Sunrise with Seamonsters by Paul Theroux

I remember finding this book in a University Students Utility Sale. Someone had just left this book lying around an ignored corner. This book made me an instant fan of Paul Theroux and his writing style. Since then I have not stopped reading his works and consider his works as my all-time favourite.

Through this book I realized what a seasoned traveller Theroux is and the experiences he has travelling the world pre 9/11, is something I will envy for the rest of my life.

Burning Grass - October 22, 1964

Context: Theroux was in the Peace Corps serving in Malawi. He has gone through

In July, it was very cold in Malawi. On the day that Malawi gained her independence, the wind swept down from Soche Hill into the Central Stadium bringing with it cold mists. The Africans call this wind Chiperoni and dread i because they don’t have enough clothes to withstand its penetration. They know that it lasts only a few weeks and that once this difficult period is gotten through they can go out again into the fields and dig furrows for planting.

Independence was very dark, yet despite the cold winds the people came to see their newly designed flag raised. The prime minister told that Malawi was a black man’s country. The cold seemed to turn everything, everyone, to wood; even the slogans were frozen, the gladness caged in trembling bodies.

Winter in Africa - July 2, 1965

In the villages after supper the people can be seen crouching around fire to warm themselves. A student of mine once suggested that independence in Malawi came at a perfect time of the year. He said that the day of Independence comes in July, with winter at its coldest, and the people who would naturally be together around the fires would have a good opportunity to discuss the meaning of freedom they had won for themselves.

Cowardice - 1967

In old days, young boys with nothing to do used to stand around drugstores talking excitedly of picking up girls. They now have other choices - they can pick up guns or protest signs. I tend to take the druggist’s view: have an icecream and forget the choices. I intend to give in neither to the army or the peace movement.

I am now certain of my reason for thinking this:- I AM A COWARD. It has not always been that way. I used to think I was a person of high principles. The crooked thing about high principles is that they can live in thin air. I am fairly sure mine did. For the past five years my reaction to anything military was based on borrowed shock.

One of my absolute favourite author V.S. Naipaul wrote to Theroux before they had a fall-out stating:

never take people more seriously than they take themselves

Subterranean Gothic

Context: Theroux talking to a policeman about New York’s subways

“Rule one for the subway”, he said. “Want to know what it is?” He looked up and down the Flushing Avenue platform, at the old lay & the Muslim & the running water & the vandalized signs. “Rule one is - don’t ride the subway if you don’t have to”.

Wise words from a Policeman four or more decades ago about New York Subways that still hold true to this date

Easy Money Patronage

Mr. Whitaker is very good on the paradoxes of philanthropy, and on the numerous motives that impel the philanthropoid to give his money away. There is the religious emphasis - alms giving, which may have evolved from the tradition ‘of making a sacrifice to propriate fate or hostile spirits, togther with a more material fear of malevolence of the poor’. There is tax-deduction, but this recent - no deduction was allowed for charitable gifts prior to 1917. There is simple kindness; and complicated kindness, motivated by a mixture of idealism, pride and the wish to be loved. “At least ninety percent of all existing foundations today” Mr. Whitaker remarks “perpetuate the donor’s name” - not only Ford, Carnegie and Kennedy, but also, as we have seen, Gertrude Clarke Whittal and not only all recent presidents but members of their cabinet - the John Volpe and Maurice Stans foundations are but two of very many.

There is a selfish to which Will Kellogg, the cereal tycoon admitted: “I get a kick out of it (giving to children). There I am a selfish person and philanthropist”. There is real malice. Mr. Whitaker cites the case of the American who “estabilished the fund to help French peasants to dress up as matadors or hula dancers, to prove his thesis that there no degradation to which French People will not stoop for money”. There is also the straightforwardness of James Buchanan Duke, who found the Duke Endowment. He said, “People ought to be healthy. If they ain’t healthy they can’t work, and if they can’t work they ain’t healthy. And if they can’t work there ain’t no profit in them.” From such down-to-earth sentiments came the great institution we know as Duke Medical School and pioneering scholarship in the field of extra-sensory perception and parapsychology, and we laymen call ghosts.