Friday, 5 September 2014

Man Down

Antique Italian photograph of a man off his horse - dated  in pen 8.3.1926 
It's been some time since I posted here.  I spent most of my summer seeing a small army of physicians. They diagnosed an autoimmune condition as the cause of the peripheral neuropathy that has been affecting my feet and lower legs.  The experts will rarely say with certainty what causes this kind of condition, I am sure it is the result of a major viral infection in 2010 caused by Colorado Tick Fever.   For the time being anyway, I am mostly disabled. I'm able to get around with a cane and am wobbly from the drug therapy I am undergoing.  Nerves heal, but even in the best case it will take a year (or more) to regain my balance and strength.  For concerned readers I should note that I maintain what I like to think of as a realistic optimistism.

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Those of us who spend time in rugged country inhabited by large predators are often too keenly aware of the dangers posed by teeth and claws.  Being attacked by an animal that can kill and eat you is a primal fear dating to the very beginning of human existence.  Statistically, it is the tiny guys, the bacteria and viruses, that present the greatest threat, not the lions and tigers and bears. 

There are a couple of examples that come to mind, one fictional and one not.
Hemingway on safari in 1934
Hemingway's story The Snows of Kilimanjaro is structured around the irony of a seemingly inconsequential event resulting in the most dramatic outcome. Harry dies on safari, not killed by dangerous game but as the result of an infected wound caused by a thorn.  

Egyptologist Lord Carnavon, died from a mosquito bite.
The genesis of the Curse of the Pharaohs rests with a mosquito bite. What could be more inconsequential? The extraordinarily wealthy British adventurer George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, financed the expedition to excavate King Tut's tomb in the valley of the Kings.  In 1922 Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb. In 1923 he died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo from a mosquito bite infected by a shaving accident.  His death, and others, spawned the legend of the curse on those who disturb the tomb of a mummy.

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While I was laid up this summer I spent far too much time looking at vintage and contemporary photographs online.  I looked at thousands of photographs but I did not know what I was looking for until I saw it, an antique Italian photograph of a horse and rider going down in a cloud of dust. In a rather stunningly symbolic way it represents my own situation. Man down.

The author with the Man Down photograph.


  1. Yes, the power of the mosquito. When I had to sleep on the porch near Kariba in Zimbabwe I worried all night about the lion and the hyena which seemed to take turns patrolling the (very low) electric fence, the lion roaring and th hyena making what sounded like interrogatives. Never even noticed much about the mosquitos, fewer than any in a northern night .

    But the sudden onset of falciparum Malaria two weeks later, coming on like a freezing wind as I sat at a barbecue across the street damn near killed me, melting over rthirty pounds off my body. Falciparum is not recurrent, but i think the insult to my system triggered my latent genetic potential for Parkinson's and Rheumatoid arthritis.

    I still carry a sidearm in the hills, though.

  2. Sorry to hear of this. I virus or something knocked me about last year as well but I am back in the field now.
    Hoping for the best

  3. Hi, I am just wondering where you found the photograph of the man falling from his horse? or do you know who owns it?

    1. Sorry for the long delay in replying to your comment. I purchased the photograph on Ebay from an antique photo dealer in Italy. I own the photograph now.

    2. Sorry for the long delay in replying to your comment. I purchased the photograph on Ebay from an antique photo dealer in Italy. I own the photograph now.