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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Foreign Desk
David's Pilgrimage to India
by Miles Robey
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On June 22, 2000 I received the following letter in the mail, postmarked Hunedoara, Romania. I had been in Hunedoara with David the summer before to see the eclipse. The letter - if I should call it that - had no salutation, contained no personal chatter, and had no return address - in short it lacked the usual stuff of David's communications. The very act of sending a letter was unusual for David (he usually knocked off a quick email). I was the one who sent letters and postcards. But there was one personal touch. In the envelope was a peeled off beer label with a note on the back: "given by my friend, whose name was something like Codrescu (anyway I called him that after the first Romanian we knew)."
     I am grateful to the editors for allowing me to reproduce the letter in its entirety (including typographical errors).
     "I have come into my office on Easter Sunday in the year 2000 to use the computer to write something. In order to do so, I had to sign in with the porter and punch in the code to buzz into the building. Instinctively, I glanced at my pigeonhole on the way up the stairs, even though I'd been here yesterday. Just writing this here means that I have defeated myself again. Several times in fact. At least I should be sitting in the garden in the sun with the neighbors in the yard next door, writing this out by longhand, to recapture the imagination, the working with words, the sense, the risk, the cancellation, the reworking that allowed me to succeed in writing many years ago. Now it all comes out in a stream, not even an associative one, with occasional reminders of bad grammar and style from my friends in Seattle.
     "If I were sitting in the garden writing by longhand I would probably strike out that first paragraph and start again. But the reason for writing is to put down the thoughts that I had today, because I came to a remarkable decision while walking on Visegrad Island, and immediately knew that I would be too much a coward to carry it through. But it was a real decision nonetheless, one that I will think about again and again, if I manage to write it down, and maybe I will be able to prepare myself a bit to take the step. I will send this letter to my friend Miles - I am not sure why, because his life is almost as disorganized as mind is - except that he is my friend. I do not know to whom I wish him to show it, and I suspect that it will be tucked away somewhere and forgotten. But my wish is only that it not be lost, since for some perhaps egotistical reason, I feel that my thoughts are worth something, even if I don't know what, other than the gravity they represent.
     "I will start at the beginning, because that is where the thoughts began to unfold. I decided to take a walk this morning. At the time it was because yesterday I had spent most of the day inside, even though it was a beautiful warm spring Saturday. Only in the late afternoon did I venture out, and then I walked the short distance to my office to spend a few hours doing something insignificant. But this morning, I was awake early and after watching the news about Elian Gonzalez decided that I really should have a walk. So I went out the back, took the small roads down to the riverside and began to walk upriver. Almost to the next village there is a small ferry to the island. As I approached I decided to take it if it was about to leave, even though I knew that that would mean it was unlikely that I would get back to my flat in time to watch an interesting show on BBC World about the environmentalist protesters in Seattle. Lo and behold, the universe welcomes me, as the ferry has just arrived to drop its sole car on the mainland side as I walk up. It's one car and me going across and then I'm on Visegrad Island walking up the cobblestoned incline. Instead of going into Szigetmonostor I take the dirt road atop the dike South. After a ways I pass close by a kayak and tent with voices coming from inside on the river side of the dike, then hear the croaking of frogs coming from some stagnant pools left by the high river.
     "I was feeling very good, my shoulders and chest muscles toned, my stride nice and even, my back straight, my feet doing their thing. Then the idea hits me to keep walking, all the way to India. Why India? I don't know - it just seemed like a reasonable destination if you're going to start walking for the sake of it. Maybe it was because of the healing. At a center of civilization one might expect to find the spiritual healing I was looking for. I expected the walking, the human kindness, and the wholesome food to take care of the physical healing.
     "I would follow the routes I knew as long as possible - my first idea was to go South to Szeged, then cross the Balkan Peninsula to Turkey. Once my sense of direction would fail, I would simply ask strangers, 'Which is the way to India?' I would learn a few words in every language - 'pilgrim,' for example. Otherwise sign language would do. I expected Iran to be a problem. Of course the problems of borders crept into my mind. What would happen if I tried to cross a country that wouldn't let me in - like Yugoslavia, for example? I would ask, 'Which is the way to India?' and maybe they would let me in or maybe they would tell me to go around, or maybe they would beat me.
