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Sun after Dark Flights into the Foreign Pico Iyer 2004. NY: Vintage, 2005.

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Title: Sun after Dark Flights into the Foreign Pico Iyer 2004. NY: Vintage, 2005.


1
Sun after DarkFlights into the ForeignPico
Iyer2004. NY Vintage, 2005.
2
Sun after Dark
3
The Place across the Mountains
  • He and the cabbie get lost in La Paz trying to
    find a Mexican restaurant hes read about (3)
  • (He couldnt find a restaurant closer to where he
    was already?)
  • Begins to worry they wont get out of the maze
    theyve stumbled into

4
  • I could have been back in CA (or in the mock-CA
    suburb where I live now in Japan). (4)
  • What makes this scene so familiar? The sense of
    being lost? The long lines of streets?
  • Realizes hes been there beforealways an
    unsettling notion.
  • Hed gone there to see a church that isnt even
    mentioned in the guidebooks anymore. So even the
    sense of importance of a place can change.

5
Considerations
  • Camus native of Algeria
  • Became a traveler for life
  • Was a stranger no matter where he went
  • (So what gives us a sure sense of belonging?)
  • Iyer calls the impulse to travel the chance to
    confront the questions and challenges that he
    would never see at home (7)
  • Travel remains a journey into whatever we cant
    explain, or explain away.

6
  • Iyer loves the prospect of stepping out of the
    daylight of everything I know, into the shadows
    of that I dont know, may never know. (8)
  • Confronted by the foreign, we grow newly
    attentive to the details of the world, even as we
    make out, sometimes, the larger outline that lies
    behind them.
  • (In what ways has this happened to you? What
    details have you become more aware of?)

7
  • I know in my own case that a trip has really
    been successful if I come back sounding strange
    even to myself if, in some sense, I never come
    back at all, but remain up at night unsettled by
    what Ive see.
  • We travel, some of us, to slip through the
    curtain of the ordinary, and into the presence of
    whatever lies just outside our apprehension.
  • I fall through the gratings of the conscious
    mind, and into a place that observes a different
    kind of logic. (8)

8
  • We travel most when we stumble, and we stumble
    most when we come to a place of poverty and
    need. (9)
  • Christopher Isherwood The ideal travel book
    should be perhaps a little like a crime story, in
    which youre searching of something.
  • Iyer And its the best kind of something if
    its something you never find.
  • (How so?)
  • The beauty of any flight, after all, is that, as
    soon as we leave the ground, we leave a sense of
    who we are behind.
  • Why is that so necessary?

9
  • The modern, shifting world has brought
    disorientation home to us, and mystery and
    strangeness even in the most familiar places we
    may come upon something unsettling..
  • I go into a church in Florence, everyday as the
    morning to me, and the friend Ive brought with
    me from Japan suddenly stiffens, and runs out,
    her heart assaulted by the strangeness of a place
    I would never think twice about. (10)
  • So he decides to collect essays that tell of
    memorable travels that somehow shook him.
  • Goal Carry the reader into a sense of
    strangeness, and into the expanded sense of
    possibility that strangeness sometimes brings.
    (11)

10
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11
Leonard Cohen Time in a Zen Monastery
  • Famous singer, poet, writer
  • Showed an almost disquieting readiness to live
    out every romantic myth (22)
  • Cohen being human means gathering around a
    perplexity
  • Cohen himself is a cross between a hippie
    existentialist and Old World scholar
  • When asked the difference between Buddhism and
    Zen, he disappearsa good Zen solutioninto the
    bathroom to clean cups (29)

12
Making Kindness Stand to Reason
  • Dalai Lama no choice but to enter right into
    the confusion and chaos of the Celebrity Age.
    (36)
  • To get to Dharamsala 5-hour taxi ride from the
    nearest airport!
  • DL (after winning Nobel Prize) The only way to
    make an effectif thats even possible through
    constant effort, tireless effort, pursuing clear
    goals with sincere effort. (46)
  • Exile has turned him into a student of the world

