Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Long Distance Worry

March 24, 2015

If one happens to call oneself a writer one should be able to, I guess, produce something on command, and there certainly is by now an urgency for publishing some sea-travelling related content to keep this blog alive. I better sit down, pay my dues and do my chores. Chores, which I have fallen into the nasty habit of asking my students to do at least a couple of times every single day. It would most certainly be a pity should our readership be led to believe that the adventurous story of Aluna’s travels has come to a screeching halt!

waldhofstrpan

Over the vast grain fields that stretch out in front of my office window at the outskirts of the sturdy township of Langenthal, between our apartment building and the neatly manicured row of buildings of the school up on that gently rolling hill where I go to work every day, three raptors are circling elegantly under the milk-grey sky. Their high-pitched calls enter our cube-shaped living space with a message of ancient and timeless aerial domain. They might be buzzards, although their forked tails make me tend more towards the red kite, which I have heard has displaced the previously endemic raptors I remember from my youth. The three gliders are the latest discovery in my diligent observations of the manifold processes of nature awaking from the monotone deep freeze of northern hemisphere winter. I imagine that their interest must lie in the busy stirrings of life down on the surface between the growing foliage of the sprouting stems of winter grain. Rodents of the smaller sizes must be improving earthworks there to adjust their subterranean homes to the by now definitely above zero temperatures. But there is also a careful choreography of soaring turns noticeable between the three of them where distances are kept and territories guarded. The run for the coming bounty of spring is measured by a very reasonable and well-reasoned distribution.

While here on a latitude of just over 47˚ N spring has been established beyond any doubts, in the Southern hemisphere the cyclone season is closing in on its peak. Last week no less than four cyclones were simultaneously putting up their forceful dance in the eastern ends of the Pacific. One of them especially packed a punch and was hitting a bit too close to home for our creature comfort.

While Cyclone Pam wrecked havoc on the island chain of Vanuatu, stripping the leaves off trees, flattening vast villages, obliterating entire human existences and generally leaving no stone unturned with angry lashings of its fierce 300km/h winds, it became clear that once it was going to be done with all that devil’s work it had to turn its eye with a very clear definition in the direction of New Zealand, where our Aluna gently rocks fastened to a mooring ball after having survived one whole winter without too much of wear and tear. And what is one to do if nature threatens to throw a major disaster at ones treasured property that just happens to be rather far away, something like on the other side of the earth? Can one grow a pair of hyper-long arms that extend around the globe and snap the vulnerable vehicle away from the approaching menace just in time to avoid its deadly blast?

With today’s digital surveillance of our every environment we have obtained the privilege to sit like our very own private version of god up in the heavens and watch the situation unfold below us from a very safe distance. And of course there are these never-ending predictions. The weather people with their machines always seem to have things under control. For once, fortunately for us, they had done their job well enough to predict the correct development of monster storm Pam with astonishing precision. Cyclone Pam was heading for colder waters and with that straight into its doom. But the enormous amount of energy accumulated over time in its spiral movement had to be spent and it continued to pack a serious punch. Pretty soon in the game the forecast models all agreed, that Lady Pam’s navel would miss the northern tip of New Zealand and pass well off to the east. Still its roaring arms continued to develop winds of hurricane strength and some of those were going to tickle the East Coast, if not up north then most certainly toward the North Island’s belt line where the country’s westernmost extremity jots out into the South Pacific Ocean like a spike on a spindle dry desert rose.

We do have to thank the universe for the privilege of having made some good and sturdy friends during our visits to Aotearoa. They keep an eye on our floating travelling home while it slumbers quietly and while it patiently awaits the eventual return of its blissful occupants. So should the worst ever come to happen, well, maybe it won’t be avoided, but at least we would come to know about it without major delays and could initiate a string of suitable actions. And while we are busy thanking the universe, there is that burning question about what it might be that steers those ephemeral atmospheric phenomena? Who sits there and reckons benevolently: Well, let’s spare these guys for this time, let them get away with if for now and steer the thing just a bit to the left, will ya? For the time being I think we have wrecked havoc enough up there in the lower latitudes.

While our misfortunate brothers and sisters in Vanuatu are picking up the million pieces into which their humble homes have shattered, we are on the side of the fortunate whose accumulated wealth has been spared the imminent destruction of our ever-moody Mother Nature. Watch the following loop of a lonely weather satellite’s sequence of observations very carefully; I have been known to do it for long stretches of time without ever getting bored. You will see the determined dynamics of life in their chaotic beauty spreading across the vast spherical space below you. You will catch the intricate and highly elaborate patterns of heat exchange turbulence weaving hedges on your visual cortex enough to make you lose your sure footed certainty with dizzying determination.

pam

See how dramatically once the storm crosses the path of the screaming jet streams that meander at high altitudes around the globe at the latitudes of the tropics, it gets its top blown off and literally turned to shreds. Thereafter it puffs at a much much lower frequency with what seem like a broken heart. Fact is, the system practically came to halt once it had slowed enough to transform into a typical tight low-pressure system of the roaring forties. It stood still for almost two days more just to the Southeast of New Zealand’s East Cape before finally heading out for its waggling journey across the Southern Ocean.

One of the soaring red kites, one of those three in front of my office window over the fields of sprouting winter grain has dived down toward the tilled field and his claws snapped something from the surface. The peace is broken and for a moment tumult takes charge. A hot pursuit ensues with highly skilled acrobatic maneuvering. The catch seems to be too small for sharing. But soon it also becomes too small for throwing any more energy and enthusiasm at it. The two peers of the lucky hunter let him get away and have its minute meal in relative peace atop a skeleton tree with almost bursting buds, where a verdant explosion of foliage is about to unfold. They calmly and serenely return to their artful circles of lustful vigilance up under the by now brilliant afternoon sky of spring. And that spring has just sprung from a premature Easter egg no longer hidden, no longer shackled by the crystals of winter’s frozen frost.

It is good to be alive and partake in the awakening. The songbirds are returning from their long journey south across the snowcapped mountains. Spring flowers spread vibrant colors across the many manicured lawns and meadows. The days grow longer, the shadows shorter and change is as usual not very far away from our paths. Some unforeseen circumstances with my work are pushing our return to New Zealand back further into the future, which lets it slide very close to or maybe already trespass the cutoff-point set by the onset of the austral winter, where a departure from the land of the flag with the Southern Cross with our small sailing vessel could easily transform into a major undertaking in need of a very great portion of luck. After almost a full year now living huddled at the bosom of civilization with such luxuries as a bathtub with unlimited hot water and bubble bath a la discretion, we might no longer be willing to lend our lives to such risky and rowdy behavior and will have to decide if it won’t be better to let another seasonal cycle pass before heading out. Could this be the wisdom of age gaining traction against youth’s despair, or has the spirit of adventure allowed itself to weaken? I’d cautiously say, let’s not be too judgmental here and lets let things run their natural course. Those things, by the way, should most certainly clarify sufficiently within the next couple weeks to come to feasible conclusions and make suitable decisions. Boredom might just spring from knowing too much of what the future will bring!

