Authors: Julian Barnes
Later. Matt was peeing in the river when one of the sparks came up and told him it wasn’t a good idea. Apparently they’ve got this tiny fish which is attracted by the heat or whatever and can swim up your pee as you’re peeing. Didn’t sound likely at first but think of salmon I suppose. Then what it does is swim straight into your dick and once it gets there it sticks out a couple of spines sideways and just stays there. Ouch in spades, to say the least of it. The sparks says you can’t get it out, it’s like having an umbrella opened up in there, you have to have the whole doings chopped off in hospital. Matt didn’t know whether to believe him but can you risk it? No one’s peeing in the river at the moment, anyway.
Later. We were puttering upriver late in the afternoon and the sun was beginning to go down over these huge trees and a flight of big birds, herons or something, were taking off like pink seaplanes as someone said and the second assistant suddenly stood up and yelled out This is paradise, this is fucking paradise. Actually, feeling a bit depressed, love. Sorry to lay this on you, not fair I know as I’ll probably be right as rain by the time you get this. Bloody Matt getting me down. What an ego. You’d think no-one else had ever made a film except him and you can see him coming on all good mates with the crew so they’ll make things easier for him when he gets in front of camera, so he looks five years younger and I get the shiny nose. Vic’s not tough enough for this job, to be frank. You need one of those slave-driving old studio bosses if you ask me, not a sensitive graduate who went into movies because he liked the clouds in Antonioni and then turned himself into a nouvelle vague Deutscher all hot for Truthspiel. I ask you, forty of us slogging into the Jungle all because we bought his line about needing to work our way into the reality of a couple of deeply dead Jesuit priests. How this applies to the crew as well I don’t know but I expect Vic’s got some theory to cover it. Us going in on foot and then the equipment being airlifted in is about as arsy-versy as you can get. He won’t even let us use the radio-telephone until after we’ve made the rendez-vous. The focus-puller’s girlfriend is having a baby and he wanted to call
headquarters in Caracas to see if there was any news but Vic said no.
Bloody weather. Bloody hot all the time. Sweating like a pig,
comme un porco
. Still worrying about the script. Think I’ll have to do some rewrites on my part. No chance of getting any laundry done unless we meet some tribe of washerwomen waiting for custom outside one of those zinc shacks like we saw in that village in Provence do you remember? Bloody tin sign for Coca-Cola at a trading post this morning. I ask you, hundreds of miles from bloody anywhere and the Coke reps have been there before you and shat on the landscape. Or some chum of Matt’s put it there to make him feel at home. Sorry about this.
Hey Good Looking!
Sorry about that whingeing on at the end of the last letter. Everything much better now. For one thing we’ve all started peeing in the river again. We were asking Fish Sparks as we call him how he knew about the fish that swims up your pee and he said he’d seen some fat explorer fellow on the box going on about it, which sounded likely enough. But then we asked him a bit more about it and he made his fatal mistake. He said this explorer had said he’d had some special underpants made so that he could pee in the river safely. He got a cricket protector, the sparks says, and cut the front bit out and stuck a tea-strainer down it. Well I ask you. If you’re telling fibs, keep them simple, that’s the rule, isn’t it? Never over-egg the pudding. So we all had a good laugh at the sparks and all of us unzipped our flies and peed in the river whether we wanted to or not. The only person that didn’t was Fish, who had to save face and went on claiming it was true.
So that cheered us up a bit as you can imagine but what really cheered us up was making contact with the Indians. I mean, if the bandits on the way here were anything to go by (‘here’, if you
want to look it up in your schoolgirl atlas, is somewhere near the Mocapra) why should the Indians keep their word? Matt said afterwards he’d half expected the whole thing would turn out to be a wild goose chase and I told him I thought the same. But there they were, four of them, just where they said they’d be, in a clearing on a bend in the river, naked as nature intended, standing very upright which still didn’t make them very tall and looking at us without any fear. Without any curiosity either, in a funny sort of way, which was odd. You expect they’ll want to prod you or something. But they just stood there as if we were the odd ones not them, which when you come to think about it is dead right. They watched us unpack everything and then we set off. Didn’t offer to help carry anything which was a bit of a surprise but then I suppose they’re not Sherpas are they? It’s about two days march apparently to the rest of the tribe and the river we’re looking for. We couldn’t see the track they were following at all – amazing sense of direction they must have in the Jungle. You’d be lost here I can tell you angel, especially given you don’t know how to get from Shepherd’s Bush to Hammersmith without a police escort. * We marched for about two hours then stopped for the night and ate fish the Indians had caught in the river while they were waiting for us. Very tired, but quite a day. Kiss you.
