We made a thing I’m proud of
Back in Berlin for a bit over a week. I’m realizing I’ve never really written a good text on this city, and would be hard pressed to do it now. A lot of things have changed here, but nothing truly new. There’s Zapatist coffee, and laughter yoga therapy. My friends are into banjo’s, Catalan folk songs, and the correct way to pronounce hummus.
I’m feeling quite self-conscious about my cynicism, and wonder if it’s really a productive state to be in. But by virtue of having it, any other way of being is easily dismissed as disingenuous. Hoping it won’t descend into sarcasm and misanthropy
The pope pontificated everyone who doesn’t have/want children selfish.
I spend a long time deciding to be indignant over AIDS, overpopulation or the moral compass of the catholic church. But we’re gonna keep it simle.
Et tu, fucker?
This is a story from a couple of years ago. I don’t quite remember the day or month, and it isn’t particularly relevant. There were a lot of people around the house, and even that isn’t particularly relevant. She was there. In the beginning, just as a lot of other people were there. But we got to talking. We talked small, in a small group, as you do. Probably over a couple of cheap, half liter beers. But she mentions she keeps an diary. An art diary, in particular. I ask her if I might have a look at it, but she’s not keen, and she’s sending me signals that she’s really not keen. I make my first mistake of the evening by insisting.
It’s a very nice diary, filled with watercolor, sketches, portraits, and a few short lines in a language I don’t speak. It’s very impressive, and speaks volumes. It moves me to make my second mistake of the evening. There’s a tiny doodle of two grassy hills, and a few flowers. The whole thing is a couple of square centimeters. And I call her out on it. I tell her exactly where she was when she drew it, not only which park, but exactly where she was sitting and which direction she was facing. And I shouldn’t have told her that, because there’s no way I could have known that. This is a city of millions, it’s huge. But I knew. And she knows that I couldn’t have known that. Today, I still don’t know how I could have known. But I did. And it changed everything.
Suddenly, we are not talking small anymore. We’re talking big. People drift into our conversation, and quickly drift out again. Nobody speaks our language anymore, but we’re perfectly intelligible to each other. It could have been confusing and extraordinary, but at that time it seemed to make perfect sense. We understood each other perfectly clear, and we were only occupied with what was outside our mutual understanding. It was as if we were lifted clear off the ground, and looking down on the everything from afar. As if this was how things normally are. And weirdly enough, that was all it was, a simple togetherness. And nothing else. But nothing external seemed to matter either.
We drank more beer, moved outside to smoke, because that’s what you do, and it suddenly was 4 in the morning, and I vaguely remember I had to get go to work in a couple of hours, because that is what happens. I made a half hearted attempt to get her to stay, as if both of us are control of what happens, but we both agreed there and then that everything comes to an end.
I write Medina with a capital letter. It seems only fitting, as it is both principal and personal. When I arrived in Morocco, my first impressions were as faulty as my expectations. For 20 minutes we cruised leisurely past nondescript apartment blocks, neon, and old city walls. For one minute, one might imagine one has mistakenly taken a flight to a bad copy of Brussels. This impressions is quickly dispelled as one reaches the frontier of The Medina.
The road ceases to be a strip of tarmac lined by sidewalks, and devolves into a jumble of brickwork, tiles, and packed dirt. Floors and walls can only be distinguished through their orientation. Roads lead into roads, twist and turn, intersect, go under another road, become a courtyard before turning into another road. But you know this road! You started on this road. You can reach it again if you keep walking forward. The way to move forward, is to keep turning. Unless it’s a dead end, in which case you will turn around and you will find yourself in another street then the one you entered through. This is because The Medina folds back on itself. It’s not a sub-divided space, it’s a collection of places and their relationships. A road might be lined with shops, but some shops are roads. One might be invited to go to the top if this shop for a view of the Medina, and one will be faced with an infinite amount of ramshackle balconies, drying laundry, antennas and minarets, all stretching towards the horizon. Don’t be fooled. Scientist have measured The Medina to be only one kilometer across. If you would look closely, you would be able to see the back of your own head on another balcony.
One copes. Maps are useless, as it insists on categorizing things as “buildings” and “roads”, which are soft guidelines here. To a lesser extent, so are the locals. One is either enthusiastically and confidently helped, to be led somewhere else, or to a plead for monetary mercy. Or one is is helpfully, but uncertainly told of one or two turns, even by the eldest members. This is probably due to the fact that The Medina is to all effects and purposes infinite in all directions. One might open a tiny door under a bridge, to arrive at an impossibly large and airy courtyard, with a blue sky that where it was night on the other side of the door. The only way to go somewhere in The Medina is to go outside, and learn. Walk for hours, days. Learn how everything connects.
The Medina is not only infinite in all directions, it is also timeless. A man might be smiting a cooking pot by hand, next to the mobile phone vendor. This is not far from the food stall that sells entire sheep heads. That’s where we saw the man on a scooter, leading a perfectly black stallion past the medresse. It is full of children, yet some people look older then time. The Medina has been the capital of an empire multiple times, and has outlived it every time. It has it’s secrets, but they’re hard to uncover.