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Ride the Pulse of Time

February 16, 2015

It is as if reality always escapes my grasp at the very moment I seem to understand. Mankind continues to wage ferocious wars all over the globe, with none other than itself. There are battles fought at this very moment in Ukraine, Africa, and in the ever-troublesome Middle East, where the last drops of petrol are squeezed out from the depths underneath the desert sands. These wars are fought hard and brutal, just as they were while we were still roaming the caves of Ice age Europe and carving the canoes of ancient Indonesia. But instead of clubs like our noble forbearers back then nowadays we are wielding intelligent machines of total destruction against our peers. They are able to wipe out a million of us at a time. The thirst for power has taken on traits of a monster that knows no shame.

A truce for one of those conflict zones has now been agreed upon by a selected few, and that has produced a land grab free for all, where the forces of destruction organize in a most efficient manner. The heaviest fighting is going on in the very days before the agreed armistice is supposed to become the law of the land. It is the last chance for the warring parties to legitimize the illegal acquisition of land and might, and they give it their very best of Machiavellian pride.

And then again, what do we really know about those awful wars? What do we know about how they are fought, and why they go on and on forever, until there is nothing left? What do we think we know? We, who read the news on the internet?

The only war within our grasp surely is the one we fight ourselves. The others over there, let them fight it out! Man seems to be by its very nature an animal suffering from very organized bouts of violence and destruction of astronomical proportions. If history has anything to teach us, it is that mankind has never been very happy in times of peace. It is during those tranquil times of peace where the next conflicts are hedged and grown. Just now, it appears, those tranquil times of (relative) peace seem to come to an end once again. The sabers are starting their ruthless rattling all over the globe, and you and I, humble citizens of the world without much thirst for tricks and might, can do exactly nothing about it all.

But how about those little wars of mine, the very personal wars I’m creating in my corner of the world, those I should be able to stop, before they escalate beyond the reach of reason, shouldn’t I?

 

And on a side note of explanation: Those portraits of the Swiss I promised a while ago turned out to be stumble stones and infinite swallowers of time. It feels like with every sentence I write I’m stepping on somebody’s hypersensitive toes and it comes hard for me to jump across my shadow far enough to anesthetize my shame. But hang in there, my friends, my persistence is invincible, and they will see the light of day before the moon turns blue again! I can only hope that they will be worth our wait…

Denkpause

October 4, 2014

Sometimes it does feel like our sailing and travelling adventure has come to a full stop. We have embedded ourselves to such a degree into the thick and sticky web of Swiss normality that at times I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to escape it again. But at closer inspection that is not the case at all. While thanks to my birthright we have had access to the ‘inner circle’, the cream of the society, we continue to live like flashy butterflies at the very edge of things. A row of shiny red and white flower petals serves as a garden bench from where we look in awe at the immense tapestry of the most frenetic activities imaginable that passes before our eyes.

While certainly at the mercy of modernity’s pulse with its slew of abstractions, the job of an educator is a timeless one, where the appearance changes continuously but its essence stays eerily still. The process of shaping human beings and equipping them with whatever they might need for their journey through the treats, tricks and travesties of life is a complicated affair, one that needs absolute dedication, but also one humongous degree of flexibility. There are times in the demanding trade of classroom showmanship when you have to follow strict guidelines, sometimes down to the very letter of the fine print, but at the same time you might find yourself directing a spicy confrontation with an unruly teenage spirit who happens to have no sense whatsoever of fitting into anything, and you must do that without losing any of your sympathy.

My students have the mandatory school years behind them but for one reason or another have not yet found a fitting place in the tightknit world of the adult workforce. Their peers have gone off to start an apprenticeship in a local business where they learn a profession by which they all hope to be able to earn enough financial security and bring up their own family. A few have even gone off to compete with the strenuous demands of higher education, where they will be tested to the core and only if found fit will have access to a material wealth inaccessible to the vast majority of the population. So the tenth school year is a curious kink in the educational landscape of the Canton Bern purposely built to catch the late bloomers to give them one last chance to jump on the bandwagon of an acceptable professional career.

I was fortunate enough to have landed on a kind of a bandwagon myself, being firmly embedded in a groove laid down by a long lasting family tradition. Both my parents were educated teachers and on my mother’s side the pedagogical trade goes back to at least one further generation. My grandfather was a happy chap with sparkling eyes and a very gentle soul, and always with a loving word for us back when we were kids. I remember him surrounded by clouds of exotic smelling smoke from his ever-present pipe at the yearly Christmas celebrations. He fought for social justice with intelligence and passion, and had a definite musical vein. I tuned my very flesh into his parting soul when doing night watches at the bedside as a freshman in college. There his tired body was withering away under the cruel menace of prostate cancer. Painfully slow the life force retreated from his desiccated body and far behind his glassy morphine saturated eyes a torch lit that has provided steady guidance for me through many a dark night.

But to say that teaching runs in our vein sounds a wee bit cheesy and some people would love to jump on that argument with revenge to decry the inborn arrogance in our family lines. The fact is that for the next six months I’ll have a dozen and a half youngsters under my wings and I’ll do twists and turns and many other spiritual circus acts to help them to the necessary tools for their survival in modern society’s merciless catch as catch can. A very complex task is awaiting me in those mottled school halls up on a hill at the outskirts of Langenthal and to round up this short reflection it will not at all be unlike the crossing of very vast and very wavy stretches of unruly oceans we have honed our skills at over the last five years or so. The sense of adventure must certainly prevail and guide my actions once the doubts will come and try to cloud my reasoning. Routine, as much as it is a requisite brought forth by the structure of an orderly educational institution, is the enemy of all living things. It must be broken up and transcended so that the necessary changes, like possible instant insights and raving revelations illuminating those growing minds, can play out freely unhindered by stiff rational limitations.

Adventure cannot be delegated to some remote island deep in the distant seas. It is the salt of life in every day’s doing and undoing. Lifting the chokehold of habit, normality and indifference the real purpose of our actions lies bare and visible, touchable, drinkable, breathable. Unsettle your self and let the drama of reality unfold, engage and expose, live and love, if you happen to know what I mean!