     "I start to think about what I will take with me, and how I will live. At the beginning I'm wondering if there are cash machines all along the way. I give up the idea of taking a big backpack, like on my youthful trips to Europe and Asia, because of my back troubles. I think about selling my watch and my wedding ring if I need money along the way. I decide not to take my glasses - I will not be able to see well, but maybe my sight will improve through exercise. Then I settle on the idea of taking only a begging bowl, a knife, my passport and the clothes on my back, which I will wash at farmhouses and in streams. And of course a journal and a pencil. As I fill up one journal I will post it to Miles and start another. But I will not buy anything, nor use any money at all. If I need to cross a river, I will tell the ferryman that I am a pilgrim and will ask if he will take me. If I need a new journal or a pencil I will ask for it. I will steer around cities and will carry a begging bowl, and will ask priests, mullahs and holy men to advise me.
     "Then images pop into my mind - traces of things that helped to form this idea. There is the story of Tyler Durden - or rather of the nameless man who created him - from a movie I just saw. The dehumanized male lead strikes upon a way out of his predicament - to create an aggressive male alter-ego and to destroy the symbols of greed and corruption. I am also dehumanized - but I remember something, or possible learned something along the way, about what it is to be human, and it is not to kick around in the sandbox, destroying castles, no matter how much we like to see others brought down to our level. Tyler had the right idea at first - walk away from your constructions. But to walk away you must also be walking towards, and being a man requires you to forgive and forget.
     "Which brings me to my marriage. I realize that I had some hope of hanging on to Emese as long as we were still dividing property, and I used the arguments and rights that I had for that purpose. We had a basic disagreement about each other, but as long as we were contesting something, there was a forum for discussion, and the possibility that she would understand that she still loves me. But on Friday, we met at the old apartment, where I had to pick up some things. She was with her husband-to-be. Of course they were on best behavior in front of me, but I had to admit that they may be happy. And I have feelings for others myself (even if they are pathologically unrealistic and doomed to failure, however romantic). On Friday I was bitter and angry, speculating about how long before we were divorced that they started an affair, daring him to show his face in the courtroom, snickering about how we looked in the boxes that Emese had said contained only her things, and found that half of it contained my stuff. These were my thoughts that I didn't show. Instead, I let her keep a little picture, tall and narrow, of red flowers on a table that I had brought back several years ago from Lviv, which she cooed over together with Laszlo, and which she at first thought was hers, until I showed her that the signature was in Cyrillic. But I became ashamed. I got back to my flat and unloaded the boxes together with the other Laszlo, from the office. When I started to go through everything, I realized that it's just stuff - who cares about it, except to argue over with someone that I will be in love with forever, but who doesn't want me. It is time to move on, if she will let it happen. If she doesn't want to prolong and to punish me for not accepting things sooner. And I realized that I should not care whether she drops her claims against me - that is, I shouldn't insist that we sign a paper together to file with the court. I will drop my claims whether or not we agree. If she continues, that will say something I suppose, although I don't know what - knowing me, I will probably twist it into some continued feelings for me - that she doesn't want to let go. But maybe she will ask for something - which I will rationalize to blame on Laszlo's prodding. But maybe she will just continue because she thinks she can get more from me - she will have been encouraged by the judge, and will no longer be satisfied with keeping the flat. She will have her eyes on the car maybe. Let her have it all.
     "Then there is my health. I admit to being shaken up by the news that I have a gallstone. It seems so old-age, so cushy, so 'not me.' I am still 15 years old! And the idea of walking myself back into shape seems pretty realistic. I don't like doing much else physical - call it laziness if you want. But I think it has more to do with my overall physical condition, which still eludes a cause - some lack of coordination, slow physical development, poor musculature, easy tiredness. I can blame everything on the back injury - it means that I am not centered properly, which strains the whole skeleton/ligament thing and has repercussions throughout the organism. And I am worried about other things - like the changes in my voice, which are supposed to be significant if you ask one doctor, but the specialists don't get alarmed about. Why do I find it difficult to enunciate? Why are my vocal cords getting lazy? What is this wheezing sometimes? Is there a problem with my brain? Or my throat?
