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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vollmann Diaries 2: New River//\Salton Sea

salton sea beachWelcome to Salton Sea Beach: Taken May 1st, 2007.

Vollmann Diaries is a multi-part review of Imperial by William T. Vollmann, published on July 30th, 2009 and obtained by me on August 10th, 2009. (Amazon)

Vollmann Diaries 1: Border Crossing//Desert Tower

In 2007, I found myself in the position of having to drive to El Centro, CA after the end of Coachella Arts and Music Festival. I was excited, because I wanted to see the Salton Sea, certainly an object of fascination for me going back to 2002. My wife was also interested in seeing the Salton Sea. Here is a photograph of me at the Salton Sea Beach. It was incredible. The desolate moonscape of Salton City is just about everything you need to know about what the whole world will be like after we destroy our civilization. If you really want an illustration of that environment, go to Google Maps and type in "Salton City, CA." then zoom into a neighborhood level view and toggle between "street" view and "satellite" view. Epic fail.

Salton SeaThe Salton Sea.

Waters of Life, if the third chapter in William T. Vollman's "Imperial." Like the other chapters, Waters of Life carries a specific year as date. In this case it's "2001." Waters of Life is an exploration by the Vollmann character of the Mexicali-to-Salton Sea New River and of the Salton Sea itself. The action in this chapter are a couple of boat rides, capped by a chemical test of the water to see how polluted it actually it is. The verdict? It's actually not that bad- it looks (and smells) worse then it is.

Salton Sea "Marina"

Vollmann expresses exhilaration at his raft ride on the New River between the Mexicali/Calecxio border to south of the Freeway 8, describing it as akin to exploring pre-Columbian America, so destitute of visitors is this river. But it's all about the stink, and the heat, and the stink. At one point Vollmann describes the smell of death on the Mexican side of the river to be "so bad as to actually smell like a strong cheese." Shudder.

One thing he doesn't do is make any references to Egypt or the Nile, or classical Greece or Roman. I don't know if Vollmann is going to save that for later or what, but it's fact that Imperial Valley was often compared to the Nile River delta in its early days, and the New River is obviously at least analogous to the Nile. It also occurs to me that based on the heat, and the stink, and the fact that you will die in the water itself, a comparison to Hades or the river Styx would be a suitable metaphor. Minor criticisms, though.

I am looking out my office window to the east, contemplating the fog that shrouds Golden Hill. The temperature in the Imperial Valley today is predicted to reach a high of 106, but we all know how hot asphalt can get. As always, my thoughts are of what would happen were my car to break down in such conditions. Fortunately the road is well traveled, so death is unlikely. As long as you don't get out and walk. That could end up being a real mistake.

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