The weather closes in, aircraft and helicopter flights are cancelled, I have some preparations to make but I'm basically spinning my wheels. I talk to people, I talk to everybody. The mood in Mactown is very different now, at the beginning of the season, than in February which is when I'd been here before. In February, most of the population is getting ready to leave, some are preparing to stay for the winter. Those leaving, can't wait to get out: those staying, can't wait for the others to be gone. All have formed their conversational cliques, none wish to meet someone new. Grumpiness was prevalent, and a rhapsodic gushing beaker coming down from Pole was just an irritation.
But now, near the beginning of the season, folks are friendly and open. As always, my gas-station shirt has its oval script-cursive name patch 'Tony' and that's half of the conversational opener. I talk to janitors, I talk to managers, I talk to scientists with egos larger than Erebus, I talk to mechanics and GA's. I am everywhere at once, because I am not going anywhere: the weather is bad, Thanksgiving is upon us, there are no flights.
We put the aethalometer outside on the snow and plug it
in. It works perfectly and gradually warms up to a good operating
temperature. I talk to the helicopter people, I get the safety briefings,
In the dining hall, I introduce my Russian friends to
a USAP group who will be setting up a parallel camp at Vostok to help support
the ice drilling. No, I'm not going.
We go for a stroll.
It's a blowy, snowy, no-fly day. But our destination is another world, one that I'd never visited before in Mactown.
Just as at Pole (only larger), there's a greenhouse full of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and HUMIDITY. All of which are rare.
Outside in a cargo area, a large piece of equipment stands
waiting to be shipped back to the States, decorated with snow and icicles.
It has pressed its last pair of trousers. But why on earth
was it brought here in the first place ?? WHY did the Program
decide it needed one of these?
Not too far away, a salvage box reminds us how far technology
Thanksgiving is celebrated here on Saturday, so that loss
of work can be minimized and not too many people will have to curtail their
enjoyment. I tried to get my camera into the dining hall but it was
intrusive, embarassing, it didn't feel right. Many people were beautifully
dressed, metamorphosed from their overalls and jackets into ephemeral butterflies,
seeking a transitory light. There were kilts and silk dresses and
patent-leather shoes and a handsome young buck in a white tux.
The food was astounding. Forty-eight turkeys had
been roasted and carved, twenty gallons of giblet gravy, uncharted
expanses of delicacies stretched to the horizon. It was a SPREAD,
a banquet. And with good reason: the new foodservice manager had
formerly been executive chef at a resort in Vegas. He was plump and
clearly enjoyed his own food.
The style, the connection were there. We were on a cruise ship, it was tropical seaspray rather than snowflakes on the outside of the windowpanes.
But I'm still not going anywhere. No flights.
I mooch over to the Coffee House and sit at the varnished-wood
bar. I order a latte.
Yes, a latte.
I'm in Antarctica and I order a latte.