"We shall not meet again; over the wave / Our ways divide"
April 27, 2015 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Take Nothing, Leave Nothing. How Simon Winchester came to be banned from the world’s most remote island, Tristan da Cunha. Previously.
posted by grouse (29 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Being banned beats being burned in a wicker man.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:09 PM on April 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


the curious similarity of the islanders’ appearances

can confirm
posted by dhartung at 6:10 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


And then he did it again! I don't buy his contrition or his rationale for how it's different this time around.

But I enjoyed the read.
posted by The Minotaur at 6:11 PM on April 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Actually, I somewhat regret my first comment, which was just an opportunity to be flip (and, I guess, I thought, gently -- in the same vein as Winchester). But the earlier photo in that same set shows at least one woman who is obviously unwilling to be photographed. That was when I had the revelation that, of course, how we would other these people if they weren't white, and then I realized that they were being othered anyway. It's the very fact that they are white that we can't see it, but if we can see it, maybe we can understand it better when we do it to anyone else.
posted by dhartung at 6:23 PM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


It stems from a somewhat bizarre British government decision, taken during World War II, to reclassify some of its more remote island possessions as ships. Tristan was transmuted into HMS Atlantic Isle, and its role was to patrol (from its rock-hewn state of immobility) for any German U-boats that might be lurking in the southern Atlantic.

This is much more of an aside, but wow. I knew that factoid, but the way it was put here, I finally understood what Orwell meant by Britain's renaming as Airstrip One.
posted by dhartung at 6:32 PM on April 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


The most elegantly written 'sorry not sorry' I've ever read.
posted by frumiousb at 6:34 PM on April 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


The Microsoft billionaire who arrived on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast with five helicopters full of bodyguards, and demanded that all available local lions be collected in one oasis so that he could see and picture them.

Myhrvold?
posted by jamjam at 6:36 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


We have an unceasing capacity to make ourselves nuisances, basically. Students of tourism science can and do construct elaborate theories from physics, of course, invoking such wizards as Heisenberg and the Hawthorne effect and the status of Schrödinger’s cat to explain the complex interactions between our status as tourist-observers and the changes we prompt in the peoples and places we go off to observe. But at its base is the simple fact that in so many instances, we simply behave abroad in manners we would never permit at home: we impose, we interfere, we condescend, we breach codes, we reveal secrets. And by doing so we leave behind much more than footfalls. We leave bruised feelings, bad taste, hurt, long memories.

Man this is everything I feel about tourism lately. They act like they're in a giant, outdoor theme park wherever they go.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:58 PM on April 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


Myhrvold?

Pretty sure it's Paul Allen

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Allen#Scientific_endeavors
posted by knoyers at 7:59 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Myhrvold?

Myhrvold would have cut one in exactly in half for a picture and then cooked the rest in a sou vide.

But they would have been perfectly cooked.
posted by 445supermag at 8:10 PM on April 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


the 1999 "previously" has 0 comments and the link is 404. It's as abandoned as a post on this site can be.

that is kind of thematic, actually
posted by thelonius at 8:33 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. . . Sounds like a setting for a Lovecraft story.
posted by rankfreudlite at 8:40 PM on April 27, 2015


Jamjam's link, reading it, fits the description very, very well, aside from the location, which I can see being changed. Allen seems to mostly be throwing money at things. Myhrvold went to Botswana to photograph ten very specific lions and, from the tone of it, would have been very displeased if it had turned out he'd been expected to do anything there besides photographing those ten lions. Certainly one is not left with the impression that Botswana has any human occupants, from his tone.

Winchester seems in some ways similar. These people aren't in a zoo. It's an exaggerated copy of hundreds or thousands of sub-1000-population small towns in the US and UK, I'm sure. Everybody knows everybody, everybody is at least distantly related to everybody, and old-fashioned morals about stuff like talking about the people a girl might have dated before she was married being verboten stick around longer than elsewhere because you've got little else to do besides recreationally judging your neighbors. My hometown was much bigger than this and yet a lot of it still held true. Slightly remarkable in size and remoteness, but not worth gawking at. At least you really do have to travel to see lions in their natural habitat. If I wanted to see people talk kind of old-fashioned and look pretty same-y and be boring, I could just go to Amish country.
posted by Sequence at 9:00 PM on April 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


"how we would other these people if they weren't white"

I don't know, lots of photojournalists and travel writers get PRETTY FUCKING EXCITED to photograph the Amish in Indiana (who do not wish to be photographed and have many lawsuits with the state over IDs as a result).

"I don't want to be photographed/written about," triggers a magical reaction in some human beings that makes them UTTERLY DETERMINED TO PHOTOGRAPH.

(I like Winchester's travel writing as a general thing.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 PM on April 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


To Her Majesty:

Napoleon's dead. There is no risk of American privateers attempting to rescue him.

Your humble servant
--Ocschwar
posted by ocschwar at 9:22 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The end of the essay reminds me, just a bit, of the first half of Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place. A Small Place is a delightful little book which provides the searingly angry response of the islanders that is missing in this piece (Jamaica Kincaid's islanders are Antiguan but they're also mightily annoyed at Brits and Americans).

