On this last day of November, I am happy to report that my month of reading only books by women authors was both highly successful and satisfying. In a post I made at the beginning of November, I wrote:
For the month of November, I will be reading only women writers, both fiction and non-fiction. Some of the authors will be new to me; some of the books will be re-reads.I began by reading a short story collection entitled Dead-End Memories by the Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto.When I finish, I will re-read Joan Didion’s Salvador.
From there, a number of possibilities present themselves, including Virginia Woolf, Edwige Danticat, Joyce Carol Oates, Wisława Szymborska, Dorothy B. Hughes, Patricia Highsmith, Freya Stark, Norah Lange, Dawn Powell, and Elizabeth Hardwick.I’ll just see where the spirit moves me. At the end of the month, I will summarize the discoveries I have made.
In the end, I came pretty close to my aim. Here is the final list:
Today, Martine slipped on a rug in the bathroom and, grabbing for the wall, broke her right wrist in two places. She was in such excruciating pain that she was not able to communicate with me for upwards of a half hour. As soon as she was able to move, I drove her to UCLA Santa Monica Hospital’s emergency room. It was only by clutching a largish container of blue ice that she was able to endure the agony.
We were in the ICU for over six hours while she was X-Rayed, injected with Lidocaine, and bandaged with a splint (twice, after her thumb became numb the first time). For the whole time that I was waiting next to Martine’s gurney, a homeless woman tried to use me as her private nurse while she loudly threatened to check herself out of the hospital if she didn’t get her oatmeal instanter.
It looks like there will be some changes to my schedule as Martine is unable to wash dishes or wet her bandaged splint. I had been planning to visit my brother in Palm Desert this weekend, but we’ll have to reschedule.
My goal is to see Martine through this difficult period, just as she helped me through two broken shoulders and three cracked ribs. That kind of support is an effective way of showing love.
Is It Possible to Drive All the Way the South America? Not Quite!
Let’s see: Just hop in your car and start heading south until you get to Tierra del Fuego. It would be the trip of a lifetime except for one thing: There is a 66-mile gap between Yaviza, Panama and Turbo, Colombia where there are no roads. According to Wikipedia:
Roadbuilding through this area is expensive and detrimental to the environment. Political consensus in favor of road construction collapsed after an initial attempt failed in the early 1970s, resuming in 1992 only to be halted by serious environmental concerns. As of 2022, there is no active plan to build the missing road.
Below is a rough map of the area:
This is the only place on the Pan-American Highway where there are no roads. If you wanted to take that long drive south, you would have to either fly over the Darien Gap or take a boat. Or you can take a dangerous hike of some four days through the nastiest jungle in the Western Hemisphere and risk coming down with Mogo on the Gogogo or some other tropical disease.
Like the Chile’s Carretera Austral, Argentina’s Ruta Cuarenta (Route 40) is another of the great South American highways. It runs for 3,246 miles (5,224 km) from the northern tip of Argentina where it meets the altiplano of Bolivia all the way to Cabo Virgenes, the most southerly point on the South American mainland. It doesn’t include Tierra del Fuego which is on an island.
Although I have never been on the Carretera Austral, I have ridden Ruta 40 between Neuquén and San Carlos Bariloche in 1995. Both highways are practically up against the Andes. Where Coyhaique is the only large town on the Chilean highway, Ruta 40 goes through Cafayate, Mendoza, San Carlos Bariloche, Esquel, Rio Turbio, and Rio Gallegos on its way to the large Magellanic Penguin sanctuary by Cabo Virgenes. To go further south in Argentina, one has to take a Chilean ferry across the Straits of Magellan before crossing over to Ruta 3 to Rio Grande and Ushuaia.
