Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 35.1 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

Dostoevsky, Fyodor
The Karamazov Brothers


I salvaged this from a box of books Kyle Schlesinger left behind when he moved away from Buffalo. I still haven't read it. It's always interesting to see what people decide to leave behind when they leave Buffalo, which they always seem to be doing.

Anyhow, returning yesterday's adventure...

In the evening at Tikal we ate dinner in the dining hall at the hotel. At some ungodly early hour they turned off all the power and made us go to bed. This was actually a good thing, as we went on a sunrise hike the next day. Our guide rousted us from bed about two hours before dawn and took us on a long walk through the darkened ruins, guided by flashlight and moonlight. I remember how pitch black it seemed and how brightly the stars shone in the sky.

We arrived at the temple, I think it was number 4, and climbed an unimaginably steep wooden staircase that had been built along the side of the temple, I guess for safety and also to keep people's feet from wearing away at the stone steps on the front. I am afraid of heights, so climbing in the dark was the best way for me to do it because I couldn't see below. (Getting down was something else altogether).

When the group arrived at the top, we sat around a fairly narrow (and for me, harrowing) ledge that surrounded the peak of the pyramid. Our guide served coffee from a thermos and passed around cookies. After a time the sun began to rise and the sounds of the jungle animals waking began too echo off the stone pyramids through the park. The howler monkeys, none of which were visible, made the loudest sounds of all, shrieking at the sun, or so it seemed.

After the sun had fully risen, and I could see how far down I had to fall, my fear got the best of me. I spent most of the morning leaning awkwardly with my back against the wall of the upper portion of the temple. Our descent was terrifying, as I could now see between the risers of the staircase we climbed. 'Staircase' is really the wrong word, as the steps were only slightly more angled than a ladder's rungs, which is how it felt climbing down. Lori has a photo of me stepping gingerly down, both hands on the rails, looking like a frightened cat burglar in a cartoon spotlight.

My other memory of that day is of listening to the interminable yammering of the woman who lost her cellphone in the bus-jacking. The only time she quieted down was when she asked the tour guide where he learned his English. He said his mother was American and his father Guatemalan, so he grew up bilingual. She then asked what his father did. He told her he had been a revolutionary and that he had been tortured and killed by the CIA.

She was silent for a while, then I recall hearing her say something like, "people get the government they deserve. " The stupidity of Americans traveling abroad never ceases to amaze me.

from The Karamzov Brothers

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a landowner in our district who became a celebrity (and is remembered to this day) because of the tragic and mysterious end he met exactly thirteen years ago, which will be described in its proper place. For the moment, I will only say of this "landowner" (as they referred to him here, although he spent hardly any time on his land) that he belonged to a peculiar though widespread human type, the sort of man who is not only wretched and depraved but also muddle-headed--muddle-headed in a way that allows him to pull off all sorts of shady little financial deals and not much else.

Fyodor Karamazov, for instance, started with next to nothing; he was just about the lowliest landowner among us, a man who would dash off to dine at other people's tables whenever he was given a chance and who sponged off people as much as he could. Yet, at his death, they found that he had a hundred thousand rubles in hard cash. And with all that, throughout his life he remained one of the most muddle-headed eccentrics in our entire district. Let me repeat: it was not stupidity, for most such eccentrics are really quite intelligent and cunning, and their lack of common sense is of a special kind, a national variety.

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