Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Images impossible to capture.

Swimming in the sea off Paradise Island in the Bahamas while thinking of another far-off beautiful place made me realise again how unsatisfactory landscape painting can be, how one wants to escape the anecdotal or the topographical and capture what is THERE.Seascapes don't do it for me.I want to describe the wet , salty,weightless feeling, the shadows of seaweed [or leopard rays!]and the sweetness of emerald and turquoise so intense that no self-respecting kitschmeister would dream ofconcocting it for fear of being thought vulgar. It brought to mind the other place, the Himalaya, my favourite part of the earth, and the terrible drama that was being enacted on K2 as I swam. Climbers stuck without hope on that vast mountain's upper reaches after a "cliff of fall frightful"had destroyed a route of fixed ropes,swallowing some and trapping others.

In the good hotels of Kathmandu are a great many competent, even impressive mountain-scapes but they pale to banality in the face of what one sees and what one knows.Mountains are not topography, they are theatres in which the absurdly ambitious pit themselves against the elements and sometimes against their own humanity.When catastrophes occur mountaineers are as adept as anybody else at playing the blame game.Mistakes will be pointed out, countries will blame one another for incompetence or foolhardiness,but the dead will still be dead.And the living----?Sometimes I wonder about them. Not long ago, on Everest, a climber justified her climbing past a woman who had collapsed and was barely alive. The climber went on, justifying her action as 'triage' which I always thought meant helping the injured who have a chance of surviving when confronted with more than one victim.I have never understood it to mean walking past the only person in extremis because you wanted to get to the top.What achievement can excuse the failure to stop and hold the dying person's hand ?How can a mountainscape contain the elements of such a tragedy,? [and , perhaps, the unrecorded times when such courtesy WAS shown .]

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