‘No one knew exactly what the word “hippie” meant, and it didn’t much matter’ – Read an excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s new novel
More about the book!
Penguin Random House has shared an excerpt from Hippie, Paulo Coelho’s most autobiographical novel yet.
About the book
If you want to learn about yourself, start by exploring the world around you.
Drawing on the rich experience of his own life, bestselling author Paulo Coelho takes us back in time to relive the dreams of a generation that longed for peace and dared to challenge the established social order. In Hippie, he tells the story of Paulo, a young, skinny Brazilian man with a goatee and long, flowing hair, who wants to become a writer and sets off on a journey in search of a deeper meaning for his life.
Paulo’s travels take him from South America to the famous Dam Square in Amsterdam filled with young people wearing vibrant clothes and burning incense, meditating and playing music, while discussing sexual liberation, the expansion of consciousness, and the search for an inner truth.
There he meets Karla, a Dutch woman in her twenties who has been waiting to find the ideal companion to accompany her on the fabled hippie trail to Nepal. She convinces Paulo to join her on a trip aboard the Magic Bus that travels across Europe and Central Asia to Kathmandu. They embark on the journey in the company of fascinating fellow travelers, each of whom has a story to tell, and each of whom will undergo a personal transformation, changing their priorities and values along the way. As they travel together, Paulo and Karla explore their own relationship: a life-defining love story that awakens them on every level and leads to choices and decisions that will set the course for their lives thereafter.
Read an excerpt from Hippie:
The stories that follow come from my personal experiences. I’ve altered the order, names, and details of the people here, I was forced to condense some scenes, but everything that follows truly happened to me. I’ve used the third person because this allowed me to give characters unique voices with which to describe their lives.
In September 1970, two sites squared off for the title of the center of the world: Piccadilly Circus, in London, and Dam Square, in Amsterdam. But not everyone knew this: if you asked most people, they’d have told you: ‘The White House, in the US, and the Kremlin in the USSR’. These people tended to get their information from newspapers, television, radio, media that were already entirely outdated and that would never regain the relevance they had when first invented.
In September 1970, airplane tickets were outrageously expensive, which meant only the rich could travel. OK, that wasn’t entirely true for an enormous number of young people whom these outdated media outlets could see only for their outward appearance: they wore their hair long, dressed in bright-colored clothing never took a bath (which was a lie, but these young kids didn’t read the newspaper, and the older generation believed any news item that served to denigrate those they considered ‘a danger to society and common decency’). They were a danger to an entire generation of diligent young boys and girls trying to succeed in life, with their horrible example of lewdness and ‘free love,’ as their detractors liked to say with disdain. Well, this ever-growing number of kids had a system for spreading news that no one, absolutely no one, ever managed to detect.
The ‘Invisible Post’ couldn’t be bothered to discuss the latest Volkswagen or the new powdered soaps that had just been launched around the globe. It limited its news to the next great trail awaiting exploration by those insolent, dirty kids practicing ‘free love’ and wearing clothes no one with any taste would ever put on. The girls with their braided hair covered in flowers, their long dresses, bright-colored shirts and no bras, necklaces of all shapes and sizes; the boys with their hair and beards that hadn’t been cut for months. They wore faded jeans with tears from overuse because jeans were expensive everywhere in the world – except for the US, where they’d emerged from the ghetto of factory workers and were worn at all the major open-air shows in and around San Francisco.
The ‘Invisible Post’ existed because people were always going to these concerts, swapping ideas about where they ought to meet next, how they could explore the world without jumping aboard one of those tourist buses where a guide described the sights while the younger people grew bored and the old people dozed. And so, thanks to word of mouth, everyone knew where the next concert was to take place or where to find the next great trail to be explored. No one had any financial restrictions because, in this community, everyone’s favorite author wasn’t Plato or Aristotle or comics from some artist who’d attained celebrity status, the big book, which almost no one who traveled to the Old Continent did so without, went by the name Europe on 5 Dollars a Day. With this book, everyone could find out where to stay, what to see, where to eat, where to meet, and where to catch live music while hardly spending a thing.
Frommer’s only error at the time was having limited his guide to Europe. Were there not perhaps other interesting places to see? Weren’t there those who would rather go to India than to Paris? Frommer would address this failing a few years later, but until such time the ‘Invisible Post’ took it upon itself to promote a South American itinerary ending at the once-‘lost’ city of Machu Picchu, with the warning not to mention anything to those who were outside of the hippie culture, lest the place be invaded by wild animals with cameras and extensive explanations (quickly forgotten) about how a band of Indians had created a city so well concealed it could be discovered only from above – something they considered impossible, since men did not fly.
Let’s be fair: there was a second enormous bestseller, though not as popular as Frommer’s book, which appealed more to those who had already flirted with socialism, Marxism, and anarchy; each of these phases always ended in deep disillusionment with the system invented by those who professed that ‘it was inevitable that the workers of the world would seize power.’ Or that ‘religion is the opium of the masses,’ which only proved that whoever uttered such a stupid statement understood little about the masses and even less about opium: among the things these poorly dressed kids believed in were God, gods, goddesses, angels, that sort of thing. The only problem is that the book, The Morning of the Magicians, written by the Frenchman Louis Pauwels and the Russian Jacques Bergier – mathematician, ex-spy, tireless student of the occult – said exactly the opposite of political manuals: the world is made up of the most interesting things. There were alchemists, wizards, Cathars, Templars, and other words that meant it never had much success in the bookstores. A single copy was read by – at a minimum – ten people, given its exorbitant price. Anyway, Machu Picchu was in this book, and everyone wanted to go there, to Peru, and that’s where you could find young people from all over the world (well, all over the world is a bit of an exaggeration, because those who lived in the Eastern Bloc didn’t have the easiest time leaving their respective countries.)