     "But walking feels good. While most of my life I've been a physical loser, there have been a couple of times when I felt physically strong and vital. I remember having no endurance as a kid - dropping out of a one-mile run, for example. Maybe it was because of pain, I don't remember - and I think that I block out a lot of pain and put it into a form of weakness. Then, when I was about 15 I discovered that I could run a pretty good sprint, and I began to spring about, infrequently at first, and then built up my strength. I slept better and felt good. Maybe I had overcome my back problems. But when I went to Antioch I hurt myself lifting weights and let myself get down when my father died and Jennie broke up with me. I got high a lot and got out of shape. It was only when I went on long physical trips involving lots of walking -- mountainclimbing in the Sierras in '80 was just a taste - that I felt centered again. The best trip was backpacking around Europe in '83 - then everything was clicking. The round-the-world trip involved too many planes and too many sedentary visits with friends. And since then, while I've travelled a lot, I haven't managed to keep up the physical side - that is, I haven't been walking. When I got in shape for the mountainclimbing trip to Ecuador in '90 it was just about the last time that I've been in shape. That was also different, because I was doing the workouts on machines at the Y. Then when I came to Budapest I was in pretty good shape at first - walking with the dog over the hills - but the air was really bad then and then I stopped walking too.
     "So I've indulged in memories a bit, recalled and recounted myself, the other self that I used to be. I have lost myself, and that is what this is about. My life with Emese was a wrong turn - I hoped and believed in something that bit me. I thought I could teach the puppy not to bite, but I guess it had been already mistreated. Then I got used to being bitten. I can't say that I ever got to like being bitten, but I tolerated it because I loved the clever and sometimes loyal dog.
     "Ramble, ramble, ramble. So I was still walking on the Island, thinking these things, and still somehow believing that I had decided to walk to India. I passed some water extraction units, detoured around a pumping station, picked out trails, hugging the bank the whole way. At the same time that I was on my way to India, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't carry through with it. What was remarkable, however, was that I was absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do. There was nothing to stop me except fear, cowardice, complacency, even something I felt was black inside me - thanatos, I guess. I thought about what might keep me. First, two close female friends with whom I had shared a lot the past year. Both live in other countries, and I see them infrequently. Our relationships consist of intense moments of togetherness and long separations. The deeper relationship is with Natalya. We are together weeks at a time and we meet on an intellectual as well as physical level. But I am not sure that I can give her everything she wants and needs - she has left her husband because he could not provide for her and her son. She is very patient, but I find myself testing her too much. I have no doubts about Elmira - she is too young to be cynical, and the progress in our relationship has been hesitant and natural - but I have doubts about myself. I wonder if I am repeating my mistakes. Once I asked her if I was taking advantage of a young and impressionable girl. She said, 'Maybe.' At least Elmira is more realistic; Emese would have said no. Elmira listens to herself. Emese got into trouble because she didn't listen to herself enough. She could have been more honest with me about her conflicts. When I let her go because she wasn't sure, she would come back in a day or two. I got used to the idea that she would come back. Now, I understand that she won't come back, and so I want to get rid of this connection (I call it so even though it's based on a dispute). As my mind was going in circles on the island, my thoughts turned to what I would do if I didn't keep walking to India, if I still had to face meeting Emese on Tuesday, and if she didn't accept my offer, and if I didn't have the courage to drop things outright. I would go talk to her former step-father Miklos and her mother and explain to them why I had done what I had done, and that I now wanted an end to it. Maybe they would sympathize and urge Emese to settle.
     "OK, so a moment of truth was coming, because up to now I had in my mind the first thought and the second thought together - the first thought was that I was going for a walk, and the arrival of the ferry had led me to the island, and I could take the boat at the lower end back across to Visegrad and make a big circle. The second thought that had occurred to me on the island was that I was walking to India. As I approached the false point of the island across from town I determined that if I turned right back to the house then I was chickening out, but if I turned left I was still on track for India. There was a new colorful sign by the bufe describing the island and its attractions in several languages, and as I paused before it the boat gave out a toot, urging me on if I wanted to go. I signaled that I intended to board and walked briskly down the planks to the waiting boat, with a few tourists aboard. The attendant took my money (I didn't tell him I was a pilgrim) and we were on our way. About two minutes later I got off the boat, walked up the ramp, and turned left into town.
     "So I was still brave. But even a pilgrim needs to rest and town centers are a nice place to do so, so I resolved to walk into the town center and slake my thirst for a pause on my journey. I walked directly along the river - still the shortest route to India, and only when I passed the small street leading up to the square with the art gallery did I turn away, for the first time, from my pilgrimage. At this point it was still a stop-off. The gallery was closed on a Sunday morning. There wasn't much going on in the square either. Then a particular CD café popped into my mind, which was in the other direction, so I turned about, for the first time in the direction of home. Walking up the hill it became more and more clear that everything was closed, which at the time seemed a good sign. I could walk further and delay my decision. Then, passing the closed café I saw the gates of the orthodox church open and decided to have a look. I couldn't go all the way in because I was wearing shorts, but I stood in the vestibule and looked through the glass windows at the quiet and majestic interior. There was a girl at the back trying not to look at me. I pretended not to notice.
