Sunday, March 20, 2005



The peculiar, colourful, boxy towns which teeter on grey rock in front of a jagged claw of ice and ahead of a brilliant, forbidding blue sea, the Inuit towns of Greenland and Alaska - something about them absolutely grabs me like no other landscape. I don't think I even knew what these towns looked like - or had given no thought to it - 'til I chanced upon a few TV programmes and chapters in books about them, but they gripped me immediately; something about the colour and the desperation - something about the desolation.

Last night I happened to watch two excellent TV programmes, a double bill of Nick Middleton's excellent Surviving Extremes series, which pit the Oxbridge don and travel writer against the world's most inhospitable climates. His trek through the forests of Congo were remarkable enough (where the forest, at it's densest, is so impenetrable that it can take ten minutes for a raindrop to reach the forest floor), but his month in Greenland was breathtaking, whether fishing for birds with a long net on the steep side of an ice-clad cliff or being forced to sample raw seal liver.


The society was so singular, so unique, so finely skewed between wilderness and civilisation. At one point Middleton, aghast, looked on as Inuits sat on a sheet of blood stained snow and ate a local speciality; a seal carcass is stuffed with birds, buried in the ice for six months, and devoured raw.

The entire programme was every bit as horrifying and fascinating as that suggests.

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