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Kira Salak
October 17, 2006 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Kira Salak is a writer who embodies an old-fashioned spirit of adventure. She has kayaked the Niger River solo; during her time in Africa, she freed a slave. On another trip, she sampled Ayahuasca in the Peruvian jungle. At the age of 24, she trekked alone through the tribal violence of Papua New Guinea. Her work is a wonderful alternative to the blandness and narrowness of contemporary consumer society, in which there is nothing new to be discovered and everything can be reduced to lucre.
posted by jason's_planet (21 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
("freed a slave" links to a video. Could someone please add a warning after the text? I forgot.)
posted by jason's_planet at 1:09 PM on October 17, 2006


is a wonderful alternative to the blandness and narrowness of contemporary consumer society, in which there is nothing new to be discovered and everything can be reduced to lucre.

Wow, I was just going to say that about Unicorns.
posted by docpops at 1:17 PM on October 17, 2006


I like my lucre filthy.
posted by ND¢ at 1:29 PM on October 17, 2006


Good FPP except for the embarrassingly sophomoric last sentence.
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:48 PM on October 17, 2006


You know, it's not at all straightforwardly correct to say "Her work is a wonderful alternative to the blandness and narrowness of contemporary consumer society, in which there is nothing new to be discovered and everything can be reduced to lucre." Some have argued, and I think I agree, that work like this rests on a false notion of "authenicity" that in the last analysis serves to reinforce the neo-imperialist worldview in which areas not overly contaminated by capitalist development are "authentic" playgrounds for the consumer weary of the relentless onslaught of advertising, accessed via mass-marketed package tours, documentaries, and so on. In the end, this means that capitalism automatically inscribes itself everywhere: either an area is developed and thus affected directly by capitalism or it is not developed and serves as an escape valve that allows controlled, mediated, and packaged access to "authentic," "natural," (Zizek would say Real) experiences.

See also: eco-tourism, world music.

I don't mean to disparage Ms. Salak or her work, and I certainly don't think Zizek or Eco or Baudrillard have any of the answers, but I think this is worth thinking about.
posted by nasreddin at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2006


Whoa to the haters with the rapid fire snarking.
I first read her in The Best American Travel Writing 2003 which published her account of the Niger River trip. It was a decent story but it was so chopped down and disjointed that it made me say 'meh.' But now I see that it was edited down for a larger work, so I'll give some of this other stuff a try, thanks jason's_planet!
posted by peeedro at 1:53 PM on October 17, 2006


Whoa to the haters with the rapid fire snarking.

Point taken. And I was really enjoying the links as well, right up to the "embarrassingly sophomoric last sentence" as spacelegoman so aptly put it. Couldn't resist.

It's impressive anytime anyone, man or woman, can get by on their wits and skills and is willing to travel at the mercy of local cultures and customs. But that's where it ends for me. It's still travel. And applauding one type and deriding another (cruises, 4-star hotels) is just as infantile and tedious as shitting on suburban life v. urban. Banality is a reflection of one's inner ability or lack thereof to appreciate the beauty of the routine.
posted by docpops at 2:08 PM on October 17, 2006


It's funny that the words "wonderful alternative" in the "everything can be reduced to lucre" sentence link to Amazon.com -- a site that has done much to reduce the lucre in my bank account by many thousands over the years.
posted by Faze at 2:10 PM on October 17, 2006


I read her book Four Corners, about her trip to Papau New Guinea, several years ago. Although I admittedly enjoyed the "adventure" aspects of it, I have to agree with one of the reviewers on Amazon, herself a frequent traveler to PNG, who felt that the author had taken far too many unnecessary risks; basically, the reviewer felt the author should consider herself lucky to still be alive, and predicted that she wouldn't be living much longer if she continued venturing to remote lands and acting like an idiot.

It seems like that is the central conflict in a lot of the off-the-beaten-path travel literature I've read recently: on the one hand, the authors need to take risks, or no one is going to read their books. On the other, some of the risks they undertake are obviously and unquestionably foolish, and they should know better. There is such a thing as a calculated risk, so I suppose much of my respect for an author such as Ms. Salak comes from their ability to accurately assess the risks she chooses to face. And some of the key decisions take place long before the situation turns dangerous. I guess my armchair opinion, based on the one novel I read, is that she could have made different decisions that would have mitigated the risks she faced while still allowing her to tell her story. I dunno, just my .02 cents.
posted by mosk at 2:44 PM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


Meh. The conceit that the poor, underveloped, ex-colonies of the first world are unspoiled, spiritual playgrounds for the idle rich is not an alternative but rather a part of the "blandness and narrowness of contemporary consumer society".
posted by signal at 2:48 PM on October 17, 2006


Good FPP except for the embarrassingly sophomoric last sentence.

Thats why fark is better than metafilter. Some of us go for the sophmoric. You guys take yourselves too seriously.
posted by thisisdrew at 2:57 PM on October 17, 2006


MeFi needs more boobies.
posted by homunculus at 3:23 PM on October 17, 2006


The notion that poor undeveloped countries are unspoiled is patently ridiculous. Humans have been spoiling them for Hundreds of thousands of years, and in some of the places she's visited, they reduced humans to lucre as well.

