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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

African Camp Fires

One of my favorite first chapters from a novel comes from, African Camp Fires, by Stewart Edward White. Written around 1918.
What follows is White's observation of the going and comings of Adventurers, Explorers and Hunters from the Grand Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix of the Rue Cannebiere of Marseilles. I don't know if the Hotel still exists, If it does I hope to someday embark from there to somewhere far.

For at Marseilles land ships, many ships, from all the scattered ends of the earth; and from Marseilles depart trains for the North, where is home, or the way home, for many peoples. And since the arrival of ships is uncertain, and the departure of trains fixed, it follows that everyone descends for a little or greater period at the grand Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix.

They come lean and quiet and a little yellow from hard climates, with the names of strange places on their lips, and they speak familiarly of far-off things. Their clothes are generally of ancient cut, and the wrinkles and camphor aroma of a long packing away are yet discernible. Often they are still wearing sun helmets or double terai hats pending a descent on a Piccadilly hatter two days hence. They move slowly and languidly; the ordinary piercing and dominant English Enunciation has fallen to modulation; their eyes, while observant and alert look tired. it is as though the far countries have sucked something from the pith of them in exchange for great experiences that nevertheless seem of little value; as though these men, having met at last face to face the ultimate of what the earth has to offer in the way of danger, hardship, difficulty and the things that try men's souls, having unexpectedly found them all to fall short of both the importance and the final significance with which human-kind has always invested them, were now just a little at a loss. Therefore they stretch their long lean frames in the wicker chairs, they sip the long drinks at their elbows, puff slowly at their long, lean cheroots, and talk spasmodically in short sentences.

Of quite a different type are those going out--young fellows full of northern health and energy, full of eagerness and anticipation, full of romance skilfully concealed, self-certain, authoritative, clear voiced. Their exit from the bus is followed by a rain of hold-alls, bags, new tin boxes, new gun cases, all lettered freshly--an enormous kit doomed to diminution.

Reading further down

So they, the newcomers, sit tight and pretend they are not listening, and feast their ears on the wonderful syllables---Ankobur, Kabul, Peshawur, Annam, Nyassaland, kerma, Serengetti, Taganyika and many others.
And the quite men glide away to the north. Their wares have been marketed. The sleepy, fierce, passionate, sunny lands have taken all they had to bring. And have given in exchange? Indifference, ill-health, a profound realization that the length of days are as nothing at all, a supreme agnosticism as to the ultimate value of anything that a single man can do, a sublime faith that it must be done, the power to concentrate, patience illimitable, contempt for danger, disregard of death, the intention to live, a final, weary estimate of the fact that mere things are as unimportant here as there, no matter how quaintly or fantastically they are dressed or named, and corresponding emptiness of anticipation for the future---these items are only a random few of the price given by the ancient lands for that which the northern races bring to them. What other alchemical changes have been wrought only these lean and weary men could know--if they dared look so far within themselves. And even if they dared, they would not tell.

1 comment:

Tavarua said...

Great to see that you open the Post for comments. This is a great post - It is nice to see that somebody else have taste for the arts as well as travel/adventure and I agree with your post on third world countries - I was in Nigeria Dec.08 - different - just in and out - but still a trip. I do not care to much for the tourist destinations.

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About Me

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I’m a Southern Boy, just 56 last November, I get around here and there, Central America, Africa, Red Bay. I’m a Father, Grandfather, Husband, Artist and general flunky of sorts. Live in a little historic town in an old building I remodeled. Just wanted to hear myself think I guess, talk about the need of simplification, show some art, express an interest or two, brag on my dogs and see where it goes. That’s it!, That’s the deal, Thanks