Books

Tropic of Capricorn by Simon Reeve

Reeve's explores the tension between indigenous cultures and the natural world on one hand, and modern-day demands for resources and tourism on the other.

Tropic of Capricorn: A Remarkable Journey to the Forgotten Corners of the World

Publisher: BBC
Length: 320 pages
Author: Simon Reeve
Price: $17.95
Format: Paperback - reprint
Publication date: 2009-09
Amazon

BBC presenter Simon Reeve circled the globe in the 2006 BBC show Equator. This time, he has tackled the Tropic of Capricorn for TV, while also writing a companion book. You guessed it: Reeve is currently traipsing around the Tropic of Cancer, with a TV series and book soon to come.

The Tropic of Capricorn is the most southerly latitude at which the sun appears directly above your head during the summer and winter solstices; the Tropic of Cancer is the most northerly latitude where this occurs. Reeve notes at the start that "nature blesses the tropics with resources and riches, but bedevils it with boiling heat, hurricanes, poor farmland, and demonic diseases". And off he goes.

Reeve divides his travels into four chunks -- Namibia and Botswana; South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar; Australia; and Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. During one travel break, between Madagascar and Australia, he marries Anya, a videographer, who joins part of the trip.

Reeve's excursion feels a bit story-boarded because it probably had to be for the TV production. This journey is not an organic one -- Reeve has fixers at each location, is on a tight schedule, and knows exactly the social and environmental issues he wants to explore at each stop. For the reader, this means that you get a lot of interesting background information. He has not just stumbled upon the genocide of the Herero people at the hands of their German colonizers, he has researched it beforehand and is able to meet the people who make this history personal. For a book about an adventure, however, it can feel quite controlled.

Early on, Reeve admits that the book is "a journalogue, written on my laptop on the move, in the early morning, or before bedding down at the end of the day". As every traveler knows, a lengthy trip is exhausting and exhilarating, frustrating, and inspiring. So it is not surprising that an author scribbling under these circumstances also has his ups and downs. Reeve's prose is occasionally glib and clichéd. Writer's block must have hit after a day spent chatting with a Bushman community in Botswana: "They have very little. But the people of the Kalahari have each other". Later, while stalking a lion in Mozambique, he channels the tired phrasings of a Westerner in Africa: "[w]e creep through the grass, our senses on full alert. In Africa, this feels right ... I feel like a Maasai warrior".

However, Reeve can also be insightful and thought-provoking, as when he explores the shockingly poor state of Aboriginal communities in Australia, ponders why the Herero of Namibia adopted the clothing of their oppressors, and identifies the short-sightedness of South Africans who "pursue [Zimbabwean] border-jumpers with unseemly zeal". Many experts believe it is the remittances from Zimbabweans who work outside the country that have saved the country from collapse -- which would have a much more profound on South Africa than the border-jumpers. The most adrenalin-pumping part of the book is when Reeve tracks the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, spots some border-jumpers, and races into the bush for a breathless chat with them and their people-smuggler.

On his travels, Reeve's favorite issue to explore is the tension that exists between indigenous cultures and the natural world on one hand, and modern-day demands for resources and tourism on the other. Humans are upsetting the delicate eco-system of Botswana's Okavango Delta; soy production -- driven by the demand for bio-fuel -- is causing deforestation in Paraguay; a whale sanctuary in Western Australia is under threat by plans for a mammoth salt field. He makes us pay attention.

On the whole, Reeve is refreshingly critical about what he sees and experiences. He questions, analyses, and usually avoids passing along undigested impressions. And, the book does what good travel books should do -- opens your eyes to new people and places and encourages you to think more deeply about the connections that exist between your life and the lives of people in far-off lands.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image