There are stretches of the highway south of Rio Negro Province that are not yet paved, being the windy deserts of Patagonia. Even so, a good part of the southern highway is the only land route from Chile’s Villa O’Higgins to Puerto Natales. In addition, there are Argentinian buses plying the route
I would love to take Ruta 40 along its entire length, but I would require an SUV, at least two spare tires, and an auto mechanic. Oh, and for certain areas, a guide. Alas, I am too old and poor to be able to indulge in this travel dream of mine.
It bears several names: Route 7, the Augusto Pinochet Highway (because it was completed during that dictator’s presidency), and the Carretera Austral , the Great Southern Highway. It runs for 770 miles (1,240 km) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. At that point, no roads go farther south. According to Wikipedia:
Carretera Austral has a strategic meaning due to the difficult access by land to a significant portion of Chile’s southern territory. This area is characterized by thick forests, fjords, glaciers, canals and steep mountains. Access by sea and air is also a complex task due to extreme winter weather conditions. For decades, most of the land transportation had to cross the border to Argentina in order to reach again Chile’s Patagonia. These difficulties were deepened during the 1970s due to the Beagle Conflict crisis. In order to strengthen the Chilean presence in these isolated territories and ensure the land connection to the rest of the country, the government planned the construction of this road, which was executed by the Chilean Army’s Engineering Command. More than 10,000 soldiers worked on its construction.
South of Villa O’Higgins is Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and the Torres del Paine, the FitzRoy Massif, and Chilean Tierra del Fuego—but only after a gap of 225 miles (363 km) of dense forests, raging rivers, and high mountains. Eventually, Chile plans to extend the Carretera Austral south to Puerto Natales, but it will take years. Until then, vehicles have to cross over into Argentina and take Route 40 (“Ruta Cuarenta”) through the windy wastes of Patagonia.
I would love to take the Carretera Austral, but even though the road is paved, many of the rivers (such as the Rio Baker) are unbridged and require time-wasting ferry crossings. Add to that the fact that there are no large cities (except Coyhaique with 45,000 population) along the route if something were to happen to your car.
David Letterman had it right about Thanksgiving when he said, “Thanksgiving is the day when you turn to another family member and say, ‘How long has Mom been drinking like this?’’ My Mom, after six Bloody Marys looks at the turkey and goes, ‘Here, kitty, kitty.’”
I am not a great fan of Thanksgiving, nor of any holiday. I find that Americans use holidays to increase tension and kowtow to complicated and unnecessary pressures. And I don’t generally care for turkey, certainly not as it is cooked in the United States. In Yucatán, I love Sopa de Lima and Pavo en Relleno Negro.
What I do like about holidays is getting together with our friends. This year it was not in the cards, because my friend who invited us was hospitalized for a stroke. (Fortunately, she is recovering nicely.)
The main event for us this holiday will be attendance at the Three Stooges film festival at the Alex Theater in Glendale. Martine loves the Stooges, and we have been in attendance about a dozen times over the last few years. What makes it particularly special for Martine is that we usually have lunch at Sevan Chicken, an Armenian rotisserie chicken restaurant in Glendale, and dinner at Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant. (Not being a bird eater, I go vegetarian at the Sevan and get lamb at Elena’s.)
For this reason, I will probably not post a blog on Saturday.
Icelandic Writer of Sagas Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241)
One of the least-known great writers of the Middle Ages was an Icelander, Snorri Sturluson. When I was in Iceland in 2013, I visited Reykholt, where he was assassinated by thugs hired by Haakon IV, King of Norway. There is a museum on the site dedicated to his life and work.
He is known for having authored the Prose Edda, the Heimskringla (a history of Norwegian kings), and possibly Egils Saga, one of the greatest of the Icelandic family sagas. There are other great Icelandic sagas, but Snorri is the only writer of sagas whose name has come down to us.
There wasn’t much competition in the literature of the time. The Arthurian legends were just getting started with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (ca 1136). Around the same time, little Iceland had a fully developed literature which told the stories of actual families who settled there and how they resolved disputes. Geoffrey’s book about Arthur, on the other hand, was mostly made out of whole cloth and is considered unreliable as history. The Icelandic sagas are mostly about real people.