13
  • Note that earlier Tibetan spiritual leaders were
    always cut off from the world, looking at it from
    atop a secluded tower
  • This D.L. has been able to talk to scientists,
    etc., all of which can help him understand his
    own tradition just as travel helps any traveler
    understand his or her own background
  • The necessary quality for any traveler alertness
  • This might lead to compassion and a sense of
    responsibility (only takes one trip to Mexico to
    understand the desperation behind border
    crossing)

14
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15
Happy Hour in the Heart of Darkness
  • Tuol Sleng notorious memorial to Khmer Rouge
    killers in Phnom Penh
  • Note that its labeled a Genocide Museum
  • The museum seems to be all in the past but--
  • Duch, who oversaw the death of some 16,000
    countrymen, was recently discovered in a western
    villageand claims to be a born-again Christian
    (58)
  • Iyer In Cambodia, every moral certainty was
    exiled long ago

16
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17
  • every prospect of new sunlight in Cambodia
    brings new shadowsalmost everyone has some
    connection to the killers
  • Young man in Siem Reap Even my uncle, he killed
    many people. That is how my father was safe.
  • Punishing people for what happened 20 years ago
    seems as wrong as ignoring what happened
  • To embrace the future, it seems, is to evade the
    past.
  • Politics like a Swiss bank account under a
    false name
  • Anniversary of Pol Pots pronouncement was once
    called the Day of Hate. Now its the Day of
    Memory.

18
Questions to Ask Ourselves
  • Why do we need to visit the Genocide Museum? (Or
    do we?)
  • What are other places that are terrible to visit?
  • What does visiting such places do to us?

19
Dead Man Walking(Suggestions for Further
Reading?)
  • W.G. Sebald unable to escape the past
  • German, but taught literature in England until a
    premature death (heart attack)
  • His flight isnt liberation, but compulsion
  • Note his book Vertigo, which is labeled
    Fiction/Travel/History its travel through the
    workings of memory (Publishers Weekly calls it a
    novel)
  • (Note similarities to Chatwin)

20
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21
  • All of Sebalds work a narrator, who is
    strangely like the author, takes off on long,
    unsettled wanderings, in pursuit of some riddle
    that will not leave him alone (67).
  • Sebald doesnt travel to find something, as we
    might, but to try to forget somethinghis
    selfbut that doesnt work either.
  • His long, sunless paragraphs might seem like
    Nabakov lost inside a haunted house.
  • Theme of his books restlessness, panic, a
    lightless labyrinth (theres a hint of Kafka)

22
  • Only the coincidences fit together
  • Irrational fear and a sense of being hunted are
    the only home Sebald knows (71)
  • Its as if hes fallen through a trapdoor and
    landed in a parallel world, losing sight of
    reality at the same time
  • In his storiesits usually twilightthat in
    between time of day
  • Hes a dead man walking because he cant escape
    his past, which always reminds him of death

23
  • (Why read this guy?)
  • great melancholy beauty of his prose
  • The Emigrants introduced a new style of travel
    writing
  • The protagonists are forced out of their world
    but never quite make it to another (like someone
    who doesnt speak his or her own language well
    but doesnt master a second language either)
  • Rings of Saturn ever larger desolation the
    narrator is by himself in all of Englands
    loneliest spaces

24
Flights
25
Yemen
26
The Khareef(Iyers Personal Storm)
  • Aden largest port of southern Yemen
  • Used to be a British colony, and a place British
    ships stopped for refueling
  • Iyer remembers being there as a child on a trip
    with his mother
  • By 2001, its a biblical wasteland surviving
    off the memory of happier days as a colony
  • Soon Iyer tries to make travel arrangementshes
    desperate to leave