Onwards To A Completely Different Trade

September 22, 2014

I’m walking uphill under the midday sun. A comfortable asphalt road snakes before me neatly separating two impeccably green fields one from the other. Those pastures roll gently upwards and end sharply against the deep azure of the sky. I’m leaving the last proud houses of this little Swiss village behind. It’s a village that likes to call itself a town, but that’s another story. I leisurely continue my stroll upwards. Under a mighty Lindentree close to the top of the hill I find a comfortable green bench. Some benevolent community association must have put it there for the benefit of many wanderers who have been or will be in need of a short break in their long and winding journeys.

I sit down on the bench, stretch my legs and muse about this short but very sweet escape from the classroom in the trade school down there in town, where I had been entrusted with a six-week substitute teaching job. I had downed a quick lunch and finished the prep work for the two German grammar lessons in the afternoon in time for this quick interlude of leisurely idleness. Forty minutes was all that was left from my lunch break and half of this is gone by now.

My eyes dazzle along the horizon, hop over smooth wooded crests and spring from one puffy cloud to the other in a dance of lost contemplation. A trio of earth-brown feathered raptors soar amongst those clouds, cleverly riding thermals and updrafts with their slender wings spread wide, moving only the pointed tips of their tails with the sharp precision of a seasoned hunter. A yellow butterfly wiggles its way happily across a cut cornfield, and its color contrasts curiously with the deep brown of the exposed earth underneath its itchy path. A short while later the flurry shape reenters the verdant green grass pasture and the distance its dance had put between us had already tremendously diminished its shape. The little lemon speck led my gaze back to the pile of concrete and red clay tiles that made up the human settlement I happened to have found such a clever way to escape.

It vividly occurs to me how terribly unimportant all those human activities down there are: The brand new car with its aggressively streamlined lines, the imposing houses that seem to want to swallow their neighbors on either side, the latest and greatest of those shiny gadgets that cling to us modern denizens like oversized ticks and override any and all of the meager social skills we have left. I realize right here and now how tiny and little the part we play in the giant clockwork of nature actually is. We’re but a miserable speck embedded in an endless procession of creatures whose existence is a dense and intertwined tapestry of precisely planned destinies, where the concept of causality explodes in a catastrophic nuclear blast, and my little butterfly’s flapping wings cause a definite change of course in the dark and rolling thunder clouds that drag their watery charge across the vast rainforest canopies on the heated planes at the heart of Brazil. At least out here in the countryside human activity can be seen in perspective, I muse, should you happen to wish such a stern perception upon you. If you move closer to the urban centers of the cities however such fine-tuned realization quickly becomes impossible, blurred out by the random noise of cleverly organized corporate consumer commitment.

But the call of duty brings my short excursion into the light realm of contemplation to a premature ending. After a quick glance at my watch I stand up and stretch my legs, then begin my descent down into this little hearth of civilization.

Step by step I reenter the realm of busyness. First some students whiz by riding colorful bikes on their way back to school from the lunch break back home. Then cars squeeze through narrow lanes, big red excavators dig their rusty shovels into a ditch filled with plastic pipes and many danger orange clad workers hurry about. A bright red lorry rumbles past the schoolhouse just as I quickly squeeze through its heavy oak door. The door pulls shut behind me and the orderly but institutionalized silence inside the building envelops my full attention.

Three girls are already sitting on their desks in the classroom. They giggle entranced by teenage chatter and soon the rest of the students slowly trickle in, barely able to tip the balance of bodily inertia in their favor. At 13:30 sharp I walk towards the pulpit onto which I deposit the sheet of paper with my prep notes and the German grammar book with the purple cover. I carefully collect my thoughts, let my eyes scan over the class from left to right and then back from right to left, and soak in the prickly energy of my seventeen teenage friends. Their chatter had peaked just as I had stepped in front of them and now slowly, much too slowly in fact, it descends to a point where I can make myself heard. There is no sense in waiting for it to die down all together, the times where a school class listens to their teacher in awe have long come and gone.

I start with a gentle description of my stroll up the hill, something my unruly audience clearly had not expected. The chatter diminishes a notch further and some eyes are now actually on me. I describe the impression the steady passage of the fluffy cumulus clouds had made within me and delineate the circling of the soaring raptors with a swipe of my left hand. I avoid mentioning the butterfly as it would most certainly be discarded as kitsch. But I do relate my realization of the limited importance of everything human, especially our treasured technological and organizational feats. “Then once I had returned,” I continue now with a slight menace underlining my voice, “and as I stand here now in front of all of you, it is really strange, but I cannot help but realize, how very important and crucial our human activities are!” A moment of suspense hangs in the air as all logic looses its luster and incredulous glances flash back and forth. “Everything around us is important”, I desperately try to keep the momentum going, knowing all too well that most likely my effort will be once again in vain, “Language certainly is important and we would do well to study it in detail and very very closely.”

It was a slow but steady decline from there, on the intellectual as well as on the emotional level. “Please open your books now on page 56, we will continue our study of the noun”, I declared with full awareness that at the very least thirty percent of my subjects had reached a premature end of their attention span and their minds where wondering off to some imaginary worlds of cotton candy comfort, “In our German language the noun not only conforms to gender and number, but also undergoes certain formal changes we call declination, it responds to different cases according to its position within the sentence. We distinguish between four cases in German: Nominative, Accusative, Dative and…”

A Tiny Question Of Dubious Importance

July 12, 2014

Today I stumbled over a little pebble on my road. I had gone this way many times before with senseless pride within the river of my peers, but never noticed as much as a tiny bump under my soles. The definite unevenness in the pavement had never hindered my routine of walking in a straight line towards my goal. But today it made me stumble.

It is as if that little pebble had been pushed up just a bit, just enough to catch my foot. It is as if something down there had risen from the underworld, and on its hunchback that unevenness had been given the opportunity to grow. That little pebble had caught my foot as I was walking firmly and made me fall.

It twisted the rhythm of my walking so sharply that I found myself tumbling, wildly gesticulating and finally falling flat face forward with the million pieces of my shattered dreaming sprinkled around my humbled self arranged in a perfect circle.

It took me a good while to gather my thoughts and to realize what had happened. While the bruising on my body was negligible the event had sent a shockwave through my system. The adrenaline rush had heated up my forehead and my pulse was racing as if I had just finished the Boston Marathon.

