Dan Weinstein - October, 1996

    From: Dan Weinstein, Palmer Station

As we write in the Teacher's Guide the science done in the Antarctic critically depends upon the support teams who keep the Zodiacs in shape, staff the labs, cook the food, and keep the scientists in touch with their universities back home.

Dan Weinstein is a "GA", General Assistant, working for Antarctic Support Associates, ASA, which is NSF's contractor for all logisitics and support activities in the Antarctic. He's been at Palmer since summer 1996, and he's going to be working with the LFA 2 team during the upcoming live broadcasts.

This Journal is eloquent testimony to the presence in the Antarctic of a variety of people with varied experiences who make up the USAP. It also shows that along with very hard work and sometimes dangerous circumstances, the Antarctic invites its visitors to reflect deeply upon the paths which led them here, and express themselves, in diaries and in letters to others,in ways that are as much literature as "journal-ism".


Sun, 6 Oct 1996 14:34:38 -0500
It's snowing lightly. Everybody is going on boat rides, or up to the glacier. I'm gonna go out to the glacier. Feeling good, all systems check. Yesterday I called my Mom. It was her b-day. It was a little hard with the radio mode thing that you gotta say one thing at a time and shut up so that the other person can talk and then "over" sort of thing. I think we spent the first three minutes of the call going "Hello..." "Hello..." "Can you hear me?" Oh well, she was happy anyway, I think.

Hey, I think I'm getting a little better at pool. I'm making a point of getting in and playing whenever I can.

Mon, 7 Oct 1996 23:58:30 -0500
Today was my first day working daytime. It wasn't too bad, hard work though. I had to help Bill replacing the ceiling in one of the rooms. My job was to take out all the old stuff, which included insulation, so even though I was well covered, I still got some of that fiberglass on my arms and neck. Pain in the a**. But I used the blower on my arms and hair and neck and then I took a long shower, and I'm pretty sure that stuff is off me. We got two more rooms to go, so I'm gonna try to cover up even more before I start.

Then Dave gave me a crash course on how to operate one of them Caterpillars. It was kind of fun driving that thing. People are really nice here, they know that I'm pretty clueless when it comes to manual labor, I mean I don't even know the names of tools, or how to describe this or that, I end up saying "that thing" a lot, yet they are pretty patient and don't make me feel like a fool...

Thu, 10 Oct 1996 01:20:48 -0500
My grandpa Elias was a communist. He was from Odessa, and apparently was pretty active before the Bolshevik revolution. He was caught by the Czarist forces and given a death sentence. His comrades rescued him the night before his execution. He left Russia, spent some time in Greece, wondered around some other Eastern European countries. I think he might have gone to the U.S.

Somehow, he ended up in the province of Mendoza in Argentina. There was a small community of Russian Jews there, some people from his home town. Grandma Lola was there, they married. He opened up a photography shop. It became a fairly successful business. A picture was worth more than all the Spanish words he knew. My father and his two brothers were born there. Mendoza is Argentina's wine region at the foot of the Andes Mountains. It is a beautiful place.

Grandpa Elias wanted more, however. He took his family to Buenos Aires. His business floundered. He spent long afternoons in "cafes portenos" playing chess. He once played a grand master and ended in a draw.

I have a chess set from those days. It's made up of odd pieces of various sets discarded by the cafes where grandpa used to play. The wood is carved beautifully in most cases, particularly the knights and the bishops ("Le rouge et le noir").

Was he still a communist? I do not know. There are conflicting accounts depicting him as a staunch atheist and a friend of the Roman Catholic clergy, a freemason, a thoroughly affable character. My grandfather loved to tell jokes. He died telling one to my grandmother. One last Russian joke, and he laughed and he laughed and he leaned back in his rocking chair laughing... and when he stopped laughing he stopped breathing.

He had requested not to be given any religious last rites. In fact he had threatened the local rabbi that if he performed any ceremonies for his corpse, the rabbi would end up underground before him. Grandpa was joking of course. Yet, when he died laughing, somebody decided to call the rabbi against my grandfather's wishes, thinking it wouldn't do any harm and it might bring some comfort to the widow. The rites were performed. The next day was the Sabbath, so there was no burial. The Sabbath did not prevent the rabbi's death however: he suffered a heart attack.

When Sunday came it was a beautiful day. Early in the morning, the funeral procession arrived at the Cemetery of La Tablada in the outskirts of Buenos Aires (less than ten blocks from where I grew up).

They began to walk towards the patch of real estate where grandpa would rest till kingdom come. It was a long walk, because he was to be buried at the very end of the cemetery, maybe because all the other lots were taken, or maybe because his family was that far away from the prosperity of those Mendoza days. It began to rain so suddenly, and so hard that the whole procession had to run back for cover. They waited for the rain to pass. They began their slow march again, this time at a slightly faster pace. And the rain came again, harder than before.

Disappointment fell upon the mourners even harder than the rain. The deep sadness of their loss was mired by the chaos of umbrellas and black dresses soaking wet, black stockings speckled with mud, and ruined shoes.

Admittedly, there was some laughter that could be heard as the procession became a herd for the third time, running for cover. I think it is absolutely understandable...

Then there was complete silence, when all the hands stopped splashing off the raincoats, and a woman's leg suspended flexed delicately to free a black heel of brown moist earth, and everyone understood at once. The rabbi's funeral procession arrived at its appointed time. It was allowed to proceed ahead of my grandfather's for reasons of civility and of good practical sense.

