Friday, June 18, 2004


I know, I know, it's been a week between blogs. But I've been buried in work (whine whine) and... I caged a copy of Paul Theroux's new book from my friend Tom Leete. For those of you who aren't familiar with this guy, he is the premier travel writer of all times and one of the best all round scribblers living today. Anyhow, this new book with the postscript has been out for several months and I have been procrastinating and walking around and around in Barnes and Nobles for a while staring at it and finally my friend Tommy appeared with his very own copy so I mooched it. Now understand, this is the guy who wrote "Sailing Through China" and "The Pillars of Hercules" and just about every other travel book worth reading since Burton... "To The Ends of the Earth" is chilling. Ooo Wee. And "Sunrise With Seamonsters" and "The Great Railway Bazaar" and "The Old Patagonian Express". And this new one is the best yet.

Theroux took a trip from Cairo to Cape Town without benefit of any airplanes. Just took off to hoof it from the northern end of Africa to the southern end. Up the Nile from Cairo through Karnak and Kom Ombo and Aswan and Philae. Then across the border into the Sudan and down to Khartoum and the split of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique. Struggling through all the filth and unhappiness of the most desolate of landscapes. Lawless children in a country of orphans. Hunger, disease, violence, suffering. And... hope and bleak cheerfulness engendered by knowing that the bottom has been reached and there is no other way to go but up. Venal, corrupt, ruthless, heartless indifference to the suffering of the poor. And the bland and dangerous generosity of the "helping" professionals who have a vested interest in keeping the poor poor and the weak weak.

The book wears me out. Paul Theroux wears me out. He is so relentlessly honest and has such a powerful vision of "The Truth" with capital letters. He begs for comparison in our own culture. It is the charities that are killing Africa. And here, the parallel is clear. The most dangerous thing that has happened to the American poor this century has been the entitlement programs. Whole waves of people dependant on a system that beggars them and keeps a jackboot on their throats while making them grateful for the measley handout they get from Uncle Sugar. It's scary.

And Theroux calmly talks about the fear he feels while trying to negotiate the streets of the Malawian border patrol.

"What are you looking for?"
"Drugs and guns."
"Do you ever find any of that stuff?"
"Before the day ends we will find something."

Hopeful hungry policemen looking for today's bribe money. Food on tomorrow's table for the starving rulers of a subsistance nation. They live off boiled maize when they can get it. The money is worthless because there is nothing to buy. AIDS is running at 40% of the population and the largest pool of workers are the coffin makers. Dante's pit is here.

I've felt that fear in unlikely places myself. Often in remote places a far far way from help. I recall having to bribe my way across Panama and bribe my way through the Sunda Straights. I also have felt the cool fear of the dark streets of Orlando's 'hood... the Carver Street area of Washington Shores where the police do not go and the CS Boys actually are the government.

Anyhow, this superb book is the reason why the blogging has been a little light this week. Interested in a really good read? Go get a copy of Paul Theroux's "Dark Star Safari" published by Houghton Mifflin. Like I said. I'm feeling a little restless.