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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Climbing With Eustace Tilley

The January 8 edition of The New Yorker has a decent piece of mountaineering fiction by Primo Levi, the Italian chemist and Holocaust writer who died in 1987. Apparently, Levi was an enthusiastic climber before World War II—his descriptions are spot on. I particularly liked this brief passage, describing the inevitable sizing up that happens whenever climbers congregate in the evening at a hut or campsite:

"I sat down at a table and opened my backpack. Across from me was a tall, large man, middle-aged, with whom I exchanged a few words about the weather and our plans for the following day. This is standard conversation, like the opening moves of a chess game, where what matters, much more than what one says (which is brief and obvious), is the tone in which one says it."

The short story can be found here today, but it will probably be replaced by next week's fiction piece very soon. Then you'll have to buy the issue, which is worthwhile anyway to see the spledid black-and-white photo of a mountaineering party casting beautiful shadows in the snow; it's a Corbis photo by an unnamed shooter from Mt. Hood, a peak I'm fairly certain Primo Levi never climbed.

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