Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I like self-concious books, books that give a sense about what the process of making them was like for the author. "LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ," by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, is a terrific example of this kind of book, one fully infused with the spirit of the events described. Steinbeck and Ricketts' actual trip to Baha, their thoughts and quarrels, the things they observed, the spaghetti they ate and even the landscape itself seems to merge into a single entity captured and preserved, like sea-air in a bottle.

INTO THE HIMALAYAS by Jeremy Bernstein seems like this sort of book. Originally serialized in the New Yorker back in 1968, the (relatively) new edition was extensively revised and features new chapters on Tibet and Bhutan. The new edition also contains a beautiful prologue, in which Berstein describes how he first came to venture into the Himalayas as a young man. Just imagine sitting next to the author, the morning after spending a night sleeping rough in the New Delhi airport, and looking from the window of a plane to see the mountains for the first time...

"The air in Delhi was as steamy as a sauna and large lakes of water covered the fields. There were not many passengers on the plane. Indeed, at one point we filled out landing cards, on which we had to state our purpose for coming to the country. The three of us checked 'trekking.' Some years later I obtained the government statistics on the number of official trekkers - people who had checked 'trekking' on their entry forms - by year. For the year 1967 there were only three - three! - official trekkers. They must have been us. The plane initially flew over flat, emerald, water-laden fields for about an hour. Then there appeared on the horizon what I, at first, took to be clouds. They were at an altitude substantially higher than the plane's. But they did not move. They floated, still as castles, in the sky. It finally dawned on me that these were mountains. I had never seen mountains like this. Despite years and years of reading about the Himalayas, I had had no idea that this was what they really looked like - giant, serrated castles of snow and rock soaring into the sky. To this day, I get goose bumps thinking about that first view."

Twice now, that passage has brought tears to my eyes. I can't wait...


Blogger Aly said...

Glad to see you're back! I've enjoyed the new posts and am looking forward to more.

7:00 AM  

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