9.23.2016

Mountain: On Boukreev's Track 4

See also part 1, 2 and 3

"Above the clouds" by Anatoli Boukreev is a true gold mine. I read it in few days and I'm reading it again and again. 
Bukreev wasn't just a very strong mountaineer, but also a curious man, profound and passionate, eager to understand, looking at the world with wide open eyes. His English wasn't good, moreover English didn't suit his way of expressing a complicated inner world, shaped by a different language. Russian's structure is mostly based on hypotaxis while parataxis is definitely more common in English. I guess the translation has been not easy but here finally readers can apreciate Boukreev's nature and point of view. 
Indead he suffered for the acute awarness he couldn't be really understood, fairly judged, contacted in his solitude. That's probably why he always was so understanding toward others: "But I understand" is one of his most frequent saying, about Sherpas not willing to work, about journalists prising sensation more than the truth, about Indonesian generals using mountaineering as a weapon in their power war against Malaysia. Bukreev was going to shake his head in silence or to reply with a caustic sense of humour.
Mountaineering was his religion, a kind of spiritual practice. A mix of nature and education made impossible for him to consider it otherwise. In December 1989 he wrote: "Now, recalling Kanchenjunga's storehouses of snow makes my heart ache like memories of a love that has been lost. Six years, not six months, will pass and I know that I will feel the same way. She possessed a purity and a grandeur that are incomparable. Her summits provide reasons that make the human struggle for physical and spiritual perfection meaningful, motivators that are more profound that vain aspiration for fame or wealth. Perhaps this sound idealistic, but my experiences on Kanchenjunga make those reasons seem shallow and vulgar.
Confronted with the petty concerns of my ordinary life, I feel empty, as if I am wasting a priceless gift... the brief time that is allotted to each human for creativity" (p.36)
Note that in Russian grammatical genders exist: in this passage Bukreev uses the word 'gorà' (mountain) that is feminine. The translator's choice to use the pronoun 'she' is therefore correct, rather necessary to mantain the sematical relation with the word 'love'. The mountain is described like a loved woman in a way that remind the troubadours' poems and the medieval knights' quest
Indead Anatoli Bukreev's concept of mountaineering was the 'quest': "It's about man's struggle to overcome his innate weakness." he wrote in the next page (p.37) and again, in words that have become famous: "Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfay my ambition to achieve. They are cathedrals, grand and pure, the houses of my religion. I approach them as any human goes to worship. On their altars I strive to perfect myself physically and spiritually. In their presence I attempt to understand my life, to exorcise vanity, greed, and fear. From the vantage of their lofty summits, I view my past, dream of the future, and with unusual acuteness I experience the present moment. That struggle renews my strength and clears my vision. In the mountains I celebrate creation, for on each journey I am reborn". (p.36-37)
He remained loyal to this romantic concept and many years later, in Novembre 1997, during an in interview he denied the verb 'to conquer' is appropriate to describe the ascent to the summit of a mountain. "To me conquer means something like rape" he said "to take by force. I don't think anyone should aim to conquering anything, and it is the wrong word to apply to our climbing achievements. At best a person is able to rise to the same level as a mountain for a short time." As well as the Dame whom knights devote their courage and mystic love, Boukreev's she-mountain demands respect, humilty and submission. She decides who's allowed to the summit, and who must die.
That sport is an evolution of spiritual strive for perfection, it isn't new. You can find more here about the Tour de France and procycling modern knights. Something more can be added about the communist, Soviet version of this topic. Ernesto Che Guevara has written a book whose title is "The new man", proto-socialist Ludwig Feuerbach stated that 'god' is indead 'humanity' in its perfection, recalling a concept shared by all time mystics, from Lao-Tzu to Meister Eckhart and Rumi. Karl Marx wasn't far from here when he wrote humans just have to retrive their own goods dilapidated in Heaven, meaning they alienated in god their own human perfection. And that's what Anatoli Bukreev had been educated to in the Soviet Union. Rethoric or reality, that was his ethical background. He tried to live up to it.
......................................MORE TO COME...............

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