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Monday 24 August 2009

"The Lost City of Z"

I'm reading a book by David Grann about the last (because he never came back) mission undertaken by Percy Harrison Fawcett of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) - an expedition in 1925 to find the rumoured Lost City of Z, supposedly the ruins of a vast Amazonian civilisation.

A few snippets:

* "Fawcett was shocked to learn that, because so many workers died in the jungle, rubber barons, in order to replenish their labor supply, dispatched armed posses into the forest to kidnap and enslave tribes. [...] Evidence showed that the Peruvian Amazon Company had committed virtual genocide in attempting to pacify and enslave the native population: it castrated and beheaded Indians, poured gasoline on them and lit them afire, crucified them upside down, beat them, mutilated them, starved them, drowned them, and fed them to dogs. [...The investigation] estimated that some thirty thousand Indians had died at the hands of this one rubber company alone."

* "As [the president of the RGS] traced his finger over the map, he explained that the area was so unexplored that Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru could not even agree on their borders: they were simply speculative lines sketched through mountains and jungles. In 1864, boundary disputes between Paraguay and its neighbors had erupted into one of the worst conflicts in Latin American history. (About half the Paraguayan population was killed.)" - a parenthetical note, so dispassionate.

* "...lines from Ella Wheeler Wilcox's 'Solitude':

But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

* Fawcett's family motto: "Nec Aspera Terrent", essentially "Difficulties Be Damned"

* after his second expedition, during which he nicknamed the Amazon "the Green Hell", Fawcett wrote, "I wanted to forget atrocities, to put slavery, murder and horrible disease behind me, and to look again at respectacle old ladies whose ideas of vice ended with the indiscretions of so-and-so's housemaid. I wanted to listen to the everyday chit-chat of the village parson, discuss the uncertainties of the weather with the yokels, pick up the daily paper on my breakfast plate." But after a few months of "normality": "Deep down inside me a tiny voice was calling. At first scarcely audible, it persisted until I could no longer ignore it. It was the voice of the wild places, and I knew that it was now part of me for ever. Inexplicably - amazingly - I knew I loved that hell. Its fiendish grasp had captured me, and I wanted to see it again."

I love that phrase, "the voice of the wild places".

All bold emphases added by me.