Barbarian Days

sometimes reading “the news” I am reminded of this part from Barbarian Days:

In the cemeteries in Tonga, late in the day, there always seemed to be old women tending the graves of their parents – combing the coral-sand mounds into proper coffin-top shape, sweeping away leaves, hand-washing faded wreaths of plastic flowers, rearranging the haunting patterns of tropical peppercorns, orange and green on bleached white sand.

A shiver of secondhand sorrow ran through me.  And an ache of something else.  It wasn’t exactly homesickness.  It felt like I had sailed off the edge of the known world.  That was actually fine with me.  The world was mapped in so many different ways.  For worldly Americans, the whole globe was covered by the foreign bureaus of the better newspapers – the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal – and, at that time, the big newsweeklies.  Every place on earth was part of somebody’s beat.  Bryan understood that map before I did, having gone to Yale.  But when I’d found an old copy of Newsweek on Captain Brett Hilder’s bridge, and tried to read a George Will column, I’d burst out laughing.  His Beltway airs and provincialism were impenetrable.  The truth was, we were wandering now through a world that would never be a part of any correspondent’s beat (let alone George Will’s purview).  It was full of news, but all of it was oblique, mysterious, important only if you listened and watched and felt its weight.

As the Jamaican cab driver said, the news is a Babylon thing.

 



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