Wednesday, 26 November 2008

seven men on a boat

Undeterred by our recent trials on the Yangtse, we embark on another rivercraft, this time a small speedboat, in the company of two New Zealanders, a girl from Melbourne who wears bewilderingly few clothes, and a Frenchman from Bordeaux. This last, Fred, is the spitting image of Daniel Cohn-Bendit in his revolutionary prime. Remember him? Paris '68? Were you there? Daniel stormed the barricades, and speechified at the Sorbonne, elbow to elbow with Jean-Paul Sartre, then already a superannuated 'philosophe' trying to ingratiate himself with youth. Daniel ended up many years later as member of Parliament in the German Reichstag, a shadow of his former firebrand self. (Is this correct Claus?)
That heady summer of '68 I turned 21, and twiddled my thumbs while Rome burned around me.I went on no marches, set fire to nothing except the odd joint, and was very depressed, wondering when my life was going to start. It clearly hadn't. Until then, and for many a year after, it seemed just a painful simulacrum of a life.

Back to the river Li, where we careened and swooped, and shuddered and juddered, and sent the local flora and fauna rushing for cover. Our macho helmsman clearly fancied
himself as 007 in a movie, but was ever sensitive to our photographic needs (our craft bristled with Nikon zooms jabbing at the landscape) and would decelerate vertiginously at the sight of local colour - some poor fisherman trying to keep afloat on his bamboo raft in our shocking wake, water buffaloes minding their own business ( strangely the Chinese have not yet invented mozzarella, considering they had invented most things while Europeans were still daubing themselves in woad, and grunting) clouds of white egrets and fishing cormorants. These latter have a cord tied loosely round their throats so they are unable to swallow any fish they catch. The fish are squeezed out by the fisherfolk, and the cormorants are allowed to eat every seventh fish so they don't go on strike. Cormorants are sinister old birds at the best of times; here they are the size of vultures.
And the scenery, which after all is why we are here? Fifty miles of the most stupendous hills and rock formations (karst our guidebook tells us, but none of us can remember what that means).
I have forgotten again where I am, but its quite charming , by the banks of the Li.
Tomorrow we hire bikes and will cycle amongst the karst.