Archive - August 2009

1
Driving Mrs. Shriver
2
To Die on Kilimanjaro, Part 2
3
To Die On Kilimanjaro, Part 1
4
The Barber of Mozambique–The Man Who Made Theroux A Writer
5
Theroux's Other African Fiction, Part 9
6
Silver Dollar For The Peace Corps
7
Paul Theroux's: Girls At Play, Part 8
8
Tour Nepal and Tibet with Nepal RPCV
9
Outsiders in Africa, Part 7
10
Theroux & Tarzan & Me, Part 6

Driving Mrs. Shriver

During the short, intense political campaign of Sarge Shriver, who was running as the vice presidential candidate in ’72 with George McGovern, I was – for one day – Eunice Shriver’s designated driver.   I was in Philadelphia and volunteered to help Harris Wofford; he had once been Shriver’s Peace Corps co-founder and now was his campaign advisor. I was assigned to be Eunice’s driver. She had a series of campaign appearances scheduled that day, mostly at colleges and universities. I was to meet her early in the morning at the famous Rittenhouse Hotel on Rittenhouse Square. I was on time, parking illegally while the Shriver Campaign Advance Man for Philly rushed into the hotel to call up to her room and tell her we had arrived.   Minutes, then more minutes passed. I kept the car motor running until a beefy Irish cop got on me for parking in the hotel’s no parking . . .

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To Die on Kilimanjaro, Part 2

Phillip was nineteen years old the summer he went to Arusha, he said, picking up his story on the beach of the Blue Marlin Hotel in Malindi. He was “down from Oxford and out in Africa” for the long holiday and to see his parents. He had spent most of his early years away at school, flying back and forth with siblings to visit their parents in Africa. In Arusha his father was the Headmaster of a girls upper school. His mother was the school nurse, among other duties. And it was in Arusha, at an end-of-the-year party, that he met Gina, the young wife of the young sports instructor at the school. His name was Arthur and he was, Phillip said, “a fine bloke really, just a bit thick.” Arthur was active and outgoing, a warm and friendly person. “One of those life of the party types that I . . .

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To Die On Kilimanjaro, Part 1

There was a wonderful piece in The New York Times, a year or so ago, a special magazine section called Play, on November 2, 2007, written by Tom Bissell (Uzbekistan 1996) and author of Chasing the Sea as well as two other books. Tom went on assignment for the Times to climb Kilimanjaro. What is it about Kilimanjaro that makes people want to write about it? Hemingway wrote a long story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro,that had nothing to do with Kilimanjaro, but nevertheless Hemingway began his short story, “Kilimanjaro is a snow covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and it is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” Now Tom had the . . .

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The Barber of Mozambique–The Man Who Made Theroux A Writer

[I am not sure where I found this short piece by Theroux, but it says it all about him, and why he is such a great writer.] I remember a particular day in Mozambique, in a terrible little country town, getting a haircut from a Portuguese barber. He had come to the African bush from rural Portugal to be a barber. . . . This barber did not speak English, I did not speak Portuguese, yet when I addressed his African servant in Chinyanja, his own language, the Portuguese man said in Portuguese, ‘Ask the bwana what his Africans are like.’ And that was how we held a conversation – the barber spoke Portuguese to the African, who translated it into Chinyanja for me; and I replied in Chinyanja, which the African kept translating into Portuguese for the barber. The barber kept saying – and the African kept translating – . . .

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Theroux's Other African Fiction, Part 9

Theroux would return to Africa in fiction in two other novels. My Secret HIstory (1989) and My Other Life (1996). These are fascinating accounts of how a writer uses his own life to create something else. I’ll write about these books in upcoming blogs, but first let me tell you one story that Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965-67), author of the best book on the Peace Corps, Living Poor, told me. I had asked Moritz why he titled his travel book to Brazil, The Saddest Pleasure, taking the line from Paul Theroux’s Picture Palace where the Frenchman says, “Travel is the saddest of the pleasures.” Thomsen replied, “It was the Frenchman who said travel was the saddest of the pleasures. I wish you had asked him. Though now it occurs to me that perhaps there was no Frenchman and Theroux just made him up; he has been known to do things . . .

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Paul Theroux's: Girls At Play, Part 8

Girls At Play is Theroux’s second novel based on his experiences in Africa. In this novel three white women teachers in an upcountry girls’ school battle each other and Africa. It is in this book that B. J. Lebow, the first of Theroux’s Peace Corps characters, appears. “It’s sort of Jewish,” Lebow says of her name. “It used to be Lebowitz, I guess. You probably knew that, everybody does. But I’m no Jew. I went to Israel one summer. That cured me. What a bunch of boy scouts.” A San Diego liberal, she has gone to Africa to help, but can reconcile her Hollywood fantasies of Africa with her liberal outlook. The other women are Miss Poole, the Headmistress, who was born in Africa and cannot live anywhere else. She wants to run her school [and Africa] on Christian principles. The third woman is Heather Monkhouse. She has left her dull . . .

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Tour Nepal and Tibet with Nepal RPCV

Don Messerschmidt (anthropologist, writer, Himalayan tour leader and RPCV Nepal 1963–65) has announced that he has openings for travelers wishing to join two of his up-coming tours: (1) a trek in the shadow of Mt Everest, (2) a cross-Tibet tour by vehicle — each having the option of a  post-trip Nepal Jungle Adventure. • Nepal Tour, October 21 to November 3, 2009 (17 days) Sacred Sites Trail, Khumbu (Mt. Everest) Region, Nepal The trek, which starts and ends in Kathmandu, includes a 13-day trek among Sherpa villages and monasteries plus an optional visit to an high mountaineering camp: Arrive in Kathmandu. Fly to Lukla (c. 9,000 ft). Trek to Namché Bazaar (11,319 ft, in time for you to see the famous Saturday market). The trek then continues to monasteries and sacred sites on a Buddhist pilgrimage trail through Thamé, Khumjung, Phortsé, Pangboché and Dingboché (the highest village: 14,272 ft). At . . .

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Outsiders in Africa, Part 7

In mid-winter, 1968, I wandered into Discount Books & Records off Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. and spotted a thin novel entitled Fong and the Indians. The author was Paul Theroux. The setting was Africa. Theroux would write later of this novel, “I began writing about the Chinese man who ran the grocery store around the corner from where I lived in Wandegeya [in Kampala, Uganda] . . . The Chinese man, his grocery store, his Indian competitors, his African customers – these were my characters . . . I had written two novels before this, but Fong was the first piece of fiction that satisfied me.” Theroux would come back to this Chinese immigrant. In a New York TimesOp-Ed piece about Hong Kong (June 10, 1997), he mentioned again this lone Chinese family in Africa. What Theroux was writing about was not Africa and Africans, but about the outsiders . . .

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Theroux & Tarzan & Me, Part 6

I forgot about Theroux until late in 1967, in my last months as an APCD in Ethiopia. One day, in that wonderful crammed English and French Giannopoulos Bookstore at the top of Churchill Road, just off the piazza in Addis Ababa, I picked up a copy of Transition, the Ugandan literary magazine. In it was an essay, “Tarzan is an Expatriate,” written by Paul, who was identified as a lecturer in English at Makerere University in Kampala. There was no mention of the Peace Corps. In the essay, Theroux confessed that he spent his pre-adolescent years reading comic books inspired by the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. [Theroux would later tell Harris Wofford (PC Staff: D.C & Ethiopia 1962-66) – early architect of the Peace Corps and former Pennsylvania senator – that when he read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness he put his finger on the title page and said, . . .

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