It seems as if some parts of our world really are further away or, at the very least, less accessible than others which, as far as mileage goes, should require considerably more time to reach. Your letter from mid-July, though, has indeed taken nearly two months to get here, whereas mine took a mere four weeks from here to Indonesia. I feel almost set back into the times of the Greeks and Romans who relied on their post being delivered by courier, running on foot for the second class mail, riding a horse for the more important documents, for official papers and orders for battle. I am still puzzled by some delivery times – although I do appreciate that it is considerably more complicated to send a letter to a small island amongst many hundreds, and that the post would not be delivered every day of the week outside major cities – as we seem to have the same problem even in the more logistically advanced countries of the west. A letter to friends and fellow letter writers in the United States, as an example, can take between five and fourteen days, even when being sent to the same State, and some of the people I am in touch with there have considerably less patience than you or I. At least once I have received a message, a second letter, asking where the reply to their first is, as if I had forgotten them or moved on to better things in life.
There are, though, some who forget that there is more to life than just sitting in a small room writing letters or reading books, as marvellous as the experiences are. I would gladly devote considerably more time to both, given the chance, were it not for the fact that there is a world outside of our front doors, and it is a world full of wonders, as well as other people, experiences, sights and sounds which is worthwhile exploring while we have the chance, while we are still young and healthy enough to enjoy ourselves without constant referrals to illness, disability or the shortfall in necessary medicines and walking aids. But who am I telling this, with your twenty-two years, vitality and fitness and, hopefully, a keen and open eye for the world around you as well as further afield. I would gladly give up the extra quarter century behind me to have a chance at doing all those things I had planned but never managed to get around to although, with all the experiences this extra twenty-five years has brought for me, perhaps it would be a bad exchange after all. I am not one to look back and regret the passage of time, since I looked forward in younger years and anticipated it, as so many youthful people today, sadly, do not do.
But we all make plans for the future which are often impossible to follow through with, for so many reasons. I suspect that if we didn’t make these plans, if we didn’t look toward the future sometimes and have hopes and dreams, life would be a very boring event, and hardly memorable. And there are so many things changing in the world, destruction through nature or through man, redevelopments, changing fashions and a need to find accommodation for more and more humans one way or another. Then the world rebelling itself, and possibly making some areas of our world uninhabitable, if we don’t manage to do that first, through movement of sand, water, earthquakes and landslides, or just the climate.
I am sometimes amused by those who keep on shouting about climate change and what a catastrophe it is. I do agree with them, to a certain extent, but climate change has always been there and always will be. Nothing is stable, nothing remains the same no matter how we might wish it to be so. The region where I live, here in northern Germany, was covered by thick ice several tens of thousands of years ago, which gradually moved across the area and melted, eventually, into nothing. Clearly the water produced has flown elsewhere, perhaps even raising the level of the seas somewhat, but life is still here. The living creatures over the generations, have managed to adapt to new circumstances, which took many years to come about any way. It seems to me that only this human being is unable to adapt any more. We have become so set in our ways, in this belief that we are the master race and everything should bow before our might, and then along comes a storm and blows our petty, pathetic aspirations to the four corners of the earth.
The earliest living organisms moved to where they could continue to live, and that is what we will have to do eventually. Accept that our planet is far stronger than we are, that we cannot control it in any form, and move with the times. Up sticks and start afresh, as so many other life forms have done before us. A quick glance at any of the modern societies struck by bad weather lately will show how difficult this can be, not physically, but through the mental anguish leaving everything behind causes – although, as people left their pets tied up outside houses to suffer the full force of the hurricanes which recently devastated parts of Texas and Florida, I’m not sure their mental anguish is any more than care for themselves and then greater material anguish at their losses. It was far easier for some to pack and carry away things which can be replaced, than it was to care for those which live, which need them, and which can never be brought back again.
I was trying to think back, since you mentioned selfies and the taking of photographs, when I last had my photograph taken. It’s not so much that I avoid it, and there have been many taken of me for official functions over the years, but I am hard pressed to think of any private images shot by family or friends. I recall one of me wearing a top hat when I presented a ceremonial shield to the town council and people here, which I sometimes use as an avatar, and many which have appeared in newspapers. I have photographs of my family scattered around the house, mostly propped up against piles of books or balancing precariously in the edge of a bookshelf, but none of myself. It is rather like your own personal telephone number: you need to think deeply to remember it because you never call yourself; so I only see my image in the mirror in the mornings, and not plastered on every single web site I run or visit, nor about the house where I live. I know what I look like, and hardly need reminding. And why does anyone need to publish their own image so often for the world to see, as if our appearance changes every few minutes?
