So many people of my age, education, urban locale and marketing communications profession are consumed with the status things in life. The thread count on their new set of designer sheets. The coolest new gastro pub to see, be seen at and ingest within. Getting that next great client, promotion, attractive partner, micro Ipad or Audi sports convertible…
Not me. Not that I don’t like fine Egyptian cotton on my bed or a great French bistro. But what gives me the most grounding in this uncertain world is the pursuit of knowledge –and the experience of culture. For me, travel… has been the icing to cake of these mind nourishing pursuits. And lately, I have discovered a soulmate in Polish author/journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. We seem to share the same ancient idol, the world’s first Historian, Herodotus…
Travels with Herodotus – a great read
I just picked up his masterpiece “Travels with Herodotus” It vibrantly depicts his many overseas postings as a young journalist in exotic lands like India and China at the height of the Mao years, many decades ago. In each destination, he is humbled by his lack of knowledge and understanding of the unfathomable culture and hurries to absorb as much knowledge and literature to make sense of the jumble—extra challenging, as few could communicate with him in his native Polish tongue.
His constant companion is Herodotus – or the spirit of Herodotus embodied in his classic work “The Histories”. Herodotus was considered the father of history. Writing and traveling at the height of the classical Greek period, he explored Greece and lands as far afield as Persia and Egypt to try to grasp and translate his world – create a lasting memoir of the people and places of his times in an era where faulty human memory was the only repository.
Herodotus, like Kapuscinski, was really a foreign journalist too. But his world was a lot smaller. His major objective was to explore the causes and reasons for the perpetual wars of east (Persia) against west (Greece). Not much has changed, I guess.
The outsider factor
Herodotus was also an outsider – not from the Athens “clique” of his time, but from the ‘suburb’ of Halicarnassus…. That experience of being an outsider in some ways can shape the great thinkers and heroes of the world. You are born feeling ‘out of the box’ and for that reason, your life is in better harmony when in motion, in journey, absorbing new cultures, experiences… and writing And yet, being an outsider does not necessarily mean you are from Halicarnassus… or Cobourg, for that matter. As a midtown Toronto girl I have been an outsider all my life. I’ve always found the shifting, changing world outside my environs and overseas the perfect fit for my shifting, changing nature and passion for inquiry and experience.
Not just the facts…
I should like to be a Herodotus. Documenting the history of the present world. Traveling to unknown lands and interviewing locals, shaping my impressions to inspire and inform others. Like me, Herodotus was not a ‘dot your I’s and cross your T’s’ methodical and careful writer – he was an inspired conversationalist. Some criticize him for that. For his gossipy, “heresay” style – painting the pharaohs with broad brushstrokes – like Khufu –that nasty tyrant who built the great pyramid and sold his daughter into prostitution…Hmmm….pause for thought!
The newsroom mould
Perhaps my closest chance to be a present day Herodotus or…was as an editorial assistant in the CBC National Newsroom. There, I ran scripts for Mansbridge when I was right out of school. They let me write a script on the royals, I recall, for the midday news. Something like Prince Charles had a sore throat…woohoo. But, I was also writing comedy for for radio variety, doing dinner theatre stage, performing in classical dramas and improv shows – and none too thrilled to willingly serve months, perhaps years, of overnight CBC news shifts running scripts, fetching coffees and writing filler to earn my dues in the country’s most prestigious newsroom …
Diversity was not encouraged. They wanted a focused news junky who bled current affairs – plain and simple. No-one could ever paint me with one colour, then or now. I would rather learn Latin or Baroque music theory than devotedly and exclusively study the PR-spun headlines on the International newswires. Or perhaps a bit of all three? Yup, I was eventally let go. I don’t think Herodotus would have lasted either…
The world today is a specialized and digitized space
Sadly the world of Herodotus( and perhaps of Kapuscinki too) is over. The 21st century globe is a well-trodden, specialized, and digitized place now. Unless I can find a yet untried stunt it will be hard to be a successful world chronicler: Like riding a giant iguana across South America. Painting the peak of Everest fuschia. Or mobilizing an occupy movement in some far flung, oppressed regime. Perhaps then I could make a healthy living as a wandering journalist- reporter-historian. Hasn’t it all been done – and blogged — already? For pennies a word?
Knowledge, thankfully, will always be there. That’s the good news – and it is ever more abundant! Knowledge increases every hour, day, year, century– an unending, overflowing wellspring of life inspiration to be lapped up hungrily.
Relationships may pass, jobs come and go, and life is rife with hope, disappointments, and temptations to ‘settle’ and just grow old. But If one can remain undaunted by the impossibility of mastering anything, undistracted by the trivial preoccupations of status, the 9-5 and the “gold watch” at 68… If one can remain awake and open with an eye to capturing and conveying your experience in some meaningful way to others – you can still live a vibrant, truly inspired life. I shall try.