Sunday, January 15, 2017

sky alchemy, Antarctica, You-Are-There-Reading, or: I open my arms to the romance of it all

It's grey winter days here - the overcast skies made me go and browse my shelves, looking for a fitting book. That's how I arrived at "Skating to Antarctica" by Jenny Diski - it was one of the books I ordered while I was reading through all continents. In the end, I read another book for Antarctica, and since then, "Skating" is waiting. Now I started it as it felt fitting for this winter. And it was such a good surprise find, both the author, and the book.

I didn’t know about Jenny Diski. Turns out, she had a fascinating life: she had a troubled childhood, followed by stays in a psychiatric hospital in her youth, due to depression. But she had the luck that one of her classmates was the son of Doris Lessing, who recognized her early talent and supported her in an extraordinary way, offering to live in her house when she was a teenager.

The book "Skating to Antarctica" is a memoir with two focus points: her youth, and the difficult relationship with her mother - and a journey to a place that comforts her in its simple whiteness: Antarctica.

Here’s a quote from her, about the longing that inspired the journey:
But given that depression happened to me, and I did have support, I found it was possible after a time, to achieve a kind of joy totally disconnected from the world. I wanted to be unavailable and in that place without the pain. I still want it. It is coloured white and filled with a singing silence. It is an endless ice-rink. It is Antarctica.” ― Jenny Diski
The book itself, despite the topics, has a rather humorous touch and is rather connected to the details of the world. Diski herself looked for fitting reads, too, on her journey. Here's a paragraph I read today, it made me smile:
I was beguiled by the sea and so much of it; snow and ice and white places in abeyance for the time being. An hour or so later, I returned to my bunk, got under the thin duvet and watched the sky outside my porthole for a bit, before opening the copy of Moby Dick I had brought with me on the grounds that now, if ever, was the time to overcome my aversion to nautical literatur. By the third page I was thrumming with pleasure at the energy and freedom of Melville's writing.
These reflections made me a) remember the first line of Moby Dick, ("Call me Ishmael") and consider reading the start of Moby Dick, and b) think of the essay on reading which is about reading book in the very place the book is set: "You-Are-There Reading", Anne Fadiman called this.

And as a side-effect of all this, it seems I am back now to book-blogging, and to taking sky photos and writing smallstones:

Between the dark of night
And the white of snow:
The sky alchemy of winter sunrise

So far, January has been "real winter" here in the South of Germany, with snow on an almost daily basis. And there were some bright nights, with full moon and with Venus showing. Seems January is supposed to bring some interesting sky constellations. Here's a link from National Geographic: "Starstruck – 6 Great Sky Events in January"


The other Antarctica book
The other Antarctica book I read back then for the continent challenge? That was "Icebound" by Jerri Nielsen, also a memoir, about a winter in the South Pole station. And to continue this book domino: Icebound includes an You-Are-There Reading moment, too:
"The pole station has an own small library, and it includes the books of the first Antarctica expeditions. And so "Ice Bound" transcends from the present to the past of the pole, to the first explorers, and the power of the word, the way it can share experiences and bring comfort. The quote in the video is expressing a lot in just a few sentences: "When I was feeling my worst, Big would sit up next to me at night reading passages from Endurance... The story of Shakletone's struggle in 1915 to survive and keep his crew alive touched me deeply and comforted me. He was the explorer who best understood the wild, seductive lure of Antarctica. "I have ideals," he said," and far away, in my own white South, I open my arms to the romance of it all.""
Here's the link to the blog post about "Icebound".

Moby Dick
And in case you feel like reading into Moby Dick now: there's an online version, here's the start of it: "Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation." - Moby Dick chapter 1

More skies... skywatch friday
More about Jenny Diski at Wiki: Jenny Diski


Klara S said...

Interesting post. Antarctica is a fantastic place for Android adventure!

Klara S said...

For an adventure :) sorry, a typo.