santarctica began down here in 2003, when i received 30 santa suits from some santa enthusiast friends back home. it continued when i received 30 elf costumes in 2004, but just a wee bit after the event due to the package mail delay. we broke them out again in '05, and yesterday as well. The funny part about this story is that there are 60 santa/elf suits, donned by 60 antarcticans annually. that is a statistic to be reckoned with.
a week ago, i sent an email out to everyone i knew down here, inviting them to the 4th annual 'santarctica!' i mentioned something about a local adventure with no plan in mind. in a small outpost such as this, there's not a whole lot of places you can go, therefore, structure was lacking, and i think that's perfectly fine. in the past, we visited the three beverage consumption facilities, the gerbil gym for some funny santa workout pics, the galley at dinnertime for the shock factor, and, of course, the 'mcmurdo station antarctica' sign, just because it's obligatory. this year, being my last christmas on this continent (for a while, at least), i wanted to go out with a bang. i wanted something big. memorable. ridiculous.
on friday, it hit me. bill and i would be playing a gig at the coffeehouse that night, and would miss the ride to the stellar axis, as would many of our dedicated friends who would stay behind to watch us play. the timing was bad - we really wanted to go out there, support the art, and check it out. bill had helped set the anchors for it.
the stellar axis is a giant art piece depicting the 99 brightest stars in the southern hemisphere. blue fiberglass spheres of various yet relative sizes represent the stars - with sirius being the largest. they are arranged as they are in the sky, in forms of constellations as they are when the solstice occurs. only we don't see the night sky here, therefore we don't get stars, but either way, it is beautiful, the contrast of cobalt and ice shelf. locally, the spheres had become known as 'blueballs.' ("hey sandwich, you really have to go out there and check out the blueballs... they're amazing!") the installation is about a 45 minute ride from mcmurdo, out on the ross ice shelf, near pegasus runway. you can't just 'go out there' unless you are on an approved, organized trip. hmm..
i had this vision. 60 santas and elves frolicking on the ice shelf, playing with the blue balls. (really, it was just an excuse to get out there. ok, not really.) how could i get 60 santas in one vehicle? ivan the terra bus*! problem is, you can't just call up shuttles and say 'hey, can we take ivan out for a spin on chrsitmas day?' no. bummer, but you have to play by the rules here. this had to be more official. as much as santarctica likes to create it's own little slice of impromptu santarchy, i called the shuttles supervisor. who got a driver lined up. i called the recreation supervisor. who called the project artist and the station manager. and got it all approved in just a few hours. beautiful.
weekend madness ensued. on christmas eve, we ate a big family xmas dinner in our lounge, then i put on my santa suit, skiied out to snow mound city (on the ice shelf) via armitage loop, and went camping. after boiling a liter of water to take to bed with me, and watching a young seal roll around among decaying wind walls, i went to sleep in a survival trench (think icy grave) at about 3am.
i tried to keep santa's stellar axis visit a secret, but here, secrets spread like wildfire. and people needed to be prepared for being out in the cold for hours. as i emerged from the trench after a couple hours of miserable sleep (i love camping!!), i noted that the weather was a fair bit less than ideal. gnarly, even. i walked home from snow mound, and got a message from mac weather that it was still condition three, therefore it was our call if we wanted to go or not. it would be extremely windy on the ice shelf. it's antarctica. you don't wait for awesome weather. and, it's christmas, and santa doesn't get a snow day.
back at the 211 lounge, my minions (as i like to call them) were organized into two lines, where they must ask themselves the question: 'am i a santa? or an elf?' everyone was dressed and on the terra bus by 2pm. me, i was the last one out (of course, after dressing two straggler santas) and just as i made it out to derelict junction*, i held up my camera to catch this glorious picture of ivan the terra bus chock full of santelf. simultaneously, a skua* divebombed me and flapped my precious bowl of sliced melon and smoked cheddar out of my hand and onto the dirty dirty ground. there, at my booted feet, lay my precious freshie*, slain and crumpled, soiled with volcanic grit. orange melon. brown ground. sad. fscking trash bird! (that being said, i hope that someone got a photo of a skua attacking little miss santawich)
we boarded ivan with 21 souls on board, singing songs and making merry for the 45 minute drive out to blueballs. communication protocol is, when you leave town, you call macops on the radio, with your vehicle number, destination, # of pax, poc, estimated time of arrival/return. our driver, tex, checked out with macops, driver's name is 'claus.' this confused the macops person (hello, have you ever heard of CHRISTMAS???) and she asked for him to repeat and spell his name. santas and elves alike cheered and continued with the singing and making merry.
more people would have probably signed up had the weather been a little nicer. it was cold and windy, with the wind chill probably about -15. again, this is antarctica and it's supposed to be this way. personally, i thought it was perfect out there, because to add to the surreality of santas frolicking among the blueballs and the contrast of color, the scene was flat white. mt discovery, black island, white island, minna bluff, and the royal societies were all hiding behind a solid white scrim, even the horizon line was erased. it looked as if we all were floating. when we arrived, we spilled out of ivan and took a couple pictures by the terra bus, jumped around, and sang xmas carols terribly off key until the artist, lita albuquerque showed up. her crew had been waiting for the santas to come, but i don't think she had prepared herself for how playfully rambunxious we were. the 'beautiful mayhem' (to quote bill) was about to begin.
we ran towards the spheres, but were halted by the teams' astronomer. dr simon balm had wintered at the south pole, and knew a thing or two about southern heisphere stars. he was excited to tell us all about them through the technology of the bullhorn, and how precisely they were placed and mirrored the stars that were presently hiding from us. this was fascinating. the santas wanted to play, so they were pacing as if they had to pee. lita thanked us all for making christmas surreal and set us free. frolick is such a good word, i am going to use it here again. frolick frolick frolick. the reindeer's nose fell off, and the wind took the little red foam ball rolling along the spheres. jooleelf mounted cecelf who commenced doing cartwheels and handstands shortly thereafter. kriself found a sphere he liked and straddled it. liself and kaielf kissed some balls. the reindeer was caught running among some spheres at the other end of the project. he was chased by an elf. who was being chased by a santa. lita's two film crews (a documentary crew and an artfilm crew) captured the insanity.
i just stood there for a while. looking and loving the madness.
pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/58634261@N0
merry christmas world!
*ivan the terra bus - see previous journal entry.
*derelict junction - bus stop
*skua - trash bird
*freshie - fresh fruit or vegetable