South Pole Diaries 2000/01



Saturday 16th December 2000

From Paolo Calisse.....

Today life at Dome C is smooth and slow. So, I'll take some time to share with you another quite common aspect of life at 75 South latitude (and 06').

When you get used to life in a scientific station, you begin to realize that the most technical and cool communication system - the old-fashioned walky-talky - can easily become, if in the right hands, a way to transport the most common and familiar life habits, unwished humour, "topical" debates, despite the Hollywood permanent tendency to tell us that, if you want serious and really committed stuff, you just have to communicate something with a harsh voice on the ether.

For an hour now, while working on data analysis, I have been listening to the radio (that anybody working at Dome C can switch on).....there is a closed debate about some stuff that just arrived with the last Twin Otter flight.

While the pilots are recovering in the infirmary for a lack of oxygen intake (probably because they flew at a high altitude due to a lack of kerosene), people are arguing on the ether about the following, puzzling question: where the hell has the "pasta maker" gone?

I learned there are several different theories about the disappearance of the "pastamatic". But at least it will allow the Chef to arrange some actual, traditional, handmade tortellini for Christmas lunch, and I am touched to see how the attention to really important details can make life here easy and pleasant.

Just a few days ago, an argument started against our respectful Chef, just because he "dared" to cut the spaghetti in half before he cooked it. This is something that could easily cause the Italian workers of the station to strike.

Sergio Gamberini, the nurse of the station, called "Gambero", (that is "prawn", to confirm our endless fixation about food), said the pastamatic should have arrived, packed in a carton box, on board the last aircraft. Rita, from the radio room, insists that there was only a pen and a notebook in that box . How a pastamatic can be transmuted into a notebook and a pen, is something really difficult to understand. A pastamatic needs quite a large box, while a notebook and a pen can easily fit in the pocket. I can't imagine that an almost empty box was loaded on a Twin Otter to be sent to a really remote site like this. And, wait, who asked Terra Nova Bay to send "one" notebook and "one" pen to the whole station? The discussion quickly becomes surreal, but nobody on the radio seems aware of that, neither the head of logistics, Carlo, nor the other people working on the mystery of the disappearing "pastamatic".

Meanwhile, Luigi, one of the most talented electrical engineers available within a 1000 km distance, is trying to repair some key equipment of the station: the washing machine. To do it he unloaded a certain number of unidentified "underpants" from a washer, just left there by somebody. Luigi complains on the radio about that: the rule of the station is to remove clothes as soon as possible from the washing room, to leave it free for the next user.

Immediately after, everybody on the station is informed by the shrill voice of Rita, the only woman present in the station, that the slips were her own. There is an embarrassed exchange of messages and apology from Luigi, promising to put the "hot" load back. But somebody immediately starts questioning Luigi's capability to distinguish between female and male pants. Maybe its time for him to go back home?

The two or three main threads available this afternoon on Dome C channel 6 (the common channel of the station) continues incessantly.

The pilots are recovering, but decided to spend the night here for safety reasons. Somebody must arrange two beds for them as the station is fully booked.

Hills Behin Terra Nova BayMeanwhile Terra Nova Bay station (the other Italian station, on the Antarctic coast), is asking on HF for some strategic stuff: 2 shovels, 60 litres of gasoline, 1 litre of motor oil, for a team left a bit far from the station to accomplish I don't know which duty. There is a continuous exchange of messages and suggestions on the radio, transferred to Terra Nova Bay and back by radio waves, not every understandable, and people are trying, grunting just a little bit against the requests, to find all the stuff needed to leave at 5 am tomorrow morning.

It is an attitude of the Italians to immediately start saying "no", then quickly pass to "vediamo cosa si puo' fare" (a circumlocution to mean "maybe", literally "let me see what can be done") that, in Italian, actually means "si" (yes).