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What Was Lost
Previous to the birthday of a lost explorer
Lieutenant-colonel Percy Fawcett, celebrated British explorer: nobody denies the extraordinary work he did. A trained surveyor with secret-agent experience, military man thirsting for adventure and powdered milk, Fawcett charted innumerable miles of Amazonian jungle, back when the precise relationships between the land and its inhabitants (or, presumed inhabitants), were undetermined. Any miscalculation of the map’s relationships, even if incorrect by millimeters, could prove fatal. Later, this was accepted by everyone and by no one; that is, by common consensus.
Fawcett made seven Amazonian expeditions. Multiple false starts did not diminish his optimism, as attested by his good humor before that final mission, in Brazil’s Mato Grosso, in 1924. However, months after departing for Z, the lost ancient city pre-anticipated by his mathematics, Fawcett did not reappear.
Although nobody clarified this absence, many have ascribed Fawcett’s disappearance variously to: morbid decline; violent mishaps; a marvelous amnesia that led him to rule a cannibal tribe; or even a meticulously-planned secret deployment, to create a jungle colony of theosophists, enlightened, deliberately obscure…
After discovering the Fawcett team’s disappearance, the civilized world’s curiosity coalesced in blood (would-be rescue parties suffered death), and consolidated in capital (others worked hard to immortalize the Fawcett enigma through books and films…).
While today’s sober archaeologists have discovered the skeletons of ancient structures, precisely where Fawcett’s geodetic calculations had predicted, it is uncertain whether these prove the Z that Fawcett had dreamt, that imaginary humid city which had motivated his explorations, or perhaps reveal another lost, but less magical, settlement…
Yet we should never disparage the symmetrical, no matter how out of time.
In 1951, for example, a gift arrived for Orlando Villas-Bôas, the great Brazilian Indianologist: a sack collection of bones. Said to be those of Fawcett himself, the bones were last attested fourteen years later, in a São Paulo flat belonging to Villas-Bôas, or perhaps a relative or disciple.
When this gift arrived, Amazonian tribesmen also confessed to Villas-Bôas that Fawcett’s party had suffered a canoe accident: the river, which swallowed up the gifts intended for the waiting tribesmen... The arriving explorers were summarily murdered for their evident disrespect, as proven by the absence of gifts…
Nevertheless, a son of Fawcett’s, who did not die in the Amazon, nor ever go there physically, would accept neither the tribesmen’s explanation nor the bones’ forensic identification; considering them illegitimate, this son never sought visitation rights.
Villas-Bôas nullified this son, Brian, as a charlatan opportunist who feared a definitive resolution would capsize his lucrative book sales, predicated on the perpetuation of the enigma... Hell, he probably never worked an honest day in his life, the great Brazilian probably reacted (the quotation is apocryphal and thus uncertain)…
What is confirmed, then? While investigators have searched the vast Amazon for the vanished explorers, their remains, their dreamt city and its unimaginable riches, no one ever demanded the river to return the gifts it reclaimed, if in fact it had, in the course of its own inscrutable work.