Austerlitz & Beyond

 

Puppet Theatre Prague

John Payne in W.G Sebald’s Footsteps….

There is no doubt in my mind that Austerlitz Station in Paris is the key to this rather enigmatic novel which draws a personal and emotional and rather misleading map of Europe, said John, misleading in that the novel appears to be meandering nowhere and the story and what the novel is really about only emerges towards the end of the book. As I was saying to Eric St Lazaire the last time we met, 40 years ago the 20.00 from Paris Austerlitz to Toulouse carried three carriages which were detached in Toulouse, shunted round to the neighbouring platform and then formed the morning train to La Tour de Carol, from where a connecting train carried on through the Pyrenees to Barcelona. On the particular morning in question, said John, I had a special reason which I have no intention of disclosing for avoiding the frontier guards on the more normal route through Port Bou. At 7am in the morning the train stopped in the snow at a tiny station called L’Hospitalet près de l’Andorre. A few hardy souls climbed down onto the platform and were no doubt heartened by the fact that the bus which would carry then across the pass into Andorra, weather permitting, was already standing outside the station. As Eric St Lazaire stated at the time, this sounds a rather pointless story but he became increasingly animated as I explained to him that La Tour de Carol lay just a few miles from Mont St Louis (or Mont Sant Lluís as the Catalans call it) which is an intricate Vauban fortress erected after the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 to ensure that the Spanish would never again rule the upper reaches of the Cerdagne / Cerdaña / Cerdanya, depending on your linguistic and political preferences, not to mention the Conflent and the Petit Train Bleu. From Austerlitz station, said John, when I arrived back in Paris again by the same rather circuitous route I walked carrying my rucksack, purchased at an army surplus store in Bath on the site now occupied by the City of Bath College to the Jardin des Plantes, which has plants but is really a zoo, or that at any rate is why it plays such an important part in a novel called Rayuela (Hopscotch in English, a literal translation) by an Argentinean novelist called Julio Cortázar who was plotting his own personal and emotional geography around Europe in the footsteps of W.G. Sewald who had still not worked out exactly why the Jardin des Plantes was significant but Cortázar knew that is was something about the way the animals looked at you with a mute desperation that seemed to sum up the condition of all life on earth from human beings to pandas about to become extinct or the fly that you have just crushed with your newspaper containing dire warnings about the threat of global warming on the window of the Lamb pub in Frome. To continue, said John, St Lazaire reported to me that Cortázar had also been seen on the Circle Line in London, spending entire days travelling round and round the city which again may have something to do with the circular meaninglessness of time, space and human life. Though the Scots, said St Lazaire, have their own way of enacting this ritual on the Glasgow Subway emerging for a pint of beer at each station on the line, also known as the Clockwork Orange, thereby ensuring that it is only ever possible to complete the trip in a state of total inebriation which, said John, is the most rational response to the meaningless circularity of human life and is another example of why Scottish society is the only truly rational society in Europe. Occasionally Cortázar and his friends would emerge from the Circle Line and spend hours in the gallery of the old Courtauld Institute in Bloomsbury, only accessible by lift, where they would sit on a deep sofa and gaze at the three great Cézannes specially placed to remind Argentineans that their spiritual home is neither Buenos Aires nor Rome, but London. The real reason, said John, why the Courtauld Gallery had to move home to Somerset House was that it became totally inadequate for all the gap-year Argentinians keen to inflict their inquisitorial gaze on the work of the great master. Everything in this account is true, said John, and I believe him though later in his account of the girl with the broken shoe in Prague in 1968 I was less sure, but before that he told me about his habit of sleeping in the Bibliothèque Nationale in the rue Richelieu in Paris on his long circuitous journeys between Barcelona and London. His habit was to request the most obscure book he could find in the Latin American catalogue, sleep for at least 2 hours at is numbered desk, and once the book was delivered, he would go out to ring his friend W-P. They always ate at the same bistro in the rue Richelieu, in the afternoon John would read his book and later they would have dinner always somewhere near the Gare du Nord so that W-P could see him onto the Night Ferry to London via Dunkirk. The Prague ghetto had been uppermost in his mind since he met a Czech girl with a broken shoe in Prague in the summer of 1968. More a sandal than a shoe and by the Charles Bridge in the Mala Strana which the translator of the book we are talking about tonight calls for some strange reason the Lesser Quarter. But then the Russians arrived and he did not see the girl again or get to visit Terezin, but later he showed Alain Resnais’ film Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog) to his students, and indeed St Lazaire explained to me that Sebald mentions Resnais on page 364 and his film Toute la Mémoire du Monde about the Bibliothèque Nationale. I stopped going to Paris, said John, for reasons which I would rather not talk about and so have never seen the new building which Sebald explains is up-river a little from Austerlitz Station, the Jardin des Plantes being downstream, and doubt its real existence. St Lazaire said to me the last time we met that this position of John’s on the non-existence of the new library is entirely in keeping with the Resnais film L’Année Dernière à Marienbad which he happened to know John had seen in the Octagon in Bath in 1962 when the Bath Film Society had met there, and in the same season were Wild Strawberries and Battleship Potemkin, which John claims is why he can never understand the plot of Hollywood movies. If you are lost on this one, please ask Clive as I am sure he will know about this formally interesting little film about a spa town in Bohemia, formally circular just like the Clockwork Orange or the Circle Line and needing large quantities of alcohol to fully appreciate. The Glasgow-Paris link, said John is buried deep within my subconscious and has resisted all attempts including hypnotherapy to retrieve but what is extraordinary about Austerlitz, I refer now to the novel by Sebald and not the station in Paris or even Sebald’s character of the same name, is that there is a story that emerges from the night and fog and circularity of all things which is linear, true, actually happened, is distressing, gripping, compelling even. I shall not forget it, said John, but first I need to remember it.

