The Metamorphosis Part 2

Sometimes, sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Zamecek after a long walk, the sun glancing the tops of the pine trees, the air filled with the sounds of the river, an image of Kafka appeared before me. Kafka sitting next to us in a chair, a blanket over him, looking at the forest, now and then a cough heard over the sound of the water.

Kafka suffered from TB and spent months in and out of various sanatoriums in Austria, his stays there funded by his father who owned a factory. He died from TB at the age of 40.

Once, Europe was dotted with sanitariums. TB, amongst other illness, were a scourge in the days before the invention of antibiotics and vaccines. Many of these former sanitoriums had been renovated and turned into hotels. Anya and I had stayed in a few of them.

I wondered if this wasn’t also the case with Hotel Zamecek and resolved to ask at the front desk about its past. 

 

The woman at the front desk spoke Czech – and English. She and her husband owned and ran the hotel and as it transpired, she was the right person to inquire about the hotel and its past.

She disappeared and came back and plumped down a book before us and opened it out at a reprint of an old black and white photo of the original ‘hotel’ – surrounded by other, long, plain looking buildings with sloping tiled roofs – where there was now grass.  

She explained that originally, the hotel was the private home of a the German owner of a textile factory. It was surrounded by the living quarters of the workers. 

As she  continued telling the story of the Hotel Zamecek, a strange thought flashed through my mind:

A textile factory!

Gregor Samsa: a travelling salesman selling textiles….

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Ozymandias

 

All day I travelled through a wasteland: once fertile agricultural lands destroyed by decades of foolishness, now just empty fields filled with weeds and drift sand.

The beaten up bus I travelled in was forced to stop for a few hours. 

´Mechanical problems´. Wouldn’t have been the first time.

At one stop, an area of asphalt, there were the remains of a bus which had been burnt out – or bombed.

I missed my connection to a distant place well known for its historic ruins and had to spend the night in a slum city –  another very different kind of ruin.

A monstrous place, an urban nightmare: rows and rows of flaking, decrepit apartment blocks. Old run down factories filling the air with thick black smoke. Crowded streets pot holed, littered with plastic bags and gaudy foil wrappings. Trucks and old motor cars leaving behind them clouds of dense fumes.

People walking passed like zombies, grim faced, dour.

 

Accommodation was hard to find especially for a foreigner. I walked into a dingy excuse for a hotel only to be dismissed with a wave of a hand. Then another, then another.

Eventually I found a soulless, run down room. A dungeon.

What did I do to deserve this?  

 

 

As the sun neared the horizon and darkness enclosed the city, I walked the streets in search of a meal.

And walked, followed by furtive stares, derisive laughter.

Foreigner.

One of them.

On my part, one thought occupied my mind as I ate a greasy excuse for a meal: 

What it would it be like to live here?

 The country I had come to in search of difference, diversity, had never had a free and fair election. It produced nothing. Beyond its borders, its currency was worthless. Corruption riddled it at every level. Its human rights record was scandalous. It’s prisons crammed with those suspected of not being totally loyal to a brutal dictatorship. Minority groups were living a precarious existence. The role of women was to bear children, cook and submit. LGBT’s didn’t exist. Whilst gladly accepting foreign aid, the same regime blamed the rest of the world for its poverty. There was only one source of information, the state controlled media.

The people were told that they were blessed, never had it so good.

Did they believe it?

Did they have any choice?

The truth was: this  place was hell on earth.

Then again, who was I to judge?

Me, a foreigner, with my ideals of freedom of speech, social justice and human rights?

When I went traveling, I wanted to see another way of life, to experience strange sights, to be disorientated, culture shocked. To escape the feeling of being one of ‘us’.

Well, here it was. I was amongst ‘them’ and the view was ugly.  

What the hell was I doing here?

 

On the following morning I got a bus out to the ruins of an ancient empire. Stone walls, columns, statues chipped and pitted, lines of script which had only recently been deciphered. All of it unearthed and given importance and meaning by foreigners. Now a handy cash cow for the government.

It was incredible. I walked around as if in a dream. I was suddenly transported miraculously, as if on a magic carpet, to a time long ago, when a civilization, an empire, rose out of the earth like a vigorous plant, bloomed, and then died.

Yesterday I´d wondered what the hell I was doing here, in this hell on earth, and today, that question was far from mind.

Overwhelmed by the sheer wonder of being alive, I knew why I was here.  

Walking amidst stone relics, some of them bearing the symbols of a strange script, Percey Shelley’s famous poem echoed in the desert:

 

‘I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said – ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert…..Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round that decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

 

 

Singing in the Rain

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I followed the trail up through a pine forest towards a peak, when it began to snow.

The snow became so heavy that I was forced to descend. 

Battling wind and cold rain, I came to the outskirts of a village. 

On an unsealed road, wet and muddy, I saw water flooding down channels between the houses; the sound filled the air and voices seemed to come from nowhere.

 

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Rounding a bend, I passed a small shop.

Opposite was a blunt looking concrete hall, communist- era heritage. The door was open and the air  filled with the sound of men singing. I peered through a window and saw 20, 30 men sitting either side of a long wooden table, tankards of beer in front of them.

They seemed to know the words and tune to the song by heart – they sang in near perfect harmony.

 

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A little later, I was brought to a halt by another kind of singing: a loud clacking and honking.

Spanning the road was a large flock of geese. They were white geese, with orange beaks. They looked elegant in the grey and the rain.

They seemed strangely excited.

There was no one around. No one seemed to be leading them or herding them (herders are a common sight in Romania). But they must have been domesticated geese. Wild geese would never choose a village backstreet to land in.

Had these geese escaped from their compound?

Irresistibly lured outside by the rain and the sound of the swelling waters in the nearby creeks?

I stood there and watched them, engulfed in their music.

I edged around them.

They stayed where they were, in no mood to go anywhere.

Singing in the rain.

 

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The Night Stalker

 

I awoke and heard the rhythm of your breathing

The sound of the waves outside our bamboo window

And with the sudden appearance of the tropic’s dawn

 

Saw the night stalker

Seemingly glued to the thatch ceiling of our hut

Stone age acrobat

So delicately painted on the morning’s blank face.

Black brown body crossed by aquamarine stripes,

Diamond shaped head with eyes like crystal balls of black,

Eyes keened to darkness.

Long toes splayed out like the leaves of a papaya tree,

And the tail!

In the form of an ‘S’, long, tapering into something as

Fine an insect’s antennae.

 

You awoke, a smile lit your face.

The night stalker fled into the thatch roof seeking

Refuge from the light.

 

We made love, discovered each other once again

And I too fled

Inside somewhere deep, my own refuge from the light.

 

Quiet Places

 

Sometimes

Travelling this land

Scarred, plundered, desolated

 

It is possible to find

Quiet Places

Beyond the noise of civilisation –

traffic, TV, mobile phone, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, trail bikes –

 

Where you can lose yourself

And see Them

 

Drinking the Sacred Water

 

Worshipping the stone cliffs

 

Dancing naked

Under the shelter of the night

The stars and the moon

 

Their bodies painted

In the ochre of the The Earth.