A Rocky Riverbed – Untold Summer Stories (2)

A Rocky Riverbed

The girl’s mother was a native of the Northern realms where the ocean wasn’t far and seagulls now and then shrieked in the sky. She had followed a butcher from a small town in the mountainous South, married quickly and submitted herself to his no-nonsense apprentice training in the messy business about meat, ham and sausages. She was proud to be his assistant in a prospering butcher shop, which also offered hearty dishes for regional workers and drivers-by at lunchtime. When her first child was a chubby boy, she was quietly accepted in the community even though she failed to adapt to the regional manner of speaking. Things changed with her second child, a fragile girl, behind in growth for some years and just as much retarded that you couldn’t conceal it from the public. The girl grew up to be a blue-eyed teenager who behaved reasonably normal and was friendly against everybody. From the age of twelve on the girl developed an intense need to walk the paths of the nearby mountain valley. She used to stop for long minutes at her favourite tree stretching out her arms  for the strong trunk longingly. Her mother loved to see her happy in nature and she didn’t intervene, not even when her daughter turned her cravings to the mountain brook which gushed down over a rocky riverbed into the valley. There, she sat near a wooden bridge where the brook ran through the green meadows. On sunny days she could sit for hours and babble unintelligibly to the sound of the water. Tourists who would come along, crossing the bridge, were mesmerized by her extraordinary behaviour and the townspeople started whispering. One early summer evening, after he had just closed the shop, the butcher decided to fetch her and told his wife so. Don’t be too harsh with her, she pleaded. When he approached his daughter, who was standing at the creek in the warm evening light, she looked somewhat attractive to him, in a fairy-tale way, he thought. He walked up, embraced her and asked her to lean with her back against him. The valley was motionless. He told her about the water, the rocks and the mountains. He spoke into her neck of the mighty master of the mountain waters who resided in the grey pinnacles high above the valley. When the shadows got deeper he drew her into the riverbed and made her look at the grim, stony face of a mountain troll which protruded darkly from the riverbed. She was scared and wanted to run from the troll, but he stood behind her and held her with both arms like in a bench clamp. She went silent and listened to his words. The water troll would jump up from the riverbed and go for her. He would do things to her. Only when the moon was up in the star-covered sky did he let her go, took her by the hand and led her home. From then on she stayed in the house, learned to do some needle work and quit school for good. Winter came and spring, and nobody asked for her.

 

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Red-Roped Eternity – Untold Summer Stories (1)

Red-roped Eternity

He had parked his black, high-tuned motorbike neatly in the parking lot at the foot of the mountain which had looked to him like Swiss Matterhorn from afar. Even though its size had diminished the nearer he had got, he was determined to interrupt his ride to the flatlands and climb the grey, rocky peak. He kind of rushed up the first 700 metres of altitude – as if he had to purchase some last-minute supplies – not even noticing the sweat which ran down his back and dripped from his constantly creased forehead. His speeding heartbeat felt like rock drums in his chest. When he entered the rope-lined stretch on the narrow climbing ridge, his sight was impaired. He concentrated on the red rope and the rocky path which was bulbing toward him as if under a magnifying glass. When the stone struck him, he all of a sudden saw everything clearly in a single snapshot: The thick, red rope swinging slightly above him, the rugged, dirty rock with its myriads of cracks and even some fresh green leaves among the eternal moss of emptiness. He sucked in the razor-sharp air and knew that the stone had dropped from the white skies above him.

 

Geography of Escape (3)

Somewhere – Kurdistan!

Nations and Names

30 million people make the Kurds the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. But neither have they ever had a landlocked state nor have they ever been unified in their aim of nationbuilding. If you grow up being Kurdish you’ll belong to some other nation anyway. A presumptive state Kurdistan would turn out to be a nation of abandoned locals from a variety of time-honoured, dignified nations whose languages they speak like their mother tongue, whose traditions and collective memories they share and whose political ups and downs are – seamlessly – interwoven with themselves and their families. 

Coming from the mostly Kurdish city of Qamishly, e.g., which is embedded in the border triangle of Syria, Iraq and Turkey, you know by experience that  Kurdish culture exists in your community but that just the same this community exists in the national context of Syria. That’s what everybody from your community has been discussing passionately since the going has got tough, and which eventually means that you’ll either be squashed by the grindstones of your country’s upheavals or escape to somewhere else, namely the EU, where you are entirely displaced and doubly homeless. You have lost your Kurdish community which has been torn apart into hostile factions, and, moreover, you can no longer share and add to your nation’s history.

Kurdish communities – somewhere

Here you are now. You are nearly 24 , unmarried, your parents have died early, you observe religious rules, treasure fond boyhood memories of the Libanon, smoke sheesha  and your eventful life has been brought to a sickening standstill. You speak Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish but that doesn’t lead you anywhere. 

Where are you from? Tired of answering this frequently asked question about your nationality you draw out the country of Kurdistan on cardboard and take pleasure in the graceful borders of this new-born nation. “My name is Nader. I am from Kurdistan and a local of Qamishly”, you reply to the visitor, “let me tell you something about my homeland”.

