Jan Morris turned 90 yesterday, and to mark her birthday The Guardian had an article from her agent of 20 years, Derek Johns. That sent me back to a book of her own, Pleasures of a Tangled Life, in which she set out some rules on “The Travelling Craft”, including this one:
“Some practitioners maintain that the essential purpose of moving around the world is to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to experience life… as Frenchmen or Israelis or Japanese experience it, eating what they eat, buying what they buy, even trying to think as they do. Not me. Nothing is going to make a shogun of me, least of all ten days at a Yokohama motel, and scholars who have spent entire careers studying the Basque mind still can’t make head nor tail of it. Far better in my opinion to regard the great world as a kind of show, a tragicomedy, kindly put on for my fascination. Nobody is offended by this approach. Most people love to be looked at.”
Faber is due to publish Derek Johns’s Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris, on Thursday. Michael Palin Meets Jan Morris is due to be screened on BBC2 on Saturday (October 8).