I looked around to find out if somebody had noticed my mishap but to my relief I saw everybody else still walking busily and distractedly towards the destination of their routines. The misery was mine and mine alone. I rubbed the two reddish scuffs on my knees, checked my elbows and then tried to clamber up on my two legs again to continue my journey of duty. But I found myself unable to rise from the ground. As if gravity had increased tenfold my limbs where heavy as lead and they clearly didn’t want to obey my command.

Again I looked around to my companions, this time longing for a helping hand. Their determination had transformed to indifference, some sent stern looks in my direction and I became aware that I was rapidly becoming an obstacle in their paths. Still I was too shocked to become alarmed and a wave of curiosity overwhelmed my civil reasoning. What was that little culprit of my falling?

The unevenness seemed to consist of a small pebble wedged between the cobblestones. I pulled myself up on my knees and crawled towards it. With my thumb and forefinger I managed to pry it lose and I held it up in front of my visual curiosity. It was roughly pyramid shaped with a triangular base and three sharp ascending ridges. These latter ones must have been the reason it had managed to lodge itself so firmly into the crevice between the cobbles. I slid my fingertip gently over the serrated edges and my eyes continued to examine the rough-hewn surfaces. The even sided one, obviously the base of the miniature pyramid, had a coat of dry mud encrusted onto it, so I started to scrape it away with a notion of distracted tidiness. To my great surprise the face underneath it had been polished and started to shine now in a deep and brilliant black. Into this perfect plane there was an etching and once all nicely cleaned up, three letters stared back at me and triggered the very instincts of my intellect. It all begun with the letter W, followed by an H and then ended with a Y.

All I was left with was a dizzying turmoil of pondering, luckily I was already sitting down! The fall had triggered the questioning of the very reason for my actions, the very source of all existence.

It was all too obvious that I had been running. Driven by an imaginary need I had decided to join the crowd and participate in the race. It had been a deliberate and calculated decision. The remembrance of what it feels like to run under a life long contract of condemnation had started to fade and since this is the cruel destiny of the overwhelming majority of mankind, there was the clear duty of re-acquaintance. Because, and I must put it in very simple terms, the privilege of living an ecstatic life of joy and fulfillment can only go so far until it collides with the dull misery of 97.3% of mankind, who live in material or mental misery, or both. What is it that makes us such willing participants in this short-lived experiment with blind consumer comfort? Step away an inch or two and you see the myopic madness in this race of systemic exploitation. But few of us do step away. Will we really learn to curb the craze before we’ve grazed every corner of our plane down to Easter Island doom? Why? Why?

Few of us do step away! I was left sitting by myself while around me the madness continued unabated. Everybody running wanting to be amongst the first to arrive in the holy land, and nobody wanting to be left behind. We had successfully conquered most of our natural enemies and now we busy ourselves madly fighting imaginary ones. I look at the few new friends I’ve made, participants in the race, kind enough to show me the rules of the game, the basics, the ABC of survival that makes the madness bearable. They are cheerful blokes who all raise families with hungry mouths to feed and schools to pay. Hence their motivation is a simple one: fulfill your paternal duties or become an outcast, pay the consequences of your carnal lust or face emotional doom. Bliss, harmony and peaceful contemplation exist only in their dreams. But what about me? I, who have chosen to become a fulltime outcast and have found happiness and inner peace, what am I doing here as a willing participant in the race?

I have mentioned the imaginary need and now that I have succumbed to it and cowardly declared it real, I have to bear the pain it brings upon the soul. I have signed up for a temporary slavedom and I better not complain. The wind around me is picking up, blowing dust and debris in my face; and one more glance at the pebble in my hand is enough to show that the human touch on it has weathered. It has become once more just a very ordinary pebble. I carefully put it down on the ground where I had found it. It must have been in fact nothing but a test of my determination to see this adventure through to the end. I calmly collect my bodily coordination, realign my joints, tune my tendons and frown the fibers of my muscular motivation, before slowly rising to my feet. The crowd has thickened and the flow of grey clad workers grown too strong to resist. Very deliberately I start my walking, adjusting the gait to match the ones of my peers. Before me in the distance but rapidly approaching the factory gates are swinging open ready to swallow us all. We are marching, now hand in hand, one synchronized brotherhood towards a predetermined destination.

Swiss Swear Slurs

June 29, 2014

I’m pretty sure it has happened to you in one of your weaker moments. To impress a brand new acquaintance with acceptable curves who babbles at you in a foreign language, or to hack your fast way into the picking order of peer pressure at some late night bar in an exotic city, you ask your opponents to teach you the major swear words in their language, just so that you don’t appear too educated when overcome with the sudden premonition of becoming marginalized as a downright snob. You’re aware that you’re falling prey to a very cheap trick and that there are better ways to practice and exercise your cultural sensitivity. But you do it anyway as if a dark force with a vulgar but irresistible gravitational pull has gotten the better of you. Well let me tell you that you’re not alone and you’re in very good company. The immigrant workers of Switzerland, the Turks, the Italians and the ‘Yugos’, they all have not only learned to live orderly like the Swiss, show up on time and greet with a hearty voice and a stern look into the recipient’s eyes, they also have mastered the elaborate art of Swiss swear words. While even after decades of cultural absorption they still struggle with the subtleties of the complex grammar of Schwiizerdütsch, they have adopted the vast vernacular vocabulary of their new homeland and execute it with perfect pitch and pronunciation.

The Swiss live cleanly at the forefront of modern day wired and virtual consumption. Their shopping temples are equipped with every imaginable technocratic product in multiple incarnations and lure you into the sublime and celebrated state of material bliss, where the proverbial freedom of choice, credo non plus ultra of the modern day consumer, reveals its true face as a senseless confusion of choice, which makes you linger amongst the overwhelming display of merchandise way longer than you had ever intended. When it comes to swearing though, even the most up-to-date denizen of the urban wasteland reveals itself as a down and dirty farm boy with thick coats of cow dung falling off his boots at each and every step. Let me take you on a short linguistic research expedition into the flowery landscape of Swiss swear words.

The second trainer in my short and furious career as a DHL delivery driver in northern Switzerland comes from a little village in the bone-dry Turkish hinterlands. So remote from all civilization was his native hamlet that his birth certificate shaves a full year and a half off his true age. So long did it take his family to register his birth, to them a most cumbersome bureaucratic endeavor, which implied a strenuous journey across jagged mountain ridges and crocked crevices towards the nearest township. Infant mortality was rampantly high out in the solitary countryside and it was an efficient use of their time to wait until they could be reasonably certain that the new member of their tribe had a sufficient foothold on life before making the timely and costly investment of obeying the mandates of officialdom.

