Donnerstag, 24. September 2009

northern exposure

combining the need to gain some headspace with the opportunity to visit a place i had wanted to visit since i was a child, i found myself on a plane cruising towards the faeroe islands into a pastel-coloured sunset over the north atlantic. a sea, as james joyce poignantly observed, was both 'snot-green and scrotum-tightening' (but more about that later). while the occasionally visible natural gas rigs flaring off their excess produce were a sight in their own right, i was more fascinated by the alcoohol-consumption patterns on board. eventhough i am more than familiar with the attitude of finnish and other eastern european air travellers confronted with possibility of limitless booze on a flight, i must respectfully say 'chapeau' to the faeroe islanders. standard orders for the first round to go with the flimsy sandwich of a meal were along the lines of "two akvavit, three beers, and two baileys please. oh, and two bottles of red wine too if you dont mind. and maybe a whisky, just in case." the second round was no different and during descent my neighbour ordered three beers and two red wines which he heroically downed before disembarking approx. 7 minutes later. like said, chapeau!

if there was a recurrent theme in my conversations with faeroese, however, it was the weather. i have yet to find a society as weather-obsessed as the one here. on ethe one hand, it is of course more than understandable. sitting precariously on some steep cliffs in the middle of he north atlantic and completely at the mercy of the raging elements, it is an obvious issue to worry about. nowhere else have i been served a print-out of the updated weather forecast for the next three hours with breakfast in a hostel. but, and here's the crux, it was completely off. well, not completely. sun, clouds, rain and wind are constants; low fog, high fog, sleet are variables. all one can do is guess (and discuss, at length and to no end, as i found out) is in what order they will be comning in and for how long. from my experience so far 10-15 minutes seems a good bet, leading to scenes like the one today where an older villager told me, within a space of 20 minutes, first "ah, tis a pity you come now, such bad weather" to be followed by "ah, tis wonderful weather here, no? lucky you're here now!" and not be wrong in his statements.

apart from discussing the weather, chasing sheep and doing far too little work on my thesis, i decided to go beneath the impressive, pounding waves of the north atlantic. beautiful, colourful and immensely rich with life, which surprised me somewhat. but it was also quite heavy-duty. next time i dive off the balmy waters of bunaken in a t-shirt, i'll reflect back on how i was ungraciously struggling to clamber up a kelp-covered concrete pier in the pitch-black night with almost the equivalent of my bodyweight in equipment strapped on to me, pulled back down into the icy atlantic by the relentless surf and pushed back down by gale-force winds whipping the rain horizontally into my face. in and of itself a beautiful experience, though, and one that reminded me of how easy i often have it. and not just in terms of diving...

Mittwoch, 16. September 2009

l'été indien

i'm basking in the luxury of gliding along on my bicycle on crisp, radiant autumn mornings through the tranquil, tree-lined streets and alleys of old copenhagen to retreat into my cloistered room in the academic ivory tower. two weeks to go to finalise my dissertation and i'm wondering if i'm not feeling too over-confident about the prospects of meeting the deadline.

but be that as it may, it is refreshing to spend some weeks in the rarefied air of academia, be it here or last week at a conference in a faux-tudorian country house in the rolling hills of wales. these settings are so far removed from the realities of the places i write about and so are the theoretical discussions we're engaging in here in these serene surroundings. perhaps that distance is necessary to be able to reflect and analyse, but it does seem to be at least a planet away.

but enough musing for now, the deadline looms.

Montag, 7. September 2009

not in bruges

avec des cathédrales pour uniques montagnes
et de noirs clochers comme mâts de cocagne
où des diables en pierre décochent les nuages
avec le fil des jours pour unique voyage
et des chemins de pluie pour unique bonsoir
avec le vent d'ouest écoutez le vouloir
le plat pays qui est le mien

- jacques brel, le plat pays

unlike colin farrell who was afraid of having to spend eternity in bruges, the forces of destiny (or more precisely, my workload combined with the the occasional hiccups in the services of la société nationale des chemins de fer belges) seem to want to prevent me, not from the first time, from visiting bruges. so the eternal question of whether its a 'shithole' or a 'fucking fairytale' will have to remain unresolved for the time being.

so instead of wandering in the cobblestoned streets of bruges, sampling the gay beers or checking out the alcoves (not to mention some of the more extravagant activities apparently on offer there), i have been criss-crossing le plat pays by train, taking in the immense flatness of the landscape, the medieval villages huddled around medieval churches, the networks of canals, bridges and dykes, the lone monasteries and estate houses.

what i find striking especially in the netherlands, less so in laissez-faire belgium, is the stark geometricity which has been imposed on nature over the course of centuries and which also defines the parts of the cities which have been built since the war. clear lines, marked angles, monochrome colours. in the best cases, the result conveys a hyper-modernistic sense of transparency and lightness, in the worst cases its more like a bad acid trip in legoland.

speaking of bad acid trips, i was also hoping pay homage to the works of hieronymus bosch and pieter breughel the younger. alas, it was also not meant to be, but instead i did find an old statement by werner herzog which is highly appliccable to their works as well:

"es handelt sich hier um ungeheure, gültige metaphern. ich habe nur keine ahnung, wofür."