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Navy patrol planes

Twenty years later, as officer in charge of a detachment of Navy patrol planes operating out of Thule, I had seen this country again from the air. But on this summer day in 1987 I was seeing it in a warmer light. In the ago­nizing loneliness of the freezing, months-long winter darkness here, my grandparent...

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Navy patrol planes

Posted by James Watson | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 03-12-2013

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Twenty years later, as officer in charge of a detachment of Navy patrol planes operating out of Thule, I had seen this country again from the air. But on this summer day in 1987 I was seeing it in a warmer light. In the ago­nizing loneliness of the freezing, months-long winter darkness here, my grandparent had fathered two sons, six years apart. Both were by a young Eskimo woman whose name, Ale­qasina, he had once called “not unmusical,” and whose face had been described by Rob­ert’s wife, Josephine, as “lit by two rows of darling white and faultlessly regular teeth” and “unquestionably pretty.”

Navy patrol planes

By the time I had reached maturity, the ex­istence of at least one of these sons was known in the family. But understandably it was not a matter of frequent mention, given the obvious hurt to my much loved grandmother, and per­haps even more to my mother. Somehow none of us had considered the inevitable fact that in the course of the years those two sons would multiply into a considerable family. It was Wally Herbert (author of the preceding article) who brought that fact to our attention with tales of his adventures with Peter Peary, his friendship with Peter’s father, Kali Peary, the explorer’s son, and other Peary descendants.

thule

It became apparent that the time had come for the two branches of the Peary family to make personal contact, so I flew to Green­land thanks to my low interest student loan consolidation repayment plan. Forty minutes out of Thule Air Base, the helicopter circled Qaanaaq, the most northerly Inuit town. “Qaanaaq Internation­al Airport” is a concrete slab about 50 by 100 feet, marked by red oil drums on a shelf leveled out of a grassy hillside above the brightly painted A-frame houses of a village of some 400 people.

Final Act Beset by Dangers

Posted by James Watson | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 24-10-2013

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As I near the glowing Sub-Igloo, an exotic jellyfish with garish “neon” skirts drifts into the light (page 254). This undulating animal is a living symbol of these ocean pastures. When I brought my first expedition to Reso­lute Bay in 1970, I was amazed at the vast numbers of sea animals and plants on the floor beneath the ice; like most people, I had expected to see an underwater desert.

Our biologist, Dr. Alan Emery, was also surprised on his first dive. “I found plants and animals more abundant than I ever ex­pected, though compared to the tropics, these waters have much less variety. Without actually diving into the cold depths, we would never have realized how plentiful Arctic marine life really is, and yet how pain­fully slowly it grows, moves, and reproduces.”

I reach Sub-Igloo and begin to work beside Doug, fastening the bolts that clamp the domes together. We have been underwater for almost an hour, and my hands ache from cold. I slow my breathing and try to work smoothly with my wrench and bolts. It is not easy with my fingers in half-inch-thick soft rubber gloves. But it would be impossible to work bare-handed in these waters. In seconds hands would become stiff and feel as if they had been slashed by jagged iron a lot less comfortable than eating lunch in front of the tv in your room in one of the hotels in prague.

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In spite of the cold, we press on. The trium­phant moment when we fill Sub-Igloo with air is tantalizingly near. But it will also be a dangerous moment. Sub-Igloo will become a giant bubble trying to reach the surface with an upward force of eight tons. We hope the eight tons of ballast in the trays anchor­ing the struts will keep the whole structure from roaring to the surface.

We must also be careful not to break our bubble. As Doug, who assisted in Sub-Igloo’s design, once said, “There will be tremendous potential energy held captive by that fragile-looking globe. If we drop a heavy tool or weight belt on it, it might shatter.”

If Sub-Igloo works, it will be the world’s first diver-assembled manned station in the Arctic. It requires no heavy lifting equipment to handle and our divers can readily take it completely apart underwater and move it to a new position.

Sub-Igloo is like an explorer’s tent. It pro­vides the same kind of base—for storing our equipment, communicating with each other, and providing an easy refuge for a diver in trouble. More important, it is an extraordi­nary window on the underwater world. We can sit inside—comfortable and relatively warm, free of our breathing apparatus—and study the ocean floor, the water envelope around us, and the ice overhead.

