||Obscured By The Incessant Noise Of One's Life
|| 7:08 am EDT, Mar 27, 2012
Ed Rosenthal, as told to Matthew Segal:
There's an openness to the desert that is just wonderful. It lets you focus on what matters in life. There are no real estate deals going on. You are alone with yourself, and there's a spirit of the desert -- an energy you don't find elsewhere.
I felt completely alone.
I could see the canopy of the jungle spinning towards me. Then I lost consciousness and remember nothing of the impact. Later I learned that the plane had broken into pieces about two miles above the ground.
I woke the next day and looked up into the canopy. The first thought I had was: "I survived an air crash."
I shouted out for my mother in but I only heard the sounds of the jungle. I was completely alone.
There were mountains in every direction. Mountains she had climbed. Mountains that had stolen the lives of her friends and nearly claimed hers too. But never had she invested so much in a mountain as the one under her boots at last.
Danger was a constant companion. Of course there was the possibility of being attacked by Flecheiros, but even greater hazards lay in the journey itself. This was highly jagged terrain incised by innumerable creeks with vertical banks that had to be scaled or slithered down (up to twenty-five in a day's march). Never mind the snakes and jaguars; these are much overrated. The real danger was that of slipping and breaking a limb or falling and being impaled on the Punji sticks left by the machete-wielding trailblazers at the front of the line.
On a lengthy expedition of this kind, food supplies are a critical issue, not simply for energy but for morale. No one can carry fifty days' rations on top of a hammock, clothing, and other essential equipment. Daily hunting made up the shortfall. Naturally, returns were better on some days than others. There were many days when the hunters could bag only a few monkeys. A bowl of thin monkey broth simply couldn't compensate for a long day's march and left everyone in a sullen mood.
Some people need to revisit Paris. I am a compulsive returnee to Tibet and Kailash. It is my escape from western civilization and its vulgarity, Berlusconi to Gaga. The four days it takes me, going from a little less than 16,000 feet to 18,600 as I go over the pass, Droelma La, circling the mountain, very slowly, enables me to detach from the octopus grasp of my culture's adhesive attachment to time. It is a meditation trek. It is an attempt to hear whatever I believe is reality, which gets obscured by the incessant noise of one's life.
The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful as we walked between turreted cliffs, passing white streamers of waterfalls and boulders patched with orange and green lichens. Looking at a photograph of the Horsehead Nebula, swimming in its ocean of dust and gases, I have an appropriate sense of my size in the universe. The landscape of Tibet has the same effect on me. We passed a young woman on her own, very pretty, prostrating her way along the path, a major endeavor that could certainly take her several weeks. When you do prostrations around anything sacred, you walk from where your feet are at the end of the prostration to where your head just was -- in other words, your height -- and then do the next prostration. It pays to be tall.
||Taking the Great American Roadtrip
|| 5:15 pm EDT, Aug 30, 2009
Travel is mostly about dreams--dreaming of landscapes or cities, imagining yourself in them, murmuring the bewitching place names, and then finding a way to make the dream come true. The dream can also be one that involves hardship, slogging through a forest, paddling down a river, confronting suspicious people, living in a hostile place, testing your adaptability, hoping for some sort of revelation.
Ten days into my road trip I began wondering if I were perhaps pushing it a little too hard. But wasn't the whole point to keep going down the proud highway? The thrill is in the moving, gaining ground, watching the landscape change, stopping on impulse.
I count the drive through West Virginia as distinctly memorable--there was hardly a town or village on the way I would not have been content to live in; not a hill I did not wish to climb, or a hollow that did not invite me to laze under a tree. At one point, bowling along the open road, the Supertramp song "Take the Long Way Home" came on the radio. Listening to music while driving through a lovely landscape is one of life's great mood enhancers. And hearing the line, "But there are times that you feel you're part of the scenery," I was in Heaven.
Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep. Actually, my speciality is not sleep itself, but the hinterland of sleep, the point of entry to unconsciousness.
The great delight was in deferring sleep, hovering on the edge, pulling myself back to the same point in the story and trying to move it along, but always dropping off, hanging by the story-thread, the fingertips losing their grip but managing to haul back to the tale on the waking side of the world. The trick was to sustain my stay in the no man's land for as long as possible, knowing all the while that I would inevitably, sooner or later, lose my grip on consciousness.
Later, you can remember or feel, but the only actual experience of sleep is not-knowing. And not knowing thrills me – retrospectively or in anticipation, of course. That one has the capacity to be not here while being nowhere else. To be in the grip of unconsciousness, and consciously to lose consciousness to that grip.
The characters in "On the Road" spend as short a time on the road as they can. They're not interested in exploring rural or small-town America. Speed is essential. The men rarely even have time to chase after the women they run into, because they're always in a hurry to get to a city ...
The bits and pieces of America that the book captures, therefore, are snapshots taken on the run, glimpses from the window of a speeding car. And they are carefully selected to represent a way of life that is coming to an end in the postwar boom, a way of life before televisions and washing machines and fast food, when millions of people lived patched-together existences and men wandered the country ---- "ramblin' round," in the Guthrie song ---- following the seasons in search of work. Robert Frank's photographs in "The Americans," taken between 1955 and 1956 and published in Paris in 1958 and in the United States a year later, with an introduction by Kerouac, held the same interest: they are pictures of a world not yet made plump and uniform by postwar affluence and consumerism.
Driving is the cultural anomaly of our moment.
Taking the Great American Roadtrip
||10:48 am EDT, Apr 26, 2009
William T. Vollmann:
It sprawls across a stinking artificial sea, across the deserts, date groves, and labor camps of southeastern California, right across the Mexican border. For generations of migrant workers, from Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl of the 1930s to Mexican laborers today, Imperial County has held the promise of paradise—and the reality of hell. It is a land beautiful and harsh, enticing and deadly, rich in history and heartbreak. Across the border, the desert is the same but there are different secrets. In Imperial, award-winning writer William T. Vollmann takes us deep into the heart of this haunted region, and by extension into the dark soul of American imperialism.
Known for his penetrating meditations on poverty and violence, Vollmann has spent ten years doggedly investigating every facet of this bi-national locus, raiding archives, exploring polluted rivers, guarded factories, and Chinese tunnels, talking with everyone from farmers to border patrolmen in his search for the fading American dream and its Mexican equivalent. The result is a majestic book that addresses current debates on immigration, agribusiness, and corporate exploitation, issues that will define America’s identity in the twenty-first century.
Ships July 30, 2009.