27
  • Woman at the office clicks away slowly on her
    keyboardno one really trusts technological
    advances here
  • Time slips away in a place like Aden (90)
  • The townspeople all chew a narcotic qat
  • The Crescent Hotel clock is frozen in time
  • The woman claims he cant make it to the airport,
    which is 6 hours away in Sanaa, but he buys a
    ticket anywayno price was too high.
  • Rushes out to find a taxi, but the taxi stand is
    dark and silent

28
  • The only driver he can find is a very old man in
    a dirty turban
  • As he took his place behind the wheel, eyes
    closed, and visibly shaking, friends came up and
    patted him on the back, wished him luck, said
    prayers for his safe return.
  • (How often have we as travelers been asking
    ourselves what have we gotten ourselves into?(
  • The night that followed never happened, I tell
    myself now it belongs to some place in the
    imagination (91)
  • In other words, its that bad.

29
  • There are mountains with sheer drops
  • Men with guns who examine their passports an
    expect small bribes
  • Rain, creaking windshield wipers, a skidding car
  • Driver with a stash of qat
  • The driver turned left onto an empty road, then
    right onto an empty road, and I realized that he
    had no idea where he was going.
  • He makes the plane and reaches Dubai, with its
    seven-star hotel and fully modern airport
  • (The question remains whats the price were
    willing to pay for travel? What are some of the
    problems that occur once we get too far off the
    good old beaten path?)

30
  • 9-11 happens six weeks later
  • Aden, near Osama bin Ladens home village, was
    taken to be the center of all evil.
  • Suddenly this forgotten city is pulled back into
    present tense in the worst possible way

31
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32
A Journey into Light
  • Signs of modernity in La Paz, Bolivia the
    MacDonalds is more expensive than the French
    café next door
  • Skyscrapers, Internet cafés, cell phones
  • Irony the traveler is both a newcomer walking
    down the street the wrong way and someone who has
    traveled far to look at him or herself through
    the eyes of a local, who sees him or her as very
    strange (97)

33
  • Difficulty of being 2 miles above sea level
  • Iyer feels different here I had strange dreams
    in La Paz every night, and awoke at three in the
    morning, convinced that I knew everything that
    was wrong with my life and my work (I would
    scribble down excited notes in the heat of
    inspiration, and, a little later, looking back on
    them, see nothing but hallucination). (99)
  • Hes come to La Paz at the end of 2001 to get
    away from a world that was preoccupied with the
    war between the future and the past.

34
  • La Paz on the other hand has few radical Moslems
    and no investment in the future.
  • Like other South American countries, it seems
    caught between a colonial past and a future that
    hasnt arrived
  • Visits the San Pedro Prison but feels a prisoner
    himself
  • The whole expedition began to feel like a very
    bad idea. (109)
  • Graham Greene What gives value to travel is
    fear
  • Kafkas regular theme Which of us has an
    entirely clear conscience with absolutely nothing
    to hide?

35
Bali
36
In the Dark
  • Bali magical world for those who can see its
    invisible forces and read all the unseen currents
    in the air (that woman is a leyak witch, and that
    shade of green portends death). (116)
  • For everyone else its a paradise where you fall
    in love with the first Other you meet
  • 30,000 temples!

37
  • Foreigners often awaken in the night in Bali to
    see ghosts standing by their beds when a brother
    needs to communicate with a brother, a Balinese
    dancer once told me, with no drama in his voice,
    he finds telepathy easier than the telephone.
    (117)
  • An ideal souvenir something a little strange and
    spooky. Bali, however, is too much for him
  • The woman he met on the previous trip is waiting
    for him at his guest house even though hes never
    mentioned hes coming

38
  • Buys a souvenir, an owl, but it seems to be
    talking to him and he cant stand it
  • You go into the dark to get away from what you
    know, and if you go far enough, you realize,
    suddenly, that youll never really make it back
    into the light. (119)
  • (Have you ever traveled too far?)
  • Where do you draw the line between a good trip,
    preferably from which you learn something, and
    too much discomfort?