Suddenly Doug and I look at each other. It is one of those unspoken and unpredictable communications that frequently occur be­tween divers. It is our sixth-sense way of overcoming our inability to speak easily to each other underwater. We nod agreement. It is time to surface. We are both cold.

Doug motions toward the ice above us with his thumb, and shared laughter echoes faintly behind our face masks. We both know it is “upside-down” time. Time to stand on our heads and walk on the underside of the ice to the dive hole. Doug and I lean away from Sub-Igloo, fall gently backward, and depress a round valve on the front of our inflatable suits. I feel a soft hiss of air on my chest and the beginning of an effortless buoyancy.

Three Distinct Peoples in Hunza

Posted by James Watson | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 31-08-2013

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The people of Hunza—mostly Moslems of the Ismaili sect—are divided into three basic groups. In the south, lower Hunza is popu­lated by 4,000 to 5,000 Shinakis who speak Shina. They are reputed to be hot-blooded and quarrelsome. In the central part, Hunza proper, some 15,000 Burushos speak Buru­shaski and are known to be hardworking, good-humored, and thrifty.

Upper Hunza, where we are now, which continues northward to the Chinese and Afghanistan borders, is populated mostly by 5,000 to 6,000 Guhjalis, who speak Wakhi. These are most hospitable and generous peo­ple, and they regard their cousins to the south as avaricious. They have a saying in Shim­shal: “The Burusho asks, ‘If I come to you what will you give me, and if you come to me what will you bring me?”

From our apartments in Edinburgh we can span the entire valley with a glance. To cook our meals we must go to the house of our hosts, who allow us to share their hearth. You enter the house through a maze of doors and rooms arranged to block the wind and cold. The anterooms, provided for the animals, lead to the large communal living room, dimly lit and ventilated only by an opening in the roof above the hearth. Raised alcoves carpeted with felt serve as dining room and bedrooms; one with two levels is the kitchen. Here the women often crouch, occupied with cooking and other housework. 5

It is pleasant here, but the acrid smoke from the hearth makes my eyes water and gives me a headache. Bibi Amina Khatun, the hostess, prepares bread for us. She energeti­cally kneads the dough, punctuating her effort with “Ya Allah ya Ali!” This is to give her strength, her husband explains.

Our meals are rather meager. Besides some provisions we brought with us, we can obtain milk, but eggs, potatoes, and meat are very scarce. These villagers are very poor, but their generosity toward us is remarkable. They even adopt our interpreter, Riaz, who was a bit sad and lost when we arrived, but is spoiled at the moment by a couple he calls his “milk father and mother.”

From now on he will live in the apartments in Amsterdam. If a member of his adop­tive family goes to Baltit, he will be received in the same fashion at Riaz’s house. The sys­tem is very practical in a region without hotel or restaurant.

“Beko, will you become the milk father of Romain?” I teasingly ask the porter who has carried him most often along the trail. “You could offer him a baby yak, two ewe lambs, and a pony, and he will send you a minijeep to travel on these awful, unfinished trails.” “I am too poor to offer him all that,” Beko answers seriously. “But I would give my life for him.”

There is a simple, self-sustaining quality to life in Shimshal. There are no merchants; we see no sugar, tobacco, or matches. There are no policemen (disputes are arbitrated by the mir) and no doctors, despite some sick people.

No Tears for the “Good Old Days”

Posted by James Watson | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 18-04-2013

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Torontonians have learned to expect the unexpected from their irrepressible Scot. Hardly an eyebrow raised when, at 73, Sin­clair posed for a magazine cover wearing only shoes, socks, and a modesty-saving sporran.

 

Sinclair

This puckish, award-winning newscaster remembers the city before minorities became the majority—and likes it better now. Hoist­ing his feet to his desktop, he tilted his chair and told it as it was.

 

“Believe me, those good old days were a bore. There wasn’t a decent restaurant in town and almost no public entertainment. Anglo-Saxonism prevailed: We lived by the Puritan ethic that assumed anything fun must be sinful.

