I hate travelling and explorers. Yet here I am proposing to tell the story of my expeditions.... I have often planned to undertake the present work, but on each occasion a sort of shame and repugnance prevented me making a start.
And on the anthropologist's profession as decidedly unadventurous, unglamorous:
...periods of hunger, exhaustion, sickness perhaps; and always the thousand and one dreary tasks which eat away the days to no purpose and reduce dangerous living in the heart of the virgin forest to an imitation of military service...
Lévi-Strauss finds himself disgusted with the public's taste for sensationalistic travel accounts of Amazonia, Tibet, and Africa whose dominant tone is a desire to impress. He blames lazy writers but also their undemanding readers: "Instead of having his critical faculties stimulated, he [the reader] asks for more such pabulum and swallows prodigious quantities of it."
Already enjoying this rather spicy pabulum my French elder had been spooning into my brain, my vegetable radar went haywire when I hit this amazing passage comparing his old advisor, psycologist Georges Dumas, to some eerie kind of vegetable while giving a lecture at a mental hospital :
In that room, one already had the sensation of being exposed to a peculiar kind of exotic experience; there was a platform on which Dumas ensconced his sturdy, angular frame, crowned by a knobbly head resembling a large root that has been bleached and stripped through a long stay on the sea bed. His waxy complexion created a unity between his face, his short, white bristling hair and his goatee beard, which was also white and sprouted in all directions. This curious piece of vegetable flotsam, still bushy with little roots, was suddenly humanized by the flashing of coal-black eyes, which emphasized the whiteness of the head.
Immediately, I knew Dumas to be un semblable, a kinsman, of my parsnip creature!
I particularly relish the thought that a vegetable could last and last on the bottom of the sea, like a whale bone, and suddenly be washed up on shore for tribes of people to encounter and incorporate into elaborate rituals. You may also be interested to note the difference between flotsam and jetsam. The former is the wreckage of a ship and its cargo that have been washed ashore, while the latter are materials or goods that have been tossed overboard, perhaps to lighten the vessel in times of duress, and subsequently, also, wash ashore. The same endpoint, but different ways of getting there. There must be another soul out there that gets pleasure from this sort of semantic precision.
I'll keep my carrot eye out for any vivid accounts of Brazilian vegetables our noble adventurer has to offer as I progress through the reading. And look how very cute his professor Dumas looks even when he's not doing a vegetable impression:
|photo found here|