Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The smell of burnt sugar and coffee wafting in the air. I am paging through a gardening encyclopedia, the pages feel rough like weeds with their strong stems and massive roots which are hard to pull out unlike the glossy illustrations of roses in gardening magazines that seem to resemble their silk petals.
Outside the gardener was hair-drying the grass and sweeping the leaves trying in a fruitless attempt to hide the evidence of the crimes the wind had committed the previous night. In the streets the bodies of broken umbrellas were lying on the ground metal bones protruding from red, yellow and black tissue.
I carefully step over them trying to avert my gaze. If you start looking, you won’t be able to stop and then the image will be forever in your brain, tormenting your thoughts before falling asleep. It is better not to put these images in your head. I still look, I see the metal bones and the wind makes me shiver. Something that was meant to protect you is lying so helplessly on the ground.
I like writing in different places. Home, garden, plane,train… you get the idea. Places might change but working style does not. Not once observing my desk I was thinking what ones desk can tell about the person. Should you constantly apologize for having a messy desk, will people see it as a sign of a messy life? Will they think less of you, will they think more? The truth is even as I begin apologising, deep down I do not care much what the person will say next. I just do what seems to be polite but like I said my working style does not change.
The need to reflect on this subject arose when I came across a picture of a desk.
This is not an unknown picture. This is Albert Einstein’s office – just as the Nobel Prize-winning physicist left it – taken mere hours after Einstein died, Princeton, New Jersey, April 1955. This is the way it is tagged by TIME magazine.
As I am looking at this picture all my above mentioned worries seem petty and irrelevant, there suddenly seems so much more to life then just order, public opinion and worries. This is when suddenly your life is put into perspective.
Thoughts are crowing my mind and it seems there is no need to say anything.The image is sufficient. Astonishing as it, for the simple reason that the power of thought knows no limits, recognizes no borders and is resilient to time. On a sad note, you can have many plans but life has its own rhythm. The power of the picture lies exactly in its persistence to go on no mater what.
‘You find infinity in small spaces
And magic in the most unlikely places”
Living abroad does not only give you an opportunity to reflect about the county you are in but also about the country you are from. It is a manifold experience when you can compare and contrast, observe and explore. One of the experiences a traveller can indulge in is that of flânerie. Indeed, what a pleasure it is “to be away from home and yet feel oneself everywhere at home, to see the world, to be at the centre of the world – and yet to be hidden from the world”. Charles Baudelaire in his work “The Painter of Life and other Essays” not only gives valuable observations about what makes a good traveller but also points out that “few men are gifted with the capacity of seeing”.
The question of course is “What is truly considered as seeing?” It is not only looking around but it has to do with experiencing the outside world on many levels. When representatives of different cultures are asked how many senses the human being has, the answer might be surprising as the number of senses increases as we are moving towards the East. In addition to seeing, smelling, touching and hearing those asked add balance and intuition to the list. These aspects sharpen the power of observation, make our senses more acute and help us to experience the world to the fullest. What is important to remember is the fact that our senses should be developed, triggered, nourished in a way so they are active and are ready to accept and digest new information. In this respect travelling not only broadens the mind as it is generally believed but has a strong impact on our personalities, especially compassion, sympathy and understanding. This is not to say that people who do not travel lack these qualities but from my experience living in your own culture does not challenge these qualities enough and the need for respect, tolerance and power of observation is not as important as when you are abroad.
While living in a different culture there are certain temptations, or to be more precisely hacks such as jumping to conclusions. That’s right! Jumping to conclusions about the culture you are in, in order to make your life more comfortable. Behaving as if you know exactly what’s going on and measuring everything with your own ruler.
The title of this essay is the name of the book by Anke Gleber who argues that Flaneur as portrayed by Walter Benjamin and Charles Baudelaire is a person who can understand deeper cultural context through observation in the age of modernity. An ability to have a unique view of the world. I think there is a difference between world-view and view of the world when it comes flânerie . It sounds as if world-view is something rigid, something that has been formed and presented to you without your consent or participation while the view of the world is yet to be formed, it is just there in front of you and you have to make what you can or want out of it.
It is not easy to master this balance of being part of the crowd while being remote from, being connected but at the same time having your own path and ideas, having room for these ideas and experiences. But never ask a tightrope walker how he keeps his balance. As it always seems to be the case in the most of unexpected and surprising of situations you learn the most about yourself.
I want to start July with a new notepad and a pen, with a fresh smell of coffee wafting through the air, with a curtain ironed by the sun light, with a fresh breeze playing with papers on my table, with the piercing cries of sea gulls above my house which is so close to the sky.
I am not sure how stories appear, they might be bookmarked somewhere a while ago and all we have to do it find the right page. Stories are like dream catchers. The are bright with feathers and threads and ribbons woven into them, different textures, lengths, colours. The wind is gently lulling them unwinding the story or stripping them of feathers and ribbons leaving the story ragged missing some bits and leaving some characters in disarray.
At the door I always linger. I have been thinking of walking in for a while now but time, courage, motivation and money are the regular obstacles every person is aware of even if not all of those apply to the situation. Sometimes, even none of those but we still list them just to have reasons.
I dress up. Yes! It should be an important occasion since I have finally smoothed my way to success. I smile and hold my head high. I even do not wobble on my heels and have a perfect air of “I know what I am doing” about me.
I come to the door and ring the bell. The smell of geraniums is strong already even if I see them high up on the balcony. I quickly go through a list of names I normally use on such occasions – Cheryl, Candice, Brielle, Jennifer, Daisy and Rose. I am rehearsing in my head how I am going to say my name, how I am going to pronounce it, whether I am going to fake an accent ( something I am not good at and it helps), how I am going to shake hands or look in a weird way at the outstretched hand as if I do not know what to do. To my disappointment no one answers. I ring again, I did not come all this way for nothing and by all this way I do not mean a couple of blocks I walked, I mean all this time it took me to get here, to collect myself, to finally be prepared. I am not even ready to be disappointed. I ring twice and then once more.
