Recently I heard of the death of Peter Matthiessen, the American author and naturalist at the age of 86. When I say “heard” I more properly mean “read” as it was on the internet that I obtained this sad news. One is more likely to receive news from this source nowadays rather than hearing of events as in former days or so it seems.
Like so many I had been introduced to Matthiessen’s writings by “The Snow Leopard”, a stunning physical and spiritual adventure set in the Himalayas. This is one of those books which remind me, in my godless state, of something other out there. I recall blue sheep, the incredible remoteness of destinations and Matthiessen’s strong, craggy, browned face staring back at me from the book’s cover like a latter day Saint Francis of Assisi.
I salute Matthiessen for his tireless work in the world of wildlife, his vivid travelogues, his skills as a storyteller able to engage, thrill and inform his audience, and his intelligent longevity. From the perspective of my cultural circumstances I felt there was something about him of the learning, the purity and the reverence for Nature of the early Celtic Church. It is the loss of a keen focus in a world where much does not get even a second glance.
It was Friday and the countdown to The Promised Land that promised to be the weekend was well under way. Ironic that Biblical concerns still had relevance in this age. It had been a difficult period of changing procedures and low morale and a colleague suggested we did something, went somewhere different in our lunch hour.
We waited for the traffic to stop then headed for a scarlet building hiding behind its much newer and taller surroundings, mostly hotels and South American restaurants. My friend said that it had been described as the city’s “forgotten” market. Climbing four storeys, we briefly took in the myriad of antiquities for sale until we were stopped in our tracks by a Bren Gun, big, lean, brown, with a light patina of rust, perched on a sustained firing tripod. We wanted this weapon though we knew we lived in homes too cramped for such supposedly unnecessary items.
We excitedly discussed this antique over tea and scones in a rooftop glass structure with views of railway tracks. My friend pronounced “scones” as in “cones”, I as in “cons”. I fantasised about a use for this inert gun, proposing that we would volunteer, as a developmental opportunity, to attend the next senior managers meeting. We would present the Bren gun wordlessly to the Area Manager and only briefly hang around to view the bemusement. We of course would expect to be dismissed though we suspected that the reason for this would not be fully understood by the decision makers. We chuckled, enjoying the last moments in this oasis in the heart of a city winding up for Friday night.