You can learn a lot about a person by visiting their home. Bruce Chatwin’s was small, sunny, sparse, and within walking distance of the London Library. It was somewhere for him to “hang [his] hat”, and have a place to return to after long periods of traveling. It’s also notable that it was one of John Pawson’s, a world-renown minimalist architect’s, first commissions. On one wall was art previously found on the back of a Peruvian Temple. On another, in his bedroom, was a map of Patagonia that he had gotten from notable architect and designer Eileen Gray.

Bruce Chatwin.

He received the map after an interview with Gray, who had told him that she had never been to Patagonia but had always wanted to go. Being 93 years old, she told the much younger Chatwin to go for her. Sometime after, Chatwin would telegraph his employer with a note that said “Gone to Patagonia, I am doing a story there for myself, something I have always wanted to write up”. The book that he wrote had to do with a family story, where his great-grandfather had found a Brontosaurus feather in South America and had brought it back to London, selling some of it to the London Museum. Chatwin, having seen a piece of Brontosaurus skin in his living room from a young age, had wanted to retrace his great-grandfather's steps, and revisit the cave where the discovery was made.

Bruce Chatwin Cave - Adsum
The Mylodon Cave in Puerto Napales. It was later revealed that Chatwin's brachiosaurus skin actually came from a Mylodon in 10,000 BC

Chatwin weaves in several of these family stories, local myths, and secondhand rumors into his writing, and it’s what makes it exciting to read about. If it seems a bit grand and mythical, it's because it's supposed to be. Chatwin’s style is a mix of straightforward writing, with an active mind that will tell small fragments of stories as he goes. He’ll keep his descriptions simple and short, but these stories create a heightened sense of reality, when they are placed alongside myths and tall tales of the past.

In Patagonia, First Edition.

Thinking about it more, it resembles how we experience things when we travel. We go somewhere new, having heard stories about what makes that place great, either from friends or some local that you bump into on the street. The stories aren’t really fact checked, you take it as it comes, and whether or not it's true it will still change our experience of a place.

Bruce Chatwin Blue Shirt - Adsum

In the end, Chatwin died when he was only 49 years old from AIDS. In a recent interview with the architect of his apartment, John Pawson said this ” Looking back, I’ve realized I’ve learned more from my clients than I’ve been able to give, and it’s especially true with Bruce. He was a great writer, of course, but he was also approachable and generous. He gave me a leg up when I was just starting out, and when he came to write about the flat I had designed for him, he articulated what it was I was trying to do. It gave me confidence. When I did the minimum, a lot of my ideas came from Bruce.

… When he fell ill he told everyone that he had an incredibly rare disease, caught from a dead whale on a beach in China. The reality of that disease, which took away so many people so quickly and suddenly, was too awful. You wanted to go along with his version”.