So many shades of wetness: cycling along the north see coast

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Wattensee...

I’m on the road (literally on the cycle path) again after two months in Berlin. This time for a “small” cycle tour, from Hamburg, where I arrived a few days ago to meet two friends who are cycling through Europe on a tandem (that, to me, is the ultimate relationship test, but they seem to manage rather well) to Amsterdam, where my sister lives. Now you could take the direct way, but why, when you can cycle along the north coast, using an outdated cycling guide to the “Nordseeroute” (that goes from Roterdam to Hamburg), struggling against the wind, stopping in forests where ever you can find one (not that many trees around, mostly swamps, windmills and sheeps) to camp for the night.

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Sheep. Grey. Wetland. That's what you get for spending your summers at the northsee

It’s lovely to wander from one place to another, knowing we’ll have to manage at least 900 kms by the end of it but not in any kind of a hurry, stopping to talk to other cyclists or people on their Sunday walks, mostly amazed to meet 4 rain-soaked scarecrows who have come from “such a long way from here” (the earth is still big for small villagers) to see their corner of the world.

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My friend the painted bicycle is holding on for now

But as a random place to cycle through, you could do far worse: the “wattenmeer” – the Northsee stretches for miles in a swamp-like, shallow intertidal greyness where seagulls come to hunt crabs, only slighty disturbed by the occasional gigantic countainership passing by on their way to Hamburg. It’s quiet, the light changes every five minutes (never sunny for more than 5 minutes, but that might be boring, for all we know), the wind turbines and dams by the see are the only things standing in the way of the everflat horizon.

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And so we cycle,  sometimes wishing it would stop raining, sometimes wishing we had a bit more of a taste for “normal holidays” at the beach, but most of the times not really thinking at all, just cycling through. I’m perfectly happy in this wet, grey-and-green land.

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Hamburg

Music for you eyes: Orfeo by Richard Powers, book review

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Peter Els, an ageing music professor and never succesful composer, who had recently turned to bioengeneering as a hobby, is wrongly accused of being responsible for a bacterial outbreak in a nearby hospital.
Afraid, Peter flees across the country, revisiting his past at the light of what is becoming, inevitably, the end of his life, and mostly his relationship to music – compulsive, passionate – that has shaped everything else.

This is Richard Powers doing Richad Powers : briliant writing – though I must say the copy my mum gave me was in french, but the translation was masterfully done and the style had been brilliantly transposed – musical,  symphonic and not afraid of grandeur or hyperbolic moments. The story itself,  Els’ life, intricately weaved with and into music, allows Powers to vastly digress from the plot to spend a chapter talking about Messiaen “quartet at the end of time” while he was imprisoned in a German camp during the Second World War,  and the first concert he gave in front of his fellow prisoners and guards. And that’s just an example. Name any relatively famous modern composer and you’ll have an story about him or a discussion of his style in this book.

I took my time to read this, revisiting the pieces mentioned,  listening to them as I was reading,  and that turned out to be immensely enjoyable,  mostly for the more obscure modern composers I usually struggle with (I’m afraid my classical music tastes are rather…classical, and I quickly loose interest for anything after Shostakovich), that I rediscovered at the light of Powers’ interpretation of their music or knowing the circumstances of the composition better. And that was lovely, because I love music about as much as I love reading, so put the two together (and do it well), you got me.
But I didn’t care that much for the narrative skeleton behind. And some of the more lyrical passages I couldn’t help read with a sort of distanciation that always makes it sound cheesy or unnecessary. With all that, I would be very interested to hear if any one who doesn’t like classical modern music has read it and what are their thoughts about it, does it still holds some interest?

To me, it bears no threat to supplant “A dance to the music of time”, also by Powers, which is also about music and the 20th century, but it was an interesting musical read, if you are ever looking for one.

A German Odyssey: Tschick, by Wolfgang Herrndorf, book review (English title:Why we took the car) (#AW80Books Germany)

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I went to Germany (mainly) for the purpose of improving my German as I’ll have to start working in a German speaking town in a few months, and what better way to improve your language skills than reading in said language?
In any case, it was a great excuse to discover some of the German contemporary literature, and one of the books that took Germany “by Sturm” (on a storm) lately was Tschick, by Wolfgang Herrndorf. Herrndorf is a German writer who died in 2013, committing suicide while suffering from a malignant cerebral cancer. He published Tschick in 2010, which was universally acclaimed in Germany but, as many other things and books especially, never really crossed boundaries. At least in Switzerland – the French speaking part – I had never heard of it.

As google told me, it has apparently been translated in English under the title “Why we took the car” – nothing to do with the original title, which is short for Tschichatschow, one of the protagonists’ last name. So I’m not even raving about something you might never be able to read. Which is nice indeed.

So Tschick: Maik, a 14 year old student in  contemporary Berlin (very contemporary, get ready for a “mentioning-Beyonce” level of contemporary) is going through his usual underdog school routine, obsessed with a girl who doesn’t invite him to his birthday, stuck at home between an absent father and a relapsing alcoholic mother, and at first sees nothing worth of interest in “Tchick” who arrives in his class in the middle of the school year, an “asi” – asocial – rebellious and altogether strange figure, with tidings to the mafia – as rumours fly between his classmates.
But both of them still go on a unexpected journey, having stolen an old car, driving apparently without an objective – or the very loosely defined objective of reaching Walachia – which is more a symbolic destination than a real place in their minds – and they cross the countryside around Berlin, meeting a young hitch-hiking rebellious girl, a family apparently part of some strange religious community, and altogether forgetting about school and life to live as tramps for a while, avoiding the police.

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Who let the dogs out (in the lake)?

Physiotherapy advise number 167 after randomly turning your knee ligaments into cauliflower was supposed to be swimming. “very good”, “a must do” as I was told by both the surgeon and the physical therapist. So, dutifully, I tried swimming a couple of weeks (well, actually a lot more than that now) ago. I just made it sound like I’d do this only for the sole purpose of obeying to my therapists, like a dutiful patient when I was actually experiencing severe withdrawals symptoms from “not having been in a lake for 3 months”. I have weird addictions.

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Ear lard, sunny days and back to blogging: View over the top of my book:

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Geneva in one glimpse: lake. (Fancy) buildings – at least the ones you can see from the lake. Mountains. And not much going on (I’m horribly unfair)

After two months of cycling around Berlin and refreshing my German via intensive classes about “how do you say diarrhoea in German?”) – very useful in my line of work, and it also accounted for the magnificent discovery that cerumen, or ear wax as it is known by normal people, is “Ohrenschmalz ” in German which literaly translates into “Ear lard”, which still makes me laugh about a month later. Ear lard, hahaha, but I digress –  So after this Berlin interlude I’m back in Geneva for about a minute – that is, three days but that’s how it feels like –  to unpack, repack and leave again. Frankly, that’s how I love my home-town: as a place you’re either arriving again to (and seeing all your friends and family) or leaving from soon after that, and that’s not even such a big exaggeration: there are so many other places to see. Continue reading

an Ode in transit: bus stations

I sometimes feel like I enjoy the in between times more than the destinations. Some small symbols of travel (but not airport terminals,  never those) where it is the nothingness of the place, its latency, that makes the place poetic, in a potential way. That might be why I like bus stations so much. Not the city ones, but the central bus stations, with their gazoil and urine smell (it is the same everywhere, there is just an added smell of re-fried snacks when you are in India or Africa), with the glazed, empty looks of people waiting, people sleeping in banks. The strange community of people having not enough money to go by train or plane. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in bus stations.I should have kept count, but then again, when you are in one, you don’t count any more. The bus comes when the bus comes.

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