     "Then I began to think about India again and why it would make sense to go. I thought more about the responsibilities of holy men and determined to stop at churches along the way. Then, a nagging question came back to me - what would I do with my things while I was away? Where would I put them? How could I manage to pay rent on a monthly basis from who knows where? I had just recovered most of my property from the old flat - there were still one or two things I wanted from our 'common life together' - although I was resigning myself to having fewer things. Part of this resignation was due to the fact that my vast collections of everything from photographs to beer bottles to unusable currency to genealogical information were generally disordered and would take weeks of solid work to put together again. Not only that, but some things that I formerly cared about were scattered terribly - while the house in Virginia was rented out all its contents - jumbled together - were stored in a warehouse, together with the furniture, books and other things that I'd accumulated during my working years in the US. Some of the nicer, more usable or more decorative things were in the possession of two sets of friends with marriages falling apart. I was distinctly worried about one friend, who I knew wasn't taking his wife leaving him very well. He was a kind of fix-it nut and apparently the current situation allowed him to tear down walls and things, but didn't allow him the strength to build the house up again. I imagined rain pouring down on him in his living room and considered the things I'd left there a wash-out. The stuff with the other family might be more protected from the elements, but with them the wear and tear of a young boy was coupled with a growing sense of ownership over anything that remained in the house for a time. Then I thought back to some other things that had been temporarily left somewhere - like the doghouse in the backyard of Sally's place on 13th Street, and the really cool metal palette that I'd swiped from the Sweetheart Cup warehouse and had left with the successors to the student apartment in Charlottesville when it had been too heavy to move. These are things that have fallen by the wayside - and I have to let go of them. A walk to India will cleanse me. But I might as well buy a small house and just put all my things there, and there they will remain. And those two women - if I am really meant to be with one of then, then she will understand what I'm doing and will still be with me, even if I ever return.
     "Then of course the natural questions about how to deal with people - including and especially perhaps authorities. Passing borders is the least of it - maybe I will be thrown in jail or worse. I wondered about my US passport, and how the idea of an American pilgrim to India would go over. Would people assume I had money, try to rob me, and then get pissed off that I had nothing? But I supposed that there were plenty of burned-out hippies who'd tried the same thing, although that may have been a quarter-century ago. I wondered if burned-out 80s dudes had gone through a similar phase. What if I found a 'route' - like the time in Hamburg sleeping in the bed of the long-lost daughter and looking up to see graffiti on the underside of the upper bunk from the others she had led there - 'I was Sabine on 12.4.83 - Jurgen G'? If I manage to get to Iran, maybe I will be breaking some law I don't know about or maybe I will offend someone in power who will have me killed. My first thought in all these situations is that my pilgrimage should not be offensive to anyone, that I only wish to walk, to eat something maybe, breathe the air and pass through. No one could begrudge me that. I resolve not to touch anyone along the way, so as not to pollute another with my impurity, so as not to complicate human kindness, so as not to make offense. Then I imagine - what if someone should try to provoke me, maybe beat me, what should I do? I would only say, 'I would like to talk with you,' and let them do what they want.
     "But of course I do not like pain - in my life I have done almost anything to avoid it. I think that I am even so allergic to pain that I have compromised any ideals that I may have had. I am a liar and a cheat. If I am beaten I will surely crack.
     "And what will I do when I get to India? I will ask where I can find help for my condition. I'm sure that I will be exposed to charlatan after charlatan, but then I will simply move on, because I won't have any money to give and they will surely demand it. And if there are no wise men in India I will simply go up in the mountains, and if I can't find them there I will go to China, and just keep on going.
