Time Will Be the Ruin of Us All

“When a memory fails to appear, it seems as though the time when it was created did not really exist, and maybe that is true.  Time itself is nothing; only the experience of it is something.  When that dies, it assumes the form of a denial, the symbol of mortality, what you already lost before you lose everything.  When his friend had said something similar to his father, his response had been, “If you had to retain everything you’d explode.  There’s simply not enough space for it all.  Forgetting is like medicine; you have to take it at the right time.””

In ‘Roads to Berlin: Detours and Riddles in the Lands & History of Germany’, by Cees Nooteboom (2009: 129).

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A deserted medieval village near Hundisburg, Germany, perhaps epitomising the above quote as time itself strips the building, and it’s memories, back. Photograph taken by Don’t Bend Ascend in 2011.

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Roads To My Reading

Here I present some of my favorite books of 2012 (and a few from before).  You’ll notice they are mostly travel/history books in one form or another, often about places outside of my home country.  Reading for me often opens up the mind, and I tend to gravitate towards travel as this opens up the realms of history and prehistory for the writer, something I’m particularly keen in.  However I am keen on a good novel, so please let me know if you come across any, and I am always open to reading about travel writing, no matter where in the world.  I’d heavily recommend you take a look at the blurbs of the books as they are awfully interesting, and I’m happy for any suggestions to add to my pile.  I’ve put ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy on this list, but I’ve only just managed to hunt down a copy from my local library after having to hand back in my University copy unfinished.  Rest assured though that Oblonsky, Levin, Vronsky and Anna will live long in my imagination.  Click the links to learn more about each book.

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  • And Quiet Flows the Don‘ (1978, USSR 1920) as the first part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov (I think the Melekhov family will be with me always).
  • The Don Flows Home to the Sea‘ (1978, USSR 1940) as the second part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov.
  • Anna Karenina‘ (1995, serial installments 1873-77) by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (not pictured).
  • The Periodic Table‘ (2000) by the Italian chemist and writer Primo Levi (not pictured).
  • Timequake‘ (1997) by the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut (not pictured).
  • The Stranger‘ (also known as The Outsider, or L’Etranger in the original French version) (or.1942) by the French author and philosopher Albert Camus (not pictured).

Of course this is just a selection of some of my favourite recent books that I have come across.  Every time I enter a library I feel honoured to share the same space as so many great works of literature and art.  The beauty of the written word never ceases to amaze me, whether it is from a novel, a poem or a piece of travel writing.  It can open up new ways of thinking about every day events, or provide new views on events or people you thought you knew.  It can move you to the edge of tears, or terrify you to point of horror.  The sign of a truly great book is one that keeps you hooked, long after you should have been asleep after a busy day.

I shall forever have treasured and fond memories of volunteering in a Oxfam book and music store, and mulling over which book I should buy next when my shift ended.  One of the pure joys of books is passing them onto friends once you have finished it to lend it out or give it to someone else to enjoy.  I haven’t included any brief synopsis’ of the books here because I want you to take a minute or two to click the link and have an explore, and see what you think is interesting.

Memories of Magdeburg

The time spent in the city of Mageburg, in the Saschen-Anhalt region of Germany, passed as if I was in a dream.  The days floated by in an easy going, laissezfaire sort of way, and I loved it.  It is a period that I shall always remember with a great fondness, as I got to know the city and the people that I worked for.  The time spent swimming in the lake alongside families and older people was time well spent relaxing in the great blue murky bliss, watching thunderstorms roll harmlessly by whilst half submerged in the inky depths.  The joy of being woken at half twelve at night to watch the numerous lightening strikes over the city, as the fury of the heavens was unleashed in one foul tirade late at night.

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The pure joy of relaxing with an ice cream and a coffee whilst writing letters home, filled with the love of a good country and fine people.  Attempting half broken German whilst asking for briefmarken to help send postcards home to the family.  The old man on the tram, gesturing and pointing to his leg, and to my leg, crossing the language divide to highlight our shared disability.  The empty museum in which I could lose myself amongst the fossils, the books and the stuffed animals.  The imposing two towered Dom weathering time itself, surviving through fire, war and pestilence throughout the ages.

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The exhilaration of taking part in my first cemetery excavation, and the pure awe of helping to excavate a skeleton.  The deep feeling of honour in being able to excavate this person with care, a person that had once lived and loved.  The friendships that were formed over a toast of Jagermeister, Germany’s finest herb drink.  The bond that crossed language, and the letters that ensured, half written in our native language and half written in halting English or Deutsche.

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The feeling of why couldn’t life be this free all the time?  The thrust of the jet engines as they screamed towards the blue yonder, and took me away from my country once more.  The deep glittering greens and browns of a leafy cemetery, where family plots lay within a few feet of the war memorials.  The pop art poster in the local museum, of a half naked woman appearing from a chocolate wrapper, radiant joy spreading across her beautiful face.  The wooden tower dwarfing the people walking nearby.

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The shared flat and the friendly guide, and the hours spent watching families walking by.  The rush of the capital city, swarming with tourists and glittering with the jewels of Europe.  The skeletons of the long dead, of the LBK and the Neandertals on display for all to learn from.  The communal feeling of a close community in the soviet flats, and the love of the drunkard wishing us well on our final journey home.  The silly photographs.  Ah, Germany was bliss.

Swimming Deep

There is a certain something as you dive deep into any body of water, of being submerged and engulfed by the liquid, that feels quite alright by me.  It is refreshing,  liberating even.  It is nice to arch the back, take one last gulp of fresh air and then push down deep into the water, to feel that last kick of your legs in the air as you descend near vertical as the water embraces you in a tight fluid hug.  If I get chance I will happily swim anywhere I can, though as of late the sea and the local swimming pool have been my areas of contentment.

The German Lake.

Almost a year and a half ago I had the opportunity to swim in the German lakes, SW of Berlin, and it was a chance I took often, and with great relish.  Half way around the lake I discovered that there was a patch of secluded sandy soil, where the grasses fed into the water with reeds swaying lightly either side of this little enclave.  It was perfect, it was heavenly.  Away from the main ‘commercial’ area of the busy lake, it was a nest of shelter and calm.  It was to be there that I swam naked for the first time in public, clear under the midday sun.  It was pure bliss.  On busier days it was where I swam with an old couple, out into the open water, where I saw young couples in the full bloom of love snuggle and hug in the warm shallows, and where I saw young families enjoying the company of each other, of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

It is not just the inherent beauty of swimming in water that I find relaxing and comforting, rather it is the pure escape, of experiencing a wholly different environment  from which we are used to spending our time in.  It is bliss, pure and simple.