At its best, travel is a refreshing tonic, transforming our way of thinking in subtle ways. We wake to find ourselves with wider horizons, and perhaps a slightly different view of our position in the world. Hopefully not as radical though as the Kafka-style transformation the late Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato famously penned in his best known book, The Tunnel, published in 1948. Here is a translation of chapter XXII:-
“I woke up trying to scream and found myself standing in the middle of the workshop. I had dreamed this: we had to go, several people, to the house of a man who had summoned us. I arrived at the house, which from the outside looked like any other, and entered. On entering I was instantly certain that it wasn’t the case, that it was different from the others. The owner told me:
“I was expecting you.”
I sensed I had fallen into a trap and wanted to flee. I made a huge effort, but it was late, my body no longer obeyed me. I resigned myself to witness what would happen, as if it were an event outside me. That man began to transform me into a bird, a human-sized bird. It started with the feet: I saw how they slowly developed into chicken claws or similar. Then followed the transformation of the entire body upwards, as the water rises in a pond. My only hope was now in my friends, who inexplicably had not arrived.
When finally they arrived, something happened that shocked me: they did not notice my transformation. They treated me as usual, which proved that they saw me as usual. Thinking that the magician was deceiving them into seeing me as a normal person, I decided to refer to what he had done to me. Although my intention was to refer the phenomenon calmly, so as not to aggravate the situation by irritating the magician with a very violent reaction (which could induce him to do something even worse), I began to relate everything out by shouting.
Then I noticed two amazing things: the phrase I wanted to pronounce was converted into a harsh bird screech, a screech desperate and strange, perhaps because of the enclosed human content; and, what was infinitely worse, my friends did not hear that screech, nor had they noticed my big bird’s body; on the contrary, they seemed to hear my usual voice saying usual things, because at no point did they show the least surprise. I stopped, aghast.
The owner of the house then looked at me with a sarcastic twinkle in his eyes, almost imperceptible, and in any case only caught by me. Then I realized that no one, ever, would know that I had been transformed into a bird. I was lost forever and the secret would go with me to the grave.”
An awful vision! Travel should uplift, give new perspectives. So far, touch wood, we’ve not had any phone calls from people just returning from a trip to Latin America, only to find ourselves listening to harsh birdlike screeching from the other end. But even if we did, don’t worry, we’ll have no difficulty screeching back equally……..