10. The River Nile, most of Africa
The midday heat burns into your soul. The banks are twitching with life. A Nubian sailor beats a drum. “Those guys have rhythm”, you think, like the racist you are. The river does not end, for it is long, the longest of them all. You are going into the heart of the land. Darkness rises. Marlon Brando waits.
9. The Caspian Sea, Iran, Russian Federation
Am I a sea? Am I a lake? My once great sturgeon population is not what it used to be.
8. Cleddau Fawr, Wales
This is just a stream, a simple stream, somewhere in Wales, running down from a very small mountain into a village populated by burly miners with beautiful singing voices. Pronouncing it correctly will win fame and riches beyond belief. Swimming in its icy rivulets will mark you out as the hardiest of all travelers. Loving it could finally make you human.
7. The Panama Canal, Panama
30,000 people died building this thing. But the important thing was that going from San Francisco to New York by boat took a lot less time. The Panama Canal was the early 20th century equivalent of the internet; it made everything a lot quicker. But did a part of us die when it was built?
6. Chicago River, Chicago, Illinois
Before Al Capone danced the Charleston on top of the Sears Tower, Chicago gangsters were filling their city’s river with the bodies of their whacked enemies. Rotting flesh not being the best purifier, the river began to earn a bad rep for killing people with Typhoid and civic pride began to drop. The river flowed out into Lake Michigan, which started to stink as a result and, since the city’s drinking water came from the lake, local politicians decided to embark on some crazed engineering plans. In a successful, but brutally unnatural, piece of showmanship the flow of the river was reversed so that the Lake flowed into the river and out into the Mississippi basin. The pollution was sent down south, to ole Dixie, where it belongs. The south retaliated by sending the Kings of Leon up to piss off Steve Albini.
5. The Ganges, India
More like the Hindu equivalent of a massive Christening bowl. Hey, if you’ve got a dark disease or just a small something on your mind/eating your colon, just jump in. After all, there’s no better cure for terminal illness than shit-ridden water.
4. Lake Superior, USA/Canada
I’m so powerful, so much better than all my brothers in the Great Lakes family, so much so, I’m called Superior. That means bigger. Better. More mighty than you Lake Michigan, to me you are no more than a puddle. Whichever way you look at it, I am the winner. In Ojibwa I am known as “big water”. Deal with it.
3. The Atlantic Ocean, many places
The Pacific is bigger but, spiritually, the Atlantic is the world’s ocean. I don’t care if you grew up saluting the sun at dawn in your Californian mansion; secretly you longed to be clambering over jagged rocks and into the bitterly cold water surrounding the small village of Clovelly, in Devon. You want to be a Basque fisherman, setting out before light to scratch your beard and think deep erogenous thoughts. You want an ocean that treats you rough and cold, an ocean that was full of cod before it was consistently and brutally plundered, an ocean that houses a mythical lost city. You dream of Atlantis. But it probably doesn’t dream of you.
2. The Straits of Magellan, Chile
Long thought of as the most dangerous stretch of water in the world, separating South America from Tierra del Fuego (“land of fire”), the last place on Earth, inhabited by sea monsters and the shattered dreams of those who tried to pass through her. This all changed when Magellan, the explorer-God, got through it and gallantly named it in honour of himself. It was then claimed for Chile by the improbably named (for a Chilean) Bernardo O’Higgins, who perhaps had a little trouble with his identity. Before Magellan, the straits had no name because people were too afraid to refer it directly. They would simply point seawards and shudder, fighting back tears of unremitting panic. Great body of water this.
1. The River Thames, south-east England
Blurry eyed patriotic nostalgia, memories of the cranes dipping their heads as Churchill’s coffin rolled by. We dreamed on its banks of this royal throne of Kings, this sceptered isle, this England. Weialala leia, wallala leialala, as the river rolls by and the bowler hat-wearing poet sits singing on the bank. Two thousand years rolling through the capital, so we beat on, boats against the current, and the river’s water lapping forever against the banks at Limehouse. Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shantih shantih shantih.