Nicolas Bouvier

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Nicolas Bouvier

Nicolas Bouvier (March 6, 1929, Lancy – February 17, 1998) was a 20th-century Swiss traveller, writer, icon painter and photographer.

Major voyages[edit]

Khyber Pass (1953/1954)[edit]

Without even waiting for the results of his exams (he would learn in Bombay that he had obtained his Licence in Letters and Law), he left Switzerland in June 1953 with his friend Thierry Vernet in a Fiat Topolino. First destination: Yugoslavia. The voyage lasted till December 1954. The voyage led the two men to Turkey, to Iran and to Pakistan, Thierry Vernet leaving his friend at the Khyber Pass. Bouvier continued alone. Bouvier recounted the journey in L'Usage du monde, published in English translation as "The Way of the World".[1] The pilgrim finds the words to express himself, and his feet follow them faithfully: "A journey does not need reasons. Before long, it proves to be reason enough in itself. One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you." The book was described as a voyage of self-discovery '"on the order of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

Sri Lanka/Ceylon (1955)[edit]

With intermittent company, Bouvier crossed Afghanistan, Pakistan and India before reaching Ceylon. Here he lost his footing: the solitude and the heat floored him. It took him seven months to leave the island and almost thirty years to free himself of the weight of this adventure with the writing of Le Poisson-scorpion. It ends on a quote from Louis-Ferdinand Céline: "The worst defeat of all is to forget and especially the thing that has defeated you."

Japan (1955/1956)[edit]

After Ceylon, he left for another island: Japan. He found a country in the throes of change and would return a few years later. These experiences led to Japon, which would become Chroniques japonaises after a third sojourn in 1970 (Bouvier had produced books for the Swiss pavilion at the World Exposition in Osaka) and a complete re-edition. Of this country, he said: "Japan is a lesson in economy. It is not considered good form to take up too much space." In The Japanese Chronicles, he blended his personal experiences of Japan with Japanese history and rewrote a Japanese history from a Western perspectives.

Ireland (1985)[edit]

Building on a report for a journal in the Aran Islands, Bouvier wrote Journal d'Aran et d'autres lieux, a tale of travel that slips at times into the supernatural, the voyager suffering from typhoid. His appreciation of the air of the Irish islands is described as that which "dilates, tonifies, intoxicates, lightens, frees up animal spirits in the head who give themselves over to unknown but amusing games. It brings together the virtues of champagne, cocaine, caffeine, amorous rapture and the tourism office makes a big mistake in forgetting it in its prospectuses."


  • A journey does not need reasons. Before long, it proves to be reason enough in itself. One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you. (Translated from L'Usage du monde)
  • The voyage will not teach you anything if you do not accord it the right to destroy you – a rule as old as the world itself. A voyage is like a shipwreck, and those whose boat has never sunk will never know anything about the sea. The rest is skating or tourism. (Translated from Le Vide et le Plein)
  • Experience proves that we make nothing of what we keep for ourselves. We don’t make anything of what which we set aside (as savings) either. Instead of understanding this, we are reluctant both to give and to ask. (Translated from Le Vide et le Plein)
  • That day, I thought that I held something important and that my life would be changed. But nothing of this nature is acquired definitively. Like water, the world traverses you, and for a while, lends you its colours. It then draws back, leaving you once again to face the emptiness that one carries in oneself, to face that central insufficiency of the spirit that one must learn to live with, to fight, and which, paradoxically, is possibly our surest driving force. (Translated from L'Usage du monde)
  • Time lay suspended. In this graceful arrangement of echos, reflections and coloured, dancing shadows, there was a sovereign, fleeting perfection and a music that I recognised. The lyre of Orpheus or that of Krishna. The same that resonates when the world appears in its original transparence and simplicity. He who hears it once, never recovers from it. (Translated from Le Poisson-scorpion)
  • Time passed in brewing tea, the odd remark, cigarettes, then dawn came up. The widening light caught the plumage of quails and partridges...and quickly I dropped this wonderful moment to the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again.You stretch, pace to and fro feeling weightless, and the word 'happiness' seems too thin and limited to describe what has happened. In the end, the bedrock of experience is not made up of the family, or work, of what others say or think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love. Life dispenses them parsimoniously; our feeble hearts could not stand more. (Translated from The Way of the World)


  • L'Usage du monde, 1963, Payot poche, 1992
  • Japon, éditions Rencontre, Lausanne, 1967
  • Chronique japonaise, 1975, éditions Payot, 1989
  • Vingt cinq ans ensemble, histoire de la television Suisse Romande, éditions SSR, 1975
  • Le Poisson-scorpion, 1982, éditions Gallimard, Folio, 1996
  • Les Boissonas, une dynastie de photographes, éditions Payot, Lausanne, 1983
  • Journal d'Aran et d'autres lieux, éditions Payot, 1990
  • L'Art populaire en Suisse, 1991
  • Le Hibou et la baleine, éditions Zoé, Genève, 1993
  • Les Chemins du Halla-San, éditions Zoé, Genève, 1994
  • Comment va l'écriture ce matin?, éditions Slatkine, Genève, 1996
  • La Chambre rouge et autres textes, éditions Métropolis, 1998
  • Le Dehors et le dedans, éditions Zoe, Genève, 1998
  • Entre errance et éternité, éditions Zoé, Genève, 1998
  • Une Orchidée qu'on appela vanille, éditions Métropolis, Genève, 1998
  • La Guerre à huit ans, éditions Mini Zoé, Genève, 1999
  • L'Échappée belle, éloge de quelques pérégrins, éditions Métropolis, Genève, 2000
  • Histoires d'une image, éditions Zoé, Genève, 2001
  • L'Oeil du voyageur, éditions Hoëbeke, 2001
  • Charles-Albert Cingria en roue libre, éditions Zoé, Genève, 2005

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Book review of 'The Way of the World' by Nicolas Bouvier"

External links[edit]