from cosmos to earth

Alexander von Humboldt starts as a mine inspector. befriends the Romantics circle in Jena, wants to join Napoleon in Egypt, to circumnavegate the globe with Captain Baudin. He travels to Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia. He sees a meteor shower and an eclipse in Cumaná and the passage of Mercury over the Sun at Callao. Learns to live with earthquakes and volcanoes. Thinks about distances, regions, temperatures, longitudes, heights, hemispheres. Looks at plantains, valerians, arenarias, ranunculuses, medlars, oaks, pines. Compares rhododendrons. Eats some chocolate. Explores the course of the Orinoco River and finds the Casiquiare Canal, climbs 19,286 feet up the Chimborazo, sets a world record, runs out of breath. Stops. Sees the Pacific from atop the Andes. Turns around, goes down to the Amazon and looks at some guano. Thinks about fertilizers. Sees yellow eels biting horses in rivers, snakes chasing rats into houses, iguanas drying in the sun. He is not bitten by hairy bees, not attacked by a jaguar. Mosquitoes, zancudos, chigoes and aradores do feed on him. His partner Aimé Bonpland collects plants and insects, sends them over to Europe. Pirates steal them.

Alexander von Humboldt

Jean Jacques Elisée Reclus tries to be a farmer in Colombia (1854-57). The land is so fertile, the landowners are so few, the slaves make him so sad. He wants to learn how to farm, but no one will teach him. He tries to teach languages, but no one shows up. He wants to live with the Arawak Indians, “far from civilized society and have no other company than nature, my books and my projects.”[1] His mule dies. He gets malaria. His partner Jaime Chassaigne clears the field, plants bananas, coffee, sugar, vegetables, builds a town house, makes a fence. He gets tired and leaves. Reclus realizes he does not want to be alone. He goes back to France. He never goes back. [to be continued…]

[1] (Dunbar 1978, 35)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
close-alt close collapse comment ellipsis expand gallery heart lock menu next pinned previous reply search share star