Anyway, getting back to our story: young people from all corners of the globe who had managed at least one priceless good known as a ‘passport’ met up on the so-called hippie trails. No one knew exactly what the word ‘hippie’ meant, and it didn’t much matter. Perhaps it meant ‘a large tribe without a leader’ or ‘delinquents who don’t steal,’ or all the other descriptions we already covered earlier in this chapter.
Passports, these tiny little books issued by governments and placed along with cash (a lot or little, it doesn’t really matter) inside a belt worn around the waist, served two purposes. The first, as we all know, was for crossing borders – as long as the border guards didn’t get caught up in the news reports and decide to send someone back because they weren’t accustomed to those clothes and that hair, or those flowers and those necklaces and those beads and those smiles belonging to people who seemed to live in a constant state of ecstasy – a state normally, though often unjustly, attributed to diabolical drugs that, according to the press, these young people consumed in ever greater quantities.
A passport’s second purpose was to get its owner out of extreme situations where they’d run out of money and had nowhere to appeal for help. In such cases, the ‘Invisible Post’ always provided much-needed information regarding locations where a passport might be sold. The price varied according to the country: a passport from Sweden, where everyone was blond, tall, and blue-eyed, wasn’t worth much, since it could be resold only to those who were blond, tall, and blue-eyed, and so these were never the most sought-after. But a Brazilian passport was worth a fortune on the black market – the country was home not only to the blond, tall, and blue-eyed, but also to those who were tall and short, black people with dark eyes, Asians with narrow eyes, others of mixed race, Indians, Arabs, Jews; in other words, an enormous cultural melting pot that made a Brazilian passport one of the most coveted on the planet.
Once he’d sold this passport, the original owner would go to his country’s consulate and, feigning horror and distress, explain that he’d been mugged and everything taken – he was completely out of money and had no passport. The consulates of wealthier countries would furnish a new passport and a free flight back to a traveler’s country of origin, an offer immediately declined under the allegation that ‘somebody owes me a hefty sum, I need to get what’s mine before I go.’ The poorer countries, often governed by harsh regimes in the hands of generals, would conduct a veritable interrogation to determine whether the applicant wasn’t on a list of ‘terrorists’ wanted for subversion. Once they’d verified that the young woman (or man) had a clean record, these countries were bound, against their will, to issue the new document. And they never offered a return flight, because they had no interest in having such derelicts influence generations that had been raised to respect God, family, and property.
Returning to the trails: after Machu Picchu, the next hot spot was Tiahuanaco, in Bolivia. Then Lhasa, in Tibet, where it was difficult to enter because, according to the ‘Invisible Post,’ there was a war between monks and Chinese soldiers. Of course it was difficult to imagine such a war, but everyone took it seriously and wasn’t about to risk an endless trip to later end up a prisoner to the monks or the soldiers. Last the era’s great philosophers, who had just split up in April of that year, had a short time before proclaimed that the greatest wisdom on the planet was to be found in India. That was enough to send all the world’s young people to the country in search of wisdom, knowledge, gurus, vows of poverty, enlightenment, and communion with My Sweet Lord.
The ‘Invisible Post,’ however, warned that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, famed guru to the Beatles, had tried to engage in sexual relations with Mia Farrow. The actress had always been unhappy in love through the years. She had traveled to India at the invitation of the Beatles, possibly in the hope of finding a cure for other traumas related to her sexuality, which seemed to hound her like bad karma.
But everything suggests that Farrow’s bad karma had accompanied her, John, Paul, George, and Ringo on their trip. According to Farrow, she was meditating in the great seer’s cave when he grabbed her and tried to force her into sexual relations. By this point in the trip, Ringo had already returned to England because his wife hated Indian food and Paul had also decided to abandon the retreat, convinced that it wasn’t doing anything for him.
Only George and John remained in the Maharishi’s temple when Mia came looking for them, in tears, and told them what had happened. The two immediately packed their bags, and when the Enlightened One came to ask what was going on, Lennon gave him a bruising response:
‘You’re the fucking Enlightened One, are you not? You ought to be able to figure it out.’
Now, in September 1970, women ruled the world – or, more precisely, young hippie women ruled the world. Wherever they went, the men did so knowing these women weren’t about to be seduced by the latest trends – the women knew much more about the subject than the men did. And so the men decided to accept once and for all that they needed these women; they constantly wore an expression of yearning, as though begging, ‘Please protect me, I’m all alone and I can’t find anyone, I think the world’s forgotten me and love has forsaken me forever.’ The women had their pick of men and never gave a thought to marriage, only to having a good time enjoying wild, intense sex. When it came to the important things, and even the most superficial and irrelevant, they had the last word. However, when the ‘Invisible Post’ brought news of Mia Farrow’s sexual assault and Lennon’s reaction, these women immediately decided to change their itineraries.
A new hippie trail was created, from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, on a bus that charged a fare of approximately a hundred dollars and traveled through countries that must have been pretty interesting: Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and part of India (a great distance from the Maharishi’s temple, it’s worth noting). The trip lasted three weeks and an insane number of miles.
Karla was seated in Dam Square, asking herself when the guy who ought to accompany her on this magical adventure (in her mind, of course) would show up. She’d left a job behind in Rotterdam, just an hour’s train ride away, but since she needed to save every last cent, she’d hitched a ride and the trip had taken almost a day. She had found out about the bus trip to Nepal in one of a dozen alternative newspapers published with the sweat, love, and effort of people who felt they had something to say to the world and subsequently sold for a nominal price.