Saturday is pizza day at south pole. I only know one person out of 188 here, so I've been eating meals alone -- where alone is a relative term. It means I sit in the galley in a seat that has an empty seat next to it. Otherwise, the galley is full of people. Antarctic people are used to "strangers" appearing at their eating places and disappearing just as suddenly. People are friendly, but don't go out of their way to make conversation. So "strangers" eat in silence, usually, even though they're sitting at the same table as everyone else.
It gives me the chance to listen to other people's conversations. This is what I overheard in the south pole galley over pizza dinner last night:
"No really. I'm a member of the National Association of Competitive Eaters. The reigning champ is a woman. I don't know how she puts it away. They call her 'quarter ton' but she's over 500 pounds. I've only ever been able to get to the semi-finals. I'd have to work on my eating to get past that."
"I was at base camp most of the season. They try to summit in May. I figured I'd get the feel of it first. This May I'm going to try. I just love Nepal."
"If he thinks I'm going out there to put up the scaffolding, he's got another thing comin'. Did you see what happened last time we did that? The pins sheared and it nearly came down on Ron. What the hell's he thinking?"
"No, I don't have a boyfriend and I hope you're not planning to get in line."
Yesterday I entertained myself by sneezing at -60F. It first happened by accident. I sneezed and a cloud of ice formed with a crack in front of my face. There were a few more sneezes coming, and I was happy to experiment by sneezing into and with the wind to the same results. The sneeze literally solidifies into a cloud of ice right in front of you and it makes a crackling sound.
Realizing there was a plethora of body fluid games I could play, I tried spitting. That too froze a few inches from my face. It didn't make the same crackling sound, though.
There are, of course, such things as snotcicles. In the cold your body will attempt to keep its membranes warm by making your nose run. When this happens, your nose is basically running with clear water, but it still comes out your nose and it still freezes and yes, it freezes your nose to your neck gator. No pictures. I'm sure you're grateful.
The other body fluid thing I thought about is pissing into a -50F wind. I didn't try that. Though the words "clear and copious" run through my brain regularly. We know we're hydrated when we're producing clear and copiously. We're supposed to keep track of that and we do. They show us movies of urine and people drinking a lot. It's part of the training and they're right about it. Once I didn't follow the rule and bad things happened. Now I drink at least 3 liters per day.
So there you have polar outdoor entertainment.
The library at south pole stations consists mainly of books people have left here over the years. Airport paperbacks from the ages. There's a lot of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. A lot less science fiction than I would have guessed. Books with covers that proclaim, "Soon to be a major motion picture," and you never heard of the movie that was supposed to come out in 1977.
There was a Ram Dass hardcover that fell opened to a page on happiness. It was about how sadness and misery are contrivances of the ego based on events in a "reality" that's largely the fabrication of the mind.
There was a book that was composed of essays on the philosophy of C.S. Lewis, in which every page bore sections that were underlined in pencil. I tried reading some of the sections. And then I stopped.
There was the entire collection of John Steinbeck novels. At least fifty books of poetry.
No less than four copies of "The DaVinci Code", two hardcover, two paperback. Three copies of Jerri Nielsen's book, Ice Bound, which chronicles incredible survival events that happened right here on station.
I settled on Mickey Spillane. I can't say why. I read a chapter of a Paul Theroux book, a chapter of a book by Peter Matthiessen, half of The Pearl, and a "new thriller" called Magic by the author of Marathon Man, which was soon to be a motion picture in 1978, which I never heard of.
The beat and meter of a Mike Hammer book pounds through polar haze.
"She was almost beautiful, with a body that could take your mind off beauty and put it on other things."
They don't let you write like that anymore. There's probably a good reason.
The ceremonial south pole is a piece of junk.
It's placed about 30 feet from the actual south pole and is surrounded by flags of the nations that ratified the Antarctic Treaty.
The pole itself seems to be manufactured from old soup cans. They're painted red and white in barber pole fashion. Atop the soup cans is a wooden green disk about six inches in diameter, and a silver aluminum ball is mounted on top of the disk. The whole mess sticks out of the ice about three and a half feet.
The soup cans are all wobbly and crooked. The wooden disk is chipped and the ball is dented.
If you are a U.S. congressman you are made to stand at this thing and have your picture taken. Foreign dignitaries are photographed here. Tourists who pay $25,000 US to fly round trip from South America to the south pole video themselves in front of the ceremonial pole. Adventurers who ski 800 miles from the coast over six weeks of grueling hardship consider this the marker of accomplishment.
And then they stand in front of it, and it's a piece of junk.
Now I have taken a picture of my own reflection in the dented surface.
It's the idea that counts.
South Pole Station -- November, 2005