Fri, 11 Oct 1996 00:37:28 -0500
What happened was an unfortunate set of circumstances driven to some extent by people's own fears and remorse. Poor grandpa wouldn't kill a fly, much less a rabbi. The "ironies" of life, however circumstancial, are often interpreted as fateful events, directed by gods or demons for a purpose.

Mon, 14 Oct 1996 13:24:55 -0500
This is break time. It's 10am. I've been shoveling snow all morning and I got ways to go. I'm pretty happy about that, 'cause today is a beautiful day, clear and sunny and it's nice to be outside. Saturday on the other hand was miserable, and I was also shoveling snow all day, "asi es la vida."

Tue, 15 Oct 1996 15:57:59 -0500
Yesterday was a gorgeous day. I was outside all day with the snow/ice removal, and stealing moments here and there to snap a few photos. Then Dave and I had to go up on the roof of GWR, great view, very relaxing, sitting on top of that roof admiring the mountains in the distance. It was a really clear day. Right after dinner, the whole station climbed up the glacier to watch the sunset. It was great, I took lots of pictures, we played Frisbee on the glacier. I had a wonderful time.

Tue, 15 Oct 1996 23:32:04 -0500
Today was a cloudy day, but it cleared up just around dinner time. So I finished my meal in fifteen minutes and I headed up for the glacier again. I took a sled with me, and I carried that thing all the way to the top of the glacier. I kept a good pace all the way up and when I got there I lay on my back on top of my sled. All I could see was blue and all I could hear were my breath and the wind. I was almost laughing, I'm not sure why, it might have been happiness.

Coastal mountains along Antarctic Peninsula.

When my heart slowed down, I propped my head up, and looked at the sun, and the islands nearby, and the ocean covered with soft ice, and the mountains that begin the continent, and the huge icebergs far, far away.

Mt. Williams became golden with the setting sun. I was getting cold.

When I stood up I saw someone walking up the glacier. It was Pete, Deneb followed shortly after him. Words, laughter, things human. Pete took a picture of Deneb with her funky shades. I started down the glacier. First, my sled wouldn't go: not enough of a slope, but then I was going faster and faster. Joy and the rocks at the bottom were both approaching at great speed...

Thu, 17 Oct 1996 23:57:24 -0500

Elephant seal protrait, Humble Island.

We just went for a boat ride. We left right after dinner to catch a glimpse of this big berg parked right in front of Palmer. It was a wonderful sunset cruise. When we got back, we were asked to head out again so our Zodiac would model with the berg and the sunset in the background. There were about 10 people shooting pictures from the balcony in the Biolab and from the pier. We also came back with a huge chunk of bar ice. We went to Loudwater Cove, where we turned off the engine and just hang out for a little while in silence, just the four of us and an elephant seal lounging on the shore. It was so much fun.

Fri, 18 Oct 1996 23:09:17 -0500
Today I was working underneath the Biolab building. I crawled under the floor, and then I kinda sledded along on my back over the thick sheet of ice that covers the ground using pipes and beams to pull myself along. The task is to remove an old pipeline no longer in use. I took the insulation off, which was quite a messy job (I'm not too fond of fiberglass) then it was 3:30 PM and I had missed break cause I wanted to get rid of all that stuff at once.

After break, I didn't have the heart to go down again, so I figured I'd take care of the part of the pipeline that runs outside to the day tank. I was working outside when Don Ferris got on the all call requiring OSAR team members to meet at the boathouse to answer an emergency call. We were sent looking for an overturned Zodiac. There is currently a big berg that looks like a little mountain or a big hill, depending on the perspective, parked right in front of Palmer, maybe 500 yds away, so we were sent to look around north of it while Team One went south.

After more radio comms, and looking around, and even a flare shooting, we met the rescuees and Team One on Shortcut Island. We were welcomed with Fig Newtons, and some laughter. I hadn't been to that area. Petrels were landing near us. A tongue of the glacier extended straight in front of us, its side cracked, showing the most beautiful blues, the layers of ice shading the passing of time, and snow covering it partly like cobwebs, partly like a huge wave.

Wed, 23 Oct 1996 11:16:29 -0500
Life's going on wheels, big fat happy caterpillar tires.

Fri, 25 Oct 1996 19:31:54 -0500
This morning I had to climb up on one of the two huge fuel tanks, not the one with the killer whale painting but the one behind. Tom had to look at the structure inside for some measurements cause they're gonna install bladders on those tanks. So we took off the hatch and peered inside. Then Tom went to get Don, cause he wasn't sure of something, so I stayed all alone on top of the tank.

The first thing I had noticed was the beautiful echo: very much like a church. I started singing into the tank. There is this one Gregorian chant that I remember from my altar boy days. It's called Tantum Ergo:

Tantum ergo sacramentum
venemur cernui
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat rituii, etc. etc.

So there I was singing to my heart's content into the echoing cavern, a big dark circle, the still surface of the fuel black and the reflection of the round hatch on top, my face peering down, all covered with hat and scarf and funny looking, and the round gray sky behind me. I tried, silly me, to look down on the reflection without being a part of the picture: a circle of light within a circle of darkness.

I was thinking I would always remember this. Tom came up and he attributed my happiness to the fumes I'd been inhaling with all that singing. We both laughed.

Mon, 28 Oct 1996 23:00:25 -0500
I just finished with the cleaning. I selected the gash music: 3 Tears For Fears (I remember liking them a bit, but I can't stand them) then 3 Clapton tunes, then Gregorian Chant the rest of the time. Drew, Dave and I were three happy monks cleaning the refectory, and cleaning our souls, "work is prayer", love sublimated, life of contemplation.

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