Erkom is his exotic sounding name and he now sits straight-backed behind the steering wheel of the roomy Volkswagen Transporter in flashy yellow color, just a minute or two after showing me the latest secret entry into the backdoors of a giant industrial complex in the eastern suburbs of Basel. Time is tight. We’re not yet half way through the jam-packed maze of cardboard boxes behind our backs and we’re speeding down a tight city street, when a shiny black sedan pulls out of a parking spot in front of us, only one hand of the female driver on that vehicle’s steering wheel, while the other one presses a smart phone to her ear. Erkan steps on the breaks and a tumble rumbles from the loading deck behind us, letting us know that the carefully stacked delivery order of our packages has just been destroyed by rapid deceleration. “Dummi Chue!”, exclaims Erkan raising his right hand Italian style towards the hot blue summer sky. ‘Stupid cow’ is the literal translation of this exclamation, and I’m starting at the decent end of things here. Declaring that heavy-set horned grazers and milk producing ruminants of dubious intelligence are now roaming the city streets, my co-worker obviously vents his frustration that not everybody participates in the high adrenaline rush of the post-industrial rat race, but he also incurs in the age old but ever futile effort of the human being to ascertain his intellectual superiority over the animals he managed to subdue into serving him for the pressing domestic needs while escaping the precarious existence of the nomadic hunter gatherer. From here it’s a down hill slope until it all bottoms out where there exist no more ups and downs.

The next obstacle in our hectic run through the busy city streets gets called an ‘Arschloch’, which simply refers to the bitter end of our digestive tract, also in English a well-loved term we use all too often to slap on things or beings we don’t reach very well with our understanding. And of course once the cat is out of the bag there is no holding back with our collective anal fixation. The next mishap happens to be called ‘Schiisdräck’, which is the stinky substance that comes out of the ‘Arschloch’, and where all this is deposed also becomes an exclamation if things go awry, as they unfortunately do quite often: ‘Scheisse!’, Erkan shouts after having taken a wrong turn that adds two minutes to our itinerary. Literally he means that emotionally he feels trapped inside a toilet bowl. Strangely enough this term is generally pronounced in its High German form even in the common dialect, as if calling one’s misfortune with Teutonic emphasis elevates one’s magic powers!

To bring a fitting end to this linguistic mudslinging fury of very vulgar proportion we have to land once more in the stinky end product itself, but this time the one of our milk producing servants: ‘Mischt,’ exclaims Erkan after our meeting with the feeder truck, with honest repulsion written all over his unshaven face, ‘iitz het üs doch dä blööd Schoofseckel wider zwöi Päckli mitgäh wo Gopfertami nid uf öisere Huerä Rutä si!’ On American TV this would have to be translated as: Beep! Now this beep beep gave us again two little packets that beep are not on our beep route! On the other hand a liberal interpretation in British English goes something like this: I don’t fancy it at all mate, but this rubbish of a bloke has again given us two packages that are bloody not on our blinking route! The truth is that my good friend Erkan in his verbal tirade has touched on all of the fundamental semantic pillars of swearing. We’ve already covered the fascination with fecal matter, but just to make things clear, he starts out with the Swiss German term for ‘cow dung mixed with straw to be used as a fertilizer on the fields’, to verbally underscore his disgust. Then he returns to our initially mentioned belittling of human nature by defining it equivalent to one of our domestic animals, but doubling it up with our impulsive attraction to the genitalia. ‘Schoofseckel’ means the testes of a sheep, and this term is used generally for talking about third persons we deem guilty of minor misdemeanors. The Swiss, like the New Zealanders on the opposite face of the earth were and still are skillful breeders of sheep and put their many products to excellent use. Now if those sheep would not be ‘blööd’, which is yet another word for stupid, we would quite obviously not have been able to herd them into our stables and rob them of their clothing periodically once or twice a year. By calling those innocent beings with their life force diluted by very selective breeding stupid we might be reflecting only on our own coefficient of intelligence.

Next in our juicy sample sentence religion is pulled into the mix, with the Swiss version of the hearty goddamn, where the speaker wishes the rage of the creator upon him or her self but then lets that wishing bounce off his or her shoulders and throws it right back onto the adversity itself as if clearing throat by spitting into the face of any and all offending issue. Somewhere between religion and the genitalia, or half way between god and sex, there lives the bipolar realm of prostitution, another emotionally charged grey area with magical powers if properly called upon. It is evoked a million times in the life of every German Swiss. ‘Huarä’, or ‘like a whore’ is put before any word that needs a special emphasis, just as ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’ is in English of all class and creed all over the world.

There’s much more to the naughty vocabulary of the diligent Swiss, but I have to cut our sampling short way before the collection nears completion. Because I’m doing grave injustice to my pal and tutor in the art of worldwide package delivery. Erkan is a noble soul, in spite of his rocky verbal skills. His swearing is always done with a joyful undertone; irony and wit are right in tow. Nothing remains from the raving bitterness and crooked righteousness of many of his hosts from whom he has after all learned the precise pronunciation of all those verbs of power, exclaimed most of the times in high hopes of being able to right the many wrongs in our daily struggles against the odds of destiny.

Mr. Marx’ and Mr. Engel’s Nightmare

June 22, 2014

You guessed it! Whenever I don’t have time to write it’s because life has grabbed me by the neck and thrown me into a turmoil of things so new and throbbingly fresh that there is no chance to sit down and wiggle my fingertips to tell some well-polished stories. Summer has arrived on the Mittelland, the Swiss plains edged between the jagged Alps with their gleaming peaks of eternal snow to the South, and the rolling wooded hills of the Jura to the North. This hyper-densely populated area is the hub of the proverbial Swiss industrial diligence. Every square millimeter of space is put at man’s service and an ant’s nest under the midday sun would look like a global conference of sloths, were you able to contemplate it side by side, from a safe distance of course, with this gentle landscape transformed by centuries upon centuries of Puritan work ethics. Busy highways crisscross the area in a dense web of concrete strips that tunnel through hills and mountain ranges as if they were made of soft slabs of Swiss cheese. A mix of ultra modern cars zip at 140km/h between urban centres and giant industrial areas and after sailing the vast waters of the South Pacific I have been reduced to a minuscule co-conspirator of this accelerated madness. I’ve entered the Swiss labor market with a shaky foot on the bottom rung, learning the demanding trade of a CPD* delivery driver. This 21st century form of slavery is a complicated art requiring a sharp eye and impeccable memory.