 

© John Payne 2018 All right reserved

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The Trouble with Maps…

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‘A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen, but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true.’

Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry

A map constitutes relationships and connections, divisions and boundaries. To adults, they are a means of organising space and navigating new territories. They offer a representation of landscape: time over distance, a way to make sense of the world, to orientate and affirm ourselves – by far the greatest use of Google’s geo-spatial applications is people searching for their own house. Children approach maps very differently, a fusion of imagination and geography  – a doorway to a world imbued with mystery, secrets and promise –  which they enter, not as visitors, politely following or observing, but as actors, running, shooting, fleeing marauders, flying on horseback to safety.

The first time I studied a map was in Hove Library, spread across a table upstairs in the old reference room, with its chipped plaster cornicing and Chinese students slumped over text books, asleep.  I traced my fingers along red arteries of roads and pink bridle paths, not understanding the difference between nautical and land miles, or between orange OS Explorer maps and the pink Landrangers neatly lining the shelves with their worn spines numerically ordered.  The plan was to walk cross-country from Bristol to Brighton. When I told friends, (usually male), they said  paper maps were redundant, Digital maps were the future. I should  download an OS app and plot my co-ordinates digitally. But I liked the feel of a map, the creamy thick paper which snapped when you folded it, the delicate contoured lines; miniscule symbols and legends. I liked to lay the maps out on the floor end to end and see a journey of 170 miles reduced to five feet.  The same journey on an iphone screen truncated into small portions was impossible to imagine or contextualise.

A recent experiment at UCL, highlighted the role map making plays in developing our neural pathways. A team of researchers took participants on a guided tour of Soho, and subsequently under laboratory conditions, asked these participants to navigate the same area virtually through a computer game, requiring them to make detours and diversions, drawing on the knowledge of the previous day. MRI scans showed changes to the hippocampus, the brain’s grey matter, the seat of memory, spatial awareness and navigation which regulates emotions, and memory.  These changes didn’t occur in the brains of those following GPS instructions. Compliance, it seems, does not create neurological links. The brain thrives on making meanings and relationships.

