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

(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.

Glass jar_ bluish

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.

Glass jar_post-industrial

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

(1) Timeless in January

January

January and Willow TreeTaking a walk in January, I look at the world in wonder: Everything – except people – holds still and wants to be noticed. Like the frozen willow tree which is laid back against the icy surface of the lake similar to an artist’s naked model on a blue divan.Through the elfish branches and twigs of an alder tree with its hundreds of small, brown cones I look at a pale half-moon which is already up before sunset. The moon is moving slowly and time is sheltered in a winter capsule. No ticking away of time units, ducks keep silent, wind has long blown away the tiny seeds of the alder cones.

January has space and freedom.Those twelve months of the year are spread out before you like an uncharted continent to explore and to map out. Erlen und MondJanuary makes you imagine spring colours and speculate about weather reports of  summer days still to come. Where to travel, what to read and when to dance! Your unspoken plans meander from improving your finances or your wardrobe to refurnishing the kitchen and from there to getting hold of a ticket for a concert staging Sir Simon at the piano, accompanying his mezzo-soprano wife, yes, at the piano!

In January you will take out your opinionated ear plugs and be all ears to the world again – even to politicians and other prepotent people in charge. Again, it’s January unplugged!

But one day – most certainly the 22nd – all of a sudden and out of the blue, some chrono-addicted, unrelaxed, hyper-disciplined supermiser will stick a new year’s annual calendar right into my contemplative life and I’ll gasp: “God gracious, it’s January 22nd! Already!”

Suddenly, I will remember meeting my neighbour in the underground parking space and hear him answering to my new year wishes: “Don’t know about new year. To me it’s already over, had my birthday on January 1st!” Poor fellow citizen, to be confronted with his annual calendar right on the first day of January, year by year! No timeless moments in January, no unplanned visions of colour and change! Sommer Raupe

And while I am hastily scribbling down my overdue to-do list right into my brown leather agenda, eagerly restoring chronology of time, an image pops up in my mind. It’s showing what I had in my handbag when I rode the coach from Oxford to London. I saw, I considered, I whispered:

 

“Tell me, Chronos, when is the moment to write about women’s handbags and their contents?!

IF AT ALL, IN JANUARY! Hurry up!

 

 

 

 

(4) Let thy feet be set in midst of knowledge and try together!

British Museum – Let’s look into the future and share dreams!

Great Court_London

Every single one of the more than 5 million visitors who enter London’s British Museum each year, will set his feet on the marvellous white floor tiles of the inner courtyard.  Yet, he will not look down to the floor but lift his eyes to the incomparable grandeur of the Great Court and the shining glass-made sky above. His view is magically drawn to the two majestic staircases which graciously encircle the magnificent cylinder of the former Reading Room. Step by step, the stairs lead his eyes upwards to take in the kaleidoscopic light from the miraculous roof which spans the inner court like a giant sail in the wind. It’s more than a museum, it’s a unique public square and an irresistible cultural domain – open to all and to be used by everyone! When after a while of browsing and grazing the mesmerized visitor can finally spare some time to take a look at the floor, he may find in words what he has already sensed as a unifying idea of the Great Court and the British Museum:

“And let thy feet be set,

Millenniums hence,

In midst of knowledge…”  Tennyson

And let thy feet(2)

So, let thy feet…

And let thy feet(3)

…regardless of shape, size or gender of feet, color of toes, eventual smells,

In midst of barefoot in sandal

… regardless of origins or boldness of shoewear, strange behaviour of socks and tights,

Knowledge and hairy calves

… and even regardless of feet being overtopped by hairy calves,

Millenniums hence boots

… yes, let thy feet, millenniums hence…

Bet set in midst flowery lady

… be set in midst of knowledge!

At the very latest, people should start in 2016 – just one week hence – and set their minds firmly on respect of humanity and peace. And why not try and do it together: Happy New Year, particularly to the school children at Neve Shalom – Wahat-al-Salam!

(3) Cling and climb and stay together!

400 plants and Ivy is one!

As a countdown to its 400th anniversary in 2021, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum is presenting 400 plants of scientific and cultural prominence. Since November 24th 2013 such a plant has been highlighted every week. Common Ivy, scientifically named Hedera Helix, was the plant last week (107). What a marvellous choice!

Oh Ivy

Hedera Helix, Common Ivy (to be read aloud)

Oh Ivy, you master of embrace!
You, hugging weather-beaten tree trunks,
Caressing shabby stonewalls and
Flattering faded fences.

We clip you from the rotting shed
And watch you metamorphose into festive decoration.
You take a solemn stance and cover, with eternal green,
A grave, a vault, a ruin and a littered backyard.

