Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Weekend’s Over

It’s about 10:50 on Sunday night down here, and of course the sun is still shining bright as noon. I’m in a bit of a sentimental mood, just watched “Legends of the Fall” for the first time. Now I’m drowning my sorrows in a cup of Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time tea listening to Neil Young.

So, I guess life down here has settled into a routine. I can breathe, I can sleep, and I can get dressed to go out in under 5 minutes. I’ve decorated some, a couple of pictures of Zarah on my wall and one of my pictures from the Botanical Gardens; green is amazing. I’ve managed to do a little work here and there although I’m still waiting for Clem to arrive, my advisor and overlord. He’s due in on Tuesday. A delay is not unlikely as temperatures here have dropped about 20 degrees from the beautiful -20’s we enjoyed on Saturday, the winds kicked up too, close to 20 knots and you can see the wind blown snow like fog on the horizon.

So, this weekend proved interesting, mostly because of the shipment of booze that arrived on Saturday and went on sale that night. Like everything else down here, it was rationed out. A resident of South Pole station is allowed 1 bottle of hard liquor, or 1 six-pack of “fancy” beer or 2 six-packs of the “not so fancy” beer. I’m no lush and I’d like to think I have a little class so I went with the six of Bass, my fancy pants allowance. Very reasonable prices I must note. My Bass set me back $7, but the real steal was the Captain Morgan at $10.

Now, we are all aware of the vast wonders of intoxication, I sure am. Yet, the term “social lubricant” became freakishly obvious to me as the station started to throw a few back. Not that this is an unfriendly place; I wouldn’t say that. People are generally friendly here. Still, the normal socialization level here isn’t exactly that of an MTV Spring Break house. Most people work long, cold, hard days here. When they get in, its for food and rest. Well a few drinks in and people started chatting, laughing, flirting, running around, and dancing. For a few hours last night, I almost forgot I was in the middle of a vast and frozen hell.

We were all gathered in the galley. They were screening some films that station residents had filmed in the past 2 years as part of the annual film festival (now 2 years running). It was meant to inspire people to get involved this year. Man, there were some crazy films. Someone had the stroke of brilliance to remake “The Red Balloon”. Amazingly done, the red contrasting so well against the striking white and blue background.

It was fun really. I met a cool dude from Montana who was working as a carpenter here. He actually came down on the same flight from McMurdo as I did. I actually remembered him because he wasn’t wearing his fleece hat like all the rest on the plane. Instead he replaced it with a really nice black cowboy hat. I told him about how much I loved camping in Glacier National Park with my sister a few years back (can you believe how long Jenya?) and how Steinbeck had called Montana the “Crown of the Continent”. I think it got to him.

Sadly, I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the event and left my camera in my room.

Needless to say today was a quiet one, some recovery necessary from the night before. The natural dehydration from the climate doesn’t exactly mesh well with the induced dehydration from alcohol; I woke up with cotton in my mouth and sandpaper on my lips. I made some really cool panoramic pictures today by stitching together a number of photos from the last few days. You should check them out at http://astro.uchicago.edu/~rfriedman/blog/panphotos/, they should be up by the end of the day. Some are better than others. I am particularly proud of the one of the station.

I took that one on a walk Saturday. I managed a snowmobile ride from MAPO back to station so I had some extra energy to spend. I walked all the way out to the limits of the station. I have no idea what direction I was going, since technically every way is north and I have no idea how they reconcile that here. Anyway, the way I went was past some construction shops (carpenter, electrician, etc. headquarters) and then a huge cargo area. The cargo “berms” were ridiculous. Huge stacks of lumber, old equipment from now decommissioned experiments, new equipment for those just starting; I’d estimate it being a quarter mile square. I stopped when I reached the satellite communications radar facility, a huge white sphere that looks like it’s a prop from Spaceballs, and turned back. As usual, I took plenty of pictures, so here is a sample.

My first stop was the old station, under the Dome. The buildings under the dome are ~20 feet below the snow.



Being inside the Dome was pretty cool actually, although I have to admit it doesn’t really come out that well in pictures.




On the surface, walking around the station grounds is a little treacherous. People are constantly whizzing by on snowmobiles and it’s really a big construction zone here, not to mention an airfield too. Here is a bulldozer dragging a sled to “pave” the snow.


I absolutely loved this when I saw it. If you didn’t notice yet, the buildings here are a bit too functional. I really liked these guys’ sign … if you cant see, it reads “South Pole Electric, 1st .. and only.”


So I have no idea what berm means, but I guess it’s the dry land equivalent of dock?


These berms go on forever with so much stuff! I couldn’t fit it all in on picture, but here is an idea.


The end of my walk was the satellite radar facility on the right. The arch on the left Is a shelter for vehicles on bad weather days.


I guess, these guys have a little good humor in them, although there is something a little twisted about a scrap metal Christmas tree.


Finally, this is where the hard-core people live. Its called “summer camp” since living inside these canvas covered barracks would not be possible during the winter here. Of course none of the geeks live here; we get the cushy accommodations. Well, I’m not complaining.



I’ve also managed to watch some great movies the last few days; Cool Hand Luke, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Crash (last half), 9 to 5, Legends of the Fall. I have to recommend The Good the Bad and the Ugly. It’s absolutely amazing. Ok, time for bed.

1 Comments:

Anonymous jstrysko said...

Robert, your narrative is evocative of Kafka or Dostoevsky. It's both depressing and profound, jaded but innocent. Haunting but humorous.
I'm actually serious.
Other news: I bought a Tofurkey today.

2:56 PM CST  

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