Sunday, 30 January 2011

andes [michael jacobs]

Sub-titled it's a long way from the top to the bottom.
I don't know why I find it hard to take Jacob's book seriously.
In a sense I think, in spite of the seemingly epic nature of his journey, in fact he's merely flirting with the Andes.
And in a way it's hard not to.
The Andes don't give up their secrets easily.
They belong to mountain people, who've lived there longer than you or I or the Spaniards or the Europeans and will still be living there long after we've all had enough.
On a bus from Oruro, you spot a collection of people, gathered in some kind of congregation. It's a public meeting. They're talking about things from which you're excluded. You're looking on from a bus. You know you're not part of it. The bus passes by in seconds. The meeting keeps going.
You don't belong and that's fine.
Which is what, I would imagine, any book about "The Andes" has to address. The fact of not-belonging. The knowledge of scratching the surface.
The futility of the whole damned project.
Jacobs doesn't do this. He takes a lot of buses, which is an imperative. And he meets and talks to a lot of people. He gets around. But he's skating.
Maybe that's all any travel writing can ever be.
A form of skating.
Maybe, when Jacobs slyly slags off Chatwin, a little more self-awareness might have been in order.
Even if he does speak perfect Spanish.
It won't mean he'll know any Quechua; or Aymarac.
I'm fond of the Andes. I'd like to go back there. I like the air there. It helps you to stop smoking. I like the fact that I don't even have to aspire to belonging. I don't. I'm a gringo. But then so is almost everyone else. Even the ones who live there, the ones who speak a language you can understand, they don't really belong there.
The Andes are like a back street in Delhi. You don't know what's happening on the inside.
You never really will.
And it's probably for the best.
I'm not sure Jacobs communicated that.
If you're looking for a guide book, it's not going to do you any harm.
But it will weigh you down.