The Compleat Walker
But he wasn't interested in politics. Other than Britain's bully behavior in the Falklands, which he deplored in a radio talk with Italo Calvino, he seems never to have expressed a political opinion in all his forty-eight years--not about Argentina, Afghanistan, Situationists in Paris, Dubcek in Prague or even the property claims and citizenship rights of modern-day Aboriginals. Nor did gay rights concern him. "Bruce said he had no time for gay politics, or the gay community," says a friend who lived with him in Rio; "and he abhorred the word 'gay.' 'I'd much rather be called a bugger,' and he roared with laughter."
His ambivalence was his impetus. Sexually, Bruce was a polymorphous pervert. Think of the word 'charming.' Think of the word 'seduction.' Think of seduction as a driving force to conquer society.... He's out to seduce everybody, it doesn't matter if you are male, female, an ocelot or a tea cosy.
He slept with everyone, once: it goes with being a great beauty. His sexuality was like his possessions, a means of engaging and also of not engaging with the world. He was profoundly solitary and therefore conducted his sexual activity as a way of connecting with people. At such an industrial rate it meant not an exclusive or intensifying connection; it meant he had a connection. 'I know this person because I've slept with him/her.' It gave him the right to call someone next time he was in town
I never felt he was nearly as much a cruiser or sexually-obsessed person as most of my gang. But I think Bruce had a lot to hide. I think he liked danger. I always assumed he liked being violated in some way and preferably by brigands, gypsies, South American cowboys. It was part of his nomad pattern, to go off into the desert and get raped by Afghan brigands. It's something Lady Hester Stanhope-ish. It wasn't so much the sex as the sauce it came in, some Afghan chieftain draped in a cartridge belt.
Once upon a time, Chatwin confided to a friend, "You'll never know how complicated it is to be bisexual." And one reason we'll never know is that he never told us. Another friend marvels, "Of all the talented brilliant writers, Bruce wrote the shortest sentences I've ever read." Well, he was leaving out a lot. "In the complete works of Bruce Chatwin," says Salman Rushdie, "there is not a loving fuck." But there's plenty of fancy footwork.
I am looking at his posthumously published collection of essays, What Am I Doing Here (1989). See him, in the erstwhile Soviet Union, going on about Constructivism. Or in Afghanistan, before it was ruined by Russians and hippies. Or in India, looking for wolfboys, disliking Indira. Or in Nepal, stinking of rancid yak butter, seeking the mythical yeti. Wherever, he meets interesting people, famous or supremely odd. Besides Diana Vreeland, André Malraux and Werner Herzog, there is the Chinese geomancer hired to approve the "dragonlines" of a brand-new Hong Kong bank. And the Englishman, investigating the activities of African Nazis in the late thirties, who is so excited by the idea of "black men in black shirts with red armbands and black swastikas." Stranger still are the friends he makes, like Donald Evans, an American artist in Amsterdam who paints postage stamps for kingdoms of his own invention. Or the South African composer Kevin Volans, who adapts Stockhausen, insect sounds, Zulu guitar music, the chipping of stones and shouts of children for harpsichord and string quartet. And always--whether down the Volga, remembering Turgenev; or up an Everest, reading Dante; or on the pampas, reminded of Stonehenge and the Temple of Heaven, St. Peter's and Red Square, Mecca and Versailles--the same old fierce disdain of cities and the impossibly romantic sympathy for icon-smashers and "anarchic peoples"; those "men of the fringe" who bedeviled Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt; Magyars and Mongols and wolf-masked Huns who rode out of the steppes and into his heart.