Nicolas Bouvier left his native bourgeois Switzerland in 1953 with no intention of returning. In a small, slow Fiat, he and his artist friend Thierry Vernet, and travelled across Europe and Asia over nineteen unforgettable months, pausing in Belgrade, Istanbul, Tabriz and Quetta to paint, write and wait tables, taking longer than Marco Polo, as Bouvier proudly pointed out, to reach Japan.
“A journey does not need reasons. Before long, it proves to be reason enough in itself. One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you”. – Nicolas Bouvier.
Self-portrait with Thierry Vernet, Col d’Ordu, Turkey, October 1953.
During their trip there would be unanticipated adventures, curious companionship, and sudden illumination along the way.
His journey was in many ways prescient of the great eastward wave of hippies that occurred in the sixties and seventies – slow, meandering progress in an iconic car, carefully guarded idiosyncrasy, a rite of passage.
Nicolas Bouvier writing on the terrace of a hotel in Teheran 1954.
In 1954, Nicolas Bouvier arrives at the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Suddenly, his good fortune deserts him and gets very ill. He is completely left alone for a period of nine months in an area that seems to be only populated by demons and insects.
It took him seven months to leave the island and almost thirty years to free himself of the weight of this adventure with the writing of Le Poisson-scorpion. It ends on a quote from Louis-Ferdinand Céline: “The worst defeat of all is to forget and especially the thing that has defeated you.”
He eventually self-published “The Way of the World” ten years after his return. His most popular books are The Way of the World, The Japanese Chronicles, and The Scorpion Fish.