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Il leopardo delle nevi (1978)

di Peter Matthiessen

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2,222445,097 (3.97)96
"In 1973, Peter Matthiessen and field biologist George Schaller traveled high into the remote mountains of Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and possibly glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard. Matthiessen, a student of Zen Buddhism, was also on a spiritual quest{u2014} to find the Lama of Shey at the ancient shrine on Crystal Mountain. As the climb proceeds, Matthiessen charts his inner path as well as his outer one, with a deepening Buddhist understanding of reality, suffering, impermanence, and beauty."--Publisher information.… (altro)
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This is Peter Matthiessen’s memoir documenting a trip he took through Tibet in the 1970’s with a zoologist named George Schaller.
Matthiessen’s writing is very descriptive and several beautiful passages stood out at me and as I read I was easily whisked away.

I think Matthiessen was brave to go off and travel mainly on foot like that through all kinds of trails and terrains, climbing steep hillsides and seeing so many distant places and people. That takes guts. He pretty much did all of this with just the clothes on his back. It’s amazing to think of doing something like that. While he is out on his trek he finds zen moments of introspect and clarity. I try to meditate daily myself and although for the most part I liked when he spoke of Yogis and meditation, I did find some of what he referenced about enlightenment to be odd and just plain gross at times. I wasn’t expecting to read some of the things he was saying would constitute enlightenment but I’ll leave it at that.

The trip is full of inspiration but also of moments of sadness as Matthiessen misses his family and thinks about his late ex-wife. There is also the aspect of danger just on the periphery daily. These people are in remote locations with no nearby doctors, they are climbing steep hillsides and mountains, they need to make sure they have enough food and supplies as well. On top of that the elevation gives headaches and the snow blinds their eyes as they travel. This is a mentally and physically exhausting venture.

Overall this is a beautifully written memoir about a man who goes on a trek to find himself and get a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard. I kept wondering, where is the snow leopard? Will they find it? Is it watching them? There’s a little twist at the end. Highly recommended. ( )
  bookworm_naida | Sep 23, 2020 |
I had so much hope for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed Matthiessen's book, Shadow Country, and this book won two National Book Award's. But alas, this book did not hold my interest. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Aug 1, 2020 |

Damn. This book started out so well.

However, after only a few pages it seems to have turned into a version of Log from the Sea of Cortez, complete with philosophical and religious musings on the author's own life, his experimenting with different drugs, and his understanding of Buddhism - in none of which I have any interest at all.

The parts where Matthiessen describes the natural environment of his trek through Nepal are fascinating. Unfortunately, these are too few and too far between for my enjoyment.

I read 85 pages, then skipped to the end. The only sighting of the snow leopard is literally mentioned in the last 3 pages - and he doesn't go into much detail because he wasn't even there. He simply included a very short letter from George Schaller which briefly stated that he did manage to see one in the end (and after Matthiessen had returned home).

I get that there may be some beauty in Matthiessen's writing, his musings, and his dealing with grief after the loss of his wife, but all that esoteric babble just isn't for me, especially not when I expected the book to focus more on the expedition and the wildlife. ( )
  BrokenTune | Jul 14, 2020 |
nonfiction, memoir, nature, journey, snow leopard, blue sheep, Nepal, Buddhism, hiking, mountain climbing, Sherpas, grief ( )
  margaretmontet | Jun 20, 2020 |
Far away eastward, far below, the Marsa River opens out into Lake Phewa, near Pokhara, which glints in the sunset of the foothills. There are no roads west of Pokhara, which is the last outpost of the modern world; in one day’s walk, we are a century away.

After a few aborted attempts to read Peter Matthiessen’s’ most popular ‘The Snow Leopard’, the lock-down gave me at last the time and space needed to join the famous author-adventurer-conservationist on his trek into the thin air of the Tibetan mountain-range.

In the last months of 1973, Matthiessen teamed up with the legendary naturalist George Schaller for a trip to the Dolpa region in western Nepal. The reason for the expedition was that Schaller wanted to study the Bharal, the Himalayan Blue sheep. His intention was to find out if the animal was more a goat than a sheep. Or if it was someting different altogether, a proto-sheep or a proto-goat, a common ancestor to both. The lama (Spiritual Master) of the Shey gompa (monastery) had in the past, and in his capra-philic wisdom, protected these beautiful animals. The result was that the Bharal were still very abundant in the wider area around the Gompa. And this in turn attracted wolves and even the elusive and therefore mythical snow leopard.

