Cousteau, Jacques Yves. The Silent World. New York: Harper c1953. Print.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me at La Mourillon one summer’s day, when my eyes were opened to the sea. I waded into the Mediterranean and looked into it through Fernez goggles. I was a regular Navy gunner, a good swimmer interested only in perfecting my crawl style, but I was astounded by what I saw in the shallow shingle. Standing up to breathe I saw a trolley car, people, electric light poles. I put my eyes under again and civilization vanished with one last bow. I was in a jungle never seen by those who floated on the opaque roof. I felt like Don Quixote in my first homemade protective suit in 1938, but it kept me warm in cold-water goggle dives.
When the allies landed in Normandy in 1944 I left Paris by bike to join my family in the Alps 500 miles away. I carried 110 pounds of food and wine and made it in four days, pushing up mountain trails to avoid German and maquis skirmishes. My official wartime card saved me several times from deportation to Germany. The first side was made out by my employer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, producer of scientific films. The other side said that he employed Jacques-Yves Cousteau to direct the films.
The octopus has never read Victor Hugo. ”The tiger can only devour you; the devilfish [octopus] inhales you. To be eaten alive is more than terrible; but to be drunk alive is inexpressible.” Such was the anticipation of the octopus we took to our first dives. After meeting a few octopi, we concluded that it was more likely that to be “drunk alive” referred to the condition of the novelist when he penned the passage, than to the situation of a human meeting an octopus. Dumas became a sort of dancing instructor to devilfish. He would select an unwilling pupil, hold it firmly and gently and gyrate around, inducing the creature to follow. The bashful octopus usually refuses to dance, using every trick to escape.
On a remote beach of the Spanish Gold Coast, West Africa, we find a colony of monk seals, supposed to have been exterminated in the 1690s. Dumas and Tailliez crawl up on the beach like fellow seals to get acquainted. Going into the surf with the “extinct” seals, they played follow-the-leader. The seals would duck under and tickle the divers with their whiskers.
The funniest story on pressure I have heard was told by Sir Robert H. Davis, the diving historian and inventer of the first submarine escape apparatus. Years ago during the construction of a tunnel under a river, a party of politicians went down to celebrate the meeting of the two shafts. They drank champagne, disappointed that the wine was flat and lifeless. It was under depth pressure, of course, and the carbon dioxide bubbles remained in solution. When the town fathers arrived at the surface the wine popped in their stomachs, distended their vests, and all but frothed from their ears. One dignitary had to be rushed back into the depths to undergo champagne recompression.