For me, it was a morning in kindergarten. I must have been five. One of the kid’s mothers put on a puppet show–in French. I was smitten. I traveled to France for the first time when I was ten. I went to a French camp in Vermont each summer for three years, beginning when I was 13. I studied in Quebec and lived in Paris. To this day, all things French sparkle for me. A year ago, I was sitting next to an 11-year-old Chinese boy, and I don’t know who was more excited as the plane flew by the Eiffel Tower.
When Bruce Chatwin was a little boy, his grandmother treasured a piece of brontosaurus. “This particular brontosaurus had lived in Patagonia…” And that was all it took for Bruce Chatwin.
In 1974, when he was 34, he set out for “the end of the world.” His book, In Patagonia, was published in 1977. It’s been called a travel book, travel writing, adventure writing, a travel journal, nonfiction. These days, it’s often referred to as memoir. The structure is 97 short sections. He appears to let himself be blown by the wind, and I often wondered why he was seeking out a certain place or person. Then I got it–passion.
In section 14, he goes to visit “the poet.”
“The rain drummed on the tin roof. For the next two hours he was my Patagonia.”
Chatwin is a story-teller, and he gives us what we want–detailed-filled moments. The writing is strong, his sentences, in particular.
“The driver of a wool truck stopped and picked me up. He wore a black shirt embroidered with pink roses and played Beethoven’s Fifth on his tape deck.”
“She picked her teeth with a thorn and laughed at the futility of existence.”
Patagonia is a geographic region–the tail of South America. It spreads over two countries–Chile and Argentina. For more information on the book, check out The Quarterly Conversation‘s in-depth review of In Patagonia.