While the study of the sheepish goats would not offer sufficient attraction to an adventurer, such as Matthiessen, the long walk in fact offered many more excitements. The hope of glimpsing the Snow Leopard, this near mythic beast, was reason enough for the entire journey. But, even if that was very unlikely, the journey would still unwind along such wonders as the Blue Lake, the Saldang, the Crystal mountain and the Shey Phoksundo. For Matthiessen, a keen student of Zen, it would also allow him to practice his new acquired knowledge in the very environment where Buddhism had its cradle. It would even allow him to personally meet a famous Lama. Matthiessen from the start understood that he had embarked on a true pilgrimage, a journey of the heart.

The book ‘The Snow Leopard' recounts, in the form of a realistic travelling journal (with dates, maps and all), the long walk, Peter Matthiessen undertook, towards the Tibetan monastery hidden high up in the Himalayan Mountain range. It is a faithful recollection of the three-month tour, a genuine Himalayan expedition with Sherpa’s, carriers, yaks and all. The long trek, in a snowy, cold and unforgiving mountainous area has its hidden and not so hidden dangers. The travelers are mentally and physically challenged to the extreme and find themselves more than once on the brink of life threatening situations. But the book is more than just a description of an arduous trek. Matthiessen elegantly mixes the journal entries of the expedition’s progress with digressions on what preoccupies his mind and lyrical descriptions of a sublime nature.

The long and lonely walks on the interminable paths leading around and finally up the mountain liberate the mind for long bouts of introspections. Mentally, Matthiessen was not in the best of shapes for such a trip. Feelings of guilt, sadness and uselessness seep into his mind as he grows tired and encounters more and more obstacles on his way. Confronted with the overwhelming sublime vistas of the mountain range, emotions wash over him and bring him to tears. A year earlier Matthiessen lost his second wife to cancer. Memories of her last days grieve him and feelings of guilt of leaving his orphaned children behind constantly besiege him. Like anyone who has chosen to live an independent life, it comes at the cost of doubts and remorse.

Matthiessen who is a Zen apprentice, constantly switches, whenever possible, to his concentration, introspection and Shikantaza exercises. He commits his feelings and doings unadorned to the pages and from all this honest introspection and self-explaining rambling appears a real man of life and blood. And maybe it is all a bit too honest. The narrator at times comes over as arrogant, egotistical and impatient with the ways of the locals. He is aware of it though and writes down how he regrets it. Matthiessen can never entirely shed his American-Ivy League upbringings. He likes to indulge in the ways of the locals but when confronted with their dangerous or unhealthy lives he turns away in a reflex of self-protection. In the preparation of his earlier book, Far Tortuga, he joined a crew of fisherman but when he experiences their true living conditions, he bails out without finishing the voyage. In the Snow Leopard, on his way back, he constantly outdistances his travelling companions (who carry his stuff) in an impatient grumbling pace. At each camp-fire he then regrets his attitude. One cannot but compare it to Eric Newby’s attitude to the locals in the Hindu Kush. How more humane, with its mix of mock-attitude and self-depreciation.

Matthiessen, an ecologist, is mostly interested in nature and wildlife around him. The writer has but a mere descriptive eye for the man-made wonders he sees; when he visits for example the age-old monastery lost between the peaks of the mountain range...

Then he (The Lama) enters the little prayer room that looks out over the snows through its bright blue window. On the walls of the prayer room hang two fine thangkas, or cloth paintings, and the altar wall has figures in both brass and bronze of Karma-pa, the founder of this subsect, (…). On both sides are shelves of ancient scrolls, or ‘books’, as well as thangkas (the old thangkas on the wall are in poor repair, and these rolled-up ones must be even more decrepit). The walls all around are crowded with frescoes and religious paintings, and each corner is cluttered with old treasures, all but lost in musty darkness.

It is a pity. One can only regret that Robert Byron, Chatwin or Norman Douglas are not around to elaborate further and illuminate us with their comments on the architecture of the impressive shey’s and the significance of the old thangkas displayed in the decrepit vaults of the ancient monasteries and anchoretic dungeons.

