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  • Felice Benuzzi, No Picnic on Mount Kenya

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on September 1st, 2011 (All posts by )

    Last Sunday I got a few minutes of peace and I finished No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi. (Dirt cheap copies at the link.) This is a very good book. It is set in 1943. Benuzzi is an Italian POW in a British prison camp in Kenya, way the Hell out at the butt end of nowhere. He is bored to the edge of psychosis by prison life. In his pre-POW life he had been a mountain climber in the Alps. Off in the distance, he can see the glacier-girt pinnacle of Mount Kenya. Benuzzi falls in love with the mountain. He is overcome with a desire to conquer it, to possess it, to make it his own. He enlists two fellow POWs to assault the mountain. They makes a bunch of mountaineering equipment under the very noses of the askari guards. The three men escape, climb the mountain — or at least one of its peaks — and return to the prison camp. Of course they are punished for this escapade. But, to their credit, the British take a sporting attitude toward it all, and even send a team up to confirm the prisoners’ claim. I am leaving out a lot of important and engrossing details, of course. Benuzzi’s descriptions of the ascent and its hardships, the cold and hunger, the flora and fauna, and POW life, are all very well done. You have to love these Italians. The war was a distraction, an absurdity they were stuck with. They had no interest in it. The flag they plant on the mountain is the monarchy’s flag, not the fascist flag. They are Italian patriots who despise their own stupid, fascist government and the stupid, losing war it had gotten them mixed up in. A very sane attitude, actually.

    Recommended.

    (I got this book at Powells the previous weekend. I took the kids down there and said, OK, everybody gets ONE reasonably priced book. And this is the one I found that was reasonably priced. I am glad I subjected myself to the same discipline I imposed on them. In this case, it worked out well.)

    (I note also that one of my heroes Halford J. Mackinder, in addition to inventing the idea of the Geographical Pivot of History, was also the first guy to make it to the top of Mt. Kenya, in 1899. A most excellent example of Victorian heroics, a fit companion to the mountaineering exploits of Sir Francis Younghusband. Mackinder’s own book on the subject, The First Ascent of Mount Kenya has now come to my attention. I will make it my own, possess it, conquer it.)

     

    11 Responses to “Felice Benuzzi, No Picnic on Mount Kenya”

    1. Bill Brandt Says:

      They were probably in the vicinity of where Wm Holden started his Mt Kenya Safari Club – a place today almost surrealistic for its luxury accommodations and perfectly manicured pebble-Beach like golf course. In the middle of nowhere.

      You are right on the equator and have a beautiful view of Mt Kenya

      While my backlog is long in my reading list (currently reading an excellent book written by a retired Secret Service Agent, John Barletta, who became friends with Reagan because he was the only one who could ride well – Reagan was a surprisingly good horseman.

      I’ll see about adding this to the backlog ;-)

    2. Lexington Green Says:

      Bill:

      Mt Kenya Safari Club — that looks very nice indeed. The book is a quick read.

    3. Bill Brandt Says:

      I ordered it – I am addicted to Amazon – specifically their sales of used books through third party vendors.

      I had the choice of one in “good” condition for 1 cent or “very good” for 14 cents + $2.99 shipping. I decided to go for the gusto and get the 14 cent book. You only live once!

      How can you beat that?

      On the Mt Kenya Safari Club it has an interesting history. Story I heard was that Holden did a 180 on his views of big game hunting and started this in the late 50s to aid in conservation. At the time (1983) I visited it (for lunch) it was still a private club, and a rather snooty one at that.

      It seems when I toured Kenya our guide knew someone there who, for $20 p/p could offer us a lunch and “temporary membership to the Club”. They had members from around the world who belonged.

      When we went into the clubhouse, wearing jeans and safari shirts, I never will forget the look these little old ladies playing bridge gave us. If looks could communicate they were saying ‘They’re letting in anyone these days!”

      That it is now run by the Fairmont and open to the public is not a surprise. You are literally 100 miles from civilization – traveling through third world villages and narrow roads.

      You pass though a rustic looking gate that gives you no idea of what’s coming and then you see it. That seems a 180 from the POW camp ;-)

    4. Anonymous Says:

      I’ll take opportunity to highly recommend Amedeo: The True Story of an Italians War in Abyssinia by Sebastian O’Kelly.

