By common consent, the Amazon behaves a lot like a vast green hand, closing over civilisations too tired to machete their streets clear on a weekly basis, and hiding countless crashed planes, war criminals and lost sons of the Aristocracy. A recent New Yorker article about the search for the remains of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, the early 20th century explorer and theorist of the City of Z, also mentioned some of the many curious or arrogant safari-hatted types who had given their lives to the bugs, the river and the sneaky violent tribes. I'm not sure if an exhaustive account exists of every expedition that ever entered the Amazon and never came out, but if it doesn't, it certainly should.
There are so many ways to be lost in the rainforest: starve, drown, be murdered by suspicious tribesmen, poisoned, or have a Candiru block up your urethra. Almost every retelling of a brave wagon train of explorers entering the forest with clean clothes and the latest equipment ends with stories of campfire smoke that disappears after a few days, and a handful of ragged and torn men that emerge sometimes years later, forever defeated. The only way to take the trees on and win is with an axe, or chainsaw, or better, the tools of industrial deforestation. In a clean fight, the anarchic and the fecund have won time and time again.
The relentlessness with which the forest erases the failed and the fallen is quite startling. Within a handful of years an entire town could be indistinguishable from the bordering forest unless you knew it was there. When entire European countrys'-worth of rainforest can be removed without much of the world noticing, we have moved beyond the human scale of things, even beyond the national scale. However, I have never been to South America, and the mysteries of its cities, its beaches and its religions are just as impenetrable to me as the mystery of it's great forests. The distant green spaces of other continents are not the only places where people, histories and cities are lost.
I seem to get lost in London almost daily, even though I rarely deviate from an established route to work and back. That route has changed somewhat, so I'm now more familiar with the ugly 80s shopping centres and office building of Victoria than the chipboard shrouded Hawksmoor church in Holborn and the cute brutalism of CentrePoint. After seven months of exploring, the city still feels as alien as the rainforest, and as quick to consume and regenerate.
A Saturday afternoon in Wood Green, walking against the human tide and I can't see anyone dressed like me. Probably the fault of my imagination, but I can't imagine anyone sharing my sense of awe as I push my way through to Sainsbury's either. There are so many scowling kids, so many people shoving their way into Foot Locker, so many people struggling in-arm locks, ejected from Foot Locker 30 seconds later with bile on their tongues and promises of retribution once reinforcements are gathered. And so much litter. When the wind picks up great waves of it race along the pavement, gathering to circle dustbins, bus stops and lamp-posts until the gusts die down.
I don't recognise any of the shops. They all look like one-offs, selling mobile phone covers and fresh cuts of meat from the same storefront. Twice-distant along the street is the shopping centre, with it's sticky floors and its ethnic fast food chains. Inside is the cinema, which my girlfriend, with American squeamishness, claims has the nastiest toilets she has ever seen. Constantly moving from morning until long after night has fallen there are strangers refusing to make eye-contact - bodies colliding by accident and design, and the odd explosion.
I pick my way through from time to time.
So far I have made it home every time.
Between the Amazon and my local High Street, it's the sheer volume of life that threatens to pick you up and not let you go. So many vines to tangle your feet, so many unintended slights. I have yet to make up my mind whether I feel elated or merely scared of the city outside my front door - of its rhythms, its many ways to lose yourself, and its few paths to the forest's edge.