Another beautiful accident with film:
And I thought of myself too, of my foot, and of Oddball’s thin, wiry body; it seemed shot through with appalling sorrow, quite unbearable. As I gazed at the black-and-white landscape of the plateau I realized that sorrow is an important word for defining the world. It lies at the foundations of everything, it is the fifth element, the quintessence.
I started reading this excellent book recently and I very glad I picked it up in the bookstore. His writing is vivid, impassioned, and influential. I came across this quote today and it resonated immediately:
There’s nothing so terrifying as an unpredictable power, because unpredictability makes it impossible to adopt a survival strategy and turns the dial of insecurity up to the maximum.
– Soares, 2016.
Of course I cannot comprehend the conditions of which he writes, the cliche that hides the truth and the history of this city. Recent homicide rates for Brazil in 2017 do not make great reading, but there is more this country, and more to this city, then the cliches. I recommend this book if you are interesting in South American history, social history, and travel.
I look out of the window in the morning, to look upon the world anew after a heavy sleep, and I wonder just what is happening to my country as I take in the news. Antics that belong to the actions of the Freikorps in the 1920’s have taken place in the capital, and every day a new banner headline rolls across the TV sprouting more nationalist or jingoistic nonsense. Where is the spirit of the liberal democratic freedom I grew up with? Where are the dreams of a generation to be found?
I close the curtains, push back the duvet and climb again into my warm bed. My voice is silent once again, but the day will come where I will raise it. Will it be too late?
I cradle the bulging medical file by my side and wonder just how many months of my life I have spent inside a hospital. Has it been over a year? More than a year and a half? How many times has my body been sliced open, how many eyes have viewed my prone body, naked save for the basic green coverings?
Silly thoughts go through your head as you await the long journey down to the operating theatre. Even if you can walk you are taken on a bed, strapped in and wheeled by porters, along the long cold corridors and into the opening lift, down into the waiting embrace of the sterile patient bay where angels check to confirm your personal details once again. After a short while it is your turn to be taken into the surgical corridor. This is where evenly spaced doors are to be found which lead to operating theatres where dedicated teams work to save or improve a life, perhaps both if miracles are allowed to be worked.
Once I could remember clearly waiting to be taken down to the operating theatre, having made it to the waiting bay where my name and wrist band were checked to make sure I was the person I said I was, that I was here to have this limb operated on as indicated by the black arrow the surgeon had drawn on the flesh the day before. The two nurses who managed the surgical waiting bay came back and forth between myself and another, older individual who was also waiting patiently to be taken for his surgery. I had left my glasses up on the ward, safely locked inside my bedside cabinet, but I could tell from when these nurses were up close that they were singularly young and attractive. The contoured curves of the green scrubs contrasted nicely against the dyed blonde hair and their friendly open faces made me feel somewhat more at ease; as if this most inappropriate of venues for sexual thoughts had lain this final temptation on before me as a reminder of the beauty of life itself, as I faced yet another grueling round of orthopaedic intrusions.
I realise now of course that they were just doing their job and doing it well, that I was projecting my worries and feelings onto them, that I in some way wanted to be mothered, nursed, and sexually sated by these babes in green because I faced the great unknown and I wanted to be reassured.
Under anesthetic there is no sleep, there is no passage of time. There is a moment of clarity and sheer muscle relaxation, and in the next moment you are waking up in recovery, dazed by the drugs and sore from the physical manipulation of the surgery itself.
It can be a shock to find yourself trapped in your own body, hazy and in pain. You have to remember to follow the instructions of the staff. It really is much less painful if you relax your entire body and roll over gently as they change the bloody sheets from under you. Do not tense, you must instead work against that natural inclination and instead relax, relax your feeble body. Do not be afraid to ask for more painkillers if needed, do not be afraid to admit your vulnerability and to let the nursing staff wash your iodine-covered body, even if it means baring all in a moment of extreme weakness.
It is uncomfortable, and there is no clarity of thought or great moment of singular insight. You are weak, you are waiting to heal. The pain, which can be searing at first, often morphs into a dull and constant ache, exacerbated by occasional movement. One of my greatest moments of realising that I am at the mercy of another person was being rolled over onto my side, no clothing on, and having my back and buttocks washed. It became a treat in intensive care as the heat from a body lying motionless in bed is intense and causes the sheets to stick, to curdle with your sweat and pain. The relief of having warm water freshening your skin once again is tempered by the fact that you are on show, bollocks and all. Each crevice, each crack and each roll of body fat laid bare. There is no hiding the essential truth of the naked flesh.
Yes, as I handled my medical file, I knew what it is like to lie strapped to a bed for many months, to lie prone before the great healing god of time. Immutable in its aspirations of forever being, seemingly always present, never quite in the past, and never quite in the future.
In Kazan and Poltava provinces, the governors had nervous breakdowns. Others lost their head. “You risk your life, you wear out your nerves maintaining order so that people can live like human beings, and what do you encounter everywhere?” complained Governor Ivan Blok of Samara. “Hate-filled glances as if you were some kind of monster, a drinker of human blood.” Moments later Blok was decapitated by a bomb. Placed in a traditional open casket, his twisted body was stuffed into his dress uniform, a ball of batting substituted for his missing head.