    5. Dan from Madison Says:

      @Bill – “I decided to go for the gusto and get the 14 cent book. You only live once!” That got my day off to a good start, thanks.

    6. Lexington Green Says:

      Anonymous — thanks for the tip. That sounds good.

    7. Roy Lofquist Says:

      I think I was there before the club (1963). I have a couple of old photos of Mt. Kenya and the crater of Kilimanjaro from about 15,000 feet. Mt. Kenya is definitely more scenic than Kilimanjaro.

    8. Bill Brandt Says:

      Dan – you gotta have a sense of humor although mine is a bit warped at times ;-)

      Roy – when I was there in 1983 all those huge buildings weren’t there – but what was there was first class – including a “safari boutique”. What got me was the perfectly manicured 18 hole golf course and the dining room – all after being in the back country for 2 weeks living much of the time in tents.

      I think Holden started it in 1959 – not sure – nor do I know when he left and whoever else managed it – to the Fairmont. I would think trying to manage that and make money – or at least not lose money – would be a tough row to hoe.

      It’s about a bit over 100 miles from Nairobi –

    9. Bill Brandt Says:

      Dan – you gotta have a sense of humor although mine is a bit warped at times ;-)

      Roy – when I was there in 1983 all those huge buildings weren’t there – but what was there was first class – including a “Safari Boutique”. What got me was the perfectly manicured 18 hole golf course and the dining room – all after being in the back country for 2 weeks living much of the time in tents. It almost seemed surrealistic.

      I think Holden started it in 1959 – not sure – nor do I know when he left and whoever else managed it – to the Fairmont. I would think trying to manage that and make money – or at least not lose money – would be a tough row to hoe.

      It’s about a bit over 100 miles from Nairobi –

      Lex – in reading your review of the book (which I then ordered) I was reminded me of the little ditty about Europe; Heaven and Hell.

      The Difference Between a European Heaven and a European Hell:

      In a European Heaven-

      The French are the cooks,
      The English are the police,
      The Germans are the mechanics,
      The Italians are the lovers and
      The Swiss organize everything.

      In a European Hell-

      The English are the cooks,
      The Germans are the police,
      The French are the mechanics,
      The Swiss are the lovers and
      The Italians organize everything!

      So if the guards were the Germans…..

    10. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I have the sinking feeling that we are living in an era of decline that began about 1960. Kennedy was the first TV President and I wonder if that has anything to do with it. I can remember when he visited the USC campus during the campaign. I had listened to the first debate and thought Nixon won. A girl I knew, who I thought was very level headed, went to see Kennedy on campus and came back a Kennedy “girl” as the campaign described those girls who got hysterical at campaign events.

      Eisenhower offered to brief Kennedy on national security, as has been done ever since, but Kennedy refused, possibly because it would have proven to him that the “missile gap” he was campaigning on was a myth.

      Now, we have a president who, as Editor of the Harvard Law Review, could not write a coherent letter.

      Those Italian POWs could sneak out, climb Kilimanjaro and sneak back. Edmund Hillary, a bee keeper, could climb Everest. The British Long Range Desert Groups can be contrasted with the pitiful drunken louts that are rioting in Birmingham last week.

      Today, the Washington Post publishes a treasonous article on the US Special Forces and what they use to fight the Islamic terrorists. Arkin has been a hater of the military and the US since he was discharged from that military as an insignificant punk in 1978 when the military was at its low ebb after Vietnam.

      Yes, Colonel McCormack published the information that we had broken the Japanese codes after Midway but it was not picked up because Roosevelt was wise enough to ignore the breach. Now, they occur every week.

      I wish I could be more optimistic.

    11. Bill Brandt Says:

      Michael – this group seems to be a literary bunch and while it has been years since I read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America I remember he really seemed to get the American character.

      I actually remember seeing the Nixon-Kennedy Debates (contrary to rumor, I am not rivaling Methuseula) – I was 10 years old .

      I do remember thinking Nixon won the debate.

      It is said that he lost because (take your pick) he seemed to show a bit of his leg above his sock or (b) 5 o’clock shadow.

      Take your pick.

      Then you look at the demographics that elected Clinton.

      These are interesting times but I wouldn’t give up hope.