I’m sitting at this moment on the passenger seat of the notoriously yellow-sided vehicle, and I’m staring out into a slither of sultry greenery left lonely between some imposing blocks of concrete and steel architecture. My trainer is taking a power nap slouched behind the wheel with his feet stretched out through the window of the open driver door. Soram* is his name and he is originally from Bosnia. Nowadays though a French citizen and therefore under the Schengen Agreements of Free Movement allowed to work in Switzerland. He stayed up late last night to root on his previous countrymen. They were bravely fighting a battle of soccer against the world’s greatest, the mighty and agile Brazilians, hosts of this year’s Soccer World Cup that has managed to bring the social tensions in this giant of South American nations to the boiling point. We are waiting for the feeder truck that is supposed to appear shortly on the parking lot and transfer a couple dozens of international packages to us to take along for delivery on the remainder of our route for the day. Soram’s eleven countrymen had suffered an honorable 3:1 defeat the previous evening. But for us, defeat is not an option!

We had started our day at a quarter to six in the morning. This is my third day of initiation into the arts of delivering packages and my shirt sports the corporate colors yellow and red of the global logistics giant CPD. Already we had picked up and initiated the scanner, the courier’s weapon against all odds. It lives in a holster on our waist loaded and ready to shoot its gleaming laser cross at bar codes on worn cardboard boxes of all sizes in split seconds. Our delivery truck stood eager amongst at least two dozen others with its back doors flung open wide and angry, waiting to be stuffed to the brim like a Thanksgiving turkey with goods in portioned packages.

The shrill sound of a siren had announced the end of every hint of sanity and the distributor band started rolling. Two hundred meters of turning stainless steel rollers became a conveyor belt for an avalanche of packages and my eyes also transformed into a scanning machine, sifting through a slurry of black and white patterns to extract vital information about the destination of those morsels of merchandise. Packages marked with our tour number had to be dragged off the conveyer, their bar codes scanned and then sorted according to their location on our tour. Those at the end were loaded first only to be buried under a carefully choreographed sequence of post to be delivered. Over a dozen other drivers were immersed in this same highly mental activity, and the jokes flew back and forth over my head. It was an international salad bowl of languages with Turkish predominant and the dialects the splintered pieces the imploded Yugoslavian Republic had left behind after the latest of Balkan wars a very close second. The rowdy and happy humor reeked of testosterone, everybody played the alpha male but no one seemed big enough to take a lead.

After a good hour and a half the stream of cardboard slowed to a trickle and finally ceased. The tally in our scanner had stopped at one hundred and seventy three. According to Soram this was at the high end of things and a dense day of running and shoving lied ahead. And those were only the domestic deliveries. We had already scanned in an additional twenty or so international packages and were now waiting for another batch coming at us with the feeder truck.

Soon we are under way again. Soram has done this for a couple of years now while I’m still struggling to hit the big yellow button that fires the laser on the scanner. But that’s what I’m here for: to become a master of the tool! The routine is this: Soram stops in front of a building, usually the delivery ramp of some factory or the main entrance of an apartment complex. He indicates the exact place where the package needs to be delivered and tells me the name of the business or person. I jump down from the passenger seat of the van and race to the back door, pull it open and search for the right pack amongst the mountain of dirty milk coffee brown melange of merchandise. Once I have homed in on the corresponding unit, I grab it without delay and run towards the indicated place, shout out a hearty good morning and with the most serviceable of smiles announce the visit of goodies delivered by CPD. All deliveries need to be signed, so I shop around for a willing victim to scratch his or her mark on the little screen of my scanner. That person’s name needs to be input with the most cumbersome keypad you can imagine. A sentence or two of spiffy small talk is then in order to cultivate crucial customer satisfaction before shooting out of the establishment again with a resounding well wishing for the remainder of the day. A full two hundred times a day this is repeated between zippy driving through the verdant limestone landscape of the northeastern Jura. Our yellow van snakes its way over and through the regular ranges of the characteristic geologic folds I remember drawing neatly in my notebook during geography class way back when. Mysterious rock formations tower above our way seemingly fit for camouflaged hideaways to a slew of gremlins and hobbits and their doves and foxes. The work is tedious, it’s a tour de force for the memory cells. Within a couple of weeks I will have to be able to do this all by myself. A quick glance in the back of the truck should by then be enough to memorise the next couple addresses and strategise the route for the delivery, while in the morning the vehicle’s loading deck will need to be organised so that the day can rum smoothly. Once learned and practised it will become mechanical and automated and I will be transformed into yet another robot in the system. There will be absolutely nothing special or extraordinary about that.

What is extraordinary is that most of my fellow drivers are extraordinary human beings, once you sit down to get to know them. They do these twelve-hour days five times in a row every week of the year to bring up their families and provide their children a better future. At least that’s what they say, if you ask them why they are putting up with all this. Soram grew up during the war years and he spent his first five years of economic productivity in the army fighting at times his friends and neighbours because he was told to do so. This whole thing with the ethnic hatred is a cruel invention of those who profit from the war, says Soram in our short conversations interrupted again and again by my delivery runs. The common people don’t care if their neighbours are from here or there, they get along just fine. We were taught to hate and forced to make distinctions. But that’s the past! We have to get over it. Still today down there they hash about who has done this and who has done that. This makes no sense at all. I’m French nowadays, because there ‘les gens s’en fou! People don’t care! Look at France’s national soccer team! They are all from Africa, but the French drink their good wine and have made it all theirs a long time ago.

Mid afternoon we start going down the list of pick-ups, visiting factories and businesses to take along the products they have been manufacturing. They now also need to make their way along the frantic highways of economic development and arrive at other businesses who will further assemble machines and gadgets, or end up in the hands of consumers, who, in order to pay for those machines and gadgets also need to run around and sell themselves as labourers, doing things they don’t really like to do, but think they have to do in order to acquire this shady wealth that isolates us from the living things that grow right under our feet and in front of our eyes. Fear is the fuel in this machine of running madness and only once we have delivered our entrusted goods to the giant depot where we started our day in the morning do we breath a deep sigh of relief and head each back to our homes. Soram to his family of three to tranquillise the never ending longing for more and better goods his wife has written down on her mental list, to take his two kids for a stroll in the neighbourhood to wring them away from the fatal attraction displayed on the latest smart phone screens. During his short rest at night, while his closed eyes stare at a concrete wall he dreams of a simple life planting potatoes and raising pigs. Life must make more sense to a farmer who works the land, he had confessed to me earlier on and wanted to know nothing of my concerns about the hardship particular to this age old profession. He will wake up like me at five o’clock tomorrow morning and present himself timely and diligently for another day in the life of a delivery driver, a life very few Swiss can imagine, and even fewer would even consider doing themselves, and be it just for a while to get a first hand understanding of what’s behind this enormous machine of convenience that is never ever good enough!

