First World problems:

'Tom picked me up at the tiny airport in a taxi and brought me up to date. “I was living in Saigon,” he said, “and after a year I had to leave be­cause my life was spinning out of control. Then I was living in Rome, and I had to leave after six months because my life was spinning out of con­trol. Then I moved to Las Vegas, and I had to leave there, too, very quickly, because my life was definitely once again spinning out of control.”

"You were having trouble keeping yourself together in Rome, so you moved to Vegas?"’

— Gideon Lewis-Kraus, A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimmage for the Restless and the Hopeful

Nomads Don’t Have iPads*

[Zunn Taiga, Mongolia, 2007]

Maria Popova’s Brainpickings is always fascinating, but for the sake of productivity I try to occasionally shut down my computer and smell the English roses here in London. So I was glad my friend Allan Casey–author of the lovely book Lakeland–tipped me off on a post about a new tome on nomads. Described by Popova as a “visual anthropology,” this book by the Dutch photographer Jeroen Toirkens and writer Jelle Brandt Corstius looks at nomadic tribes in Russia, Mongolia, The Arctic and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Their lives, judging by some of the images, are both modern and old fashioned.

In an interview with Gizmodo, Toirkens said:

"The most impressive thing about nomads I’ve learned in the past 12 years is their amazing resilience and capacity to adapt to changes. Nomads have been adapting to change for ages. They are living on the edges of our society and earth. Both literally and figuratively.

One of my favourite photos is of the Kola Sámi of Russia. Notice the street-light?

The book grew out of Toirkens’ project Nomads Life, which aims to document the life and culture of traditional nomads.

My only quibble is the notion that these are the “world’s last living nomads.” Through The Modern Nomad and the subsequent book, I’m seeking to explore different ideas of nomadism and tribes and communities. As we say in publishing, more TK.

*Headline stolen from Gizmodo.

The God of Walking

“I always wish I was somewhere else,” the writer Bruce Chatwin once told Michael Ignatieff, in an interview published in the literary magazine Granta. Chatwin was famously restless, a reputation he advanced both in interviews and in books such as In Patagonia and The Songlines. “My God is the God of walkers,” he wrote. “If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God.”

Photo via Segnaleorario, Flickr

Chatwin spent six months walking acoss Patagonia, tramping from village to village, sketching out the characters he met as he chased a relic from his childhood—a scrap of skin from a brontosaurus which turned out to be, as all myths do, not what it appeared.

It seems to me that for Chatwin walking was a means to an end. Though he might have disagreed. In The Songlines he writes that the nomads he meets, first in Africa, were “peoples whose journeys, unlike my own, had neither beginning or end.”)

Chatwin was guided by a personal mythology, and his writing is sometimes likened to magic realism. “Myth, like love, is a decision,” the Canadian author Charles Montgomery wrote in his own quest story, The Shark God: Encounter with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific. “What it answers is longing. What it demands is faith. What it opens is possibility.”

The possibility that Chatwin opened in The Songlines and In Patagonia was accomplished through this walking, this tramping, this nomadism. This restlessness. It was a quest that could never be finished. Sometimes, when I am new to a place and I miss my family and friends and enter that strange ecosystem of foreigness where one is both a part of a community and apart of it, I am skeptical of this kind of endless quest. As I’ll explore in The Modern Nomad, it can become a goal never accomplished, a place never reached. Momentum for the sake of momentum, you might say.

When I think about the God of Chatwin’s personal mythology, I’m reminded of a great line from Peter Behrens’ novel The Law of Dreams: “Tramping was strange and addictive, a kind of perfection, but there came a time when you had to stop or you would walk right out of yourself.”