“I find myself drawn to the uncivilized
parts of the world.”
Jean Shepherd talks about why he travels and what he tries to convey in his trips–especially during what he calls one of the great experiences of his life:
Of course there are many myths about the Peruvian jungle. I hope, in years to come, there will be the great Shepherd myth about this intrepid man who once went alone and single-handed in the Peruvian jungle—and never reappeared. The myth, of course came out later—that he became the emperor of the entire jungle in that area.
Jean Shepherd Marlon Brando
as the emperor of
natives in “Apocalypse Now.”
And they said that he was the great white anaconda, which had come from countries to the north to save them from the green ants, and he did this, and now he is down there and has a harem of seventeen thousand fantastic Amazonian bells. And all of you know what Amazons are like….
I find myself drawn to the uncivilized parts of the world. I don’t know why. Maybe Conrad—he didn’t write many stories about Budapest—and Warsaw, even though he was a Pole. He wrote about the areas of the world that very few people have much experience with. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons he’s not as popular a writer as he should be. Maybe, again, it’s that repugnance people have—a vague sense of fear about this thing—this green canopy, this jungle.
You’ll have to excuse me tonight if I’m doing a show more or less on a very personal level about things that I think about on the eve of this trip. I intend, for what it’s worth, to go to this part of the world, not as a stunt. I’m not particularly interested in stunts. I want to go primarily because I want to go. I have a chance to experience something, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s as simple as that. I’ve got a chance and I’m going to go.
When I come back I’m going to try to give you as many—I suppose you can say “objective”—but then, how is a twentieth-century man, and an urban one at that, and a fairly civilized one on top of that—how is an urban man going to be objective about a world that is at great odds and at great variance with the world that we live in?
And all the while I’m gone, you can see me somehow in your mind’s eye skulking through the impenetrable green hell. Out there with my faithful tape recorder.
Uher recorder, of the brand and time period
of one that Shep sometimes took on his trips.
“One of the Truly Great Experiences of My Life”
Wow, I’m back! This is Jean Shepherd, and I can say it will take me at least a week and a half or maybe even a month to begin to sort out all the strange, exhilarating, exciting—perhaps in some cases frightening— impressions that I’ve had. I’m going to tell you this as a man who has been in several places in the world and who has involved himself in several things. Adventure is always something that can’t truly be described. I’m talking about genuine adventures, not necessarily to go on a safari in Africa that is organized by a safari company. Or even the Hemingway kind of organized adventure.
This sort of adventure that I’ve just come through is a total adventure in the sense that you’re not going to kill an animal, you’re not going to a place where other people have gone to do a thing that other people do. This is something else again, and it’s almost impossible to tell you or describe to anyone else just what it was like. Of the three of us there, Sol Potemkin, a funny, fine photographer, a quiet, laconic type, had never been out of the United States in his life, and the first place he goes is the unexplored jungle of the headwaters of the Amazon. As we came into Lima, he kept saying, “It’s kind of like the Catskills!” That is, until we got over the Andes and we were flying in a little DC-3—a jungle airplane of Faucett Airlines.
Peru as a country is one of the most exciting, unusual, eerie, spooky, beautiful countries in the world. After trips, I constantly get heckled by people who say, “You go there and you come back an expert.” I’m not trying to say that at all. I’m not going to be an expert. I went to the headwaters of the Amazon. I was there. I am a trained reporter. My life has been devoted to absorbing sights and sounds and listening.
And I am going to try to give you my impressions
of what I consider probably the high point of my life
as far as adventures and experience is concerned.
I had no idea it would be like this when I left and I might point out that it was not a lark. It started out a little bit that way, but by the time we arrived in Lima and had begun to go over the Andes, we realized this was a very serious thing and not only was it serious, there were certain elements of danger in it and I don’t wish to even dwell on that. It had nothing to do with the headhunters by the way—the people we visited are ex-headhunters.
I’m not going to appear as an anthropologist, an expert.
I’m appearing as an artist who has seen something
and would like to transmit his impressions to you.
Are you prepared to accept that?