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"Antarctica on a Plate" by Alexa Thomson

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Antarctica on a PlateWanted: Cook for remote camp. Location: Antarctica. Job Description: Cook meals at unspecified times for 7-100 persons. Duration: 4 months. Pay: Appallingly low. Facility: Scattered tents in the middle of nowhere. Entire facility buried sometimes for years when not in use. No Cuisinarts. No KitchenAids--no electricity. Stove sometimes belches fire and could burn down the camp. However, camp more likely to be blown away by storms.

No one in her right mind would answer an ad like this. No one in his right mind would write an ad like this. Nevertheless, it is an honest and accurate description of the job taken on by Alexa Thomson in the waning months of the year 2000.

Imagine having a high-paying job with an investment banking firm, a designer wardrobe with oodles of stiletto shoes, and a social life that includes trendy bars, the best restaurants and beautiful and well-heeled friends. Now imagine giving it all up for this. Now imagine doing all that and writing a book about what fun it was.

In Antarctica on a Plate, Alexa Thomson convinces the reader that she loves the place, and makes the reader love it, too. This joyful, self-deprecating, self-revealing account of Ms. Thomson's experience as a cook in a field camp (called Blue 1) is so page-turning entertaining that it has replaced Dr. Jerri Nielsen's Icebound as my favorite story of life on The Ice.

Ms. Thomson's unflinching self-analysis exposes what she sees as her weaknesses and describes how she struggled to manage the enormous responsibilities she took on. She knows her own shortcomings and is not afraid to admit them. She tells some embarrassing stories on herself with pleasing honesty. She chides herself without realizing that her story reveals her remarkable strength of character in not only acquitting herself admirably but in treasuring the adventure of it.

Antarctica on a Plate begins much as fellow Aussie Roff Smith's Life on the Ice: No One Goes to Antarctica Alone. She lands her assignment on a whim, not actually thinking things through before she commits. Once she does, commit, however, like Roff Smith, she follows through with amazing courage and amusing charm.

In Antarctica on a Plate the reader meets some characters that an Antarctic buff may have met in other accounts of exploring in the Great White South. Greg Sommers, formerly of the British Antarctic Survey, washes dishes, advises exploration teams, and marks fields of dangerous crevasses with black flags. He appeared previously as a team member in Will Steger's Crossing Antarctica. Norwegian Liv Arnesen and American Ann Bancroft traveled to Blue 1 with Ms. Thomson before beginning their own walk across Antarctica (chronicled in their book No Horizon is so Far.)

Antarctica on a Plate reads more like a novel than a non-fiction account. Ms. Thomson's facility for the English language reinforces this impression and makes her prose delightful to read, even when her Aussie dialect renders a few passages difficult for us North Americans to comprehend. I have read a score of books about Antarctica, having reconciled myself to the fact that I will never get a chance to visit the continent. Reading Antarctica on a Plate, however, felt almost like I was there myself.


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