Life at the Bottom: the People of Antarctica.

Journalist’s account of an Antarctic visit in 1975-76, courtesy NSF.

p. 20, on what they could take: No porn; Someone wants to know about Playboy mag, and he says ‘Are you kidding? That’s money, baby, the Russians will give you their station for a copy.’

p. 21, a capsule description of Antarctica: Antarctica is the highest of the continents, an average elevation of 7,500 feet. The coldest and the driest, with annual precipitation at Pole the equivalent of less than two inches of water. (Phoenix gets 7.2 inches, New York City 42 inches.) Almost no fresh water, only small streams of meltwater from glaciers. The ice pack surrounding the continent is dense with plankton, and there is more living matter per acre in the area than anywhere else on earth. There is an active volcano, Mount Erebus, not far from McMurdo, 12,000 feet and smoking. Six months of daylight, six months of darkness. Daylight at Pole begins on September 21 and ends March 21. Periods of continuous daylight or darkness decrease as you get away from either Pole until a line is reached 23 ½ degrees from the Pole, where there is only one summer day with no sunset, one winter day without sunrise. It is confusing, the lecturer admits, but remember that in the Southern Hemisphere this line is the Antarctic Circle. Summer in Antarctica begins December 22, winter on June 22. When it’s summer in the Antarctic, it’s winter in the Arctic, and never the twain shall meet. Point to remember. The Antarctic is a continent surrounded by three oceans, the Arctic is an ice ocean surrounded by three continents. Temperature in the Antarctic is, on the average, 35 degrees colder than in the Arctic.”

p. 56: at the McMurdo base there is the McMurdo Sometimes, “The World’s Southernmost Newspaper”…the principal source of news of the outside world.

p. 111-13, Poetry reading in the mess hall after the night meal: Poems must deal with Antarctica, a severely limiting factor. Everyone’s a Robert Service fan…. [Others cited are an old sledging song on blizzards, anonymous doggerel, and satirical parodies.]

p. 186: But despite all that vulgarity [of heavy swearing], you know, there was not one single instance that I can recall, at least with our group, where people discussed their own sexual behavior. People just jerked off as they pleased, talked a lot about other people’s sex life, but not their own. If a guy said he missed his wife, he wouldn’t be apt to say he was looking forward to a good screw when he got home. That sort of talk came out on the ship, heading home at last, and on ship you got more and more horny in anticipation of what you could do. Back on the ice, you were less so. It wasn’t a conscious effort to be celibate; there’s just nothing sexually stimulating there, at least not when we were there. Guys in various stages of beard growth, steadily growing uglier the more you see of them. I’m not aware, though statistically there must have been, of any gay guys, and we didn’t seem to have any of that prison substitute-homosexuality syndrome. I suppose if there were two gay guys there that would be all right, keep it to even numbers, you know.

p. 194: versions of home porn movies shown at McMurdo.