Read: Life and Death in the Andes

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This is a fantastic book. Read it.

Certain people have a writing style that is as easy to consume as real gelato. Smooth, creamy and fattening in all the right ways. The problem you will have with this book, especially if you love Latin America like I do, is that you will want to drive to the nearest airport and head south. Kim MacQuarrie gives us “Life and Death in the Andes” and with it a journey of Andean proportion. Each chapter tells both the personal story of MacQuarrie as he travels from Colombia south to the tips of the tips of the end of everything, while also revealing the story behind legendary figures who roamed the same parts. Pablo Escobar, Che Guevara, Charles Darwin, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Part history book, party travelogue, part experience, this book was one I blazed through while feeling like a total slacker for not doing more. Damn. It happened again.

Below are a several quotes I found interesting.

“It’s not solely about weaving and making money,” she says. “It’s about staying in one’s own community, it’s about bringing alive traditions of all types, including languages. It’s about relearning things that have been lost in agriculture and arts. It’s all of those things. What we do is not going to make anyone rich–but what we do is rich in traditions, rich in knowledge, rich in art.”

Linguists estimate that between 50 percent and 90 percent of all the languages presently spoken on Earth will disappear within the next fifty years. “Languages are not simply vocabulary lists or sets of grammatical rules,” says anthropologist Wade Davis, but “old-growth forests of the mind.” Languages are products of unique cultures, he says, cultures that reflect “different ways of being, thinking, and knowing.” When a language goes extinct, it “reduces the entire range of human imagination.”

Also, included below is an image of me in Peru. Three guesses where I am and the first two don’t count. I put this in not as a way of showing you where I’ve been. I put this in because I stumbled across it while looking for something else. My entire life now is broken into two categories. Pre-Lyme. Post-Lyme. This image was pre-Lyme. Man did I look healthier than I do now. Skinny. But what I love about this image is the shape of my back. I am literally a human “S.” No wonder my back hurts. Anyway, the Andes are one of the world’s most intense and expansive creations. I’ve seen just a sliver.

Comments 4

  1. I’m going to get the book and the quote about lost languages makes me wonder what South America was like before the Conquistadores arrived. I recently watched Salt of the Earth, the film about Sebastiao Salgado. His early photographs from South America are wonderful and show a more harmonious world. In the West we seem to want to subdue the natural world.

    Daniel, go eat something! I wish I looked as slim… and young.


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      I eat all the time! I still haven’t seen Salt of the Earth, believe it or not. His pre-digital work is the best body of work of any photographer in history with MAYBE the exception of Gene Smith. His new work, at least for me, has that same digital look that I don’t really enjoy as much, but that’s just me. I’ve even seen a few prints of his that looked like the HDR had been put on hot and heavy, which is one reason I haven’t seen the film. I just want to think of that old work when I think of him. He’s THE guy in my mind, but nobody is impervious to what digital can do.

  2. Daniel, there is a lot of his old work shown in the film. The middle of the film, which shows his coverage of famine and genocide in Africa is grim, but the overall message, including the last third, which deals with the rainforest, is positively uplifting. I won’t spoil it for you by saying more. He’s probably the only person able to generate the funds necessary to complete such a body of work these days.
    I saw Gene Smith’s ‘Let Truth Be The Prejudice’ in London, England, many years ago (yes, I really am that old). The prints were amazing an the work inspiring. That, and Sabastiao’s ‘Workers’ exhibition, are the two standout shows that I have seen.


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