Tourists are thoughtless, self-indulgent creatures who manifest as privileged and obnoxious Others at all times. And though I wince at the description of the San Diego woman in this piece--we of all cities understand obnoxious tourists!--I do recognize that we are all tourists somewhere.
posted by librarylis at 10:00 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heck, I'm a tourist in my own skin...
posted by Devonian at 3:31 AM on April 28, 2015


The older islanders incorporate nineteenth-century “thees” and “thous” into their speech

Were people still commonly addressing each other with those pronoun forms in the 19th century? I'm fairly sure they went out of wide use before then.
posted by acb at 4:26 AM on April 28, 2015


Charles Dickens, Hard Times. First published in 1854.

A critiques of industrial society in 19th century Victorian England... a sample, taken a random:

‘I’ve tried a long time, and ’ta’nt got better. But thou’rt right; ’t might mak fok talk, even of thee. Thou hast been that to me, Rachael, through so many year: thou hast done me so much good, and heartened of me in that cheering way, that thy word is a law to me. Ah, lass, and a bright good law! Better than some real ones.’
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:51 AM on April 28, 2015


I suppose should a global pandemic wipe out the human race this not quite genetically sustainable population will continue growing potatoes and catching lobsters in perpetuity, and that makes me feel a little bit better.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:17 AM on April 28, 2015


I gotta say, notwithstanding it as a trope in romantic ballads, "I have heard of the beauty of your Emily and have traveled lo these thousands of miles to see her can I come in" must get old after a while.

Anyway, those who want primary sources can find Lt. Booy's Rock of Exille: A Narrative of Tristan de Cuhna at archive.org. I'll try to pick up Winchester's book at the library today.

I'm like three pages in and there's been "some rumors say these folks are white and speak English" and many mentions of how the founder women were all black. On page 14 where Booy actually meets the islanders it seems to settle on "Mostly white, but..."
posted by Hypatia at 5:19 AM on April 28, 2015


I suppose should a global pandemic wipe out the human race this not quite genetically sustainable population will continue growing potatoes and catching lobsters in perpetuity, and that makes me feel a little bit better.

I wonder whether they'd still be around in the Stand Still, Stay Silent universe, thousands of miles away from the troll-haunted fringes of the known world.
posted by acb at 5:39 AM on April 28, 2015


A Small Place is a delightful little book which provides the searingly angry response of the islanders that is missing in this piece

The other aspect, of course, is the angry response that book received by many (though by no means all) readers in Antigua, for similar reasons of exposing too much and saying unkind things; that the author did so from the distance of a comfortable home in the US added to that.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:47 AM on April 28, 2015


Haven't been there myself for a long time, but here are reports of "thee" and "thou" being used, in variant at least, into the 21st century in Yorkshire.
posted by Devonian at 7:44 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


the 1999 "previously" has 0 comments and the link is 404. It's as abandoned as a post on this site can be.

You can find a 2006 version of that page, "St. Helena, South Atlantic Ocean," on the Wayback Machine.
posted by grouse at 8:29 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm about ready to go live somewhere like that, but the reality of the cliquishness and quirkiness of small communities, & their occasional hostility towards outsiders sorta ruins the whole idea. How do you be the new guy in an old, small place?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:12 AM on April 28, 2015


How do you be the new guy in an old, small place?

Bring a six-pack of cold Coors Light. That ought to do it.
posted by GrapeApiary at 1:41 PM on April 28, 2015


The other aspect, of course, is the angry response that book received by many (though by no means all) readers in Antigua, for similar reasons of exposing too much and saying unkind things; that the author did so from the distance of a comfortable home in the US added to that.

Indeed! The complex issues of how the book was created weren't taught when I studied it in school (interestingly enough, as I think that fact is quite pertinent) but I do still think that part one of the book especially is relevant to any discussion of tourists barging in and causing harm.

The social harm done by an oblivious tourist is all the worse for it being invisible to them. In the case of the author of this essay, the invisible harm he caused to the islanders is made visible in a way which he can understand but not necessarily accept. To me, Kincaid's admittedly problematic motivation (to make the harm visible) is the same.
posted by librarylis at 4:21 PM on April 28, 2015


How do you be the new guy in an old, small place?

My hometown was not so small as this, but to look at my grandparents: Help. They arrived in a small town from New England in the 1950s with two small children. During the sixty-odd years that followed, my grandfather worked most of his career as a family physician. They were active in their church. They hosted exchange students. They founded a Habitat chapter. When volunteers were needed, they volunteered. If you found a stray dog but couldn't take it in, ask them, if they can't keep it they'll find somebody who can, you know? That's how it always was. By the time he died, he was a fixture.

I have mixed feelings about small towns because I'm not good at fitting in, but I still sometimes harbor fantasies of going off somewhere to do the same. I don't think it's so much that it's hard as that most people don't want to give and give and give and then just hope the community will someday recognize it. You can't spend all your time like, oh, well, where I came from, we did it like THIS and that was way better.

I wonder, thinking about that, how these people would take to someone showing up and being like HEY, I HEARD THERE WAS KNITTING AND LOBSTER AND I AM ALL ABOUT KNITTING AND LOBSTER.

Actually, I kind of am all about knitting and lobster. But--they also probably knit English, those philistines.
posted by Sequence at 5:27 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


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