I boken The Story-Teller som innehåller kortnoveller, essäer och intervjuer med välkända författare inom vandringslitteraturgenren, intervjuar Michael Ignatieff Bruce Chatwin.
Ignatieff: Songlines originated, didn´t it, in a book you were planning to write about nomads?
Chatwin: I went to Sahara at the time when I was working in the art world, and completely by chance spent time with a very extreme nomad people called the Beja. They alerted me to certain things which were obviously close to me but which I hadn´t realized before. They started my quest to know the secret of their irreverent and timeless vitality: why was it that nomad peoples have amazing capacity to continue under the most adverse circumstances, while the empires come crashing down? It seemed to me to an immensely interesting subject to tackle. But the literature of nomad peoples is of travelling and why I left a conventional job at the age of twenty-six.
One day I came back from America on a pretty nasty flight to stay with a friend at Ireland. I drove from Dublin to Donegal and the next morning I woke up blind. The sight came back in one eye during the day, but when I got to England the eye specialist who looked at me said: “You have been looking too closely at pictures. Why don´t you swap them for some long horizons?” So I said “Why not?” He said, “Where would you like to go?” I said “Africa”. And so instead of writing a prescription for new spectacles, he wrote a prescription saying that he recommended travel to Africa.
Ignatieff: Who are your heroes?
Chatwin: The writers I adore are nearly always the Russians. Mandelstam especially; his Journey to Armenia went with me on my journey to Patagonia. As a Jew, he understands restlessness – at one point he speaks about “our fantastic homelessness.” His life was a series of the most extraordinary dislocations, which ended up in Siberia. He seems to have postulated, very early in his writing, the fate that would eventually overcome him.
Mandelstam himself could only compose on the hoof. He had to be walking, when actually writing a poem. He had the idea that the production of words in the larynx was dependent on the action of the feet.
Ignatieff: You believe this….?
Chatwin: Oh yes. Like dogma!
Sakta vänder jag bladen i Gråljus, Osip Mandelstams samling av prosa och poesi tolkad av Bengt Jangfeldt och Göran Sonnevi, FIB:s Lyrikerklubb 1979. Mandelstams vibrerande ord om ett liv i kamp för överlevnad. Fotografierna. Samvaron med Anna Achmatova.
En liten stund i köket skall vi sitta.
Det doftar ljuvt av vit fotogen.
Den vassa kniven, en kaka bröd…
Om du vill det, primusen hårt ska du pumpa.
Och om inte, snören får du samla ihop
Att knyta korgen med före gryningen,
Så att vi kan åka till stationen
Där ingen kan få tag på oss.
Januari 1931. Leningrad