Cognitive mapping is the process by which we acquire, order and recall information about our spatial environment – how we define ourselves in relation to it and find destinations repeatedly.  Maps of the skies, of the Plaeides were found in the caves of Lascaux, dating back 17,000years. The oldest map in the world, the Imago Mundi, dates back to between 700 and 500 BC, leading to assumptions that  humans are ‘natural map-makers (but curiously not natural map readers). Yet, maps only became widely used in the West in the 1400s, paralleling a rise in populations (which  made direct communications more difficult), and the birth of the nation state. They offered an ideal means to create national identity and exert power through boundaries.

As children enter a map knowing it is make-believe yet believing in its fiction, we extend a similar kind of faith in them as adults, considering them objective and factual, when they are subjective representations filled with paradoxes. In order to find yourself, you have to know where you are; to read one you have to be simultaneously inside and outside the map. Every map made is the result of a set of compromises – solid mass scaled to 2D, orientation, signs and signifiers chosen and represented. Accuracy of one detail is sacrificed for accuracy of another: scale for perspective,  projection for pragmatism – two famous examples of this exist in the Mercator projection – which distorts the size of objects as the latitude increases from the Equator to the polar caps, (making Greenland and Antarctica appear larger relative to land masses) – and The Peters projection which combats this distortion by sacrificing accuracy of shape, distance, and direction.

The French philosopher, Baudrillard, famously said: ‘hence, the map precedes the territory,’ suggesting  maps conceptualise terrains and shape our perceptions before we set a foot on the soil. In 1875 a mapping project of the southern states of the USA brought together Arizona, California, Utah, Colarado – the only place in the US where four states meet, depicting  the four edges as a cross on the map – contradicting former mapping by indigenous Native American populations. Subsequently, this place has become known as ‘The Four Corners.’ After the civil war, a monument was erected and tourists arrived by the bus-load.  T-shirt franchises, Tacos stalls, burger vans, and tourist shops followed in their wake.

Despite their ‘indisputable’ accuracy, destinations have also been created by geospatial applications. In 1997, a new town appeared on Google Earth’s satellite mapping called Argleton, located off the M59, near Ormskirk in Lancashire.  Geographers were puzzled. Nothing physical existed in reality; yet Google algorithms linked the site to estate agents, chiropodists and hotels – creating a whole virtual town.  Some suspected it was a cartologist’s tell – the secret marker put on the map to establish the mapmaker’s copyright. Google could never provide a satisfactory explanation.

And, this is the crux of the problem; what is real? The map or the landscape? Your representation of it or mine?  The closer we aim for accuracy to track our paths, giving away a yen to explore in return for quick corporate quick solution (time over distance) we’re forced to enter landscape rationally with our heads, lining up markers,  tracking symbols,  estimating distances, hurrying to our destinations, rather than entering them through our senses or imagination.   Janine Winterson’s quote, written in 1989, largely predated the prevalence of GPS, but has proved to be eerily accurate in their effect on our approach to landscape.

There is a truth, a consistency in the sensory rather than logical approach. If we entered maps as explorers, physically embracing the sensuality of sights, textures and sound, the subconscious links to our imagination – here be the place I rolled in the grass, delighted at the toadstools pushing though the loam,  or fell in love under a canope of May blossom, we would at least exist inside them, make them our own.

The map precedes the territory, but which map? Whose map? That’s the question.

 

 

Beginnings, Middles & Endings

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Q: You walk out of your door. You do not know how far you will go, how long it will take, if or when, you will return? How do you feel?

Q: You pick up a book, read the first line. You cannot turn the pages to discern the length of the story, or genre – is it a thousand pages, two pages? A novel, a poem, fact or fiction? How do you feel?

Time lives in your bones, in your blood, in aortic beats; shifts of light, shadows lengthening, waxing and waning; flexing, stalking your steps, a rhythm, a prelude, rarely linear but in swerving paths, swoops and dives, edited, archived, forwards and backwards.

