There's a great story in today's New York Times called Hailed, From Everest to Park Avenue: it's about Sherpas in New York City who are planning a memorial service for Sir Edmund Hillary. The article interviews Tshering Norbu Sherpa, who's the grand-nephew of Tenzing Norgay, fellow Everest conquerer: he's a taxi driver in New York. Around 2000 Sherpas live there, apparently, and they have a community association based in Woodside, Queens. On their web site, they invite members of "our Sherpa community to pay our tribute to the person who spent his entire life for the betterment of our community."
Dawa Sherpa, another taxi driver interviewed by the Times, said of Hillary: “In Nepal, we respect him as a great man, like a king.”
The article described Sir Edmund as "a New Zealander who spent his life in the farthest-flung corners of the globe." Far-flung is a Victorian term that means remote or widely spread: Merriam-Webster gives the phrase "far-flung empire" as its example of the latter definition. According to Fowler's Modern English Usage, it was first recorded in 1895 and once had "emotional value" to Kipling and his peers. "The far-flung Empire has been replaced by less stirring concepts, but the rich flavour of the adjective remains as a reminder of past grandeur."
(As I'm quoting from the New Fowler's, which is edited by R.W. Burchfield, a New Zealander, I'll stick to English spelling for the rest of this post.)
"Far-flung" is a little too colonial for my tastes, assuming, as it does, a centre from which the flinging occurs. What could be more remote to a child growing up in Nepal (or New Zealand, for that matter), than Woodside, Queens?
The word often gets used in relation to New Zealand. The Observer, for example, published a short travel piece in 2005 describing "Disney's far-flung Narnia." CBS, in a 2003 story about new words added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, reported that "Americans have ... taken increasingly to adopting slang expressions — such as "bludge" (goof off) — from other English speaking nations as far flung [sic] as New Zealand and Australia."
Growing up in New Zealand, I did not feel far-flung. New Zealand doesn't feel particularly far-flung to me now, living in New Orleans: I could get on a flight to LA tonight and be home in around sixteen hours, about as long as it would take me to drive to Iowa City, except with TV and free drinks once I was over the Pacific. True, I would not be able to stop at a Long John Silver's en route (in, say, Hannibal, Missouri), but life is full of sacrifices. And the cost is about the same as a long weekend in Miami. In fact, this is one of the reasons T. Middy and I talk about things like a long weekend in Miami, or San Juan, or somewhere in Mexico, but never make the trips: I always end up thinking that I could go home for the same amount of money (or often less).
I think this post has got way off-topic, i.e. has become far-flung. In the past few days I've been reading a lot of the original British newspaper coverage of Hillary and Tenzing's climb in 1953. Hillary was referred to as E.P. Hillary in most of the papers, and most of them rattled on at length about how it was a British expedition. There's a story in today's Times (the English paper) about the journalistic coup by Jan (then James) Morris, who sent a coded message via the British Embassy in Kathmandu so The Times could break the story the morning of the Queen's coronation. It includes this anecdote: "When Hillary and Tenzing finally appeared at 2.30pm the expedition leader John Hunt recorded: 'When we realised by their unmistakable gestures that they had been to the top, we temporarily went mad.'"
Matthew Parris, in another story in The Times, points out that "in 1953 New Zealand's Prime Minister called the ascent the achievement of 'a Britisher' while today's New Zealand PM called Hillary 'a great Kiwi'."
Times change, but Hillary didn't. This is how Jan Morris described him this week: "Edmund Hillary was a really good man. His life had such a wonderful shape. It was a colossal life, and a moral life, that had at its core a lifelong obligation to the Sherpa people. He was the very opposite of a celebrity."
The Sherpa memorial service is on January 20 at Queens Palace, Woodside, New York.