Matthiessen regularly interrupts the narration of his progress, to tell us about his experimentations with hallucinogens, the story of Siddhartha, how Asian cosmology compares with the findings of ‘modern’ physics and so on. Together with the Kathmandu scenery (his second visit) the book is basically a wrap-up of all the subjects an entire generation of hippy youth gobbled up in the last ten years preceding this book. Rather than giving the book a generous and nostalgic gloss fifty years later, one must conclude that the Snow Leopard, despite its scope, has not aged very well on all levels. At times, it is a bit boring. I suspect the Snow Leopard is one of those cult books that, in the words of journalist H. Anderson, lost their Cool’.

Matthiessen belongs to that post-war generation of writers - adventurers - discoverers who through their books, and to finance their lifestyle, contributed to open a pristine world to a larger public. They are then surprised and lament that the vanguard of encroaching commercial tribes and their reader-adepts following in their wake have destroyed the very wonders they described. They then turn into fierce environmentalist and defenders of the local communities and set-up half efficient organizations to protect what is been destroyed. Alas, all is business. And the Shey Phoksundo National Park, so magisterially described, is no exception. The internet shows that we now can book Snow leopard tours and Matthiessen tours to follow on the steps of the famous writer. Rafting those wild rivers is an option and bungee jumping over the Bhote Koshi River is a must. Matthiessen's son has lately reenacted with his father erstwhile companion Schaller, the trip all over again, walking in his dad's steps. His introduction contributes to the marketing of the Folio society’s beautiful edition of The Snow Leopard, including Schaller's original pictures. Images that are scandalously missing in my first signed edition.

As said Matthiessen is most entertaining when he describes wildlife around him. The shape of the valleys and mountains create natural amphitheater that allows a wide theatrical overview of the surrounding valleys and mounts. Matthiessen and Schaller can follow a flock of Bharal’s chased by a pack of wolves and cheer when an animal is caught or escapes by daring jumps. Schaller confesses that he has never been able to follow so well an entire chase in his long career.

We suspect that the writer is motivated by more than mere scientific interest, when he describes the kinky rutting behavior of the sporting blue sheep: male mounting male, dipping their snouts in the urine streams of the females. Both Matthiessen and Schaller exult whenever there is another ‘beautiful’ penis - lick.

There are a few true nuggets of amused wonder to be found among the 340 pages of the book.

The Nepal government takes yeti seriously, and there is a strict law against killing them. But one of the Arun Valley scientists has a permit to collect one of these creatures, and I asked him what he would do if, one fine morning, a yeti presented itself within fair range; it seemed to me that this decision should not wait for the event. The biologist was unsettled by the question; he had not made this hard decision, or if he had, was not at peace with it.

Cut away in Matthiessen book a few of his introspective ramblings and you are left with a wonderfully narrated voyage in the most sublime environments this planet can show. Fortunately for the reader, the overwhelming beauty abounds in 'The Snow Leopard’. The descriptions of the beautiful vistas, the gorgeous natural phenomenon’s and the animal sightings take the overhand from the introspective brooding in the second part of the book. The writing is beautiful too. Matthiessen’s Zen stuff works like John Ruskin’s ‘drawing advice’; to make one stop the time and take in the details’. Matthiessens exercises help him to 'see the world more clearly and to live with a deeper dense of presence’. This and the wonderful trip he does (and of which we are a bit jealous) remains the major attraction of the book. It is not likely to disappear soon.

The trail follows the south bank of the Ghustang, a wild torrent off the Dhaulagiri glacier that cascades down over the rust-colored boulders through a forest of great evergreens, merging farther to the west with the Uttar Ganga and the lower Bheri. Where bamboo appears, four thousand feet below our Dhaulagiri camp, a log bridge crosses the torrent and a trail climbs an open, grassy slope of stolid oaks and lithe wild olives that dance in the silver breeze of the afternoon. ( )
2 vota Macumbeira | May 23, 2020 |
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That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called "visions," the whole so-called "spirit-world," death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.
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In late September of 1973, I set out with GS on a journey to the Crystal Mountain, walking west under Annapurna and north along the Kali Gandaki River, then west and north again, around the Dhaulagiri peaks and across the Kanjiroba, two hundred and fifty miles or more to the Land of Dolpo, on the Tibetan Plateau.
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"In 1973, Peter Matthiessen and field biologist George Schaller traveled high into the remote mountains of Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and possibly glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard. Matthiessen, a student of Zen Buddhism, was also on a spiritual quest{u2014} to find the Lama of Shey at the ancient shrine on Crystal Mountain. As the climb proceeds, Matthiessen charts his inner path as well as his outer one, with a deepening Buddhist understanding of reality, suffering, impermanence, and beauty."--Publisher information.

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