Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (63 page)

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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(Third note: same
Time
piece says per capita aid to Bolivia is “highest in LatAm.” I & many others said “highest in the world.” If I am wrong on this it is pure ignorance, but I remain under the impression I am right.) End notes.

Anyway, all I started out to say here is that I've been depending entirely on the
Observer
for both income and publication—so much so that when I go somewhere to ask questions I say I'm writing for the
Observer
& even had some little cards printed with my name & the
Observer
on them. (In South America a man without a card might just as well not have a name.) “Well you see, my name is X and I have an awful curiosity; I wonder if you'd mind giving me the inside dope.” There is as much politics to getting a story down here as there is in the story itself—often more.

On the other side of that fence, however, I've never told anyone I was anything but a free-lancer who wrote for the
Observer
. Nor have I ever abused that linkage or done anything as far as I know to discredit the paper or give anybody anything to worry about. I am not necessarily reputable, but I have a hell of a lot more on the ball than most journalists I have met down here & most of the time it shows. If I have any apologies to make for my conduct thus far they would not be for what I have done, but for what I haven't—in that a lot of hard-working people have taken the time to sit and talk with me on subjects not always pertaining to that which I was writing about at the time, and probably they would feel a bit slighted if they knew their words had gone no further than my notebook. But I guess that's the way it is. […]

As for plans now, I've only been here two days so they're still pretty foggy. I definitely mean to base here, for a while, anyway. The
Brazil Herald
offered me a job at a ridiculous salary—adds up to less than $100 a month, U.S.—but I told them I couldn't tie myself down here with local reporting & still get around enough to send you a varied assortment. I have all intentions of staying here as much as possible, but I want to be free to move around to the other countries as soon as I get rested and cured. It is about time I lived like a human being for a change. I believe Sandy is coming down in a month or so, and that will be a big help. This is a fine town & pretty cheap to live in if you're careful. Colombia was the only other decent country. Peru, Ecuador & Bolivia were about the worst goddamn places I've ever been in my life. And among the most expensive.

As for other writing, as soon as I get settled a bit I'm going to start beating around with magazine stuff. Also, I definitely want to work on some fiction that's been stewing in my head. Photos may amount to something, but I am too much a writer to take the kind of time & effort a good photo story demands. Maybe, now that I have more time, I can do a little better on that score. I may do some work for the
Brazil Herald
, but I couldn't possibly live on that salary so I'll have to keep loose to move around on other stuff.

Before I let anything solidify I'd like to get your comments on all this. I'd prefer, of course, to work only for the
Observer
, but that would also mean I'd be entirely dependent on you. I can, without much difficulty, break up the Brazil coverage with things from Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and probably the Guianas up north. Also, I'll be ready in a few months to swing over to Chile, via central Argentina. That would put me back on the west coast for anything that was popping over there. Also, now that I have a place to leave my mass of gear, I want to get out & do some hunting; that would put me onto some of the off-beat, “life with the
natives” stuff more on the order of Guajira. Ever since Colombia I've been concentrating strictly on politics, because it has seemed more important than the rest. Probably it's not, in the long run, but every country I've been to has seemed in the midst of a political crisis, and those are hard to ignore.

For now, here are the things in the works, or good possibilities: 1) the Indian story; 2) Brazil election preview; 3) the middle-class angle I mentioned in connection with Mexico City, and 4) the Santa Cruz-São Paulo pipeline, which I haven't mentioned. Gulf Co. is drilling hell out of the Bolivian jungle, trying to find enough underground reserves of either oil or natural gas to justify building a pipeline either to São Paulo or the other way to the Pacific. In La Paz they are basing a lot of their hopes on Bolivia's economic future on the idea that the Santa Cruz (Bolivia) area will soon be supplying all natural gas for São Paulo, where there is now a shortage. The Gulf
jefe
in Santa Cruz, however, is not that optimistic. He says they'll know by the end of the year. That coincides, as you recall, with the deadline for seeing which way Op. Triangular is going. Should they both fail at once, it will just about sink Bolivia economically. And probably politically, too. Should Gulf come through, however, Santa Cruz will be a hell of a boom town. I got some photos while I was there; also went out to the drilling camps to get some shots there, so I can do something along that line when they make their decision on the pipeline. It would be one of the biggest industrial stories in SA.

