Travel Journal 8: Gates

There are gates everywhere. Doors, if you will.  Cracks in walls which open when you push, gaps between things into which your thoughts can fit, squeeze through, and enter. 

Some gates are made of light.  Sunlight filtered through trees hitting stone.  Sunlight filtered through trees refracted on water.  Light dancing, still, not what it was, not what it will be when you look away.  Starlight through pines.  Candlelight against leaf.

Some of darkness and shadow.  The abyss between elder at night, the blackness of open cave, the un-seeing of closed eyes in sleep, the depths in the soul where the heart’s light does not always reach.  

Most are outside, but they are also in.  In a meditation regarding the High Priestess, a seer found “this is the hall of wisdom,” and “learn to discern the real from the false,” and “listen only to the Voice that is silent.”

Doors within are there but overgrown, hidden, like ruins of ancient forts and temples covered in vine and fallen tree.  Cleared, the keys found, they can be entered, and they lead not to more inside, but an Other outside.

Death, too, is a door, but it is one we enter and choose to close behind us.  

And I have never felt so alive.

September 29

Mornings in my friend’s apartment in Strasbourg were always the correct pace needed to come to consciousness, with gentle proddings from her ever-eager dog who’d become for me quite the companion as well.

It was a Sunday, a day sacred from commerce and most (but never all, a fact most forget and I really think they should not) work.  And the last day of the bike I’d rented with Duf’s help (the deposit was not steep, but on an american bank card the release of the funds takes another two weeks past the return).

Words should be said regarding the riding of bikes in medieval cities.  That is, oh, fuck yes.  Do it.  Cobbles are as bumpy as you imagine they will be, and also a lot more fun than you’d think.  Race and dart and dodge between cars attempting to navigate streets made for horses instead of wagons of steel, glance suddenly at looming antiquity jolting out between 400 year-old alleys, lock your bike next to the 700 or so others, and go drink a beer.   Much is made of bike-culture in liberal cities like Seattle, but, really, events like critical mass are only solidarity rallies for people who haven’t the fortune of living in Europe.

Duf and I rode to Germany.  I’m a bit tempted to leave this statement stand for those of you with less geographical knowledge, but I try to be honest in these.  It was only a few kilometres across the Rhin river (not Rhine, not Rhon, but Rhin).  There’s a park on either side of the border, a sort of unity memorial (that is, hey, let’s not fight bloody wars again for awhile, see, maybe these trees will help? And of course I think that trees always help).

After returning the bike (with some sadness, I’ll admit), I walked about the city again for another five hours.  I find I sometimes cannot stop walking, even when tired.  The feel of stone under foot, even through boots, is profound, welcome, comforting, like treading slightly-cool water on an excruciatingly hot day. Connection to the ground below you, the slow, almost meditative speed by which one must walk long distances–it is profound, and I do not think you can know a place without walking through it.

September 30th-October 1st

Early in the morning I left Strasbourg for Offenburg, a small town in germany at the foothills of the Schwarzwald. So, Ridigul (the aforementioned punk street-musician who’se name I’m sure I’ve mispelled) and I went to Offenburg to stay with his twin brother

There’s a term I came up with after my first trip to Europe. “Stupid tax.”  It describes the excessive prices one pays in any place because one is foreign or strange to it.  Purchasing something that costs less just a few blocks further, buying the wrong transit pass (or the correct one but using it wrong), being ignorant of national holidays or sunday closures and failing to plan accordingly, etc.  You pay the first day no matter what, but the longer you stay in a place and the more observant you are, the less you must pay each day afterward.

A train from Strasbourg to Berlin costs 160 euro and takes 6 hours.  I had been fretting not having purchased this ticket before, and as the deadline for buying it swiftly approached, I got a bit grumpy at the idea of spending so much (I can live for two weeks in most of the places I’ve been for this cost).

As it turned out, however, I did not need to. Ridigul informed me of a different means, also by trains but slower, taking 12 hours instead of 6 but costing 40 euro.  Having lots of time, I decided this sounded rather welcome–12 hours to think while staring at the german country-side is precisely the sort of thing I realise I find fun now. 

Also something I find fun now is playing music with twin german street musician brothers in a small town for an entire day.  Coffee, bratwurst, neuwein (new wine–like grapejuice, but alcoholic and cheap), accordion and guitar and two of the best voices I’ve heard in a long time.  And then onion-cake (quiche, except with about 60 onions, and I know this because I chopped them all and still smell like them four days later) and maybe a bit too much beer and maybe a little too little sleep, and then, the next morning, 12 hours of train travel.

I’m not sure what to say about this trip, except that if one’s just spent four weeks in France, the first three of which filled with the most profound spiritual experiences of one’s life thus far, 12 hours in-between places is a great escape.  In transition, between realms, un-rooted, shuttled between worlds–one is safe to contemplate ones life without interruption, without concern, without direct experience (except through the windows of a fast-moving train). 

I started the journey near 9am, arrived in Berlin around 10pm and at the place of my friend Birga near 10.30, crashing out but not before taking in the strange, welcome, almost breathing air of this city.

I’m here now, writing from an internet cafe after having stared at my favorite canal for an hour in the sunlight (which inspired the words which begin this dispatch).  I’ve not much else to say, as Berlin demands experience, makes detachment an act of suicide, makes mediation criminal.  I’ll find some stuff to say, certainly–I always do.  But let this suffice for now, and, to repeat: I’ve never felt so alive.

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