* Joke (not serious)
Later. A whole day on the move. Glad I did all that training in the gym. Some of the crew puffing after only half an hour or so, which isn’t surprising as the only exercise they take in the normal run of things is putting their legs under a table and aiming their snouts at the trough. Oh yes and putting their hands up to order another bottle. Matt’s pretty fit from all those outdoor movies where they put olive oil on his pectorals (though not as fit as he ought to be) and the two of us gave the crew a bit of a hard time, said union rules didn’t apply in the Jungle, and so on. They certainly didn’t want to get left behind! Fish Sparks, who’s been a bit down in the mouth since we rumbled his story, thought it was terrifically funny to start calling the Indians things like Sitting Bull and Tonto, but of course they didn’t
understand and anyway the rest of us sort of froze him out. It just wasn’t funny, anyway. They’re incredible, these Indians. Walking starkers through the forest, incredibly agile, never get tired, killed a monkey in a tree with a blowpipe. Had it for dinner, well some of us did, the squeamish ones had a tin of corned beef. I had the monkey. Tasted a bit like oxtail only much redder. A bit stringy but delicious.
Tuesday. God knows how the post system’s going to work. At the moment we just give it to Rojas – he’s the fourth assistant and a local and he’s been appointed postman. All that means is that he puts the letters into a plastic bag so they won’t get eaten by beetles or woodworm or whatever. Then when we meet up with the copter he’ll take the mail out. So God knows when you’ll get this.
Miss you (pause while I do my Circus Strongman howl). Today we should have met up with the rest of the tribe but we aren’t as fit as we might be. I bet some of the crew thought there’d be wheels right into the Jungle and food trucks parked every few miles and they’d get burgers and chips served by girls wearing flower garlands round their necks. Fat Dick the sound man probably packed a Hawaiiiiiian shirt.
You have to hand it to Vic in a way. Smallest crew-to-budget ratio in years. Me and Matt doing our own stunts (good old Norman really screwed the dollars up for me on that clause). Not even daily rushes either – the copter’s only coming in every three days because Vic thinks it’ll break our concentration or something no doubt posher intellectually than that. Lab report over the radio-telephone, the rushes with the copter. And the studio went along with it all. Amazing, isn’t it?
No it isn’t amazing, as you well know sweetie. The studio thinks Vic’s a genius and gave him as much as they could until the insurance boys dug their heels in over big-name leads falling out of a canoe and then they went down the list and found a couple of guys the industry could afford to lose.* So I’ve been a bad boy at times but they reckon I can’t walk out on a job if I’m in the Jungle and Matt’s temperamental which means he doesn’t normally work unless they give him a hamper full of white
powder but he seems to have kicked it and there aren’t too many dealers swinging through the trees like Tarzan out here. And we agree to Vic’s conditions because we bloody need to and deep down we probably think Vic’s a genius too.
* Joke. Well, sort of. No real danger, I’m sure.
Wondering if it was a mistake to have the monkey last night. It certainly slowed me down a bit today, and Matt was behind a bush a lot as well.
Later. Sorry, Wednesday. Met the tribe. The greatest day of my life. Except for meeting you, babe, of course. They were just there, suddenly, as we came over a hill and saw a river below us. The lost river and the lost people side by side – amazing. They’re quite short, and you’d think they were plump except it’s all muscle, and they don’t have a stitch on. The girls are pretty, too (don’t worry, angel – riddled with diseases). The funny thing is there don’t seem to be any old folks. Or maybe they’ve left them behind somewhere. But we did have this idea that the whole tribe went around together. Puzzling. Also, I’ve run out of mosquito stuff – the really powerful one anyway. Getting bitten quite a lot. Vic says not to worry – did I think Father Firmin had insect repellent all those years ago? I said authenticity was one thing but did my devoted fans really want to see me on the big screen with spots a foot across all over my face? Vic told me I had to suffer for my art. I told Vic to fuck off. Bloody Truthspiel.
