a life of cheerful simplicity
I remembered yesterday why I subscribe to the New Yorker. Over breakfast I picked up the latest copy and read three consecutive and riveting items:
1. A piece by Malcolm Gladwell about Enron and the difference between puzzles and mysteries.
2. An essay on the current state and future direction of Hollywood, and
3. A short story about the elemental aspects of being in the mountains, by Primo Levi.
All three were very different, and all three were excellent. The story by Primo Levi, Bear Meat, is just about the best thing I’ve ever read about mountaineering:
> Evenings spent in a mountain hut are among the most sublime and intense that life holds. I mean a real hut, the kind where you seek shelter after a four-, five-, or six-hour climb and where you find few so-called comforts.
> Not that chairlifts and cable cars and such comforts are to be looked down on: they are, on the contrary, logical achievements of our society, which is what it is, and must be either accepted or rejected in its totality—and those who are able to reject it are few. But the advent of the chairlift puts an end to a valuable process of natural selection, by which those who reach the hut are sure to find, in its pure state, a small sample of a little-known human subspecies.
> Its members are people who don’t speak much and of whom others don’t speak at all, so there is no mention of them in the literature of most countries, and they should not be confused with other, vaguely similar types, who do speak, and of whom others speak: hot shots, extreme climbers, members of famous international expeditions, professionals, etc. All worthy people, but this story is not about them.
And these words, and the feeling behind them, are simply truthful and beautiful:
> “And, trust me, I am grateful to Carlo for having deliberately got us into trouble, for the night he made us spend, and for the various enterprises, senseless only on the surface, that he involved us in later on, and then for various others, not in the mountains, which I got into on my own, by following his doctrine. He was a young man full of earthly vigour who had a wisdom of his own, and may the earth in which he rests, not far from here, lie light on his bones, and bring the news, each year, of the return of the sun and of the frost.”