It is annoying to view places in the world as being inaccessible unless you first shed your western culture values, safety nets, whatever. It is the great success of our modern world that we don't have to experience much of what she did.
posted by Pastabagel at 4:38 PM on October 17, 2006


I think signal meant "unspoiled" in the sense all those things about modern life we travel to get away from (including others like ourselves).

I read an Amazon review of "Cruelest Journey" which said she was accompanied by a photographer on that trip, even though it was presented as a solo journey. Not sure about her first book.

IMO the best travel literature are the historical accounts.
posted by stbalbach at 7:13 PM on October 17, 2006


cool, thanks
posted by es_de_bah at 7:27 PM on October 17, 2006


neo-imperialist worldview in which areas not overly contaminated by capitalist development are "authentic" playgrounds for the consumer weary of the relentless onslaught of advertising, accessed via mass-marketed package tours, documentaries, and so on. In the end, this means that capitalism automatically inscribes itself everywhere:

I agree with you to some extent. "Exotic" destinations are just as heavily marketed as the lame ones. I don't share your pessimism about how capitalism inscribes itself everywhere. But I do agree with you that these issues are important and worthy of further examination. Thank you for bringing it up.

But now I see that it was edited down for a larger work, so I'll give some of this other stuff a try, thanks jason's_planet!

You're welcome, peedro! Glad you enjoyed it! Anytime! (This is the kind of comment I was actually hoping this post would inspire.)

Banality is a reflection of one's inner ability or lack thereof to appreciate the beauty of the routine.

Wellll . . . what can I say? You and I part company on this. I hate the routine. You seem to like it. Oh, well. Diff'rent strokes and all that.

On the other, some of the risks they undertake are obviously and unquestionably foolish, and they should know better.

Good point. That's a very valid criticism of her work. At some point, you do have to step back and wonder just how much risk is actually appropriate in order to tell the story.

The conceit that the poor, underveloped, ex-colonies of the first world are unspoiled, spiritual playgrounds

Some people do think this way. I, for one, do not. I have never said or thought anything like this. I was addressing the spirit of adventure that animates Salak and her work and contrasting it to the banality, provincialism and self-satisfaction I see around me. The woman's got balls and I admire her for it. I don't think that Papuans are gentle spiritual sages dispensing timeless wisdom to alienated Westerners. I also abhor the sexism and tribal violence that permeates their culture. So you can't nail me on that one.

It's funny that the words "wonderful alternative" in the "everything can be reduced to lucre" sentence link to Amazon.com

Ms. Salak has to earn a living. As long as we need to go out there and get that lucre, I might as well direct some of it her way. I hope it'll make up for cheap bastards like me who get their books from the library ;)

In any event, I think that Salak is insanely cool and I admire her for the risks she is willing to take. Please read her books. Thanks to everyone who enjoyed this post. And if you didn't like it, maybe you'll like tomorrow's post better than this.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:42 PM on October 17, 2006



"sexism and tribal violence that permeate their culture"

Sorry 'bout that.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:45 PM on October 17, 2006


It's a frequent lament on this site that most "Americans" don't have a passport. (Heck, most "Americans" think that America is the same as The United States.) I think it's a shame also, it's important to travel, to know another language, to see that your culture is just one of many. Docpops says it better than I can:

It's impressive anytime anyone, man or woman, can get by on their wits and skills and is willing to travel at the mercy of local cultures and customs.

Here's where I disagree:

It's still travel. And applauding one type and deriding another (cruises, 4-star hotels) is just as infantile and tedious as shitting on suburban life v. urban.

Cruises, 4-star hotels, and the all-inclusive walled-in tropical vacation compounds are fantasy worlds for the visitor but maquiladoras for the host; dollars buy safety and happiness for one and opportunity ends at a voluntary servitude for the other. Yes, it is tedious to jab sticks at these arrangements, and I apologize for indulging, but that does not make them any less ugly.

In any event, I think that Salak is insanely cool and I admire her for the risks she is willing to take.

Those risks are the ante-up for later rewards. What gets shared by the adventure writing types is far more rewarding to the outside observer than most vacation photo albums.
posted by peeedro at 9:29 PM on October 17, 2006


You know who else freed a slave?

Aleksey Vayner
posted by Smedleyman at 11:02 PM on October 17, 2006


Good post, jason's_planet - I never heard of her, so I will enjoy sampling some of her writing - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 3:45 AM on October 18, 2006


On the other, some of the risks they undertake are obviously and unquestionably foolish, and they should know better.

Or maybe they know better but just don't care, and enjoy taking risks as part of what they enjoy doing?

Now I have no mythology of unspoiled tribal life either, besides there's a whole range of experiences to be had between travelling solo in Papua New Guinea and going on all-inclusive cruises where you don't have to lift a finger!, but I just don't see why I should be bothered by the voluntary risk-taking in this kind of exploring/ travelling. Or should I be concerned it's secretly setting a terrible example for the youths of today?

Funny cos I'd just been reading this article on how our culture has become too averse to risks (except maybe the exciting risk of getting premature liver failure, they failed to mention!).


Anyways, I'd never heard of her either, sounds interesting!
posted by pleeker at 4:20 AM on October 18, 2006


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