South Pole Diaries 2000/01



Sunday 17th December 2000

From Paolo Calisse.....

Dome C, Instruction for use....

Paragraph 1: waking up

Accomodation for guests at Dome C consists of a large tent with 6 to 8 beds. Inside, a stove fueled by special 'no paraffine' kerosene, looking like something out of a Dickens' tale, provides heat or, if you prefer, as the stove visible in the Pingu igloo [the cartoon story based on the perature inside is deliberately kept around 4-5 C to favourite nice dreams]. The air is dry here, and higher temperatures could make throats dry, and that doesn't help you to get to sleep.

The other face of the coin is that every morning I wake up convinced I'll never find the courage to leave the bed. Outside is cold, and you just abandon the warm Morpheo's embrace.

Also today I am silently screaming against myself in the bed. The "ultimate" question arises again in my mind: what, the hell, I am doing here? I'll forget this question as soon as I will have dressed the last layer of clothes.

Meanwhile, I contemplate the list of possible gifts for the coming Christmas. Thinking of my son, I overstrike "The Little Chemist", and write instead "The Little Accountant".

Twin OtterSuddenly, around 5 am, the pilots fired up the Twin Otters engine to leave to Terranova Bay, the other Italian Station on the coast. Something quite similar to a Queensland resort. But this is an old tradition in Antarctic stations: "let the engine start up at early morning". Nobody knows why. Why leave at 5 am when you could do it 5 hours later.

Previously, I told all the best things about that aircraft, handy as a Vespa scooter. No need for airports, they could just be "chained" in front of the door of your building, the exhaust completely removed to increase attention around your 50 cc engine motorbike, double carburator, oversized carburator inlet just as 14 years old boys used to do in Rome's outskirt.

Two different aircrafts are mainly used to move to the Antarctic Plateau: the sky equipped Hercules C-130, a big beast with 4 propellers and room enough to digest hundreds of people each time plus some cargo, and the Twin Otter, handly, light and able to land everywhere without assistance at ground.

About the Hercules, John Storey wrote enough last year from the South Pole. Citing by heart, one morning he wrote "An idiot parked an Hercules just in front of my tent leaving the engines on, yeasterday night". Hercules engines can't be safely switched off on the Antarctic Plateau.

As soon as the Twin Otter fires up its two propellers, I slowly wake up with the feeling that a genetical modified mosquito, that smart pointlike animal spending summer sunrises flying just around your ears at early morning, is now trying to colonize Antarctica. And yourself.

As so many "little" aircraft, Twin Otter engines feel too high in frequency, exagerated. They can't fly, you think in the drowsiness, it's a mechanical nonsense, the noise is just like the one generated by a thousands radiocontrolled toy aircrafts started underneath my bed.

The wind brings you the noise in tidal waves, playing to filter frequencies, and looking as the propeller is used time by time to slice mortadella. Moreover, heating an aircraft propeller is a process long enough to move probably the aircraft to Terra Nova Bay by the ground with a lower amount of fuel. Sometime you think that damned twin propeller is at the beginning of the runaways, giving finally max throttle to take off and get as far as possible by your delicate auditory organs. But the engine slows down again, it's just kidding you.

Suddenly, when your are already half way through eating the pillow, it will really take off, and any noise, suddenly, disappears somewhere toward East.

Unfortunately my ears, in the quiet silence of the Antarctic dawn, feature the property to "learn" any large bandwidth, loud noises, and try to find them in any quiet noise they found around.

So, for a long time, in a desolate drownsiness, I feel as the power engine station, very far and quiet in comparison, is just the noise of the aircraft that has landed about half mile away from the station due to a sudden fault. This uncomortable feeling that something went wrong, after you cursed the aircraft for half an hour, makes you feel remorse, and doesn't allow you to recover sleeping. Up to the moment the breakfast is served. Then, you fall asleep.