous screen adaptation of On The Black Hill, directed by Andrew Grieve and starring the Welsh actors and brothers Mike and Robert Gwilym, was released in 1988.
Bruce's next work was the novel Utz. Based on firsthand experience, Utz tells the story of a Czechoslovakian art dealer who is forced to leave his prized collection of Meissen porcelain behind when he escapes to the West. He had plans for many other novels, including one about a "political tightrope artist" who succeeds in living as he chooses behind the Iron Curtain. The story was inspired, he said, by a four-hour conversation he had with a man he met in a Communist country.
In 1988 Michele Field, an interviewer for Publishers Weekly, described Bruce as having "the preppie good looks of Robert Redford and the luminous blue eyes of a possum" and as being "both likeable and voluble." At that time he was living with his wife, the former Elizabeth Chanler, an American whom he met while working at Sotheby's and married in 1965, at their home in Oxfordshire, England. Michele Field noted something that I recognized as purely Bruce Chatwin: "Shunning word processors and typewriters, Chatwin writes in longhand on yellow legal pads."
Another of Bruce's close friends, American writer David Plante, said of him: "Bruce almost seemed to lack a self at times, no matter how impressive he was, because he became a reflection of so many personalities." I found this statement to be most astutely correct. I remember once sitting next to Bruce on the banks of the slow-running Green River, tossing little stones into the water and talking banally about things of small consequence, when after a protracted period of quiet, he turned to me and said, quite as serious as I had ever seen him: "Tell me, my friend, do you think there is danger that writers such as ourselves may somehow lose our own identities because we live so much vicariously through others?" It was a real concern to him. Or was it just another of his flights of fancy? With Bruce, you never could be sure.
David Plante told of an instance when, in London, he went with Bruce to a gay disco called Heaven. Bothered by the loud music Plante said he would leave after an hour or so, but Bruce said with a laugh that he thought he would stay and pick someone up. With Bruce, you never could be sure.
Bruce Chatwin was a paradox of isms, a complex, complicated genius of contradictions. Just when you thought you had mastered the maze and found his center, he changed, and you wondered if you had ever known him at all.
He seemed to want to that way, as if when you discovered who he really was, you might not find him so appealing or appreciate him as much.
He hated Greece and wasted no opportunity to say so. Plante met him in the walled town of Lucca, in Tuscany, Italy, on his way to Greece. Yet he told Plante, "I don't know about Greeks - and I have very, very little interest in Greece, and that only during the month of February." In Greece, he went to the monastery on Mount Athos, the sacred mountain where no women are allowed. When he returned to London, all he said to Plante about Mount Athos was, "My dear, those priests!"
Shortly thereafter he made an unexplained trip to the United States. Maybe he tried to locate me. I like to allow myself to think so. When he returned, he was deathly ill. His friend Kasmi, who operates a gallery in Cork Street, London, said, "The last time I saw Bruce, I helped him walk, a few pathetic steps, as he leaned on me. And this is my great traveling chum." To reporters he said that during a trip to western China in the early 1980's he had contract a rare and debilitating bone marrow disease which he got from inhaling the dust of bat dung in a cave. He elaborated the story by saying that the disease was so rare it was known only to have attacked a few Chinamen and a beached whale, all of whom died. He dismissed it with the coinment, "Hazards of travel - rather an alarming one."
In actual fact, Bruce had AIDS. During his final illness he was confined to a wheelchair. He died in a hospital in Nice, France, in January, 1989. After his death, a collection of his essays, titled What Am I Doing Here? was published by Viking Press.
During my incarceration, I thought of contacting Bruce a couple of times but procrastinated for one reason or another. Then, recently my wife Lisa read a review of one of Bruce's books to me over the telephone. I listened attentively, happy for his success, when near the end of the piece, I thought I heard something and asked my wife to read it again. There it was - reference to "the late Bruce Chatwin." Bruce was dead! I have not been the same since.
Often enough I have heard others refer to friends of theirs who died of AIDS and, like most, thought little of it. Now I have a friend who died of AIDS: now it's personal.
It was only after his death in 1989 that it was learned even by his closest friends that he had been guarding another secret: he claimed to have had some sort of vision on Mount Athos and shortly thereafter he had converted to the Greek Orthodox religion, telling no one. According to his final wishes, he was given a funeral service in the Greek Orthodox Church, in Moscow Road, London.
Recently my compassionate and understanding wife bought me the complete works of my late friend, Bruce Chatwin. I am looking forward to spending a little time with him.
I remember his words to an interviewer shortly before his death. "As you go along," he said, "you literally collect places. I'm fed up with going to places, I shan't go to anymore." I can't help but think, rather, that in death Bruce made one last journey - perhaps the greatest of his career. You made it, Bruce, my dear old friend - you made it. Now you have become the ultimate nomad.
1. My personal friendship, talks, experiences and memories of Bruce Chatwin.
2. New York Times
Obituary, Jan. 1989, by Albin Krebs
Book Review, August 2, 1987; July 30, 1975
Biographical Essay, February 27, 1988
3. Publishers Weekly, article by Michele Field, August 7, 1987.
4. Atlantic, August 1978.
5. Wall Street Journal, August 2, 1978.
6. Spectator, article by Mary Hope, November 15, 1980.
7. New Yorker, article by John Updike, March 21, 1983.
8. London Times Literary Supplement, review by Malcolm Deas, December 9, 1977.
9. Current Biography Yearbook, 1988, H.W. Wilson Co., New York.
10. Esquire, article by David Plante, October 1990.