July 05, 2010

Michael Palin: Still (working like) Crazy After All These Years

Thanks to Simon and Garfunkel for most of the title.

Way back last October I told you of my plans to write a novel. Well, I still have plans and more words to show for it. But it's difficult to clear the days and just concentrate on writing. Being President of The Royal Geographical Society (I started a three-year term in June last year) involves a lot of appearances at the Society to introduce speakers and occasionally give talks myself and this last year, a lot of time spent fund-raising for improvements to the Society's headquarters just along from the Albert Hall. Which is where I joined Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam as one-night guest stars in Eric and John Du Prez's take on The Life Of Brian called Not The Messiah. So for the second time in my life (the first being at the Concert for George) I found myself singing The Lumberjack Song at the Albert Hall. Only this time I got the words of the chorus wrong! Must be old age!

There was also a Python reunion in New York, so the old bugger is still alive and well and giving me yet another excuse for not finishing the novel.

Recent interruptions have included a brilliant visit to Bologna in Italy for a Film Festival celebrating the work of Peter Sellers. Every time I see work by him and Spike Milligan I realise how much I've been influenced by them both in acting and writing. In a rare clip from 1953, one of their sketches begins with two men banging coconuts together. "Give the horses some water", someone says, and they drop the coconuts into a bucket.

Also to Warsaw last month to promote the publication of the book of my journey Around The World In Eighty Days which now joins Himalaya and Sahara (and my first novel Hemingway's Chair) in a specially translated Polish edition. And earlier in the year, as the ash clouds gathered over Europe, to Paris to promote the first French language edition of Pole to Pole.

Have tried hard to resist the temptations of book festivals. I feel that I should write the book first and then go to the festivals. But I've been seduced by the delights of southern Ireland to attend the West Cork Literary Festival to which I'm paying a flying visit this Thursday, 8th July.

That same day sees the publication of the easy-to-read, lightweight, all-singing, all-dancing paperback edition of my Diaries from the 1980s, Halfway To Hollywood, so I'll be doing some signings and radio and TV interviews over the next two weeks. Again, instead of writing the novel!

Two bits of travel news. If negotiations work out well I plan to reunite with the team next year to shoot a three-part BBC1 series in Brazil. I hope we can sort it all out satisfactorily as I shall soon be too old to move unaided. (Though whenever I think I'm too old I look at David Attenborough, now into his eighties and still showing us whippersnappers a clean pair of heels!)

In late March I spent a week in Orissa, a state on the Eastern side of India, south of Kolkata and north of Chennai. I can recommend it. Little known by tourists from outside India, the capital Bhubaneswar has plenty of accommodation and some of the finest Hindu temples I've ever seen. Beautiful craftsmanship dating back nearly 2000 years. There's wildlife and dolphins in an inland sea-water lake nearby and further upstate are forested hills which are home to the adivasis - the oldest indigenous tribes of India. They are sadly not being left alone. The hills amongst which they have lived for many centuries contain valuable minerals and a huge aluminium refinery was built near the Nyamgiri Hills recently. The mining company want to get at reserves of bauxite, and a particularly rich seam runs through the Nyamgiri Hills. Unfortunately several indigenous peoples still live there including the Dongria Kondh, for whom the hills gave always been sacred.

The company is currently awaiting a decision from the Indian government which they hope will allow it to begin mining, which will involve bulldozing and blasting the top of the hills to a depth of some 30 metres. The villages of the Dongria Kondh will be destroyed if the project goes through. Depressing because we all use aluminium so we're all to an extent complicit. But for the people who have lived here for so long, and whose way of life doesn't need aluminium, the impact of what is to happen is impossible for them to understand.

I found this head-on collision of ancient and modern ways of life deeply sad. Recently in the Independent newspaper the business section advised that the shares of the company that is mining in Orissa might be a good buy despite its record and reputation. I wrote this letter in protest and it was published in the paper last Thursday 1st July:

"At least your Business Section is commendably honest about claiming the moral low ground. "If You Can Stomach It, Vedanta Is A Good Buy", Independent 30.06.10.

I certainly couldn't stomach it. But then I've been to the Nyamgiri Hills in Orissa and seen the forces of money and power that Vedanta Resources have arrayed against a people who have occupied their land for thousands of years, who husband the forest sustainably and make no great demands on the state or the government. The tribe I visited simply want to carry on living in the villages that they and their ancestors have always lived in. Vedanta shares will doubtless go up when and if permission is granted to bulldoze their sacred hills in order to extract bauxite. If you want to make some money out of that, as the Independent recommends, that's up to you. If, on the other hand you have any reservations about destroying a way of life, you might wish to pause, think and read a little more about what's going on in the Nyamgiri Hills".

It's a story to watch.

Now I'm escaping into the wonderful world of fiction to avoid all this awfulness. Or better still, to confront it.

Love to all. Thanks for continuing to join me on the site and, whatever you do, never lose interest in the world!

July 5th, 2010

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