Kurdistan – out of nowhere

Geography of Escape (2)

Ah, Asmara….

“… Eritrea is one of the most secretive countries in Africa. For those who have a hankering for off-the-beaten-track places, it offers challenges and excitement aplenty, with a unique blend of natural and cultural highlights…” (www.lonelyplanet.com/Eritrea 2016)

It is not law that rules Eritreans – it is fear…

“When I am in Eritrea, I feel that I cannot even think because I am afraid that people can read my thoughts and I am scared…” (Witness to United Nations Report, June 2015)

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On the Horn of Africa the England-sized country Eritrea is no war zone. But from a population of about 4.5 million the number of refugees who risk the dangerous crossing to Europe is the second-largest after Syrians. About 5,000 each month (UN estimate), flee Eritrea and  set out on the world’s deadliest migrant trail across the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea. They run away from a dictatorship that is targeting its own population with torture – including sexual torture – mass surveillance and indefinite forced military service which amounts almost to slavery.

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 “Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country (…) In desperation, they resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety. They risk capture, torture and death at the hands of ruthless human traffickers”, the UN report describes the refugees’ dire perspectives.

At an exhibition – in a safe place many countries away from Eritrea, Sudan and Libya – I try to understand the desperation of those young Eritrean adults who have braved the terrible trek and, for today’s open-house visitors, have visualized their odyssey with packing paper, cardboard, thread and coloured crayons on a large green wall in a German refugee accommodation. After a while I turn my back to the illustration of their past experience and join them in the sunny yard for a very special coffee ceremony.

 

Geography of Escape (1)

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Hi, have you been to Syria? I know, my home country is  #1 on the list of dangerous places on the planet, so you can’t go now and you shouldn’t. When cutting out this colourful refugee map from my shattered memories, I  tried to imagine Syria before it descended into infernal civil war. I heard my uncle speaking to me from the distance of several countries and he said: “Believe me, boy, Syria, and its cities in particular, were tolerant and peaceful places. Damascus and Aleppo, which are among the oldest, continuously inhabited cities on earth, used to attract visitors from all over the world. For ages and ages, various religions had been respected here. People of different faiths shared public spaces like coffee shops, art galleries, hammams, and you couldn’t tell who was Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Alawite, Kurdish or Arab. Families loved to be outdoors and had picknicks alongside ancient Roman ruins like Palmyra or close to The Crac de Chevaliers or in sight of the waterwheels of Hama. They cheerfully promenaded through souqs, buying ice creams or sweets at Damascus’ Souq al-Hamidiyya. Does that sound like paradise to you? It was, my boy, believe me! ” 

I listen to my uncle but I don’t remember such pleasures. My family is torn apart, in fact, my entire community has fled to safety. All those foreign countries I passed through, afterwards I could barely identify them, and mapping my escape from Syria was tiresome. But now I am proud of my work, of my refugee map. I follow the line of the thread back to Syria, listening to my uncle and  his treasured memories of peace in Syria. 

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Le Parc de La Villette – a landscape for the 21st century

Is Future Aging?

What happens to future when a brand-new generation of toddlers has arrived to look at it? When the avantgarde of two generations ago is walking grandchildren through the landscapes of old-but-bold dreams as, for example, at Le parc de la Villette in Paris’ 19th arrondissement?

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The small ones will wonder at the spectacular, shiny mirror which their avantgarde grandparents point out to them and they’ll take the kaleidoscopic reflections of La Géode for the real thing: the multi-faceted urban reality of Le Parc de La VilletteAdobePhotoshopExpress_03ae20efdde649b89414371fb0302da3

La Géode touches the eye with 6.433 triangles of preformed polished stainless steel on its perfectly smooth, shimmering surface and it reflects the surrounding world like a fortune teller’s magic sphere. Designed and constructed by the brothers Fainsilber, it opened as a 360° cinema-house in 1984, with a hemispherical screen of enormous 1000 m² and 26 m in diameter. Some steps further and La Géode mysteriously vanishes into the northeast Parisian sky – only to jump at the scene again behind the next bend of the path, like an apparition.

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The Parc de La Villette surpasses the traditional idea of nature to be embedded into the cityscape. Rather, the architect (Tschumi, 1984) envisioned the site of former meat-markets and second-empire slaughter-houses as an urban landscape where natural and artificial elements are brought alive together. Still, of the 55 hectare some 34  are dedicated to large, green surfaces which inspire Parisians to gather and interact or just to relax and meditate.The park hosts all kinds of events and activities such as game playing, exercising, entertainment, markets and has the Museum of Technology and Science and the City of Music on site, additionally.

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Museum of Technology and Science

In a way, the Parc de La Villette  is a puzzling space and often it resembles a very big, ‘jumpy’ and discontinuous building  which meanders unpredictably around numerous open-air spaces which were categorized as ‘surfaces’ by the architect. It somehow displays an urban structure which incessantly suggests social and cultural interactions to the visitor but at the same time leaves the choice to himself.

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The vast site of La Villette is structured by 35 red objects, all of them being 10x10x10 metre cubes or three-storey constructions. They were named ‘Folies’ by  the architect and every 120 metres people may stumble on such a folly which helps to regain orientation where open space, movement and interaction seem to have merged in a futuristic way.

