Previous posts in this discussion:
PostMy Fascination with Caves (Enrique Torner, USA, 08/12/17 5:13 am)
I would like to offer our loyal WAISer Eugenio Battaglia my deepest condolences on the passing of his cousin, world-renowned speleologist Giovanni Badino.
Even though I didn't know him personally, I wish I had. He and I shared a common fascination: old caves! Ever since I was a kid and visited the Caves of Altamira in Santander (on the northern coast of Spain) with my family, I have always been mesmerized by the natural beauty of caves. At that first experience (it must have been in the early seventies), in retrospect, I was very lucky to be able to visit these caves, because, in 1977, they were closed to the public for fear of further deterioration. They were not open again until 1982, when they created their first museum. Even though these caves were discovered by Modesto Cubillas in 1868, it was not until 1875 that Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, a lawyer and amateur archeologist, owner of the land that included the caves, personally saw the caves and realized the possible importance of this discovery. It took him several years to convince the scholarly world of their importance.
The caves contain among the oldest examples of cave art in the world, with black, red, and polychromatic drawings of bison, horses, deer, humans, and other elements interacting among themselves in several ways, like dancing, hunting, fishing, and performing old religious rituals. In 1934, famous English sculpture artist Henry Moore (1898-1986) visited the caves and, ecstatic, called them the "Royal Academy of Cave Painting." I am attaching a picture of one of their most famous drawings.
After I moved to the US in 1987, thanks to a Catalan bank scholarship ("La Caixa", with which I bet John Heelan is acquainted, as well as our Spanish WAISers) that allowed me to study at Indiana University, I couldn't help myself not to visit a cave that was near Bloomington, where I lived: the Bluesprings Caverns, in Bedford. I loved their underground river, and I really enjoyed navigating it with my then girlfriend, now wife. This river turns out to be the longest subterranean river in the US: it's 3 miles long. A couple years later, thinking of a romantic way to propose to her, I took her to Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the longest cave system in the world. I had read that it had a place where, many years ago, a young couple whose parents didn't want them to get married did the unthinkable, and had a priest (or pastor, I don't remember) marry them in secret. My plan was to propose to her at that same place. The problem was that there were so many in our guided tour that, when we reached the place, I realized I couldn't do it without becoming a public spectacle. I ended up proposing to her outside the caves, at the edge of a river. Well, my wife was so glad I didn't propose inside the cave! As a matter of fact, she didn't think the inside of a cave was a romantic place to propose; she had always dreamed of that happening at a nice, quite restaurant! Bummer! I guess our concept of "romantic" can vary a lot among individuals. Well, she ended up marrying me after all!
Well, don't you think, Eugenio, that your cousin and I would have gotten along quite well? I was doing some online checking on Giovanni Badino to get better acquainted with his work, and I came across a website that I thought would do him honor at this time. I wonder if Eugenio knows about this experience. This happened in 1994 in the cave Sima Aonda, in Tepul, Venezuela, the cave where the opening scene of Steven Spielberg's movie "Arachnophobia" took place. Giovanni Badino and his team of 10 were exploring the cave when heavy floods caused a waterfall that dragged them down the bottom of the cave, putting them in serious danger. I'm not going to tell you the rest of the story. You can read it in the website of Science magazine:
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Eugenio. May you take comfort in God and all the good your cousin did for humanity.
JE comments: A most touching tribute. It's sad when you discover a kindred spirit only after that person is gone. My first cave experience was the legendary Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri. It's the one Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher were supposedly lost in. I must have been 9 or 10, but still vividly recall the tour guide turning off the lights and saying, "now you know what it means to say you can't see your hand in front of your face." From that point onward, I developed a healthy respect for caves.
Altamira, Santander, Spain
Caves I've Visited
(John Heelan, UK
08/13/17 4:51 AM)
I have only four experiences of caves, two in Spain as a tourist and two in the UK. The first was when we lived in Derbyshire, we would visit the "Blue John mines" in Castleton.
The second was far more scary. One of our opponents in my rugby playing days was an enclave of Welsh miners, imported to SE Kent to mine the coal seam that extended under the sea in chalk galleries and thus very dangerous to work. On our first trip there, the miners asked if we would like to see the seams, led us to the mineshaft, encased us in a cage which they then dropped what seemed like a thousand feet out of control, scaring the life out of us before the game! Never again did we fall for that trick! Over the years we made many friends among that mining community who were great hosts and very tough opponents.
JE comments: Sheesh. That's the perfect way to psych out your opponents--bury them alive!
- Caves...and a Thank You (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/13/17 5:43 AM)
Enrique Torner's post of August 12th was very touching. I am grateful to Enrique, and also envious (in a good sense) of his chance to see the fantastic caves of Altamira. It must have been a wonderful experience.