 

*Names has been changed to respect privacy

Yet Another Giant Step Towards Civilization

April 27, 2014

Paid work has kept me busy over the last couple weeks and as already said, that means that time for reflection is frightfully scarce. But under the hood the concoction of an ever-changing future has been brewing. I’ve been scratching the guitar in every free minute I’m able to extract away from the call of economic duty to practice for our two upcoming shows. “Not For Consumption” is their pretentious title and we’re wandering into new artistic territory. I’ve been honing not only my finger picking skills, but also my voice to the point of daring to sing my heart out in public. The show will feature a program of songs in different languages, each one carefully selected to shed light onto a particular human issue with the hope of providing food for thought and seeds for change. Beatriz with her elaborate set of non-verbal skills will dance to illustrate the points made in the lyrics. A warm-up show will be held amongst friends up here in Opua’s Community Hall this coming Saturday, and then we’ll travel down to Whangarei to throw ourselves in the lion’s den of the general public at the Old Stone Butter Factory, a thriving and throbbing hub of youthful entertainment right in the center of town. We’re doing all this under a new name, since it is in many ways a rebirth of our lately so neglected artistic activities. After much thoughtful deliberation we decided to christen our new ensemble name as Clan Be, hoping once again that through these playful words solitude will transform and grow to become family!

Over the last couple days the air outside has dipped into the cool. It always seems here in New Zealand that the transition from summer to winter happens within a single week. As soon as the merry month of May approaches brisk Southerly winds wipe away the easy comforts of summer, leaves come flying off the trees in yellow, gold and red, sweaters come out of drawers in the evenings and it feels like the typical Kiwi woolies are next in line. For us feeble tropicbirds this means the scent of departure is in the air. But wait! This year the plan is drastically and dramatically different! We will depart, because depart we must, but not on the watery ways and not towards warmer climes.

For three times now we have been trying to nurture our cruising kitty here down under and bring it to the point where we could dare to depart for the next leg of our journey, the long haul towards Southeast Asia. While we have been fortunate enough to be able to crawl under many tables and earn a bit of cash here and there, the fact that this all had to happen on the dark side of legality made it a slow and cumbersome affair. Some money comes in but lots of it goes away. Everything is ridiculously expensive here amongst the Kiwis.

Funny enough it turned out to be officialdom itself that gave us a hint in a different direction. Just as we had entered New Zealand for our third summer of slaving away back in December of last year, we heard that New Zealand Customs had adjusted their rules about the temporary importation of yachts to fall in line with the regulations in the neighboring countries. While before a visiting yacht could only stay in the country for the period of twelve months, before her owners had to deposit a considerable sum of money towards the duty payments securing an eventual importation of the vessel, that period had now been extended to twice as much. Today a visiting yacht is allowed to stay in New Zealand for two full years. While this deposit was due to be returned if the vessel was to leave the country within a reasonable amount of time, it kept us, just like many other yachtsmen with limited financial resources, from being able to “jump” a season, leaving the boat to become green and moldy during the wet winter on a mooring in Northland and jet set to the Northern hemisphere summer and take care of a fruitful and prosperous business somewhere in our homeland. This bureaucratic change provided us all of a sudden and at the perfectly precise moment with the opportunity to consider this option for ourselves. And consider we did, long and hard! It does not make sense, we first felt. We considered some more and it still did not make sense. Even today we still feel it does not make sense. In fact in our mind there is no doubt that in a perfect world, it really does not make sense. But in the wacky world of human greed and grumpiness it sadly does.

Consider this, if you can: After living for pretty much exactly five years the life of austere and almost absolute simplicity on our small but very cozy floating home, with our consumption of worldly goods reduced to a fraction of what even the most progressive thinker and tinkerer in the developed world absorbs, turning every penny twice or thrice between our fingers before hesitantly exchanging it for some needed merchandise, we will now on May 19 sing the John Denver song “I’m leaving on a jet plane”, hop happily on just such a jet plane somewhere on the tarmac of the Auckland International Airport and within 48 hours will have participated in burning enough jet fuel to annihilate the environmental savings of all our careful living over the past couple years, our carbon footprint exploding with the fury of a megaton nuclear warhead set off by a slight wobble of political misunderstanding. In fact we will fly half way around the planet, back to my homeland that is, with high hopes to be able to serve the Swiss in one way or another in exchange for a reasonable amount of money, that will not only return to us the considerable expenses of this fancy travel experience but furthermore provide us the longed for savings needed for continuing our maritime adventures once back down under.

I’m hoping to make myself useful in the profession I was initiated in at the very beginning of my career as a responsible and responsive member of the economic community of modern mankind, as a schoolteacher. I plan to duly reinsert myself in the Bernese educational system and have already sent out applications to some schools that highlight my very best sides and omit most of my shortcomings, looking for relief teaching positions for the period we plan to stay.

In a hasty bout of shortsightedness one could easily say that this looks to be the sad and premature end to our adventures, which always lived by the notion of wanting to escape civilized life and run as far away as possible, but that is definitely not the case. We have long ago come to realize along the winding ways of our journey that there is no running away from anything, much less from the grip of the corporate economy. It has like a terminal stage cancer growth infected every last little corner of the globe. We have also learned that the fancy dream of a shady coconut palm on a blinding white beach overlooking azure waters of a reef is nothing more than the construct of cheap calendar photographers. I’m therefore going to Switzerland with my eyes wide open and with exactly the same intention we ventured out to the lonely isles of the Pacific Ocean: To study humankind’s various ways of coping with the perils of living on a fragile earth and to share our treasured experience as wanderers amongst the sedentary folks.

It will be no doubt an adventure of a very special kind and I promise to take you along in spite of sidestepping and in a certain way undermining this blog’s declared purpose of documenting Aluna’s Travels through the World. While living on land high and dry and miles from the salt of the sea, Aluna will continue to be in our minds. She will continue to do what all boats do, cause us enough worries about her wellbeing half of Earth’s diameter away from us to rob us of our sleep. But she will also be eagerly awaiting our return tied to a sturdy mooring here in the beautiful Bay of Islands, ready to continue anew the journey along the routes less travelled and the ways less trodden. She will give me strength to tackle the onslaught of the distant memories of my youth that will most certainly lurk at every twist and turn of my way back to the nooks and crannies of my homeland.

Staying Alive!

