Growing up in Oxford I looked out the window and saw low grey skies and red-brick walls, a deeply fixed and bounded place. ‘Can’t complain’ was the brightest affirmation I heard; ‘could be worse’ spelled almost ecstasy. My parents, eager products of British India, took me to see Lear at Stratford and we all noticed the power the old patriarch wielded at the play’s beginning, even if he was notionally dividing up his kingdom. We didn’t see that the broken, weeping, almost posthumous king at the end might be closer to the spirit of the land around us. We moved from north Oxford to southern California in 1964 – when I was seven – and suddenly I noticed that living in the future tense could be as treacherous as living in the past; it was ideal so long as you were young and on the move, but it could be exasperating if ever you wanted to lay foundations underneath your feet. Small places were more conducive to enmities and smugness, I came to see, as soon as I was in the devouring open spaces of the Far West, but they were also home to idiosyncrasy, a sense of fun and to privacy.

more from Pico Iyer at Granta here.