THE LOST COSMONAUT
By Daniel Kalder
“This is my favourite travel book.. I should perhaps qualify that statement by saying I am not a great fan of the genre, for reasons I cannot really explain, although I think it is connected to my own feelings about the reliability of personal accounts – they are a bit too close to journalism – and I suspect there is still a free meal for the author in there somewhere. Kalder’s choices of places to visit could not possibly involve a free meal, and if they did, you suspect it would be better to starve. Kalder is an ‘anti-tourist,’ but that does not mean he is against tourism. To clarify his take on tourism it is probably best to quote from the Anti-Tourist Manifesto
(Excerpts from the resolutions passed at the first international congress of Anti- Tourists at the Shymkent Hotel, Shymkent, Kazakhstan, October 1999.)
The anti-tourist eschews comfort.
The anti-tourist embraces hunger and hallucinations and shit hotels.
The anti-tourist seeks locked doors and demolished buildings.
The anti-tourist travels at the wrong time of year.
The anti-tourist prefers dead things to living ones.
The anti-tourist is humble and seeks invisibility.
The anti-tourist is interested only in hidden histories, in delightful obscurities, in bad art.
The anti-tourist believes beauty is in the street.
The anti-tourist holds that whatever travel does, it rarely broadens the mind.
The anti-tourist values disorientation over enlightenment.
The anti-tourist loves truth, but he is also partial to lies. Especially his own.
Thus Kalder sets off on trips to the unvisited, unattractive and unappealing forgotten former Soviet republics and frequently discovers locations that fit the specifications of the manifesto. The narrative is low-key and understated, humorously evocative. The journeys are undertaken in all seriousness but puzzle even the locals – at one point a ticket inspector on the way to a chosen city simply refuses to believe the travellers are going there by their own choice, she cannot accept they are tourists. In one hotel, Kalder delights in the old radios the rooms are fitted with – radios you cannot turn off or tune but which emit a constant, low-pitched humming sound. I think The Lost Cosmonaut is a reminder of the fact that we do not know our world – we have the illusion – through modern communications, mapping and the collation of data – that it is all known and pigeon-holed, for better or worse. It is good to be reminded that this is not the case, and reflect that we can probably see this for ourselves without going nearly as far afield as Shymkent.