From across the Atlantic, I’m helplessly, compulsively watching videos on the BBC and other news sites. It’s early February 2014, and an unusually powerful storm—in truth a sequence of fierce winter gales—has been raking the south coast of Devon, like a wave of marauding bombers. The storm has conspired with the moon and spring tides (nothing seasonal in the term—these “spring forth” each lunar month), to batter a path of old stone and brick known as the Goat Walk. The path runs south from the small town of Topsham and along the bank of the River Exe, a distinguishing feature here for generations.
One Wednesday morning late in the rainy season of 1964, I sat at the open window of my room overlooking the tiny hill town of Kunchha, where I lived. I was watching huge clouds expand overhead, upward and outward across the blue Himalayan sky. I knew that by noon the temperature and the humidity would rise proportionately. Those cumulonimbus clouds are the largest, most magnificent and dramatic of the nimbuses, and experience told me that they were the harbingers of a rainstorm that would blow in around tea time.
Here, deep in the thickness of northern Germany, dogs travel glamorously, in their own spacious compartments. Apart from the dogs, who are large and meticulously groomed, there are only a few passengers on the local train heading north from Hamburg. I see a man with black hair, carrying a leather folder bulging with carbon paper—a traveling salesman, perhaps. There are two old ladies in pastel cardigans, their cheeks wrinkled and stern, and three tanned backpackers, loudly sharing Muesli and what looks like bottled carrot juice. Other than that, there is just my blue-eyed mother, nervously staring out the sealed window.