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Sunday, August 5, 2001

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Cleaning and explorers

I feel like I have accomplished something today. Basically I cleaned house, did laundry, cooked and froze some stuff and read a book. That is a well used day and now I have a clean house and cooked food to show for it, which is more than I would have had if I had just watched television or, god forbid, gone to a ball game or such.

I did go to the mall in the afternoon to look at bookshelves, I ended up at Home Depot as most of the shelves I saw were either too expensive or too ugly. I want something I can take apart easily and reconfigure. There were some possibilities at Home Depot but even those weren't ideal. I want something where I can move the shelves to accomodate paperbacks or magazines, depending on what I have the most of, or, even, very wide to put a plant into. I change my mind too much to happily put up with something that can be used in only one way. If I end up buying used, for cheapness, I may have to put up with that but I would rather not.

I finished listening to "Neither Here nor There" by Bill Bryson, while I was cleaning. I'm finding that books on tape are useful for that though I can't listen at work because I miss half of the book when I concentrate on what I'm doing. Bryson went to Europe in the early seventies and, with a large percentage of Americans his age, backpacked through the continent. He decided to go again in the early nineties and see what is different or how his perception is different. He interposes remembrances of traveling through Europe in the seventies both by himself and with a friend, telling the differences and similarities he finds on this trip and in himself.

He's much like me in traveling and get's irritated at something in one place but then wants it somewhere else. Even he admitted he wanted the Europe he read about and saw in movies while he was growing up but the only place he could really find it was the the very recently liberated Yugoslavia. I found it sad as he talked about how beautiful and idyllic the countryside was as he rode the bus toward Sarajevo and how the people in the fields, still using scythes were so delightful. That same countryside is now devastated with a vicious war and the people probably weren't thrilled even then with their rustic poverty. I enjoyed listening to it and to him, as he read it himself.

I also read "The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named" by John Keay. I saw the book at the bookstore yesterday and bought it though I buy very few books. It's one of those amazing stories about the 19th century explorers. They measured the length of India to within a few feet, starting before there really was an India, in 1800. It took thirty years, the lives of many people, and ended up with measuring many of the himalayan peaks, including Mount Everest. It was started by William Lambert and mainly finished by George Everest though additional measurements continued to be taken by many people, including the measuring of Everest by Andrew Waugh.

It's a very interesting story of two men that were absolutely maniacal about measuring and trigonometry. I had first looked at it in the bookstore because I remembered that in "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling the surveying that was still going on was mentioned. I am always awed by the explorers trooping through the jungles with their wool uniforms and incredibly heavy equipment, by our standards. This was long before nylon and other lightweight camping equipment was even thought of. They came down with malaria and other diseases with great regularity and 45 was a ripe old age for most British in India. Everest spend the last few years he was on the survey practically incapacitated with rheumatism and malaria, yet he refused to go back to Britain.

People wonder why europeans overran the rest of the world. It's because people like Lambert and Everest thought it really mattered to know how long, to within a few feet, India really was. It's because people like Lewis and Clark, and Jefferson who sent them, thought it was important to find an overland route to the Pacific, but even more importantly to make note of the new plants, animals and people. It's because people like Magellan knew that there had to be way around south america. It's because people like Audubon thought it was important to find, and draw, all the new species of birds in the americas, or Columbus who was stubborn enough to think he could sail to the Indies by going west. It doesn't do any good to say they shouldn't have because they did. Why the europeans had this urge to learn all this is another question, of course, and while I've heard some explanations, nothing so far has fully explained it.

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Rachel Aschmann 2001.
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