At the Parc de La Villette the future has just begun, it’s fresh and young for grandparents and grandchildren alike.

 

 

(6) Toccata Organ – A Man’s Organ

An organ, found and lost

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The sentimental value of a technical artifact often survives even if it long ago ended in deadlock and was disposed at the vast graveyard of industrial equipment. This is true for the Toccata Organ, which is a prominent exhibit at the industrial museum ‘Industriesalon Schöneweide’ and the only existing instrument of that kind today.

The technical signature of this organ is “K 2”. This may sound like a backward predecessor model of Starwar’s “R2D2”, but in fact “K 2” was a superbly performing electronic organ and frequently in operation at the Berlin opera house “Komische Oper” from 1961 to 1989. This bulky Toccata Organ, built as a prototype of highest electronic sound quality, needed more than 250 electronic tubes, complex tone generating circuits and special frequency dividers in order to imitate a pipe organ to hence unknown perfection. But tube electronics proved to be a technical blind alley and transistors took over for good. Just four instruments were built, three were lost completely, only “K 2” could be reanimated after it had been dumped by Samsung Electronics and it now remains to tell the story of the Toccata Organ. That was achieved by the very same man who had held the organ alive at the opera for nearly three decades.

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The man behind this technical artifact cannot be resurrected like an electronic organ, just his name survives in an explanatory note at a museum, in a booklet or in research papers – until the name has lost its meaning for the next generation. Considering, that all those years at the “Komische Oper” the Toccata Organ was cared for and held alive by a single man as if the electronic instrument had become a part of his own organism, you wonder, if the fully completed separation of man and machine won’t turn machines into cyborg beings on the one hand and, on the other hand, will gradually wipe out man’s ethical self.toccata-orgel-exhibit-3

 

(5) Heritage of Loss – Manhood

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Man Machine, drinking gasoline

“I’m a man machine drinking gasoline” – an appealing song for a male citoyen who maybe lives in a European capital and shares his cool contemporary views via twitter and a weĺl-furnitured literary blog with a fairly  non-conformed net community.

While listening to the hammering music for a second time  he imagines grimy, athletic bodies, emaciated by some excruciating industrial work slavery – unseen and unheard of in his own ” corridors of knowledge” as he has recently named  his academic field of work. He’s a professor of law, a schoengeist, too, but right now he rejoices in conjuring up gasoline-fed, smeared bodies – so hard that he can control them by letting them flex their muscles, bend and stretch their torsos, making them spread their legs like an archaic fighting machine. These creatures are manly through and through, he thinks, but in a defiant way, yes, defying their innate machine ma-scu-li-ni-ty, can you hear me, he shouts. That’s what they do, he rages against the vibrating sub-woofers. They are beyond rules, they don’t obey to written words and healthy nourishment and all that painstakingly documented civilization stuff which he himself carefully pays tribute to, day by day, in his urban life as an educated citoyen.

He watches those machine beings who are the vital, patient slaves of an out-faded enlightenment age. They’ll be guzzling gasoline and toiling like gladiators until their time has come. That will be the day when they spit gasoline into the faces of good-looking, slim urbanites like himself. They will soil him and he will submit gladly. They will reach over for all the pretty glasses full of sparkling champagne, everywhere in those pampered European cities. And they’ll empty them, hurl them, break them and it’ll be the start of their reign, the age of a new manhood and the semi-human man machine.

He sighs, and listens to the next song.”Man machine, semi human being, man machine, super human being”, a somewhat weak promise that the profound abyss between body and humanity may be overcome by a six-pack cyborg homunculus. “Man machine, the evil of a dream”, a dream lost a century ago which is now displayed in museums, on fitness courts and in art-house movies.

He turns the volume down, looks out of his living room window, takes a photo of the orange-blue sunset which still lingers above the Western spheres of the capital, and sits down at his laptop. He opens his twitter account and uploads the sunset photo, the third one this month. “Too early to go to bed, but in case I won’t have time later on: Good night, everyone. Sleep well.”

(4) Heritage of Loss – Cyborgs and all my yesterdays

My post-industrial cyborg self…

Picasso Machine Frame

… is getting inquisitive sometimes…

 

Where has my humanity gone? Has it left my body? Have I reduced myself to a feeling android? Or has my mind changed into cyborg software which handles my body and soul? But I know I can always press the escape key and stay safe with my human glass shades of feeling such as lighting scented candles when things appear sad or uttering soft noises of pleasure when people look happy.

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Glass shade, bluish reflections

Happy, how much I yearn for the blurred happiness of a summer song. It turns the tiniest rest of dried-out happiness into sparkling life. Like sherbet powder tingling on my tongue and vibrating in my veins: Why? I said…

“… because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Happy, bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
I said bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down…” (1)

And I repeat that over and over and over again so nothing can bring me down because I’m happy. As long as the coloured lights are blinking and the singing goes on.

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Post-industrial landscapes

Afterwards I’m back to some post-industrial site and to all my yesterdays in the inclosures of humanity.

 

(1) Happy, Pharell Williams