On winter and on summer days
You creep and climb and hold together
What time and waste has left:
A promise and a memory of blossom and decay.   (ch)

 

 

 

(1) Lost And Displaced

Taking Roots

‘Displaced’ – such a harmless, totally painless term. Safely tucked away behind this word are millions of repeated stories of uncountable separations from homes, land, family and friends. Manifold stories of uprootings which means moving to a relative or neighbour, dwelling in the shells of destroyed buildings or, ultimately, fleeing across borders to unknown places.

Whatever it is people carry along, it needs to take roots and give comfort at some other place so that you can recover with its familiar taste.

Losses_minta

 

Mentha suaveolens (apple-mint)

A picture of what I left behind pops into my mind  and stays there, sending circular waves of feelings. A leaf of apple-scented mint in a warm terracotta container, with some dry crumbs of root web which probably a bird has been pecking up. In the early hours of the morning I sit down with a plastic cup of tea which is strongly sweetened, exactly the way it should be. The children are still asleep in the dorm.

Autumn Afternoon

Summer declines, days decrease. Autumn is in everything, colouring fruits and leaves, deepening the blue of the sky and the yellow of the afternoon sun. You can never have enough of autumn colours. They are so physical, almost like food. Manna bread from the sky at the end of summer.

Autumn_Foliage

Wet foliage on the lake slope

Wetness comes with the autumn fog and bleaches the colours out of nature. Glancing over the lake I can no longer make out the distinct silhouettes of trees along the opposite shore line. They have melted into grey shadows and like a silent fleet they are sailing away to some unseen sunny continent. In their luggage they carry the greens with them.

Alster Fog and Traffic Light

Autumn fog and red light

A red traffic-light in the grey distance makes me smile.

 

Oxford Special – Radcliffe Camera, Being in a Turner State of Mind (Part 6)

Radcliffe Camera and Turner’s High Street, Oxford

Yes, that’s Radcliffe Camera, an utmost iconic landmark in a city peppered with iconic landmarks – but don’t be mistaken, the building with its circular leaden dome and cupola is a library. The word camera simply means ‘room’ and has absolutely nothing to do with filming devices or movies. Radcliffe is the last name of royal physician Dr. John Radcliffe who left a large sum of money to build this first circular library in England which was opened in 1749. Which means that Radcliffe does not refer to an actor with the same last name, frequently starring in Harry Potter films. My friends tell me that Radcliffe Camera today is the reading room of the Bodleian Library and right that moment some eager reading-beavers nonchalantly leave the distinctive building – wouldn’t everybody just love to tackle his reference works under the lofty dome of Radcliffe Camera?!

Radcliffe Camera Turner (2)

Reading under an 18th century dome may sound like an extravagant adventure but beware, unsuspecting reader, do not tip your library chair backwards on a floor which spans a subterranean cavern! Looking at the noble building, you find it quite unimaginable that beneath the solid stonework, the northern lawn and the picturesque cobblestones Radcliffe Camera holds some 600,000 books. This underground bookstore of two floors, complete with a tunnel which links Radcliffe library with the Bodleian, was constructed from 1909 to 1912. So, tread carefully, you’re treading on printed wisdom!

Turner's Highstreet Ashmolean

The artwork you see fastened to the fence in front of Radcliffe Camera shows an Oxford street scene in misty golden afternoon light and is a replica of JMW Turner’s painting The High Street, Oxford. Having walked down High Street just an hour ago you cannot believe that the painting is from 1810 and you agree with your friends that Turner’s view of High Street seems nearly unchanged after more than two centuries. Just forget some few traffic signs or modern vehicles, especially the omnipresent bicycles leaning against fences, walls, gates…

Turner's High Street (2)

Turner’s The High Street, Oxford had been on loan to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum from a private collection since 1997 but recently it was left to the British nation in lieu of inheritance tax. Its immense value of £3.5 m turned out to be more than the tax due:  Ashmolean needed to raise £860,000 if it wanted to keep the painting. Luckily, the museum was granted the enormous amount of £800.000 from Heritage Lottery and other funds, but for the remaining £60,000 it had to launch an exceptional fundraising campaign to turn residents and visitors of Oxford into a ‘Turner state of mind’. Over the summer, the famous painting  was on prominent display in the entrance space at Ashmolean Museum and additionally, twelve full-size reproductions of The High Street, Oxford were installed all over the city. The response to the campaign was extraordinary so that in just four weeks the target was reached.

ashmolean and Turners

Look at the proud people holding up their Turner on the day when High Street, Oxford belonged to the city for ever and let their spirit pass over! Says Dr. Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean:

“The museum has been overwhelmed by public support. With well over 800 people contributing to the appeal, it is clear that the local community, as well as visitors to the museum from across the world, feel that this picture, the greatest painting of the city ever made, must remain on show in a public museum in Oxford”

 

POST SCRIPTUM

In September my friends sent me this photo of Turner’s High Street, Oxford, welcoming refugees to Oxford!

Turner's Welcome to Refugees