The American writer Paul Bowles (1910-99) is best known for his novel ‘The Sheltering Sky’, brilliantly filmed by Bertolucci with Debra Winger and John Malkovich. If Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the ‘lost generation’ following the First World War, Bowles’ ‘Sheltering Sky’ is the defining novel for the generation following the Second.   Indeed, at the end of the film, Bowles appears as himself and asks Debra Winger ‘Are you lost?’, to which she dumbly agrees.

I’m reading his ‘Travels: Collected Writings 1950-93’ featuring his experiences and reflections from Paris to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Kenya, and Morocco, where he lived from 1947 until his death.

He has a talent for coming up with the bizarre, like this passage from ‘El H’aoudh’ ‘a somewhat simplified version of the Koranic laws written in Berber for Moroccans a few centuries ago (which) still makes perfectly good sense today: ‘One may be excused from Friday prayers and for praying with the Imam if there is a great deal of mud or if it is raining very hard.   One may also be excused because of elephantiasis, leprosy, or old age, or if one has no clothes to put on, or is waiting to be pardoned for a crime, or if one has eaten onions.   These are valid excuses.   A wedding feast is not an excuse, nor is blindness if one can feel one’s way to the mosque’.’

He describes the rigours of Saharan life and poses the question on our behalf: ‘Why go?   The answer is that when a man has been there and undergone the baptism of solitude he can’t help himself.   Once he has been under the spell of the vast, luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough for him, no other surroundings can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute.   He will go back, whatever the cost in comfort and money, for the absolute has no price’.

Kim has responded to my speculations (4a) about the plight of today’s children and teenagers: ‘The kids are all right!   My theory is that it’s over-control and over-protection by society and parents.   A lot of the eating disorders and self-harming behaviours are usually born of a feeling of lack of control, therefore they choose a behaviour that gives them something they can control.   It’s becoming more widespread due to these behaviours being validated and more widely known about by dissemination via the internet.   It could also be over-enthusiasm to diagnose these things in children.   The same thing is happening with depression.   I think the medical profession is now looking into why so many children are being prescribed anti-depressants and whether this is also over-diagnosis and an inappropriate medical response to the problem (assuming the diagnosis is correct)’.



‘The first step is the silence of the mind when thoughts disappear.   As you start meditating, you have to begin by watching the thoughts.   Just by watching, one day they disappear.   Then begins the second step: the silence of the heart.   That comes by watching the feelings.   It is a more subtle phenomenon, far deeper than the first, but the process is the same.   If one succeeds in the first one, one will be able to succeed in the second too. Then the second silence is achieved.   And, when both these silences are there, then for the first time you know that the watcher also has disappeared because there is nothing to watch.   And there is nothing to know so the knower disappears.   That is the ultimate silence.   The first two are steps towards the ultimate, which is that silence which Buddha calls nirvana and Jesus calls the kingdom of god.’

I’ve gift-aided a monthly £10 to Oxfam for years but the current TV ad for ‘Save the Children’ shamed me into giving them £10 a month too.

‘What is water?’ asked the fish.

What’s our equivalent?


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