I look up at the house. A stone balcony gives the building an air of elegance, flowers like colourful wigs of clowns are hanging from the balconies. I hear the click of the lock and then the sound of footsteps on the stairs. All right, I am not going to be surprised. I am just going to say…
– Hi, I am Brielle.
The lady looks at me through the thick glasses but does not say anything.
– I am Brielle, from the lost and found office, – ( or lost property office, if you wish. For me lost and found sounds much more positive because we find, lost properly sounds irrevocably sad).
The lady makes some room for me to enter. She looks as if I lost something, not her and I feel a bit the same. I should be more confident, there is something I have found not lost.
I look at her and at the long corridor ahead of me and how much I still have to come up with while walking through the corridor to make my story plausible. It feels as if all the objects inside the house are staring intently at me, right into my brain, into what am I going to say now and I hear myself thinking and then only thing I am thinking is ” I am thinking”. She does not indicate that I should come in.
– We did lose some things but I am not sure we need them anymore, – she finally announces.
I can see that she is not sure. If only we could get rid of what we do not need but we are too scared someone might pick it up.
– Could you please sign here that you do not need our services anymore, – I give her the list.
– Should I sign or also tick off what you should not bring if you find it.
– Please tick off as well, – I say, -it will make our services more in line with the clients needs.
I look at the list before I give it to her. It is a regular form.
It takes her about a second to deal with the procedure. I take the form and put my signature as well.
I walk back thinking that it was almost too easy. Summer air is scented with verbena, rosemary and mint but somehow I have last days of summer camp feeling. Normally, I wait till I come home to look at the list. This time I scan through as I am too curious and continue reading it as I walk. I have been working in lost and found since 1805 and still I am curious. Nothing new is being lost, however, and nothing new is being found. Why am I still curious then?!
The regular items on the lost list are sleep, faith, hope, weight, something you never had, in poker, a friend, a dog, a job, track of time… I turn the page over. We are lost and found after all, I look at the comments box about our service, it says, – ” I lost my way to your office once and I was wondering who can help me in that case”. I smile to myself. Valid point, who is going to shave the barber. I walk on. I look at To find list and the page is blank. All right, we lost a lot of things in that house maybe we will find something in the next one.
They were unable to retrieve their steps because their footprints had been washed away by the sea. In vain they were trying to look for some marks on the sand among the pebbles polished by the tireless waves as if by a skilled jeweller.
I wanted to help them as I could see what they were looking for but I did not. I kept observing as I was gliding through the sky above the waves. Sliding through the clouds, playing with the fragile hot air balloons hanging almost motionlessly in the sky. They seemed to be so sure about their destination, so ignorant of what to come. The were happily unaware how gentle and cruel, merciful and merciless, pleasant and violent the sea and the wind could be. They had no idea about what they did not know.
I was looking at the blurry sand dunes on the horizon as the wind was playing with the sand, changing the line of the horizon as if tired of the same scenery like a musician scribbling the notes while composing a new piece or a writer scratching out the lines and starting anew.
A little girl’s hat went flying in the air, I know in about a minute her cry carried by the wind would be heard by everyone. She did not cry, she looked up as the hat was flying higher and higher, white, light hat with a red flower and a red ribbon. She stood there looking into the sky, the expected look of regret was substituted by a look of wonder and amazement and I looked at the small dot in the sky with her.
– Look, Mommy, the wind likes my hat, it is trying it on. Silly wind, it does not know how to wear it. Let me show, – she yelled trying to show how to put an invisible hat on. – Like this and the flower should be on the side not in the front. Her Mum laughs, the girl laughs, I laugh.
A couple was walking hand in hand along the beach, she had a light scarf in her hand and the wind was tugging at it trying to snatch this light, sweet moment away but they held the scarf together in their locked hands, holding on to the moment of happiness. The were turning into small dots on the horizon like grains of sand with a crimson tail following them, melding with the sunset.
The pages of an old newspaper were rustling in the wind, hoping that someone would read them. Only the rain will finally pin them down and read what had happened while it was gone, to catch up, to wash away the ink and make the news soggy and blurred.
There was no one else to observe, the wind got a bit tired too. Sometimes we are the best of friends but sometimes we are at odds with each other as he can forceful and moody and I am usually compliant and observant. Overall, we still prefer to stick together even when we disagree as we both realise that we are much lonelier than an average being, much older and lonelier and we have to stick together.
Paging through the pictures and sepia postcards is a pleasant activity once you are back from yet another trip. In all honesty, I do not travel as much in reality as I do in my imagination. Visiting tiny book stores where books are warm from the Sun as if they are just out of print, marvelling at colours which could be names of desserts: vermilion, titian, bisque, puce, smalt. You add associations to the chemical composition of the photographic developer and memories help to make your latent image visible, memories and a bit of light. It cannot happen without light! Who would have thought bittersweet is a colour. Flânerie is in full swing, you stroll up and down every street, walk around every park, from bench to bench, from page to page. Spring is uncontrollable, like unruly curls which are always in your eyes. You are experiencing the city in a million different ways, sometimes being unaware of it. Yes, it is idling but it is also the time when your mind absorbs, digests, organizes the changes brought by spring. Even if it happens every year, it seems we tend to forget how green, green can be, how deep navy-blue sky is, how warm the sun feels, how fresh the wind smells. We need time to observe and be reminded of these changes. As the spring is taking its toll, flânerie flourishes and winter is somewhat reluctantly setting the birds free from its icy cages, the soft catkins curl up on the branches of trees and we walk, walk and walk on.