Apr 28, 2013

Tom Takes Us Down the Colorado

Acknowledgments
Last Monday, Tom did what John Wesley Powell was unable to do:  he fed his men exceedingly well as he took them on a journey down the Colorado River.  How?  He prepared Julia Child's ineffable boeuf bourguignon, paired it with roasted potatoes and two salads (thanks to John for contributing the garlic radicchio), and concluded with man-size helpings of his legendary strawberry shortcake.  With bottles of the always drinkable San Marino Cellars followed by Roy's distilled spirits, the meal washed down well.  As for the book, well...see below.

The Book
Powell's account of his 1869 expedition down the unexplored canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers made for tough reading.  According to Wallace Stegner, Powell publicized his expedition hoping Congress would appropriate funds for further exploration of the Colorado River.  But to broaden its appeal (and, I dare say, extend its serialization in Scribner's), Powell prefaced his account with a lengthy exposition on the geology of the region, inserted pictures and commentary on random native artifacts, and embellished his diary notes with details from later expeditions.

Our 4.3 rating says it all.  Those who read all of the 400-page Penguin edition (fewer than half the group) were disappointed to learn that Dean and Dan had managed to find a 135-page hardcover edition containing only Powell's account of the actual expedition.  Gentlemen, thanks for sharing.

Bitterness aside, we were taken by the arduousness of Powell's trip (how many times did they lose their oars and have to fashion new ones from downed trees?), the primitive instruments (who knew you could calculate altitude with a barometer?), and the meager rations they subsisted on (only tobacco and coffee were in generous supply; Powell's men had their priorities).   As a self-funded, one-armed Civil War veteran supported by a ragtag group of men, John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado frontier was truly remarkable.  His account, however, wasn't.

Next Up
We dine next at Roy's, armed with (unabridged) copies of The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje's recent follow-up to his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient.  We will decide if this novel is--despite the afterword's disclaimer--a thinly-disguised memoir of Ondaatje's boyhood journey from Ceylon to England.

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