Thanks, grazie, gracias.
JE comments: WAIS doesn't usually publish "attaboys," but I've greatly enjoyed our topics of the weekend: caves and memoir-writing. And with our several posts reminiscing about caves, we've figured out how to combine the two.
Indulge me here: Can we say that effective memoirs are the ones that penetrate most deeply into the caves of the self? This is Freudian stuff.
Next up on memoirs: Boris Volodarsky.
(John Heelan, UK
08/15/17 2:56 PM)
JE commented on memoirs and caves (13 August): "Can we say that effective memoirs are the ones that penetrate most deeply into the caves of the self?"
This remark harks back to our original point of departure--honesty in memoirs. As a researcher into literary and artistic figures (e.g. "Lorca and his ilk," viz, Lorca, Dalí, Buñuel and Picasso) via biographies and especially their letters, I realised that the more I discovered about my celebrity targets, the more I realised that they were no different to most of us--warts and all. One would be surprised if "honest" memoirs provided a springboard to discover the "real" person behind those memoirs.
JE comments: Some might say that artists have more "warts" than the rest of us. Well-balanced folks are content to live their lives working, watching TV, procreating. Malcontents make art. Or is this a Romantic notion?
My Memoirs, Volume I; Freedom of Information Act
(Timothy Brown, USA
08/16/17 3:07 AM)
While writing Diplomarine, a memoir, I ran up against several barriers to "telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," carefully navigating around all sorts of barriers, from risking a libel suit (I had my lawyer review it carefully) or disclosing classified information (the Freedom of Information Act isn't really), to avoid boring my readers to death.
And that was just Volume One.
JE comments: Please give us Volume II, Tim! Diplomarine (part I) was a page-turner in every sense.
I'm going to remember the quote: The Freedom of Information Act isn't, really. Should we discuss this further? What encounters (or collisions) have WAISers had with the FOIA? (Be careful about pronouncing the acronym out loud in Spain.)
Memoirs and Memory at Odds
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
08/16/17 1:49 PM)
I have been in Berlin on holidays remembering old times. I have kept abreast of the many WAIS posts exchanged in the last few weeks thanks to my mobile. The ones concerning Mussolini´s Italy and the difficulties in writing memoirs have attracted my attention. Regarding the latter, I think that my personal experience may be opportune.
I wrote a big book on my work at the EU and the changes I perceived in this organisation over fifteen years. My intention was to provide the reader with an insight of how the EU worked in the areas I had a direct knowledge of. I began writing one month after leaving the EU and wrote in flashback from the end of my activities toward the starting point. My memory being not that bad, I thought I could truthfully reconstruct the high points of my most recent experiences. I worked for three months on my last two EU years. I was relatively happy and self-assured. However, as a historian I immediately confronted my writing with the primary evidence (my personal files contained in 40 or 50 big boxes which I had taken with me--this was permitted at that time) and the comparison left me aghast.
Episodes which I believed to have written truthfully turned out not to be as I had described then. Conclusion? From then on I wrote on the basis of direct evidence which I deposited several years later with the EU Archives in Florence. Any reader interested in contrasting my account can therefore check it with the primary evidence. The files description is available on line. I simply kept my old diary because it contained personal details I did not want to exhibit.
What does this mean? As a historian I have developed a hearty dislike of memoirs as historical sources unless supported by corroborative evidence. In particular if the memoirs have been written from memory. Memory plays tricks. Needless to say, I had to fight the temptation to put myself in a glamorous light. I avoided it to the extent possible by having recourse to Brecht´s concept of Verfremdung highlighting the need to keep of critical distance to the Darstellung (the written text). I didn´t lie except on one occasion and only to protect a source following legal advice. However, I didn't tell the whole truth or what I thought was the truth for lack of evidence.
I think that memoirs are indelibly personal affairs to be taken with a grain (occasionally with a ton) of salt. They should take a secondary role and only to be used in connection with available evidence. I, however, acknowledge that this is not always possible. In my next book I´ll be addressing without compassion some memoirs which historians have taken at face value.
JE comments: Yes, there would be no such thing as memory if there were no forgetting. Not that Ángel Viñas would do such a thing, but consider the "Brian Williams Syndrome," where you enhance a personal experience to the point that it becomes pure fiction. Might we call it involuntary mendacity?
Post Unpublished - please check back later
- Post Unpublished - please check back later
- Memoirs and Memory at Odds (Angel Vinas, Belgium 08/16/17 1:49 PM)
- My Memoirs, Volume I; Freedom of Information Act (Timothy Brown, USA 08/16/17 3:07 AM)
- Caves...and a Thank You (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/13/17 5:43 AM)