There’s No God in Antarctica
All photos by Jo Stewart
Lots of folks fantasize about “getting away from it all,” but few actually put their money where their mouths are. Backpacking in Europe or Southeast Asia or fucking off to some tropical island for some guidebook-approved relaxation might be a nice change of pace, but the bottom line is you’re still surrounded by people and all the problems that come with them. If you curse society long enough, however, the universe will provide you with an escape route, should you want to take it—or at least it did in my case, when I was offered the opportunity to work on a yacht that was filming a documentary in Antarctica.
I immediately said yes, of course, imagining the majestic sweeps of ice and rock and sea, the killer whales swimming freely, the penguins frolicking in landscapes so picturesque they could be accompanied by Morgan Freeman’s narration. But the reality of living on the massive, isolated seventh continent is very different from the glacial fantasy. Yes, there’s otherworldly beauty but there’s also the odd, the cruel, and the outright terrifying things that would never be found in any travel brochure. Some days, the soundtrack to Antarctica is Sigur Rós, on others, it’s a wounded seal barking on a frigid rocky outcrop. Here are some details of my trip that won’t make it into any nature films.
For many, the trek to Antarctica involves sailing from the southern tip of South America and crossing the Drake Passage, a.k.a., “the Drake,” which is known for whipping up some of the roughest seas on the planet. Just for the record: I hate the Drake. Most travellers get to experience the passage from a comfy cruise ship with an icebreaker hull (still not exactly a picnic), but if you’re in a smaller working yacht, as I was, it’s a whole different kettle of krill. In storms, these yachts lurch, roll, and shake so violently that eating is futile given the inevitable seasickness, sleep is nearly impossible, and a simple task like dressing yourself is pure slapstick. Being surrounded by a churning, featureless gray-black monster that has no regard for your life is a sobering experience for a land dweller.
Girl News - The Girls’ Guide to Winter
That it gets dark at noon or w/e is of less consequence when you think about winter as a Laplandian fairytale (Lapland is like Narnia but without all the stuff) instead of something brutalist and immovable and boring. Also, can I be a little bit real with you? I’m missing Rihanna to write this, and that’s because instead of doing it before, I am doing it now, and that’s because I am the kind of perennial dummy who doesn’t understand Future Kate as a real being with needs and limitations. But I did get a new coat in the mail today, and that makes up for it? So actually winter is really boring but in a way that is restorative for summer hedonisms so we should do a little thank-you prayer for winter even though it sucks a million.
Have you guys been paying attention to Taylor’s new record? What do we think about Red? Here is a lil’ taste: “Losing him was blue like I’d never known / Missing him was dark gray, all alone / Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met / But loving him was reeeeeeed” etc etc etc. Like you are also pretty sure she is laughing at us all the time, right?
Anyway, winter is silver, for me. I guess it’s a triple-obvious to initially characterize a time/month/season as so totally synesthetic—that is, for a thing or idea to correspond to a color, the way some people hear “eleven” and think “purple”—but so much of what a season is is experienced around it, before or after (see above re: summertime wildtimes, you know what I mean, you can feel that sun on your shoulders and that convertible backseat dick-grazing already) and the synesthetic experience of winter is silver, all the way from a dull, frozen metal silver to a glittery, tinsely fairy-lit silver. Or, in magazine or blogspeak, the “color story” of winter is silver, and even if you have to squint at a pile of filthy snow to make it happen, you can do it. Recasting a Total (if temporary) Drag-thing like this, like something almost fun and special, is just better for you.
Word to all girls and to any boy who has paid actual, intellectual attention to the girl experience, and knows that being cold is this common, constant bodily reality, and therefore knows that like anything else boys want to complain about (work, pain, political oppression) you probably had it worse. (Oooooh faced!) (I’m just kidding, fucking relax.)
“Sweatpants are disgusting” is the bottom line, but that’s only part true. The legacy of Juicy Couture asses and Free City thighs and high school kids on the subway in daytime sweats have left the mostly correct impression that sweatpants are too hard and too horrible to get right.
Most sweatpants are doing something that is “college” (too soft, pastel, slouchy, worn in a compromised, hunchy posture, the inside lined with a steady, clammy mist of hangover sweat from the malt liquor pre-drinks and the runny bar rail G&Ts and then a tasty slice and then whatever non-cure—Coffee? Laxatives? Froot Loops and an ice-cold can of Coke?—you took that morning), but what you want them to do is something that is “second grade” (that sort of not-soft and structure-giving outer material, drawstring pulled into a bunny-ears bow, cinched ankles and a no-nonsense color like navy blue or heather gray for maximum PLAYING results), where the haptic experience (a.k.a. “feeling”) is one of active but chilled ease, and not hopelessness.
Jeans in real winter will actually hurt your body, and will, like, reverse-burn it with freezingness (Ooooooh you know when you come inside in the winter and jump out of your jeans while you hop to the bathroom to pee and when you sit down your legs likesizzle because they got too warm too fast?); tights are too perfect and too played out to abuse and should be reserved for like Thursdays and Fridays at work; nylony leggings are cold as shit. A pair of new sweatpants that you call “trackies” when your boyfriend is around and understand as a pants-facilitator of “fun” and “doing” instead of “couch” (listen, when you’re that hungover just get naked, take a long steam, and drink Gatorade wrapped up in a cotton sheet all day, taaaa-rust me) subverts the expectations of sweatpants and will improve your winter Saturday ten-fold. Don’t sleep in them, though. Sleep in something silkaaaay.
Two ways to go with boyfriends in the winter. (If you have like an actual relationship then I guess skip this part or nap through it or whatever I don’t care.) The common wisdom is to get with someone cuddly-cozy, he probably has a beard and a big scarf and the whole point is not so much to “like” each other but to pass crunchycozycomfy time with movies and microwaved snacks until you check off shit like “the boring part of Christmas holidays” and “New Year’s Eve” and “that first week of March which remains horrible” and basically do arctic warfare with the weapon of a boring Starbucks relationship. So that’s fine. The second way is to find a beta fish who will worship you for five solid months and go out in the cold to walk your dog and pick up your library books and will be available to you for the aforementioned movie cuddles (because, look, everyone needs movie cuddles) but all without falsified and presumed interest, just more standard sexual power dynamics writ large by frosty windows. Choose wisely.