For a couple minutes last week, I became upset as a result of a train of thought that started with a picture of rocks, sea, breaking waves and grasses from J.’s trip to Mallorca. The train went something like this:
- god i love the sea
- i can almost hear the waves. crashing on the rocks. feel the waving grasses. the baying swaying wind. taste the salt air.
- it looks a bit like ireland.
- i miss my home, in a landscapey way.
- i feel like the selchies and the mermaids they sing about in trad songs, who are trapped in human bodies and human lives and, no matter how much happiness they manage to find on land, the sea always calls them back in the end. (melodramatic, perhaps.)
- i need to move to the sea.
- i haven’t earned it.
- does that matter?
The sea is where I feel most at home and most like a person. Fascinated, surrounded by an infinity of tiny details (stones, pebbles, plants, patterns in the sand, invertebrates, birds), an infinite glance into the unfathomable uniformity of the horizon. And above all the freedom to walk wherever and at whatever speed, not trying to dodge hordes of putrid, drunken, unfriendly people (I’m a little down on the city right now), buses and cars, oblivious young people listening to music while texting someone while on a bike. The absence of all this noise (acoustic, visual and olfactory). The space.
I should clarify: when I speak of the sea, I mean the kind of seaside that is neither very warm nor tremendously popular. Quiet and somewhat isolated.
[an aside: remembering the dancing reflections of sunlight on lake water in a little hotel bedroom in überlingen. thinking that the room would be completely different without them. smiling up at the patterns of light as if they were a friend who had brought me flowers and was also smiling. — perhaps lakes work almost as well.]
I feel like a fish out of water sometimes in the city. I need emptiness and calm and natural loudness, natural quiet. Experiencing all the small things that would normally disappear behind crossing lights and advertising and construction and engines and exhaust and armpits on the U-Bahn and the HURRY of it all. (Of course here there are other small things to observe, but these are often more along the lines of dog-steals-Döner, nice-person-triumphs-over-jerk or rude-but-hilarious-graffiti.)
This is the image I have in my head: I pull on my boots in the morning, throw on a wool jumper and a windbreaker and a hat, and step briskly out into the cold, moist air with my dog for a walk. Go down the hills to the beach, listening to the gulls. Tend my garden full of small, wind-hardy plants. Sit by a fire at night, reading books and drinking tea or whiskey if I’m feeling festive. Live in a world of blue, grey, white, brown, green — not stifling concrete, not the looking into neighbors’ windows without wanting to.
Then perhaps I could have holidays in the city, and feel energized by the noise and the activity, rather than blotted out by it.
This is not to say I don’t generally enjoy being in this city. I love the surprises, the coincidences and chance meetings, the colorful shops and cafés, the bizarre – sometimes ingenious, sometimes idiotic – melange of things people get up to, simply observing what other people are like. It’s exciting. But it can feel like there’s little to balance it out, little time to catch your breath and remember who you are and what you’re doing here.
In the meantime, though, I’ve started riding my bike, and it helps to be able to move the ground under your feet more quickly and on your own.