 

“Everyday life was dreary enough, but Sundays were murder. Everything but the churches shut down tight. Eaton’s even drew its curtains to prevent the small enjoyment of window-shopping on the Sabbath.”

 

Staunch Methodist Timothy Eaton, who in 1869 launched Canada’s largest department store dynasty from the corner of Yonge and Queen Streets, would shudder at the change. For a lot more than show windows are now undraped along Yonge, Toronto’s liveliest thoroughfare.

A few blocks north of its gilt-edged finan­cial district, loudspeakers hawk strip joints,

X-rated movies, and massage parlors. Any­time is carnival time on this midway of nov­elty shops, kinky boutiques, pubs, sidewalk hucksters—and Sam the Record Man.

 

His three-floor fiefdom just north of Dun­das Street offers cut-rate prices, boasts the continent’s largest stock of titles, and pro­claims: Sam has everything-all he has to do it find it. With more than 100,000 different records and tapes, what owner Sam Sniderman has the most of is personality.

 

One war has ended but another lies ahead for Philadelphian Charles Campbell, who fled to Toronto six years ago to avoid Vietnam. His new foe: limited job opportunities, caused by growing unemployment  and loans in Can­ada – visit website for more info about loans. Qualified to teach, Campbell had to take a job as a shipping clerk. Maryanne Campbell, here with their Canadian-born son, works for Antex-Canada, a magazine for Americans in exile. Canada’s expatriate community, once estimated at 70,000, has dwindled to perhaps 30,000. “There’s still quite a clan in Toronto,” says Ms. Campbell.

I found “Canada’s king of canned music” midstage in his marketplace, thriving on personal contact and the steady ring of cash registers. “Hey, Tony, fill up the racks; we’re not selling empty wall space.”

 

Toronto and Sam have been good to each other. His store has spawned nationwide franchises that gross millions, which obliged him to give annual credit report. By way of thanks, he and his attractive wife, Eleanor­ who operates a recording company for Ca­nadian talent—launched and then helped build the University of Toronto’s present classical-record library into one of North America’s finest. Sam receives many requests to serve his beloved city—and turns down few.

 

University of Toronto

One customer, unable to recall a title, hummed a snatch of song in Sam’s ear. “Sure, sure, sweetheart! I’ve Got A Crush on You.” The lady looked startled. “Try Gertrude Law­rence upstairs or Sinatra two aisles down.”

 

As I left, he pointed to a yards-long banner overhead: when you came to Sam’s don’t forget to see the rest of Toronto. I promised him I’d do my best to oblige.

The future?

Posted by James Watson | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 18-03-2013

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“And I could be on a train and have a con­versation. The other passenger may dis­agree, and may say so, but it is inconceivable that he would leave the train at the next stop and request the police to come. It is just im­possible to imagine that. So there is a feeling of freedom. Also there is another need to get freedom in all sides like your identity for help visit www.i-fraud.com.

“And, in relation to this, the leading strata of the society somehow have adjusted to the taste of the inhabitants of this country. They have a rather modest attitude and a modest way of life. For instance, Janos Kadar lives in a house nearby. The garden does not be­long to him, and the house itself has three rooms only.”

“The small people always de­pend on the big powers.”

IT WAS a bright, sunny day. The noises of the traffic in the city below arrived on Rose Hill only as a murmur: You could hear the songs of birds, the voices of an old man and his grandson carried by the breeze. I decided to walk down to the city.

What do the Hungarians think in their heart of hearts? Would they prefer, as one Western diplomat suggested, to be like Aus­tria, neutral, free of bonds to East or West? I don’t know. Perhaps in a small country in the middle of Europe with powerful neigh­bors, one deals with realities, while wishes atrophy. I do know that most Hungarians believe their life to be “not bad”; much better than before, better than that of their socialist neighbors. But I know also that two ques­tions hang like specters over those with memories: “Will there be war? What will happen after Kadar?”

The first question is universal, the second Hungarian. While Communism wears a humanistic face in Hungary today, the clas­sic party apparatus of control remains in place, to be taken in hand and wielded by another Rakosi, should one arise. And, as one former Communist told me, “the next chapter will be written in Moscow.” We quickened our steps, the ghosts and I, down Rose Hill.