Do you begin a book begin by intent or accident? Does a walk live in your head or in a map?

Does the spirit stir you sudden, curious, impatient, propelling you through granite streets; salty breeze; diesel blue fumes; yellow ragged Hawkbit shooting through mud? How hard the heart pumps, ancient, limbic, each step a hymn (each page) a gift: insight, wisdom, perspective, escape, an altered glimpse of yourself, a deer’s prance in the corner of your eye.

Which leads you to the middle (Who remembers the middle?)

It’s vague paths, muddy tracks, broken stiles, crowded by bramble, hidden in fields of corn, (or buried in a plot with too many characters).

The beginning is far behind. The end too far to imagine. Uncertainty nags and claws: Is this the right path? (the right page)

Time still to turn back (throw the book down) retrace your step to

the point of variance; between disintegration and reintegration;

the gap in the hedge, the unmarked path.

Nothing happens in the middle.

The middle is a matter of faith.

But endings are something else, aren’t they?

Slow burning, molecules rumbling minutely to a conclusion; (atom and leaf). Or previewed from high on a hill cars cluttering villages. A dark body of water. A dead green line on the page.

Or, they arrive abruptly – ad-libbing across empty fields, cresting a hill, forking a corner, (an unsatisfactory conclusion).

Instinctively, the body knows; aches and burns, the mind’s chatter starts anew:

What a relief?

Cup of tea?

(is there a sequel?)

Did you take pictures?

(make notes in the margins?)

We give prizes at the end. And, return you to routine, yarrow and dirt, a miner’s lamp

shining between your steps (words), remade, made again

(In your end is your beginning:

In the beginning is your end)

Again. And again. And Again.

We walk.

We read.

We walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time lives in your bones, a pulse and tap to the brain; to the ear and eye, in shifts of light, the locus waxing and waning. Time is never invisible. It flexes, stalking your steps, a rhythm of beginnings, middles and endings. The line is rarely straight; vectors, curves, parabolas, scientific.

 

An invitation to walk creatively…

 

IMG_0903We walk for many reasons – utility, leisure, relaxation. Sometimes alone, sometimes with others. Walking is an act of connecting, with ourselves, our thoughts, with the world around us. We may be attentive to our surroundings or lost in thought, playful or serious.

The following is an invitation to walk consciously, to walk with awareness, with our imaginations, with our bodies, taking in the sights, smells, sounds and textures around us, beneath our feet. To be aware of memories and associations that arise with each step.

A walk does not have to take long. It can be a matter of minutes as much as hours. Step into your comfortable shoes, head out of the door – even if only into your garden, or street – or, beyond into an unfamiliar place. Catch a bus or train, drive, stopping at an unknown destination and begin to walk whichever way you fancy.

Walk with a question

Think of a question/statement– e.g., ‘What is my relationship to walking?’  ‘Places Remember Events….’ Walk with this question/statement in mind, noticing your surroundings, the immediate and distant, memories, associations and feelings.

Walking the rim of a glass

Spread your map on the table, place a glass down on the map, and draw a circle around it, then go out and walk around the line (the size of glass will reflect the distance to travel). Note what happens when you have to deviate from the line – points of dissention or triumph –  What is the area like around you? How does it make you feel? What gets in the way of the line? What are your physical and emotional reactions when this happens?

 Drift

Use a Smartphone App like Drift or Trespass. Follow its instructions as precisely as you can. Note where it takes you – do you discover unfamiliar places?

What are they like? How do you feel following instructions?

Instinct

Just go, get out there, in whichever direction you want. Follow your own curiosity, or your mood or your feet. Do you want to be alone/ in a crowd/climb high/see water/woods/fields/buildings? Note what happens as you walk, your physical and emotional reactions to place, the feelings, associations and memories evoked, especially at points where you change direction.

