It is a common misconception that we polies suffer from sensory deprivation. I think perhaps we have the opposite problem--in general there is less stimulus but it makes anything we experience that much more intense.
About 2 weeks ago we got cold water in Chades, the 'tat bathrooms. So what, right? Up till then I had been brushing my teeth with water that ranged from hot to scalding, burning my lips and gums. I figured a) there was nothing to be done b) its good training for travelling in the "third world"--learn to be flexible! Its hard to regulate temperatures down here--any door that is opened to the outdoors brings in a gust of air so much colder than ambient it can throw off a thermostat wildly. Most buildings have "airlock" double door systems. Most of the outlying (ie, non-dome) buildings have "snow melters" on them--clean snow is brought in for a water supply. I had just figured in order to keep it melted they had to keep it pretty hot, hence the burnt mouth. But, they fixed it! Ah, cold water.
There is an ice machine in the upper galley. It does seem a little ironic to have one when we are sitting on two miles of ice, but I love it. I've always liked ice eater and eating ice, so I stop in at the machine frequently.
The landscape outside is unrelentingly white and nearly featureless on a scale larger than a foot. There are a few hills, suspiciously human-made-looking. I never tire of looking out at the horizon. I still start in surprise that I'm *here*, at the south pole! There is a lot of construction going on this summer, so there is much to look at. The new station is going up right near the dome--there is a large "beer can" (a cylindrical aluminum structure) as well as a couple of the "pods", elevated buildings like the El Dorm. Every week it looks different as more steel is put in place. The new satellite dish, Marisat, is also being installed out on the "RF pad", about 3/4 mile from the dome. The construction had falled behind due to a lack of materials (we are at least 50 flights short right now), but the parts came in and now the dish will be done in about a week. Once that is up and running we will quintuple our bandwidth and add some additional on-line hours (it will also overlap with some current satellites).
There is no shortage of smells down here either. Jet fuel is everywhere, so common I like it now. People smell isn't that bad, given we all shower every fourth day, and the gym is surprisingly odor free. Perhaps it isn't used that much... I was having a mid afternoon coffee and cribbage break in the galley yesterday and got a treat of a stick of celery and a carrot-- they were prepping salad for that night and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Celery never tasted so good! There is also a movie-theater popcorn machine upstairs. Heavenly. The popcorn doesn't go stale for days because it is so dry here (the saltines never go stale either!), but it rarely sits that long in the bin.
Bad tastes do abound--the coffee is astonishingly bad. I must admit I am a coffee snob and am accustomed to a very specific roast and grind and brew. Agreement here is fairly universal about the bad coffee, however. Our "cream" options were the re-constituted powdered milk or non-dairy creamer but we just ran out of creamer last week. Hopefully we will restock on the vessel resupply. (A huge ship comes into McMurdo the first week of February with a large quantity of stuff for us--fresh non-freshie food, computers, other "non-essentials". However, the path of the vessel is potentially blocked by a large iceberg wandering around near Mactown, and transport of the cargo on vessel is weather and priority dependent. We are currently 40 flights behind, 279 were originally scheduled. The season halfway point is this week.)
Last week we got in several tri-walls of alcohol. So much, in fact, that we filled up the freshie shack and had to pull out lots of several-years-old diet soda, which they (apparently) can't even give away--its been sitting out in the galley, free for the taking for days, and is nearly untouched!
The station is a smorgasboard of found sounds. My lab is fairly noisy, lots of electronics and pumps and chillers running. I've grown accustomed to the noise, but I listen closely every day for a minute to make sure nothing has broken. There is a compressor in the dark air sector that is making liquid nitrogen from gas that has an amazing sequence of thumps and whistles. Most mornings I wake to the sound of C-130 props, which is a great sound--more fuel, more cargo, maybe mail or freshies! I also finally got my pair of powered speakers in the mail last week, and they're all set up in my lab. I am so lucky that I have a space like this, of my own, in a building with no berthing. i can play any music I like quite loud and I don't disturb a single person. Another common sound is the all-pervasive all-call. It makes for a very MASH-like atmosphere, with announcements of incoming flights and social activities. Sometimes the usage seems excessive. Luckily they haven't yet installed speakers in the 'tats or the jamesways (summer only housing: heated canvas tents), so those of us sleeping outside the dome can sleep in relative peace!
copyright 2000 Andrea Grant
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