Strange & instructive how the world of literary fashion works. Bruce Chatwin, once lionized, is pretty much derided and overlooked these days. Read this and think about it.
That friend turned out to be Bruce Chatwin, and the lunch was one of those encounters that happen only once or twice in a lifetime and that really do change the direction you end up taking. Chatwin, I thought, was simply astounding. As we sat in the panelled dining room, surrounded by whispering pin-striped clubmen, my small fragments of glazed tile were the starting point for a conversational riff that moved from the nomads of Mongolia in the thirteenth century and cantered over the steppes to Timurid Herat, then leapt polymathically to Ibn Battuta, Ibn Khaldun, Sufi sheikhs and the shamans of the Kalahari bushmen; before long we were being told about Taoist sages, Aboriginal “dreaming” pictures and ancient Cycladic sculpture and thence, as coffee came, via Proust and Pascal and Berenson, to Derek’s portraits, and the latter’s story about sharing a railway carriage with Robert Byron who performed a pitch-perfect imitation of Queen Victoria, using the train’s antimacassar as the Queen’s mourning veil.