Oct 11, 2008

Frost on my moustache

Sailing Trilogy, Pt. 3

Frost on My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer, by Tim Moore. New York: St. Martin's, 2001. (First published 1999.) 280 pgs.

So here is this British guy, Tim Moore, known for his humorous essays and books--a sort of George Plimpton meets Bill Bryson kind of fellow. Moore's Icelandic wife Birna picked up a copy of Dufferin's Letters from High Latitudes at a used bookstore, and eventually Moore perused it. He became hooked.

Being a naturally enthusiastic type, Moore immediately decided to replicate the Dufferin saga, following in the Lord’s (boat) wake, so to speak. I started counting how many times Moore came to regret that decision, but lost track.

Moore begins his epic journey by traveling to Clandeboye, the Irish ancestral home of Lord Dufferin, to meet the current Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. In the process of making a spectacle of himself Moore discovers that he is not of their ilk and betakes himself off to and other, more remote, places.

Not in a position to travel in the luxurious footsteps of Lord Dufferin "... and other first-generation eco-tourists" (Evelyn Waugh, William Morris, W.H. Auden…), Moore starts his journey on a container ship, rather than a schooner. Misadventures await. As he relates each stage of his journey he inserts Dufferin quotes and related anecdotes. "I'd come to accept that all along I’d been pitting myself against Dufferin." On reaching Iceland, Moore finds his opportunity to escape from his vast inferiority complex, and gets on his bicycle in order to "out-Dufferin Dufferin."

Dufferin had highly anticipated the journey through the forbidding interior lava highlands of Iceland on horseback. But he lavished a quantity of days camping in high style and playing chess. Dufferin spent too much time camping, waiting for geysers to erupt, and partying with Prince Napoleon and his entourage, and ran out of time. After completing the modern-day Golden Circle, Dufferin left Iceland to continue his journey before the fall set in. Moore recreates the part of the journey that Dufferin planned but didn’t take. Instead of traveling with guides and servants on Icelandic horses, Moore journeys through the desolate highland on his bicycle, accompanied by his brother-in-law. These misadventures are related with memorable catchphrases that you can memorize and adapt for your own personal adventures: "I have done that—it is only a little stream" (when faced with a raging torrent); "Why did you not make such a study?" (i.e., why the h*** didn’t you research this first?).

Crippled but still standing, albeit bent, Moore makes it across Iceland, then travels back to Reykjavik and on to Hofn by means of standard contemporary transportation. In Hofn he meets up with a convoy of "Viking ships" and sails on to Norway, ultimately attempting Jan Mayen by Norweigan transport plane, and gaining Spitzbergen by ship. Moore's adventures on the remote island of Spitzbergen are truly epic, and include his exceptional interview with "The Syssel 'mann'."

In the course of his Grand Adventure/Misadventure, Tim Moore comes to identify himself more closely with Dufferin’s manservant Wilson than with Dufferin himself. And if he never truly understands Dufferin, he does feel a close empathy with him by the end of his travails. An additional treat to this highly entertaining jaunt is the epilogue, which features some surprise information about the dour Wilson.


Professor Batty said...

... "I have done that—it is only a little stream" (when faced with a raging torrent)...

I'll remember that one.

I've pre-ordered The Great Weaver of Kashmir...

Rose said...

Me too! Weaver should be arriving soon. Perhaps your weaver will like it too!
The phrase will come in handy next time you're in the boundary waters ;-)