     "After the orthodox church I walked in the direction of a couple of shops that I thought might be open to pick up some milk and other things for the house. Because by this time I was truly on my way back home. But each shop that was closed prevented me from taking up the domestic life and there was still hope that I would start my pilgrimage. Then I found the Ars Alminti café open and stepped in for a coffee and tonic. There I thought about two things - some of the thoughts came from the church I'd been to - I was revisiting the goal of the pilgrimage, thinking about the world religions and determining if I shouldn't go someplace other than India. After all I'd been in both India and China and wanted to see more of both. And it was in Shanghai that I felt as if I were at the center of all humanity, the bottom of the greasy dust bowl ground out by human steps and human hunger. But I thought about Christianity, and Islam and Judaism for a moment. I believe that Jesu was the Esa who studied in India, and that his new testament is about more than a veneer of compassion over retribution. I don't know enough about Islam but I feel that it is fundamentally Western, more so than Christianity, because Christianity in its true form represents a meeting of East and West. Then I thought about Catholicism and how it developed as a tool in the service of a pagan culture of plunder. I returned to the orthodox faith for a moment, and its protestant cousin that rejected the Viking gloss, and determined that both, while being closer to the original message, were similarly popularized. I then thought of writing an article about the popularization of religions - if someone hadn't already done it - giving the example of the story of doubting Thomas. I am sure that someone has researched the origin of the tale. It only would remain to show how the story was added to the pantheon as a complication to address the confusion created by the story of the resurrection - itself an invention that marked the shift from an Eastern philosophy of compassion to a Western faith. I then wondered if the earliest gospel might include clues that Jesu was teaching not about a good of faith, but a temporal good. Later I thought that the real Western religions - Judaism and Islam - were both based on the heavy and authoritarian concept of 'righteousness' and that the popularization of Christianity involved shoving a round peg into a square hole, and forming it into a shape of right and righteousness. And it was then that I turned to the idea of writing this.
     "Writing for me has always been a way out. All my life I didn't realize it - I thought it was just a creative urge. Here it was most clear - the way out of taking the plunge and doing what I knew in my heart was right - the walk to India - was by committing the story of not taking the pilgrimage to writing. This was true even though the walk to India might in fact save my life, and not taking the walk meant fear, blackness and death. Even when I was planning the walk, I intended to take with me, among only a few other 'essentials,' a journal and a pencil. Was it because I would be bored otherwise, or because I would have something meaningful to say? Isn't that why I am writing this now? It would be because I would not be able to face myself and the world around me every minute of every day, and now and then I would need to retreat to a safe place and shut everything off. But what would be the result? Do I really think that my words will matter to anyone at any time?
     "There is only one alternative to the walk to India - having children. It is the only other thing that takes courage. Or maybe helping others takes courage too, I wouldn't know about it (don't be too hard on yourself, David - you will do one or the other, don't you worry). But all my life is about cutting corners - I do it in everything, with the possible exception of writing, but even that has increasingly involved rushing to an ill-thought conclusion. And so I have gotten to the point of marriage without impregnation, and impregnation without marriage, all of which have so far ended badly. And I have a fear of the integrity of my own seed, maybe due to my lack of centeredness, my occasional health problems, and my overall feeling of something missing, even though the doctors believe that all my parameters are in the range of 'normal.' Even if I were to conceive again it would involve someone else taking to term, and lifelong ties with that person, not to mention a roll of the dice on the child, who would be part me (my god) and what would I do then? I had a dog once and he was really great, but we picked each other out at a time when all was recognizable. Then I left him in the care of others and he disappeared. Could I repeat such trauma? Am I so old that I have no strength left, no hunger or thirst for life? Wouldn't I rather watch BBC World than do anything else in the world? Or sit in front of the net looking for minor factoids on my quest for defining myself through genes? One thing I have learned from that I must say - I am placed somewhere. There are expressions of myself in others thousands of miles away, and I have expressions of others in myself. My view of the web of humanity and of life itself is healthy enough and brings me comfort - yet I am still weighed down by my insecurities, I can't get above my petty jealousies, and I make the wrong decisions. I bought stocks at the peak of the bubble - that's another thing that has made me philosophical. You win sometimes, you lose sometimes - this is what I thought to say to a boatman if he wouldn't go across the river because he hadn't enough passengers to make money - if you don't do your thing unless you're making money this once, you will lose in the long run. You've got to keep on going, if you're winning or losing. Don't worry about it, as the paint on the side of McCaffrey's Tavern in Texas, Maryland says.
     "And what will I give to people to show my appreciation on my pilgrimage, besides thanks? I might take with me some plastic poker chips or metro tokens and cut them in half. I would spend some time during the day working on cutting a chip. I wouldn't have a stock of half-chips stored away. This might symbolize something I suppose, like making a statement on payment for charity or breaking away from the world economy of speculation or something, but that would only be a construction, since the idea came to me from out of the blue. And in fact the idea that these bits of plastic might last and be picked up by others, and become the subject of questions, answers, truths, half-truths and fabrications is what got me to thinking about Jesu and doubting Thomas in the first place - about how one person's very personal quest arising out of nothing more than courage and conviction might become mysterious and then would be grabbed onto by every simple human for whatever advantage.