39
Tibet
40
On the Ropebridge
  • The thin air makes you feel like someone else
  • Tibet is heavily romanticized, but todays
    monasteries serve Beijing
  • What exactly you believe, and how much, and why,
    is a question Tibet asks you more searchingly
    than any place I know.

41
  • Its a part of what travel involves
    everywherethe stepping out of the bounds of what
    you know, and into the realm of wishfulness and
    illusion and real marvelbut in Tibet it comes
    with centuries of legends, and a
    self-consciousness, on both sides, you dont find
    in other cultures (124)

42
  • Iyer How can you reconcile the terrible
    conditions (the need of schools and hospitals,
    for ex.) with the sunlight and sharp clean air?
    How can you be so close to Heaven and yet
  • Its like the kind of tightwalk that spans the
    gorges of the Himalayas
  • Chinas answer Tibet is poor because it spends
    too much time and money on gods..
  • When Iyer comes here, he has reverse déja vu
    cant believe hes ever been there

43
  • At the foot of the Potala Palace is
    a theme park with swan boats
  • China has modernized the city The result is
    that it looks like an Eastern Las Vegas, one
    unnaturally fat strip of huge discos and modern
    hotels set in the middle of what would otherwise
    be lunar emptiness. (125)

44
  • When Iyer was in Tibet in 1985, when the country
    had just opened up, he found it a place of hope
    as Tibetans celebrated their foreignness and
    interaction with other cultures
  • By 1990 it had transformed again martial law had
    been imposed once the monks started speaking out
    about independence.

45
  • Only tourists could visit the Potala Palace, but
    they were given the tour in reverse and shown a
    dark palace with closed doors
  • (Note What happens when our whole notion of a
    place changes? Its like learning a language you
    think you know it, but new words keep getting
    addednothing is ever stable, which is
    disconcerting.)

46
  • Now he finds the ropebridge even shakier. The
    Tibetans dont seem bothered by modernization
    some monks act strangely entitled
  • Because of its high spot on the worlds highest
    mountains coupled with its isolation, Tibet has
    always attracted visitors of a certain kindwho
    claim to find what they are looking for
  • Yet-- the friend hes brought to Tibet with him
    turns pale upon arrival since shes dreamed the
    place, and suffers mysterious ailments the whole
    time shes there

47
  • The image many have of Tibet is from James
    Hiltons 1933 Lost Horizon or Frank Capras 1937
    movie version
  • The Tibetan sanctuary was a place of peace and
    security that Conway reaches after his crash
    landing
  • Ten years later, Harrer has a similar experience
    reaching Lhasa (Life imitates art)
  • At the end of the film, Lord Gainsford tells us
    I believe it because I want to believe it.
    (140)

48
The Foreign
49
Nightwalking
  • In his regular life, he goes to sleep at 830
    and wakes with the light doesnt have to look at
    his watch to know the exact time
  • Under jet lag, his sense of time goes haywire
  • Its not just that his routines are
    interruptedhe does strange things (158)
  • I get off a plane, 17 hours out of joint, and
    tell naked secrets to a person I know I dont
    trust.
  • Jet lag seems more mysterious than India or
    Morocco

50
  • When he goes to CA to see his mom, it takes him a
    week to adjust. I look like myself, perhaps, but
    Im wearing my sweater inside-out and coming out
    from the unremarkable movie Bounce very close to
    tears. (159)
  • When he travels back to Japan, it takes a week
    for him to be able to read or write anything
  • Under jet lag, you lose all sense of where or
    who you are. You get up and walk towards the
    bathroom, and step into a chair. You reach
    towards the figure in the other bed, and then
    realize that shes 7,000 miles away, at work
    (159).

