Friday, August 13, 2010

Attu, 25 February 1945


O Rare Rosita…


The weather is inclement today, which, in our Aleut dialect, means that it is damn near deadly. The debates on whether or not to go to chow, which involves fifteen minutes of struggling into special clothes and half an hour of battling the blizzard, are really intense. Whether you get more energy eating than you lose making the trip is a matter for serious, unscientific argument. With our hotplate we are in a better position than most huts, and my own solution is one trip a day to the mess hall. 


The Quonset hut and its entrance
The weather has an effect on everyone’s nerves. I believe that if effects Gene [Elliott] more than most. He is always depressed when it is storming. I hate to go out in the stuff, but once having made the trip I feel good, like after running white water (except Box Canyon) or making a good climb. But Gene, who seems to be able to venture out without a preliminary mental struggle, comes in irritated and depressed.


Last night, however, he slid down into the hut just as the tea was being poured and decided that hereafter before leaving anywhere he would phone and tell the people at the place where he was going to put on the pot to boil. He is amusing irritated with his own irritation and last night was wearing a mental hair shirt because , when one of the other censors kidded him at chow, he stood up and was all set to brain him a crockery coffee cup. Fortunately the intended victim found the whole thing funny. 


There is a lot of the irrational in our life up here. My reaction to no mail is that way, darling. Your letter, explaining the difficulties in getting time to write, came in a couple of days ago and it makes me feel the bastard complet to have made you unhappy. And the worst of it is that even when I wrote I knew there was good reason for the lack of mail. I am truly sad, my sweet, for the thing I want most is for you to be happy. Just the thought of you fills me with a tenderness and longing which always threatens t overflow into tears. It makes me understand the Pathetique, even. And tonight when the radio had the second half of Fidelio with Mr. T doing right by Mr. B, I lay on the cot and looked at your picture and watched your expression change with the mood of the music. 


In talking to Gene last night I mentioned that I longed so much to be home that, for the first time in my life, I worry about the plane trip. He said he felt the same way, and also that other he had talked to had worried. It is a completely baseless worry, but the safety record of the air service out here is incredible; it is simply a manifestation of the dread that something might delay or prevent homecoming. In the same way I fear a freeze of furloughs, which there is no reason to expect. One of the fellows in our hut, Smitty, has been due out of here for more than a week now and so far his orders have not showed up. He takes the delay very well, but the rest of us—Gill, who is due to leave in 17 days; Hart, in 43, and I in 63—are sweating out his departure in earnest, nightmaring about similar snafus in our own cases.
I saw in a recent copy of the Saturday Review of Literature that Edmund Wilson is being given a polite sacking by the New Yorker as a literary critic. He is t go to Europe as some sort of special correspondent. This is too bad, for he had replaced John-Boy as my favorite critic. For instance in the February 3rd edition he has a marvelous mauling of Lin Yutang. He echoes our complaints about the unheathen Chinee, which, of course, makes him deeply perceptive in my opinion. He says:
                Lin Yutang is a professional Chinese. I don’t suppose that he began by being one. I did not read “My Country and My People,” which many people seemed to find interesting, so that I cannot trace the stages of his progress. But it is certain that at the present time he is hardly any longer what he may once have been: a comparative critic of civilizations. He is a Chinese for women’s club discussions, for book-of-the-month choices, for big publishers’ advertisements. One of the most depressing features of American culture is its capacity for attracting the most banal elements of the cultures of other nations and rendering them more banal by applauding and paying them on a scale they could hardly have hoped for at home. The English sent us Hugh Walpole and, later on, Somerset Maugham; the French sent us Andre Maurois and Bernard Fey. Now China has given us Lin Yutang…the first chapters of “The Vigil of a Nation” are made up of a loose tissue of platitudes which is at moments almost unbelievable…

I have just finished reading “Kabloona” by a French vicomte who spent 18 months living with the most primitive Eskimoes in Northern Canada. It has a lot of crap in it, but most of it is good and there are parts which are both excellent and charming. One passage I liked particularly told of his visit to a missionary serving in an incredibly remote village, where he lived in a cave which had an average winter temperature of 58 below. The missionary had taught a few of the Eskimos to write, and he wrote a note to one asking him to guide his visitor back to the post. The reply, which de Poncins includes as an illustration of the bashfulness of the Eskimos, was:

Since the white man has no companion for this journey, I shall go with him. I greet the white man. I go now to hunt seal for the journey. What shall I do? I will be so shy with the white man. Write to me. Encourage me. Ittimangnerk greets the priest.
There was also a bit of philosophical writing which was interesting but with which, of course, I did not agree:
If  war comes tomorrow, I shall not know it. If a sidereal cataclysm destroys half the surface of the globe, I shall not hear of it. Man’s pride lies in feeling himself one with his kind, in the knowledge that he is a member of human society; we, at Gjoa Haven, have not this honor. We are the tail of the lizard, cut off from the body and continuing to wriggle.
In my present mood I can think of nothing more delightful than t be cut off from society, or all but a very small segment of it. And I have recently decided that it would be a disadvantage to learn Spanish fluently. My idea of a perfect life consists of being somewhere with you where we cannot understand enough of what is being said to be disturbed by it. Just as I like folk music as long as I don’t know the words, I like people as long as I have no idea what they think.

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