Friday, October 12, 2007

There's definitely a libretto here

As we approached the shoal surrounding Cape Arenas we admired the phosphorescence of the sea. Bands of dolphins enjoyed following our boat. When they broke the surface of the water with their broad tails they diffused a brilliant light that seemed like flames coming from the depths of the ocean. We found ourselves at midnight between some barren, rocky islands in the middle of the sea, forming the Caracas and Chimanas groups. The moon lit up these jagged, fantastic rocks, which had not a trace of vegetiation. All these islands are uninhabited, except for one where large, fast, brown goats can be found. Our Indian pilot said they tasted delicious. Thirty years back a family of whites settled here and grew maize and cassava. The father outlived his children. As he had become rich he bough two black slave, who murdered him. Thus the goats ran wild, but not the maize. Maize appears to survive only if looked after by man. The two slaves escaped punishment, as nothing could be proved. One of the blacks is now the hangman at Cumaná. He betrayed his companion, and obtained pardon by accepting being hangman.

from Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative (excerpts translated by Jason Wilson in Jaquars and Electric Eels)

(Thanks to David Feldman for the suggestion).

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