The Climb Up Mount Chimborazo
by Rick Burkhardt
“The Climb Up Mount Chimborazo” (2005) is a meditation on the relationship between Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), liberator of South America, and his tutor, Simon Robinson (1772-1854). In addition to my own texts, the play uses many quotes from Bolivar’s and Robinson’s writings, and from biographies of Bolivar written by (mostly) North American authors. The historical collage novels of Eduardo Galeano, among the main inspirations for the piece, are also quoted heavily and used as a secondary source.
Others quoted include:
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Alexander von Humboldt
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Miguel de Cervantes
figure two: classroom
[Lights up. SB and DSR have donned sombreros. Mosquito stands behind the table holding palm fronds above their heads. Runoff groove.]
DSR: Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Emile — 450 pages on
how to educate a child — states right away on
page 17 that it’s best not to use
Mosquito / SB: Those who serve the revolution
DSR: Hard to argue in this case, since
almost as soon as he’s sentient, the
fictional boy and the fictional book named
after him get lost in the wilds
of indifferent nature, to the glee of his tutor,
a resplendent father figurine of the
savage noble persuasion, who can now field
the child’s panicked and tearstained questions on
botany, history, compass points, navigation, nuclear testing,
the caracas company — any question which might
save the patient or at least get
the poor kid out of the woods,
fielded by the tutor with the calm
and ruthless detachment of an insecure god
who has to disappear at least once
a century so he can soak up
the sound of everyone bemoaning his absence.
Mosquito / SB: plow the sea.
Mosquito: An educational play in three scenes on the teaching of Simon Bolivar by Don Simon Rodriguez slash Robinson.
SB: Does Emile survive?
DSR: Of course he survives — there’s still 433
spellbinding pages for him not to read.
The wilds of nature, which incidentally
his family owns, are no match
for the desperately acquired taxonomies which little
Emile now uses to navigate his life.
So frankly Simoncito, I don’t find this noble
savant very likely to liberate a continent.
SB: Why not? He just used all his knowledge to free himself.
DSR: Exactly. The final purpose of Jean-Jacques’
yeasty opus is to fatten the mini-aristocrat
up for marriage while he’s still tender,
IE before he awakes to the dark
postpubescent continent of his family’s servants, on
which subject J.J. confesses he’s unfit to
discourse. But enough about me. You’re anywhere
between the ages of 9 and 14,
according to your biographers. I’m 21 to
26, they nearly agree. You’ve been orphaned
and left your uncle’s house in a
puff of legal fluster. I’ve declared myself
unlike a tree, rooted to one spot,
rather like wind and water, constant in
change. Together we must solve quote “the
difficult problem of teaching the pupil nothing”
unquote. So! Which eccentricity of mine do
you want to be corrupted by today?
SB: I want to go swimming.
Mosquito: Scene One — Orinoco River — Venezuela — Bolivar is between 9 and 14
DSR: Good. I also want to go swimming. Sound cue. [sound of river, splashing]
Mosquito: The veil has been torn
DSR: Now ask me a refreshingly innocent question.
Mosquito: I left Humboldt’s tracks behind
SB: Why do fish have such big heads?
DSR: Good choice. You’re thinking of eels, Simon.
Mosquito: [w/ DSR pianissimo] By clicking “continue,” I affirm that I
am eighteen or older, and accept all
terms and conditions
SB: Click. I thought all teachers were supposed
to be asexual.
DSR: Eels have big heads so you can
determine which ones to eat, dear boy.
SB: Why would I need to eat eels?
DSR: Not you, the populace. Think what they’ll
pay for an eel rolled up and
sandwiched between two sesame buns lightly browned.
SB: Nothing. Eels are free.
DSR: Free, but not liberated. Hire some researcher
to introduce one dominant gene and you’ll
own every eel in Venezuela. Have you
ever been to Anaheim? A vast citadel
forged on the bedrock of Carl’s Jr!
SB: I can’t follow your teaching system, the [DSR and Mosquito begin speech]
connections seem too tenuous. As soon as
you start in on one subject it
gives way to another, and another even larger,
and the historic period I wrote at the top of
my page doesn’t seem to apply anymore
because the lecture format keeps changing, and
the subject keeps changing with it, so
I don’t know if I’m learning effective
notetaking skills, and I do enjoy swimming
but I’d rather have some results-based accountability
in the form of higher test scores
so as not to be left behind
in the new economy
DSR & Mosquito [broken unison]: The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line — that was the woods on t’other side — you couldn’t make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky, then more paleness, spreading around; then the river softened up away off, and warn’t black any more but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting along, ever so far away — trading scows, and such things, and long black streaks, rafts; sometimes you could hear a sweep screaking; or jumbled up voices, it was so still, and sounds come so far;
SB: and anyway I can’t believe the children
of the new world would practice ambition
to such unambitious ends as using science
to own eels.
DSR: Your family owns this river, Simon.
SB: The Spanish own Colombia.
DSR: You mean New Granada.
SB: I mean Colombia.
DSR: Colombia doesn’t exist.
SB: It will two scenes from now.
Mosquito: Scene Two. Europe. Bolivar is 19 years old. [music scratch, runoff groove]
photos ..... upcoming performances..... full script (pdf)