Half-way through Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia. I had so looked forward to this travel narrative, but so far it's been like chewing rubber: I keep trying to digest it, but is taking a lot of work. The book is organized around micro chapters - none are more than 3 pages. For the most part, the book follows Chatwin's chronological journey into the Patagonian wilderness, circa 1974.
I've learned, thus far, that the bleakness of the southernmost tip of Argentina, was home to many unusual tenants: Welsh shepherds, German and Boer (South African) isolationists, Spanish Monarchists, Italian bar-keeps, drunken indigenous "Indians" (referred to, when servants, as "peons" - yikes), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Chatwin's own journey is meandering. It doesn't have a story arc, so I'm impatient with it. I am not altogether sure who he is or why he is there and I'm squarely in the middle of the book. The historical anecdotes that he tells and the physical descriptions of the folk who feed him and give him palates on which to crash, are pretty amazing. I say historical in the loosest possible way. There is no way of knowing if the legends are anything more than just that. He presents 3 possible endings to the story of Butch Cassidy, each with their own backing evidence. All 3 are fascinating and 1 is pretty darn gruesome. He also gives some pretty compelling evidence that Coleridge's Ancient Mariner was based on an actual 16th century, English adventurer, John Davis, who massacred a bunch of penguins and barely survived the voyage out of Argentina with 3 barrels of tainted water. That last bit gave the English major in me little goosebumps down the spine.
Here's an example of a stellar description: "The optimistic plumbing of half a century had collapsed and reeked of ammonia." And further down the same page: "He had a magnificent athlete's body, but the accordion of his forehead whined a story of immobility and repressed ambition." (p. 84) See, happy stuff.