Thursday. We’ve set up camp now on the bank. A couple of camps actually, one for whites (most of whom are brown with red spots) and one for Indians. I said why didn’t we have one big camp, for Christ’s sake. Some of the crew were against this because they thought they’d get their watches stolen (I ask you) and some in favour so that they could get a closer look at the women (I ask you). Vic said he thought two camps were a good idea because there would have been two originally and it would psychologically prepare the Indians for playing their ancestors, which I said was just a rationalisation of elitism. Anyway things got quite hot and eventually one of the guides was sent over to talk to the Indians and the word came back that they wouldn’t
share their camp with us anyway, which is quite funny I suppose.
Here comes the copter so I’ll end now.
First rendez-vous! They coptered in the genny and the rest of the equipment. Great excitement (except for the Indians who ignored it all). Food, ciggies. No mosquito stuff on board – can you believe it? Another thing – Vic wouldn’t let them bring in newspapers, which pissed me off. I mean we’re not kids are we? Reading a two-week-old copy of The Independent isn’t likely to screw up my acting, is it? Or is it? I’m amazed Vic allowed us letters. None for Charlie. I know I told you not to write except in emergency but I didn’t mean it. Hope you guessed.
Friday. Look, I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I think this spell of being apart will do us lots of good. In lots of ways. Really. I’m getting too old for hellraising anyway. ‘MY HELLRAISING DAYS ARE OVER’ SAYS TV’S ‘BAD-BOY’ CHARLIE. Love you.
Pippa love, I really think it’s the effect of the Indians (oh, Saturday). They’re so open, so direct. There they are, not a stitch on them, they say what they mean, do what they want, eat when they’re hungry, make love as if it’s the most natural thing in the world*, and lie down to die when they reach the end of their lives. It’s really something. I don’t mean I could do it myself, not straight away, I just mean I get a great sense of comradeship with these people. I almost feel I’ve been sent here so they can teach me a lesson about life. Does that make sense? It’s all right, sweetie, I’m not coming back with a bone through my nose, but I might come back with a bit less of a bone in my head. All that business about Linda – I know we agreed not to talk about it – but I feel such a shit out here. Hurting you. Not telling the truth. Out here, with the lost river running past my
feet, learning the names of birds I don’t even know the names of in English, I feel good about us.
* Not personal experience. Charlie’s nose clean.
Sunday. It’s not just distance lends enchantment or whatever. It’s something about being
. You remember the American astronauts, how they went to the moon and came back totally changed by looking at the earth and seeing it like just any old planet all small and a long way away? Some of them got religious or went barmy I seem to remember, but the point is they were all different when they came back. It’s a bit like that with me, except that instead of going into the technological future I had to go back in time. Actually, I don’t really mean that, back in time. All the crew here think the Indians are fantastically primitive just because they don’t have radios. I think they’re fantastically advanced and mature because they don’t have radios. They’re teaching me something without knowing they’re doing it. I’m beginning to see things a lot more in perspective. God I’m damn sorry about Linda.
Monday. A long time setting up, then it rained. One of the girls is teaching me the language. Don’t worry, chipmunk, riddled with diseases I’m sure.* Tried to find out what they call themselves, you know, name of the tribe. Guess what, THEY DON’T HAVE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES!!! and they don’t have a name for their language either. Isn’t that amazing!! Incredibly mature. It’s like, nationalism out of the window.
* Sort of catch-phrase with the crew. If anyone starts talking about sex or looking at the Indian women, someone always says, ‘Riddled with diseases I’m sure.’ Probably not so funny in London.
Tuesday. There’s a really good feeling now we’ve started. Everyone pulling together. None of this silly bloody union rules. Everyone
. I’m sure it’s the influence of the Indians. It’s how things should be.
Wednesday. I think my accent’s improving. There’s a big white stork sort of bird called a
. I think that’s how you write it down. Anyway, I say
when one takes off or lands
on the water, and the Indians think this is jolly funny. They fall about laughing. Well they aren’t any better at saying Charlie.