     "So I failed. After sitting in the café I picked my way back home, ostensibly looking for a shop to buy some milk and other 'essentials' and couldn't even follow through on the intention to regain some vitality and youth by taking pen and paper into the garden. It's now stretching into afternoon and the day is leaving. Maybe I'll sit in the garden and chat with the neighbors a bit - maybe they'll offer me some gulyas or kolbasz - I can drink today, since my run of antibiotics is over.
     "Then again, my father died from this same surgery at the age of 37. According to the obituary his heart gave out - I suspect poorly delivered anesthesia. But it makes me wonder if I might not succumb to the same thing - it's why I had only local anesthesia for my back surgery. Maybe I have a genetic predisposition to bad reactions to anesthesia. Can they cut out my gallbladder with only local anesthesia? Elmira had her tonsils out without going under because she 'wanted to see everything,' If I do it, I will make my will out first - but now that I'm not married anymore, what to do with the stupid things one acquires? I thought of asking about the chemical composition of bile salts and if there are any things one can eat or do to increase their production by the body. I would keep my diet during my pilgrimage to boost the healing process.
     "And the last thing which was in my mind before writing was the story that I read recently of Pierre Riviere, who slaughtered his mother, sister and brother. He came upon the idea the same way that I came upon my idea of the pilgrimage. Of course it was a perversion (although Foucault and his colleagues raise interesting questions about the logic of Pierre's pathologic). And of course Pierre's mind was apparently a much less forgetful and more driven one than mine. He had integrity, that's for sure, though he was 'imperfectly' (the doctors' words) formed. But upon being inspired his mind was on his scheme to the exclusion of all else, and he rehearsed the deeds several times before acting. He needed to prepare himself, and he needed to change his modus as he approached it. If I have courage, I want to use my energy (now very hard to summon) to prepare myself for the pilgrimage to India. If I do not do this, I will have surgery where I may die, or if I live, I would not take the pilgrimage I am sure, because then I would no longer be whole (although my tonsils are already gone along with a few teeth), I would be one step closer to death, I would probably put all my energy into the other option of fatherhood (if I am lucky, otherwise I would become discouraged and close myself down), and I would forever doubt myself and others, would muddle through and begin the long, slow descent unless mercifully I would be cut short in a blaze of glory brought only through machinations outside my control.
     "So, that is I think everything, or very nearly everything. Whatever else there is I don't know. Maybe the reader will analyze my thoughts and label me some way or other, or another one might really understand me and feel empathy (if my words can evoke feelings, does it matter whether I take my pilgrimage or die on the operating table?). I'm sure there's something else going on inside me and that this is just an expression of my response to the human condition (like Tyler Duncan - or should I write an article - 'Is corporate greed the lesser of two evils?'). If you've read this far there's no use apologizing. Of course I don't know what Miles will do with this, maybe he won't even read it."
     I have to admit that I didn't read David's letter as soon as it arrived. I suppose that it was a very busy time in the department. It sat on my desk until it became covered with student papers, correspondence and articles. When I received a postcard from David several months later, I dug the letter out from under the pile of papers on my desk and read it. In spite of its obvious errors, especially in regard to politics and economics, I decided that I owed it to my friend to see if it could be published, not least because of its eerie connection to later events in the Elian Gonzalez case. The postcard shows a picture of a ruined temple in the midst of a rocky landscape in Syria. Written in a small but clear hand, the message reads:
     "MILES --
     "I guess I'm breaking my own rules by sending this 'cause I had to buy the stamp. Hope you're not a) shocked, b) disappointed, or c) concerned too much over me. There's less pain but I keep thinking of that guy on BBC World who dropped out of the Mormon pilgrimage reenactment for gallbladder surgery I think.. I hear Cuba has good health care. I also want to thank the WHO - If I'd gotten that job in Copenhagen . . . DAVID"
     As far as I am aware, other than a brief phonecall made to Elmira at the beginning of his journey, and a will sent to one of our fellow schoolmates back in Virginia who like David is a lawyer, the letter and the postcard are the only communications received from David since he left Visegrad in May 2000. He is known to have spent two days at the old church in Densus, Romania around the time of sending the letter, and to have visited a friend in Ankara in November of that year. We had visited the church in Densus together during the time of the eclipse in 1999.

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