I once came to the conclusion that those who use their cell phones all the time in public do so merely to look important – although that has changed with time since now everyone has one, everyone uses one all the time. But a few years ago it was not so, and only those with a certain income could afford one of these small brick-sized implements. Then I came to the conclusion, as time went on, that those who are important, rather than wishing to appear to be so, are those who do not use a cell phone. The reasoning is very simple: if they are someone special – or believe themselves to be through position or money – then they have someone who does all their calls for them. The important ones are those who no longer need to use a telephone, the people who sit in the back of a car, who have enough time to relax in a street cafe and read the finance and business pages of a real, printed newspaper. I wonder how many of these people would leave their pets behind during a hurricane, or have their own self-taken photograph plastered across the internet on their own Instagram. Unless, of course, that is their business and personal publicity, like a Paris Hilton or similar where there is nothing about them except appearance and riches to speak of, and this is all they care to fill their time with. Or, perhaps, all they are capable of filling their time with.
This unusual and highly successful species spends a great deal of time examining his higher motives and an equal amount of time studiously ignoring his fundamental ones.
Desmond Morris, in his opening words to The Naked Ape, and just as true today as when he wrote about humans or, as he puts it, the most intelligent of the one hundred and ninety-three species of monkeys and apes, and the only one not covered in hair. I sometimes look at my fellow humans and their actions through the eyes of a Desmond Morris, not so much to see them as intelligent beings, but more as hairless monkeys.
You will, of course, have come across many descriptions of the human in all his forms, I do not doubt, through your studies in English literature. As many books as there are in the world, filled with different and sometimes amazing characters, so are there real humans in the world, and occasionally the true stories, the facts of our lives, are stranger than those which a fiction-writer commits to paper for our simple enjoyment. In many ways I am glad that I stuck with philosophy and not literature, as any delving into the depths of what we think was in an author’s mind when planning and writing a book, would undoubtedly kill it for me. I know of many people who have never touched a book after leaving school, or claim not to have read anything, simply because we were forced to interpret the mind of the writer in great detail, rather than concentrating on the work he created. I know, from personal experience, writing short stories and letters, I am not one who will rub his hands in glee at having hidden something masterful between the lines for students of literature to fish out in silent libraries, and most other authors are the same. We write to be read and to be enjoyed, and leave the interpretative works to those who practice philosophy and other similar arts. Although, I must admit, sometimes another meaning hidden within the text does make for a little fun.
My first argument over a literary text came very late in my life, as far as studies are concerned, when the principal of my school gathered all the seniors together to discuss – as general studies – something he had dug out and hoped would cement us all together. He had, naturally, no conception of how close many of us were, having lived and worked together for six or seven years, and also practically none over literature. He chose a poem from Robert Frost, although I cannot remember which, and tried to force all sorts of definitions out of the two or three verses in the manner of someone trying to play the intellectual, the lover of literature, and not being capable of getting above a pulp fiction level. Sadly it really was an argument rather than a discussion, as the interpretation I offered went nowhere near where he wanted to go and he, being principal of the school, had to be right.
Just to make your travelling juices run a little I am including a few postcards this time, from one of my many travels. Living in Germany makes travelling throughout Europe very easy indeed, being practically if not geographically in the middle. I spent a good deal of time, a few years ago, exploring the Wine Road through Alsace in France, and not just because of the wonderful vineyards and the on-site wine tasting. Some of the small villages there are picture-postcard beautiful, with coloured house facades and flowers in every imaginable corner. It came as a surprise, travelling from one small village to the next, to see the occasional field without vines growing. In the major towns and cities there are many streets preserved in their medieval glory: half-timber houses such as the ones in these two images. I often plan on going back and seeing it all again but, as I probably mentioned earlier, planning for the future, to see what has not been seen yet, is the interesting side of life. It may well be that nothing has changed in Strasbourg or Colmar, and nothing will change in my memory anyway, so best to leave it and move on elsewhere.
So, you wish to count the days it takes for this letter to wing its way across the globe to you, as you mentioned on Twitter. I shall pack it all together and hurry across town to the local post office to ensure that it reaches the evening post, despite the threat of another drenching downpour, and we shall see. Perhaps, as the postman gets used to seeing letters travelling from Germany to Indonesia, it will speed up a touch, as has happened with my mail between here and the United States. I am sure you’ll let me know when it arrives.