My (London) Alpine Club Presentation and Gandhi

Opening slide to my presentation

The light changes slowly this time of year, barely filtering into the flat at 7.30 a.m. Even with the blinds drawn I’m using an artificial light to write.

Last night’s event was such an honor! If I had any need to be the center of attention this year, well I’ve filled my quota. I probably could have predicted the scene of the London Alpine Club. “Actually Madaleine,” Frank said, “it’s the Alpine Club.’ Ahem. Frank Cannings, a friend from the British Climbing Meet in Cornwall last May, met me before the show. We set up my computer, tested all was well with the sound and visual display and then Frank, Hugh and I went out for a drink and bite. A woman, Barbara, was also helping there but couldn’t come as she had to be at the club for when the bar opened at 6pm! How different than the American Alpine Club. I probed Frank and Hugh about the exclusivity of the club and the history and stereotypes of a 150 yr old boys club. I guess the club is more inclusive these days. The CV criterion is something like 20-30 significant peaks and of course women are invited. Seeing the library was a treat, with an entrance room of intimate portraiture of the many past presidents. When I arrived back to the bar/room for slideshow, everyone seemed to be having a good, social time.

My show was titled, ‘Freeing Big Walls in North America: Princess Tactics.” Frank gave me a great and boasting intro, I enjoyed his description of me as a ‘flexible American’ for my ability to do a wide stem, or ‘bridge’ as Brits say, on a first ascent of a roof crack with Pat Littlejon. My mom and uncle and a long time family friend, Doris, were also in attendance so the whole thing felt rather special. I’m not sure what of my presentation resonated with the audience of about 30. Afterwards I was presented with hardback of “The Summit: 150 yrs of the Alpine Club” and the 2009 Journal and again made to feel very special. People seemed to enjoy the ‘Women-At-Work’ film and I enjoyed a conversation about the experience and draw to being in remote, dramatic places, with a climber who continues to attempt a certain line on Makalu.

After dinner, we walked back in the rain. By 12.30 my Grandma was in bed, but I arrived to a fresh hot water bottle under my pillow. Ah love. I’m so lucky.

Okay fast forward to afternoon—-
Back on a plane, I finally ended a 45-hour love affair with flying, and celebrated en route to Denver, Colorado by watching Gandhi—the 1982 film starring Ben Kingsley. Gandhi’s words about coexistence resonated with me differently than they may have a month ago. In conversation with Gandhi, the British government kept pointing out its role in keeping the peace in India between Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Gandhi kept stating that this role was misplaced and India was ready to assume such responsibility under self-rule. Moreover, however, Gandhi spoke to the unifying commonalities of mankind and Indians ability to live together peacefully. Even today in Kerala, I find such coexistence fascinating probably because religion is more visually obvious to me than in the US and I think I assume greater public visibility means it’s even more tolerated. I realize that we can choose to see the differences between peoples and religions, or see the commonalities. Spirituality is very much in the public sphere in India and in that way is celebrated by all Indians together. It seems to me that in the U.S. a separation on Church and State has also meant less tolerance for religiosity in the public sphere.

From the Gandhi film, I wrote down a powerful line by an American reporter who witnessed the Salt works beatings and reported—“India is free for She has taken all the steel and cruelty that England can give, and she has not retreated.” Such demonstrations of non-violent resistance revolutionized India and the rest of the world. While I’ve deeply appreciated the sound bites of philosophy I’ve read from Gandhi, I now realize how little I knew of his life. I really look forward to reading his autobiography!


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