20 March. I’m fairly certain that my most lasting memory of the trip came two days in, around the time we crossed the Antarctic Circle. Many of us poured out onto the bow to be there for the crossing. The light was dull, the water steely. We’d left the big swells of the Drake Passage behind, and the Akademik Sergey Vavilov was pushing forward as the first icebergs I’d seen since our departure began to emerge in the mist.
The mood on the bow was celebratory; some eagerly snapped photos, and an Antarctic Biennale flag was hoisted. To my mind, though, the surroundings called for a more somber reception. The menacing sea and stinging wind brought an awe-inspiring sense of foreboding, a feeling that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.
21 March. The sun came out for the first shore landing, which was no less welcome. The first artworks went up on rose-pink snow at Petermann Island. From the outset, one passenger in particular had caught my attention. He was lean as a pole, with a leather jacket and a Muppet-like mop of hair, and often joined the same self-contained cadre of Russians for cigarettes on the smoking deck.
This intriguing figure turned out to be a philosopher—a rather respected one, I gather—named Alexander Sekatsky. And in one of the most wonderful gestures of the trip, he delivered, during this landing, a brief lecture on the pleasures of contemplation—to an audience of penguins.
Only a couple of passengers witnessed it, giving the event an air of hearsay, even if it was (like much of the trip) also captured on video. I heard about it later that night from one of the scientists who’d been invited along, an Austrian engineer who makes lunar research labs. She told me the penguin lecture was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen.