[Fwd: William T. Vollmann on the Salton Sea]

Joseph S. Barrera III joe at barrera.org
Sun Dec 7 06:00:42 PST 2003

 -------- Original Message --------
Subject:     William T. Vollmann on the Salton Sea
Date:     Sun, 07 Dec 2003 05:56:30 -0800
From:     Joseph S. Barrera III <joe at barrera.org>
To:     wallace-l at waste.org

I have a fascination with the Salton Sea ever since

college at Harvey Mudd in 1986 when I drove out
to see the thing (blah blah see:


At any rate, google news alert just informed me that
Vollmann (whose writing many of us here like)
has written a travel piece about it:


 >>Much of the travel literature that crossed my desk dealt with places
most of us aren't that eager to visit. The 2003 edition of THE BEST
AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING (Houghton Mifflin, paper, $13) is edited this
year by Ian Frazier (the series editor is Jason Wilson) according to
methods that Frazier, in his introduction, calls ''feckless and
informal'' but that impressed me as canny and strategic. The collection
includes essays on Afghanistan (Scott Carrier's and Andrew Solomon's
different takes on the aftermath of the war), the Congo Republic (Peter
Canby sweating through the jungle with a tick lodged inside his nose),
the Arctic (Lawrence Millman stranded in the cold) and Wilmington, Del.
(Hank Stuever dogging the credit-card industry that's devouring him, and
millions of others). Though there's lighter-hearted writing too (Rebecca
Barry and her father on a steam-train tour of Cuba, Steven Rinella
happily jigging for squid in Seattle), a thunderhead of ecological doom
lowers over most of the volume.

 >>The final entry, on Southern California's poisoned Salton Sea, is
emblematic. The nightmarishly polluted New River feeds into the Salton
Sea from its source in Mexico, and William T. Vollmann got the deranged
idea of navigating the river on an inflatable raft. He found himself
afloat on water of ''a rich neon lime'' and walloped with ''whiffs of
sewage and carrion. . . . From the shore came a sickening sweet stench
of rotting animals, and I soon had a sore throat and my eyes began to
sting.'' Though Vollmann's exploit may seem pathological, he brings home
the horror of the place, one of many horrors in this finely written

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