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Live From Antarctica: Sayonara Utsteinen

I wont bore you with the "Another brilliant day...". Just take it as a given. Sunday, around 10 00 am, when the light was just right and the sun was suspended in the violet sky, in the exact position required on its course across the heavens, the whole Expedition assembled on the roof and façade of the station (at least on what beams are in place) for the Official Group Photo.

This was René Robert's idea. You have to forgive him as he is from Chamonix, and they do not care about such things as balancing on narrow ledges at great heights.

Norbert gallantly helped the ladies (Emilie and I) walk over the roof beams (spanning a several metre straight drop) to their places in the gallery.

Alain Hubert, Alain Dernivois and Benoit Tyberghein were already in place, hanging jauntily on ropes off the façade while the rest of us balanced on top, and our army boys sat in relative safety and comfort on some scaffolding. From our different precarious vantage points we waved and smiled queasily at René and Jos as they swung around in a little metal basket suspended from the big crane. Probably the strangest photo shoot that I have participated in to date.

As usual on a Sunday, a general holiday was granted so that laundry could be done and personal stuff sorted out. Like every other Sundayl, the call to rest was ignored, much to the bemusement of those whose chief desire was to spend the day in bed. Some eager person even went so far as to switch the generator on at 6 in the morning, as per usual. The relief among the tents when it went out with a cough 30 seconds later was palpable.

The construction site continued to buzz Sunday as the stainless steel panels were screwed into place on the underside of the station, using special screws which produce a very slight eiderdown effect. The effect is very post-modern, creating industrial-minimalist dimples which stretch out in their serried rows between the ice white columns flowering from the rocks. They are very aesthetic, almost hypnotic in their regularity.

The windows of the station are almost all in place now, although some have cracked under the pressure differences, and so every unit was opened to allow the pressures to equalise. These windows are a true delight. Every one is a picture-perfect picture window. Every view is breathtakingly perfect and so perfectly framed that it is difficult to imagine that it is happenstance.

The 14th Traverse had returned on Friday at lunch, and the 15th would only set out on the Monday. Some spare manpower was mustered to quarry snow blocks from windward of the camp. It's a good exercise to initiate people into tasks other than their own, so that they are aware of what role others play.

Every day requires vast quantities (several hundred kilos) of snow to be melted for water, for cooking, washing dishes, laundry and just plain old drinking. Making people aware of what this represents in honest sweat of the brow makes them think twice about wasting water, not that anyone here could be accused of doing that.

No. Long showers are things of distant memory. Even our toilets are "dry". The sawdust recycled from the building site is added to the bags we employ, which makes their use more reminiscent of a visit to the horse stables than the fraught olfactory experience of past "exotic" holidays in places with little knowledge of modern plumbing techniques.

We are quite proud of our little camp, which Dr Osanai says is like a miniature town. They are thrilled by our coffee machine. After two months in the field, the delight of a coffee machine is not to be underestimated. Tomokazu in particular is soon in regular obeisance to the caffeine lord.

Yesterday too, we had our first flight landing at Utsteinen since the last arrivals three weeks ago.

Our Japanese friends were leaving, (with "Lidia" one of the three Baslers piloted by Canadians with accents reminiscent of the Far North). They flew off in the direction of Bratnipane to collect some rock samples before heading back to Novo to survey the Shirmacher Hills.

Only Dr Osanai and Dr Toyoshima remained behind to wait for the flight of February the 5th, or more accurately, the several flights of February the 5th as we will also receive visitors from Syowa.

Before long, this shall become a regular watering hole for the Antarctic community as the joys of Utsteinen and its micro-climate extend far and wide. Whenever scientists gather in distant dark conference halls, they shall reminisce wistfully of the time that their plane landed at Utsteinen.

However, all appeals to Alain, in the interests of the scientific community, to install a sauna and Jacuzzi continue to fall on deaf ears...

I guess we need to economise in snow blocks.

This morning the 15th Traverse set out with Julien and Man Ram in the guest slots. Only one more to go and all the containers for the station are here. Another phase prepares to close.

When Vincent Gilliard returns, you will receive some new portraits of the expeditionaries, as his are so well executed that they really deserve a wider audience. I wish I could say it was just because his camera is better than mine, but that is so patently not true. It's the lens.

He has managed to capture even the most camera-shy amongst us in their new persona in a way that few have managed. Maybe it is because he has a way of making you laugh so that you are thrown off your guard and before you know what is happening, "click" and you are frozen before the critical gaze of posterity.

Some guest writers will also make an apparition in the next few days. I shall look forward to some fresh vantage points.

Author: IPF

Picture: JARE Visit - copyright: International Polar Foundation - © International Polar Foundation

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