January 11, 2020
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Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer

My eighteenth year was when the world was suddenly flung open to me. Until then, I’d been mostly incarcerated within medieval boarding-school cloisters, where I regarded Keats and D.H. Lawrence as the greatest adventures imaginable. But my eighteenth year was when I took my first summer-long trip around my parents’ India, and got to savour my first taste of Bombay and Dharamshala; my eighteenth year was when I took on my first job, fecklessly impersonating a Spanish-speaking sub-waiter at Pancho Villa Inn, a Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara, California; my eighteenth year was when I went on my first official- seeming date, to see, too fittingly, a new movie of Hesse’s Steppenwolf, starring Max Van Sydow and Dominique Sanda.

My eighteenth year was also the time when I took my first major trip, uncha­peroned,  getting into a bus in the Mex­ican border town of Tijuana, and then travelling for the next three mon­ths, with an equally unschooled classmate, through Guatemala and the jungles of Colombia and over the passes of the Andes to La Paz, Bolivia, before continuing alone through the empty Ama­zonian spaces of northern Brazil and Suriname and then returning, by way of Trinidad and Barbados, to Miami to take a three-day bus-trip home.

My eighteenth year, in short, was when I learned, at last, that the world was a far richer classroom than any place with a textbook could be; and by the time I arrived at university, aged eighteen, I knew that all my deepest enquiries and illuminations would take place in locations as far from the known, and from the curriculum, as San Agustin and Belem. I can only hope that others, turning eighteen, can save up enough for a similar liberation, and see that neighbourhood, school and home are wonderful, but most deeply appreciated, sometimes, when you’re a long way away from them.

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