51
  • (If you havent, see Lost in Translation)
  • Since he is in a state of jet lag so much of the
    time, hes resolved to attend to it, enjoy its
    disruptions, as I would those of a geographically
    foreign place. (161)
  • When he first arrives somewhere, he prowls the
    dark, using the sleeplessness to try to see a
    word, a self I would never see otherwise.
  • Equates it to squinting, or watching a foreign
    film with the benefit of subtitles
  • Its a release from normal boundaries, a
    strange double life

52
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53
A Haunted House of Treasures
  • Angkor Wat (12th-century Hindu, then Buddhist,
    temple complex there were eyes and demons
    everywhere
  • Children waved postcards at every stop
  • New Years Day morning at Preah Khan
  • Hed seen other old monuments, but this complex
    struck him differently. It was alive, for one
    thing, electric with the unburied presences of
    the jungle all around, the soil, the long-ago
    workers who had built temples across an area
    twice the size of Manhattan, and the blood-soaked
    fields on every side. (175)

54
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55
  • Quandary I think of myself as a relative
    veteran of all the moral and political conundrums
    of visiting difficult and wounded countriesin
    Tibet and Burma and Cuba, I had wandered through
    every corner of the debate about whether to go to
    a land in which almost every penny you spend will
    go towards a government that is oppressing its
    people and destroying their culture. (177)
  • He feel this especially at the Grand Hotel, where
    a cup of tea costs what a normal worker earns in
    a month

56
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57
  • Should he give money to the girl whose
    deformations were probably caused by the Khmer
    Rouge still in the country, or withhold money
    that might hasten her decline?
  • Cambodia is a kind of emotional puzzle with
    spikes, and anyone who puts his hand into it
    emerges with bloodied fingers. (178)
  • The locals say tourism helps them, but Iyer
    questions it. Tourism was turning the children
    into parasites, yet the absence of tourism might
    turn them into skeletons. (179)

58
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59
  • UN money that went to Cambodia didnt go to its
    people.
  • Goodwill is powerless against sheer need,
    especially in a country as broken as Cambodia.
  • A foreign company can easily come in and build a
    hotel that violates local rulesit just takes a
    few coins.
  • The Angkor temples are vulnerableespecially now
    that the government has realized they are
    valuable.
  • There are also physical problems The government
    wants to cut down the trees to protect the Hall
    of Dancers, but to protect the temple is to
    damage the environment, and yet to do honor to
    Nature is to imperil Art.

60
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61
  • ..And to worry about either can seem almost
    obscene when 40,000 people in the area are
    limbless because of land mines, and the children
    hawk amulets rather than go to school. (182)
  • Whats the best thing a foreign visitor can do?
  • We are as rich as our sense of what lies beyond
    our comprehension. (190)

62
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63
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64
A Foreigner at Home(More Future Reading)
  • Kazuo Ishiguro an outsider in England, where
    hes lived for 40 years
  • When We Were Orphans examines self-delusion as
    Banks, the protagonist is, like Ishiguros usual
    characters a foreigner wherever he happens to
    find himself, homeless even among those snug
    armchairs in the Shanghai of his boyhood he is
    taken to be an Englishman, and in England he is
    taken to be an odd man out from China. (195)

65
A Far-Off Affair(Fun with Language)
  • The assault began, really, as soon as I set foot
    in my parents India last year. (204)
  • Government sign Please ensure that your drawers
    are locked properly.
  • India has 200 languages, not to mention some 1652
    dialects!
  • Strangest of all signs that are just familiar
    enough to seem completely strange.
  • On his way into town, he passes a Textorium and a
    Toilet Complex!

66
  • Another useful sign Dark glasses make you
    attractive to the police.
  • Zee TV broadcasts in Hindlish
  • Note More Indians speak English than English
    people do!
  • In India today, you see one culture intruding on
    another, especially since the cultures of South
    Asia seem never to throw anything away, but
    simply take it all in and stir it up into the
    mix (210)
  • Most common sign Inconvenience Is Regretted
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