February 26, 2014

It’s hard to find in the civilized world themes of passion to write and converse about. Sparse and fickle is the material with that clear-cut touch of the extraordinary, material that lends itself to be easily plied and molded so as to attract and retain your attention. Much less are there stories that naturally rip through the grey and greasy veil of superficiality to compose prose that could claim to be able to truly entertain you. Everything seems to have been said and done. Everything has the smell of the stale and lame. Rules and regulations coax any outburst of spontaneity into the rigid realm of reason. Planning is paramount all over and the concern for safety overrules the longing for joy and bliss. And then there is the money! The only motivator left for civilized man after his and her natural drives have been curtailed to a neurotic mess of conditioned reaction, saying yes to this brand of toothpaste and no to that one of shampoo.

The most outstanding impression when arriving from up in the islands back to the Eurocentric realm of this abandoned colony of the crumbling British Empire down at the bottom of the earth, is the absence of the smiling faces. Gone is the radiant happiness; gone is the generous gift of joy! The faces around us are now hard, grumpy and etched with bitterness. The gaze no longer wanders freely fueled by innocent curiosity. It is now guided with the whip of envy and avoids any direct encounter. We have returned to a world of conflict and competition, where greed rules over grace and the unceasing thirst for power has trampled down and flattened all hues of concern and compassion.

It is, of course, hard to stay aware of the brutality innate in our society of commerce and consumption for more than the fugitive glimpses of truth we all suffer every now and then. The soothing propaganda flooding out from all kinds of screens of like a never-ending tsunami wrecks havoc with our perception and destroys our sense for what is and what isn’t. Not that it is only “their” fault. For certain we are creatures of habits, after all, and today’s horrors and offenses are tomorrow’s normality. It is therefore of utmost importance to inspect our beliefs on a daily basis with a keen eye for the fake and with the burning valor to discard whatever smells of Pinocchio’s sprouting noses.

Anyway, apart from nurturing ties to the few friends we have made here in this land of long white clouds and nocturnal, flightless birds, we have become a sort of exploiter of the exploited. We do what we can to stop the drain in our cruising kitty and sometimes manage to fatten it up just a bit. And for our lovely floating home Aluna this sizeable island has become a serious pit stop, where the wounds of her maritime battles are healed and bad experiences trans-morphed into engineering improvements to her functionality.

This for me means that it’s back to the building mood. Only vaguely do I remember nowadays the five years spent under a big grey tarpaulin in the shade of a giant Redwood tree at the eastern end of the windy San Francisco Bay, contemplating the jet planes descending along their straight line towards the tarmac of Oakland International Airport every fifteen minutes or so, piecing together slabs of plywood, according to a very smart plan, little by little creating this huge functional structures that has brought us half way across the globe. But there are others still making headway through this exercise in stubborn persistence, like my pal Neil up in the rain-drenched English heartland, who’s on the final stretch of a beautiful build of one of Aluna’s sister ships with the archaic sounding name of Gleda, to be launched in the merry month of May of this year.

The next couple posts are therefore going to be about a couple of major home improvement projects of the maritime kind. It’s been quite a while since I have been physically building something and not just completing maintenance chores. The engineering hemisphere in my brain immediately set to work by testing procedures, weighing options, running calculations, estimating durations and making an enormous effort to coordinate all of the above.

Good fortune had it that our good friend Ted was away for some well-earned vacation and I was looking forward to having his shop in the back alley of downtown Opua all to myself. He happened to be out an about, doing some quality sailing up the coast, after having hung on a mooring for the better part of the last couple years. With that the stage was set for some serious whirlwinds of sawdust, sticky slurps of epoxy, noisy machining, aching bones and muscle pain, and slow but steady progress towards the emergence of functional parts for the wind-engendered propulsion of our vagabond lifestyle.

Mighty Mangrove Mania

December 1, 2013

During our stay on the reef shelf around Nawi Island away from the noise of Savusavu town we were the proud guardians of a mangrove garden paradise just outside the galley windows and a short walk at low tide from the bottom of Aluna’s very practical stern ramp. You look at this vegetative phenomenon for too long and your brain sizzles in wonderment. A dense maze of roots levitates a thick canopy of leafy green off the sandy bottom just enough to clear the high tide mark. Like a thousand-legged spider this intertidal forest formation lives in constant expansion. It stretches its air roots arching claw like out from its perimeter, where they grow first slightly slanted upwards, then gradually lower in a perfect circle segment until it inevitably touches the sand, where it immediately starts digging in to grab a sturdy foothold. The roots become anchored there firmly enough that not even the fiercest cyclone winds can pull a mangrove bush out. The stems of the bushes or trees provide anchor points for all kinds of vessels during those times of violently blowing tropical curses, for them to attach lines to for making fast the craft. Those lines of solid anchoring will break themselves or rip out whatever they’re attached to on the boat long before uprooting anything of the mangrove realm.

CameraThat root system shelters layers of dark muck and mulch that accumulates on the sandy bottom below, resembling the carpet of decomposing leaves on a land based forest floor. There in turn a furious flurry of critters gorges themselves on it or fatten up otherwise by running after the foragers in a never-ending dance of hunting and being eaten.

CameraA sexual propagation further enhances the already vigorous vegetative one of the mangrove plant. Seeds grow from pollinated flower clusters with miniature white petals emerging from little green capsules. They are elegantly shaped, resembling wool work needles and grow to almost a foot long before falling off the mother plant. Once they do detach they float away on the diurnal tidal currents, and wherever their tender tip touches bottom long enough, far away or right next door, they stop to root and start a new establishment of the mangrove mania.

CameraThere is a serene calmness if you step gingerly over the network of sturdy roots, which easily bear the weight of a human, and inside the maze under the green canopy. The wind is blocked here almost totally and the noise of the outside world muffled faint carpet of barely audible hiss. It’s a little bit like you have just been swallowed by a gentle creature of the vegetative kingdom. This creature now holds you in peaceful suspension in its verdant womb. Should the chaos outside, where cities, streets, airports, businesses, terminals, marinas, court houses, shopping malls and other blemishes of human civilization lure, should this commercial, stress-inducing conglomerate of craziness turn every little thing dear to you to shreds and pieces, then you could easily find yourself in a soothing pagan temple of eternal green and everlasting bliss. You then just might learn to grow mangrove-like roots from your toenails and sprout green, flat and chlorophyll-filled appendages from your fingertips. Those you could then spread out towards the burning sun, which rides overhead along a majestic arch in its precise and punctual daily ritual, and perfect your transcendental existence by listening to the little wavelets breaking gently on the outskirts of your new supreme residence, and by contemplating to sequester huge amounts of carbon in your veins, while exhaling pure oxygen from the pores in your skin into a world that is desperately running short of it.