Anyway, that's it for the moment. In about a week I'll send more suggestions, but I have to probe around first. In the meantime, I'd appreciate hearing from you on all this. Right now I'm pretty fluid and I'll wait to see what you say before making any settling moves. As I said before, I'll do as much for you as you want, as long as I don't have to starve or go mad in the process.

Write as soon as you can because the mails here are said to be slow as hell & I'd like to get your word as soon as possible.

Chao,
Hunter

*
thanks again for the advance

**
Back to
Time
& Bolivia for a last shot. My figure and theirs as to that country's export earnings would seem to disagree, but they don't. They say tin accounts for 70% of export earnings. I say
minerals
account for 88%. That other 18% is almost entirely tungsten. Maybe a little silver and a trickle of gold, but not enough to mention. Pizarro got most of that stuff.

TO WILLIAM J. KENNEDY
:

Thompson's articles in the
National Observer
were making quite a sensation—a few were even entered into the
Congressional Record.
What's more, Clifford Ridley had just bought Thompson's travel letters to excerpt in the
Observer;
they later appeared as “Chatty Letters During a Journey from Aruba to Rio” in
The Great Shark Hunt,
a collection of Thompson's early works
.

October 19, 1962
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

William—

Yours arrived today, Jack, forwarded through the NY box (never write there again) and Louisville. All further mail to me here or c/o the
Observer
.

Needless to say, I am ahead of you there, having already written Ridley and warned him that you might try to send something. I'd really like to be able to recommend you, Bill, but … well … you turn out some pretty gloomy copy, really, and … ah … well … it's simply a case of … ah … you know what I mean, eh?

Anyway, Ridley will expect to hear from you. Any recommendation from me is golden. They recently sent me (for proof-reading) a montage of selections from my letters. And when Dow-Jones starts paying me $150 for the right to reprint my mail, I figure things might prompt you to hustle with that camera. Right now I have more money than I can reasonably waste. Sandy and I are living in a hotel on Copacabana Beach (balcony and all) and I have given up beer for
gintonicas
and cognac. I have an apartment (with maid) coming up on November 9 (also in Copa) and I am thinking of buying a jeep and having the Doberman flown down in preparation for getting a country home. I am also joining the Overseas Press Club and the Rio Foreign Correspondents Club. None of it makes much sense to me, especially when I stay in bed until noon every day and then have breakfast in bed before idling into town to write a few letters. Kennedy (the other [Robert]) is coming next month down to BA [Buenos Aires] and Montevideo to do some political sneering. It can't last, but I'll ride it for all it's worth while it does.

They recently raised me to $175 a crack,
sin
[without] photos. Two of my things went into the
Congressional Record
and my sense of values has gone to the dogs. I tell you all this out of sheer stupid spite. By the time you get the letter I will have been fired for some brutal act involving several types of whores and much drink. I have also bought a small pistol and carry it like Sam Spade, ready at all times to bust the bastards. In short, I feel tough.

Let me warn you to turn in the most bizarre copy imaginable. I enclose a sample. Never hesitate to editorialize with a vengeance or abuse anyone you disagree with. Mock generals indiscriminately and state flatly that all non-Americans are thieves and queers. Drink with as many people as possible, and when they tell you some heinous secret in confidence, quote them directly and if possible get photos of them drunk. And if all else fails, pull a gun and get rough. This last is guaranteed to produce surefire quotes. One of the best ways to lend validity to your copy is to point out (in print) that what you are saying is contrary to erroneous information in
The NY Times
. You can also slam
Time
, but it is not as impressive. Another good gimmick is to say you were hampered in your work by drunken hacks from other papers and wire services. This will give you a certain status.