The map precedes the territory

Plot your route on a map first, then walk it exactly.  How does the map compare to the actual walk? What assumptions do you have? It is easy to follow? How does the map change the way you walk? What do you discover? What information does the map provide? What information is missing?

Random – roll the dice

Create your own algorithm. One for forward, two for back, three left, four right, five roll again, six, wild card.

Mindful Walking – Using the senses

 Walk methodically, noting: 5 things you see/ 5 things you hear/5 things you smell. 5 things you can feel/touch. Note how they change as you walk. Which of your senses is least/most dominant?

When you have completed three or four cycles, add:

  • What associations/memories does this place hold for me?
  • How do I feel about it? (e.g., anxious/lighthearted)

 Macro to Micro

Find a path away from a road – it could be in the middle of a field or wood – anywhere, where you can walk for 10-20 paces (or 5 mins on your phone timer), and walk very, very slowly – so slowly you can feel your feet rise and fall, sense your muscles moving. Take note of your body, your breathing.  Narrow your vision to what is immediately around you, as if you are drawing a small circle. What can you hear/smell/touch? Stop at a point which particularly interests you and zoom in even closer (this could be down to a lump of soil or blade of grass) and focus on it. Can you name it or describe it? What associations/imaginings does it conjure?

CHECK-IN (some general thoughts)

As you walk, you may want to consider:

  • The relationship between your mind and body: how your pace changes and why.
  • What does the ground feel like under your feet?
  • Where does your mind drift? What triggers memories and associations.
  • What would you do if you no-one was looking/or if you were a child?
  • What do you feel?

You may want to capture your walks by taking pictures, keeping notes, sketches, picking up found objects on your way, using voice memos on your phone, (but do not let the walk capture you).

If you walk with others, observe a period of silence. Make time post-walk to discuss your experiences: the similarities and differences.

Writing the Map is funded by The Arts Council.

For further information, contact:

Email: createlearnconnect@gmail. Com

Facebook #writingthemap

Twitter @writingthemap

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Hefted

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by Josie Melia

If I’d been a sheep in the North, I could have been hefted. Traditionally, ewes heft their lambs from an early age, teaching them which patch of upland pasture is their ‘heaf’, passing on a sense of belonging there. And once lambs have that, they don’t need fences – they just don’t stray.

Well, I’m not a sheep, and I have strayed from where I was reared. But there’s something about that idea of being hefted that feels right. When I’m back in the landscape of my childhood there’s a sort of gravitational tug, like I recognise the place at a gut, cellular level.

I’ve lived near the South Downs for more of my life than I’ve lived anywhere else, and I love it here. But I was hefted in the north – actually in the middle of a town full of factories and choked in soot – but next door to the moors that run into the Pennines. Oldham now markets itself as ‘Gateway to the Pennines’.

This story takes place on the morning of Sunday November 14th 2010. I’m in Oldham to help move my mum, who’ll be 94 two days later, into a home for people with severe dementia. The home is in an area of Oldham called Moorside and it is exactly that, by the side of the moors.

It’s Remembrance Sunday, which is ironic. My mum was born in the middle of the first world war and married in the middle of the second but now her 90-odd year old memory hoard is spilt and scattered like disassembled lego across a child’s bedroom floor.

One month earlier her first great-grandchild, my grand daughter, Eleanor Rose, was born in Brighton and I’ve brought a photo to show my mum. I can see she knows it should be significant – and I’m touched by her effort – but her main focus is on trying to walk through a plate glass window to reach her sister, May, who she thinks she sees on the other side. May has been dead for nearly twenty years.

Shortly before 11 o’clock, I leave my mum briefly to head into town and pick up some bits and pieces for her. But soon I have to stop the car on a deserted moorside road. It’s all been too much, and this familiar Oldham edge landscape is getting to me.  I plug right in to its grey-tinted melancholy. There’s a scrubby hill to my left and a solitary white horse grazing a field to my right. Beyond that, dark dry-stone walls scratch a tattoo across broad-shouldered hills into the distance.

