Cowardly Swedes in the Snow and the Jungle
It is both awful and compelling to witness a grown man's total humiliation-- I have only seen this once and it is indelibly engraved in my brain . . . my wife and I were hiking up a limestone karst in the Khao Sok region of Thailand, and our leader Nit-- a whiskey slugging ex-tiger hunter turned eco-guide-- was pointing out the jungle sights: boar, elephant, and tapir tracks; trees that had been ripped apart by Malayan sun bears; monitor lizards basking in the sun; hornbills flying overhead . . . it was loud, cicadas and gibbons shrieked and chattered; and we were making our way up a steep section, switchback after switchback-- Catherine and I were at the back of the line; Nit was in the lead, followed by Hans the big Swede, his tall and lovely wife Maude, and their teenage son . . . and one moment we were soaking in all the nature and the next moment was pandemonium . . . first we heard a loud predatory growl and then Hans turned and bolted, knocking his wife to the ground, and he sprinted by his son, his eyes round with fear . . . and finally, right in front of Catherine, he fell face first into the mud, tripped by a log . . . Nit was laughing hysterically, and Catherine and I, with our view from the back of the line, had seen the whole thing: Nit got ahead of the group and just before Hans rounded the turn, Nit did his best tiger imitation, a sharp guttural scream-- and granted, this was tiger territory-- and Hans bought it-- hook, line and sinker-- and took off like a bat out of hell, abandoning his wife and children in a moment of Costanzaesque panic . . . and so, a few minutes later, when we ended the hike on top of the karst, Hans was able to regain his breath, but not able to save face (which was bright red in embarrassment) and Nit couldn't have been happier that he had destroyed this man's reputation . . . this is a moment I can still see as vividly as the day it happened, it was both funny and horrible, but I never imagined what it did to Hans and Maude's marriage . . . until now-- an ex-student sent me an email recommending an international film called Force Majeure because she thought it was similar to this story (which I told in class) and though it takes place in the French Alps instead of the Thai jungle, the film is more than similar-- it is exactly like what happened in the jungle; a Swedish family is eating breakfast outside at a mountain-top ski resort and they see an avalanche headed towards the deck-- and while at first they think it is a "controlled" avalanche, as the wall of snow gets closer and closer, the restaurant patrons move from fascinated to afraid, and then the wall of snow hits-- and the Swedish mom grabs the two children to protect them and meanwhile the Swedish dad grabs his gloves and his phone and then (like brave Sir Robin) he runs away, abandoning his family to the snow . . . and though it turns out that the avalanche was indeed "controlled" and the frightening wall of snow which enveloped the deck was only avalanche "smoke," that doesn't change matters, and minutes later the dad slinks back into the scene and the rest of the movie (this is just the start) is about the consequences of his cowardice-- just like the event I saw, it's painful and terrible to watch (but also impossible to look away . . . check out the clip to get the idea).