To be honest, I wanted to leave The Medina, but you don’t leave the Medina. You escape.
Seems more then a year and a half since I updated this blog. Oh well.
Life is… different. I’ve been firefighting the last months. Which is ok if it’s only work, or only private life. But it seems to be both at the moment. It’s interesting, and a good opportunity to learn, but boy, is it tiring.
I don’t like the UK, and I might be turning Tory with age.
Back home after Nepal.
The usual pictures and stories will have to wait until I have some logistics and backlog issues figured out. But it was good. Here’s the no-nonsense rundown.
On the way there I was a bit anxious to be on the road again, as well as worrying about the fact that I was joining forces with a friend, something which I haven’t done in a long long while. Luckily, my worries were unfounded. From the minute I arrived in Kathmandu, I felt very comfortable. Nepal is a Buddhist country, and all the people are relaxed and friendly. There’s a relatively high level of proficiency in English, as well as a decent developed tourist infrastructure. It’s a big playground for trekkers and spirituality seekers (terminus of the old overland hippy trail, of which I did half in 2010), even though I feel absolutely zero affinity for the latter.
We did it slow. General strikes shut the country down for about one week, which means no transport or internet. Road conditions and general discomfort make distances quite large. Which means a lot of beers, watching street scenes, and idle loitering. I didn’t really have the time to all I set out to do, but I was fine with that.
This trip was quite uncharacteristic for me, in that I didn’t push the experience, and just permitted myself to have an easy time and enjoy myself. I still had my good experiences and stories, but it lacked the restless drive that marked previous jaunts. This is probably good and bad. I’m also surprised to conclude that when you travel with someone, the time you spend with this person becomes almost as important as the time you spend interacting with the location, and it’s best to prepare for this. In hindsight, I was lucky that my partner in crime is a seasoned traveler, and this made our joint outing completely friction free.
All in all, I’m happy with the way things went, even though I didn’t plan it this way, and probably won’t pursue it like that in the future again.
I’m also happy to be able to write “back home” and imply Edinburgh.
Watch this space.
PS Bahrein is a sandy heap of shit and you should do all in your power to avoid it.
PPS You might have noticed that this post is pretty raw. Understand that I write this blog in equal measure for you as well as me. I learn a lot about my thoughts by forcing myself to put them in words.
Thursday morning, slightly more than two weeks ago. I’ve just arrived in London for a conference, and while walking to the hotel my sleep deprived brain is jolted into overdrive. Something about this street, but what? Got to follow the colleagues, but what? And it hits me. I’ve been here before.
I’ve been here before, exactly one year ago. Exact same street, exact same weather. I had just been rejected for a job teaching in Africa, after making it through to the final 24 out of more then a thousand candidates. I was left with no idea on how to proceed with my life, and 8 hours to wait before the train home, optimistically planned to take occasion of a paid for trip. Optimistically, because the rejection left me feeling like shit, and neither the British Museum nor the quintessentially me-ish hours long random walk changed that.A shit day to start a shit month.
Exactly one year later, I happen to recognize one of the many streets I walked on that wondering, but it’s hard to recognize it. The street’s the same, so is the weather. It’s me who’s different. I’ve found a job which treats me well, and is discombobulation different enough from week to week to occupy my mind, keeping it from being restless. My friends are amazing, a rag-tag group of misfits that somehow seem to fit together, not unlike a rickety Swedish nightstand. Classy pressed recycled pinewood. Nicked by all the moving. Also something on the side. You probably are intuiting it by now, but let me spell it out for you, even though it’s hard for me to type these letters in sequence.
Thursday morning, slightly more then two weeks ago, looking at this street I saw a year before, I am happy.
Drunk weekend before, new headphones today
London in 3 weeks, Nepal for May
Still no idea where this is heading
but luckily, cool people almost everyday
New flat on the weekend
Mexican, Greek and me
maybe a shave and a haircut
doubtful, but let’s see
No matter how old I become, I’m always surprised when spring comes, as if it’s not certain.
For everyone who has a GMail account (or some other Google service, but for the majority of you this will be GMail.
Please visit www.google.com/history and enter your password. Also, best to do it now, don’t procrastinate.
What you should see is a list of every single search you’ve done for a good couple of years, tied directly to you email account, hence also your full name. Probably best to delete this entire thing, as well as to kindly request G to stop tracking you in the future. Note the request here, as Google is and will always be an advertising company, and as much as I like Don Draper, I would never trust him with my wife.
You could also consider using the unfortunately named DuckDuckGo for all your searches. It’s not open source yet, but it claims to be the most protective about your privacy of all the search engines.
Also don’t forget your ISP is probably required by the police to log all your internet traffic of the past x months, but there’s nothing much you can do about that than use something like Tor.
What’s really interesting is that the technology to have completely secure email and browsing is already free and ubiquitous, but nobody really uses it.