I’m back to my own beginnings here, while, hundreds of miles South, little Eleanor Rose, right at the start of life, blinks out of the window at a blurry view across the South Downs, and my mother, nearby, conjures visions way beyond Oldham as she nears her end.

Then around the bend in front of me, comes the most wondrous, life-sized radiant white figure, floating smoothly towards me, like a visitation from some miraculous being – Our Lady of Lourdes come down to Moorside to cure my mum?

And I’m just awestruck. I wind down my window. I raise my hand to wave. I don’t know what for.

And he floats on, (it’s a he) past the white horse (that by rights he should be riding) past my car, not noticing me (that’s only right for a supernatural being). And I’m left there, in awe – the way he owned this road, this time, his place in this landscape – it’s had an astonishing effect.

As rationality trickles back to me, I piece things together and realise that my vision was a very tall, elderly, white-bearded Asian man wearing a white tunic jacket and elegant white turban, riding a white mobility scooter – hence the smooth, slow, floating effect. Perhaps because of the day and the time of day, and his purposeful upright bearing, I make a guess that he could be a former Indian soldier on his way to a remembrance service.

And that brings to mind another place: the Chattri on the Downs, the memorial to Indian soldiers from the first world war.  I look across at the white horse in the empty field; I think of the white-domed Chattri, and for a moment the two landscapes blur together like a double exposure film: the moorlands on the edge of Oldham, where I was hefted, and the beautiful South Downs where I hefted my own family that is now busy hefting a new generation.

Josie Melia (October 2017) for Spoken Word event 20th October, Brighton

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What Does Walking Mean To Me?

 

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Maggie Peake describes her relationship with walking as ambiguous. One wet September morning, walking the South Downs, Maggie decided to ponder on the reasons for this, and to attempt to find an answer to her question: What does walking mean to me? 

The answers took her back to childhood, to holidays and memories of her parents who are no longer alive.

In Maggie’s words:

  • Instinct: climb up the Downs for view. Joy of being at the top of the world. Space and freedom.
  • Walked slowly around a tree. Enjoyed being in nature, no map or purpose. Just the quiet presence of a beautiful tree.

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Meaning

  • My parents gave me the gift of walking
  • I didn’t always want it!
  • Routine of a walk after Sunday lunch “Good for you”
  • Baby of family following behind, never catching up. Tired and moany. Want to be dreamy and left alone.
  • No control, route decided.
  • Since my parents died I’ve found it hard to re-visit happy times with them. The Walkshop has allowed me to explore this.

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Walking stick

  • Since the Walkshop I got my walking stick down from the loft.
  • My Parents loved walking in the Alps.
  • We had many family holidays going up mountains in chairlifts and cable cars. Looking at amazing views. Walking down through forests and alpine meadows.
  • It was fun for me and my sister having walking sticks and collecting plaques of destinations, trophies of how high we went.
  • A map of interesting destinations down the stick. I re-visited the places and found photographs.

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Walking, Writing, Connecting

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Walking, Connecting and Creating Writing the Map has been exploring the dynamic relationship between place, walking and identity through a series of events and walkshops, focusing on the senses to inspire personal narratives. Unlike traditional pscyhogeography, our approach has used the senses to illuminate personal narratives to create new understandings and contexts with the landscape, merging old and new.

Intellectual or artistic? Solitary or connected? Performative or indiscernible? Neutral or gendered? This interactive event is an opportunity for walkers, artists, writers, community practitioners to hear work created by Walkshoppers, and discuss issues arising from our walks: How do we connect with the landscape? How does our changing relationship to place shape our personal narratives? How do we capture our walks? What role does technology play? Friday December 8th, 10am-12.30pm at The Pound Arts Centre, Corsham. For more info or to book a free place, contact: Christina at createlearnconnect@gmail.com or book via Facebook #writingthemap. https://writethemap.wordpress.com/ 1

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