Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday In The Sahara (Baptism of Solitude 2)

        There are probably few accessible places on the face of the globe where one can get less comfort for his money than the Sahara. It is still possible to find something flat to lie down on, several turnips and sand, noodles and jam, and a few tendons of something euphemistically called chicken to eat, and the stub of a candle to undress by at night.  Inasmuch as it is necessary to carry one’s own food and stove, it sometimes seems scarcely worth while to bother with the “meals “ provided by the hotels.  But if one depends entirely on tinned goods, they give out too quickly.  Everything disappears eventually – coffee, tea, sugar, cigarettes – and the traveler settles down to a life devoid of these superfluities, using a pile of soiled clothing as a pillow for his head at night and a burnous as blanket.

        Perhaps the logical question at this point is:  Why go?  The answer is that when a man has been there and undergone the baptism of solitude he can’t help himself. Once he has been under the spell of the vast, luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough for him, no other surroundings can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute.  He will go back, whatever the cost in comfort and money, for the absolute has no price.

(Since this piece was written, the Algerian war has changed the Saharan picture.  Now the hypothetical warrior would probably not go back, because without special documents it is very unlikely that he would be allowed in.  The Sahara is not on display at the present time.)  

Key:  Grand Erg Oriental Desert (top); Assekrem (second); Algeria/Libyan border (third); Algerian Sahara (fourth)

From:  Paul Bowles, Their Heads Are Green And Their Hands Are Blue.  New York, Random House, 1963.

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