Below is the pool at Snorri’s house in Reykholt where he was murdered on September 22, 1241:
In this month of reading only works by women authors, I have made an interesting discovery. The only works I have read this month that have the feeling of life itself are Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room (1922) and Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights (1979). 1920s London and Postwar Manhattan come alive in these books in a way that even James Joyce’s Dublin in Ulysses failed to with all the literary allusions.
Woolf and Hardwick make us feel present in a simple and direct fashion. It is almost as if they were writing their own autobiographies as they lived their lives. Sleepless Nights even reads like an autobiography. For instance, she knew Billie Holiday and writes about her as if she were a close friend:
A genuine nihilism; genuine, look twice. Infatuated glances saying, Beautiful black star, can you love me? The answer: No.
Somehow she had retrieved from darkness the miracle of pure style. That was it. Only a fool imagined that it was necessary to love a man, love anyone, love life. Her own people, those around her, feared her. And perhaps she was often ashamed of the heavy weight of her own spirit, one never tempted to the relief of sentimentality.
She goes on for several pages about the singer, all of them more real and vivid than anything I have read about any performing artist.
In the same way, Virginia Woolf in Jacob’s Room and Mrs. Dalloway (1925) make the reader feel he or she is walking the streets of the London of George V. One does not feel one is in the past: She makes the past feel like the present.
Even Marcel Proust, whose description of the states of mind of his characters is without peer, cannot put the reader on the street running for a trolley and registering the sights and sounds of the city.
I am not sure I have expressed myself properly. I will have to investigate the matter more deeply. Stay tuned.
Spegazzini Glacier in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park (2011)
As the Earth continues to heat up, I can foresee that more and more tourists will try to see fewer and fewer glaciers. Martine and I have been atop Canada’s Athabasca Glacier in Alberta and in Southern Argentina we have visited the Perito Moreno, Spegazzini, and Upsala Glaciers. By myself, I have ridden a Ski-Doo on Iceland’s giant Vatnajökull Glacier. I hope I can rustle up enough cash to go with Martine to visit the most spectacular glaciers in the U.S., all of which are in Alaska.
It is amazing to think that, at one time, glaciers covered much of the lower forty-eight states and most of Canada, as shown in the following map:
It is possible that in the lives of your children, or of your children’s children, the glaciers will no longer be around. Not only that, but parts of the U.S. coast will be under water, particularly Florida. And as the ocean levels continue to rise, I would not be surprised that some of the most beautiful beaches in the world will disappear under water.
I remember my visit to Iceland in 2001. I stayed at a hotel on the edges of Skaftafell National Park. I walked on a trail as close as I could get to Skaftafell Glacier. As I neared the front edge of the glacier, I saw numerous pools of water and heard a groaning sound as the glacier pushed forward millimeter by millimeter. It was an awe-inspiring experience.
The Brown Grizzly Bears at Katmai National Park Dining on Salmon
If you want to see really big bears, probably the best place to see them is at Katmai National Park in Alaska. You’d have to fly in from such bush plane fields as King Salmon and view them at such locations as Brooks Camp, Hallo Bay, Geographic Harbor, Swikshak Lagoon, or Moraine Creek/Funnel Creek.
At a recent “beauty contest” at Katmai, the winner of Fat Bear Week was a 1,400 pound (635 kg) brown bear named (appropriately) 747, after the jumbo jet.
What makes the bears of Katmai particularly large is the ready availability of lots of salmon, which the bears use to bulk up just before going into hibernation.In other parts of Alaska, an adult male typically weighs between 300 to 900 pounds (136-405 kg) , and females weigh between 205 and 455 pounds (93-206 kg).
It’s not cheap to see the big bears of Katmai: There are no regularly scheduled flights. You’d have to fly charter and either camp or stay at an expensive lodge.
I would dearly love to see them. It’s just a question of money—and lots of it!