Books, Real People »
October 1, 2013 | 2 Comments | Betsy Woodman
I’m currently rereading Italian journalist Tiziano Terzani’s A Fortune-Teller Told Me, one of my all-time favorite travel books.
Terzani (1938-2004) reported on some of the most momentous events of the late twentieth century, including the North Vietnamese takeover of Saigon in 1975. He worked and lived for much of his life in Asia.
In 1976, a fortune-teller in Hong Kong told him not to travel by air for the whole of 1993. When the time came, instead of dismissing the prophecy, Terzani decided to submit to it. His editor at Der Spiegel, accustomed to his quirks, knew that they’d lead to a good story and said, “Do as you think best.”
And so the fortune-teller’s warning became “a blessed curse.” For all of 1993, Terzani traveled by train, ship, car, and sometimes on foot. He made his way across Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.
As part of this odyssey, he also sought out the most celebrated local soothsayer in every place he visited. Some of them struck him as mere charlatans, others as remarkable human beings with profound sensitivity and understanding of the human condition.
Admittedly, the prophecy was essentially a pretext for the trip—Terzani basically undertook this journey to take a fresh look at the world and inject a little poetry into his life.
However, he also did it in order to explore ways of thinking and knowing. Across the globe, lots of people wouldn’t dream of making a major decision—a marriage, a business venture, a journey—without consulting their astrologer or an occult practitioner. Terzani wished to experience this world of intuition and suggestion.
In the process, he met lots of amazing characters and rediscovered how big the world is.
As it happens, he did indeed escape an air crash. (This is not a spoiler, by the way; he tells us about it in the beginning of the book.) In 1993, a UN helicopter went down in Cambodia, and on it was the journalist who had taken his place.