ONE WINTER’S DAY at the end of the ’50s, in the Melbourne suburbs of my childhood, I received in the mail an official-looking certificate on thick paper with impressive calligraphy announcing, grandly, that I had been accepted as a member of the National Geographic Society. It was signed by “Melville Bell Grosvenor, President and Editor”. The main (indeed the only practical) benefit of my membership was that I was eligible to receive each month, in its familiar black and yellow binding, theNational Geographic magazine. My grandfather, the author of this birthday gift, believed firmly in the educational benefits of exposure to the wonders of the planet.
But, as each new issue arrived, it was soon clear that what really fired my imagination were not the exotic descriptions of “My Life with Africa’s Little People”, or “Deep Diving by Bathyscape off Japan”, or even “Russia as I Saw it by Vice President Richard M. Nixon (also a Member of the National Geographic Society)”. No – sadly, shallowly – the pages to which I turned as soon as the magazine hit the letterbox, the landscape in which my mind mostly wandered, were the advertisements framing the articles.
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