– Stephen Kotkin’s 2014 publication Stalin: Paradoxes of Power 1878 – 1928, volume I of III.
My mother has this Christmas tradition that, when we have all taken our seats and just before we have taken our first bite of a long-awaited roast dinner, we raise a toast to the dearly departed, to those members of the family who are no longer with us and to those friends that no longer accompany us throughout our life journey. It reminds us, the living, to be thankful that we are seeing the close of yet another year together, to remain thankful to have known the dearly departed and that we remember them still.
The fact that this takes place before we have tasted our food is of the utmost importance. To say thank you on an empty stomach is to accept that we have lost those that will never be by our sides again, that we will never break bread with them and share our laughter and sadness across the table. Our eyes will never again catch theirs.
I sometimes like to imagine where the deceased are now, as if their memories have somehow broken free of their corporeal remains and drift uninhibited across the globe. It can be difficult to think that all that we have ever known and all that we have ever loved and experienced can be so self-contained in our floating globe, silently rotating in the great big soup of the universe. But it is and it must be, that is why we remember and why we say goodbye once again at the close of the year.
In the past year or two my fiction and non-fiction reading has generally tended to become focused on the Nordic and Russian/Slavic countries, by pure chance, and I’ve unearthed a great wealth of rewarding material. For example, my interests in Russian and Soviet history has dovetailed greatly with the rich and rewarding trove of literature that the citizens of the east have produced, and continue to produce. The latest novel that I find myself reading is the Soviet-era classic Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, a thoroughly documented and powerful kaleidoscopic panoply of a Soviet society which finds itself engaged in total war with the fascist threat from Nazi Germany and her allies. It is a novel which very nearly did not see the light of day due to the harsh censors of the Soviet Union, but thankfully the volume was smuggled out and printed elsewhere.
However, it is a little collection of books that I’ve read recently that remind me that fiction and reality aren’t always so clear-cut, and that they often inform one another with varying viewpoints. I had the pleasure to read one of my favourite travel writer’s recent publications, Horatio Clare’s Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North (Penguin), over the festive holiday and was ably transported once again to somewhere quite new (and rather cold) as he undertook a mission to accompany a Finnish icebreaker crew.
Another recent publication is The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat & Other Stories (Puskin Press), edited by Sjón & Ted Hodgkinson, which brings together a wide range of Nordic writers producing short sagas set in the fantastical north. This reminded me of a volume I read a few years ago which was entitled Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov (Penguin), edited by Robert Chandler, which took a historical approach to understanding the cultural importance of magic tales that underpin Russia’s literature over two centuries. This is an exquisite volume, one that allowed me to appreciate the form and beauty of often simple moral tales which bled into the surreal via the use of anthropomorphism. This can be seen in some of the works produced before and during the Soviet period (Platonov’s ‘The Foundation Pit’ say, or Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’).
This was just a quick view into some of my recent reading habits and where they have led me. Let me know below if you’ve been having fun exploring literature and fiction from around the world!
‘They say war is coming, that they want it so it’ll happen . . . Just like that! It doesn’t matter if you are the son of the mayor or of the dustbin man, it doesn’t matter what you think or what you feel. As soon as you join up, they’ll ship you out. Give you a rifle, a round, help you point it and let you start shooting. It doesn’t matter that you are scared or do not want to kill, it doesn’t matter if you miss the birthdays of your nearest and dearest. This is war! War does not stop for the dead, and it doesn’t stop for the living! It will continue regardless of what you think, so they say. Join up and get in the fight, prove yourself, prove that you are a man!’
Here, at this junction, he takes a rest and leans against the pillow before starting again.
‘I’ve heard it before and I’ll hear it again. Our lives are not so short that we won’t live through war, a war, any war. Just think about it boy, there must be a hundred wars going on right now – all across the globe people are fighting for this or that, spilling blood for the power of belief. Killing is justified, they say, it is justified because it helps to prove that what you say, what you believe, is right, is the only way. We must fight to take back our land! We must fight to stop them! We must fight to prove ourselves! We must fight because this fat bastard insulted me!’
Another rest before he carries on more lucidly.
‘Wars are funny things my son, they are odd things . . . They are both natural and unnatural. Nature telling us that we are too numerous and too many, that we need to thin the population somewhat, create a bottleneck so we can survive. Wars are the outcome of the idle rich, of those that seek power and revenge. War ain’t nothing good, but we’re used to it. Society accepts the causes and the outcomes, realizes that there is always a price to pay.’
War is war, the living are the living, and the dead are the dead, I wanted to add.
‘There is nothing to see here son but history, the ashes of a thousand dreams . . .’
‘Dad? Can you hear me dad, I’m right here . . . Just give me your hand dad, you’ll be okay. I love you. I’ll be back soon, okay?’
I shepherd the son out, who is caught briefly off-guard by the single tear running down the older man’s left cheek.
This speech wasn’t anything knew, but I knew that the son had to try and talk to his father, to try and establish reality once more.