I hope what I say here will help you to quickly penetrate the Dow-Jones vault. In all seriousness, I have turned in stuff that I never dreamed DJ would either pay for or put in print, and they have consistently done both. Ridley is a very decent guy with a good sense of humor. Apparently the paper is already making money. I turn in articles from 8 to 12 pages long, but they prefer about 1500 words. They also like photos and if you don't want to take them yourself, I'd try to get some good ones somewhere else.

That is about that. As for your new home, I can only say balls. Frankly, I believe you have moved out to Loíza Aldea to accept a position as caretaker in my old house. I intend to get there as soon as possible in order to check on you and shoot up the premises if time allows. Sandy came down via Varig and missed PR. She arrived without warning and considerably complicated my life. Had I not been rich, things would have turned hairy in a hurry. As it is, we are getting along. I am trying to work on some fiction, but the absolute certainty of no-sale makes inspiration hard to come by. Sandy failed to send you the novel, but I will have my mother send it down. Sandy failed to do just about everything she should have done, in fact, and as a result my communications are hopelessly fouled. I am also ill, but that is nothing new. I have not been well since Bogotá. As a matter of fact just writing this letter has reduced me to a cold sweat and a sort of mental fatigue that precludes any further coherence. I think I will go up to Mr. Money and have a drink. In closing, let me advise you to give up writing and make a living growing things.

Chao,
Hunter

TO PAUL SEMONIN
:

December 1, 1962
Rio de Janeiro
Brazil

Paul—

Jomo Kenyata
20
is a man with a beard and a spear and bright eyes and probably a cyst or two on his balls whose only ambition as far as I know is the acquisition of power. The fact that he is black is incidental, but it is also a fact. Selah.

You are right when you say I've been living too long in hotels, and wrong in thinking I've ever considered you anything less than a heavyweight—but on the strength of your recent mail I'd rank you pretty far below Cassius Clay. The fact that you are nervous about your correspondence is a good sign, I suppose, but it does not go far toward cheering me up. Your bitter realization that I have been trying to lead you down the path for my own “gay cause” only brings to mind a conversation we had some years ago at one of the back tables in what used to be Andy's
21
; talking of brinks and such, points of no return, coaxing people over the border and all that business. It has never struck me as a particularly gay cause, and I have been too busy fighting off wolves to get a real crusade going, but if you find yourself artless in Ghana I suppose you might as well blame it on me as anyone else.

Yeah, I have given some thought to going to Angola. Maybe in about six months. South America is getting me down, mainly because I have found out what I came down here to find out, and there is nothing else left for me to do but document it. Dostoyevsky was right. You can try to convince me that Africans are different, but I will take a lot more convincing now than I would have a year ago. I have tonight begun reading a stupid, shitty book by Kerouac called
Big Sur
, and I would give a ball to wake up tomorrow on some empty ridge with a herd of beatniks grazing in the clearing about 200 yards below the house. And then to squat with the big boomer and feel it on my shoulder with the smell of grease and powder and, later, a little blood. I have come to the point where I think I could kill humans as easily as deer or wild pigs, which probably makes me good timber for Africa.

I retain hope for the Mato Grosso, and ultimately for Brazil, but I think the next 10 years are going to be ugly. I just got back from a month-long swing through Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay, and am now convinced
that Brazil is the only hope and that ain't sayin' much. Maybe Mexico too, but that will come later. My ambition at the moment is to write up enough money to buy a DKW jeep and shove into the wilds. I would also like to get back to the U.S. for a while and then return with my guns. This is good shooting country. Along those lines, I'd like to know what you have to say about “the blacks ruining Africa.” For the decent life, that is. […]

BOOK: Proud Highway:Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman
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