I may appear to suffer from some sort of compulsive repetition syndrome, but these rituals are important to me. I have many places where I sit and think, “I have been here before, I am here now, and I will be here again.” Sometimes, lost in reverie, I remember myself approaching across the same green, or down the same footpath, in 1962 or 1983, or many other times. Sometimes Chaz comes along on my rituals, but just as often I go alone. Sometimes Chaz will say she’s going shopping, or visiting a friend, or just staying in the room and reading in bed. “Why don’t you go and touch your bases?” she’ll ask me. I know she sympathizes. These secret visits are a way for me to measure the wheel of the years and my passage through life. Sometimes on this voyage through life we need to sit on the deck and regard the waves.
“What is a woman’s place in this modern world?” Jasnah Kholin’s words read. “I rebel against this question, though so many of my peers ask it. The inherent bias in the inquiry seems invisible to so many of them. They consider themselves progressive because they are willing to challenge many of the assumptions of the past.
They ignore the greater assumption–that a ‘place’ for women must be defined and set forth to begin with. Half of the population must somehow be reduced to the role arrived at by a single conversation. No matter how broad that role is, it will be–by-nature–a reduction from the infinite variety that is womanhood.
I say that there is no role for women–there is, instead, a role for each woman, and she must make it for herself. For some, it will be the role of scholar; for others, it will be the role of wife. For others, it will be both. For yet others, it will be neither.”
― Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance
Our shoes pin us to the world, like Peter Pan to his shadow. More than simply facilitating our movement out-of-doors, they mediate between the wearer and the ground. Perhaps it is less the world they pin us to, but our place in it; that shadow of society that follows wherever we go.
Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.
Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.
Humans react profoundly to images of places, natural or man-made. Why are we moved by locations we have never visited?
From the mystical glow of the Aurora Borealis to the crumbling majesty of the Egyptian pyramids, places make a deep impression on us. We may have no ancestry there, we may never have walked there, but the image of such regions raises a lump in the throat. We wax romantic imagining what it would be like to occupy time and space there. In fact, sometimes a visit to such a place is a let down, as it is difficult for reality to measure up to the glowing imagination of the human mind.
Many of these places are famous, and justly so. But, occasionally, we are struck by an unfamiliar image that stirs us just as deeply. I was watching the 2011 movie Samsara, which I wholeheartedly recommend, when I was blindsided by images of houses invaded by the desert, filled knee deep with sand. There are so many profound images in Samsara, but this one haunted me desperately. I had to know its name.
I am fond of the desert, having traveled quite a bit in the American Southwest, especially Utah. It has been said that all deserts are one in the imagination, and I think that is essentially true. Love for one desert translates quite easily into love for another. It’s a harsh environment and one that requires respect to ensure survival. If we could drop the CEOs of large corporations into such places for a few days without outside aid, I think we would have a revolution in the way we treat the earth. Life in the desert is too fragile to waste, resources too valuable.
Kolmanskop, or Coleman’s Hill in Afrikaans, is an abandoned mining village in the Namib desert of southern Namibia, just 10 kilometers, 6.2 miles, from the port city Lüderitz. It was named for Johnny Coleman, a transport driver who found himself marooned in a fearful sandstorm and abandoned his ox wagon here.
In 1908, a railway worker by the name of Zacharias Lewala found a shiny rock resting on the sand and showed it to his supervisor, the German railway inspector August Stauch. The shiny stone turned out to be a diamond. German miners flocked to the area and a large portion of desert was declared Sperrgebiet, or prohibited area. The famed mining company DeBeers, who ran the mines in the area, had strict rules, one of which was that equipment or vehicles that entered their facilities were never allowed to leave. Most of this area is still off limits to the public, with the exception of a National Park centered in Kolmanskop and run by Namib-DeBeers. The fame of the Sperrgebiet is legendary. It is rumored that some miners would slide across the sand on their bellies, picking up dozens of diamonds as they slithered about.
In its day, Kolmanskop was incredibly wealthy and the residents used their money to recreate a German village in the savage African desert. For entertainment, there was a ballroom, theater, sport hall, bowling alley and casino. The tiny town possessed its own power station, school, ice factory and hospital. It was the location of the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere and the first tram in Africa. Despite its glory, purchased with resources purloined from the earth and from local people who saw little benefit, the life of Kolmanskop was brief. After World War I the diamonds began to peter out and it was too expensive to keep things going here. Kolmanskop was empty by 1954. The ghost town has been reclaimed by the desert, sandstorms invading the structures and creating an eerie scene.
There is something powerful about things buried in the desert, mummified, arrested and yet not rotting. In a more humid climate, they would be assimilated back into the soil, but here they remain preserved, a warning and a reminder to the human race. Although we think ourselves important, we too will die and become a riddle to the future.
How much more mysterious and inviting is the street of an old town with its altering realms of darkness and light than are the brightly and evenly lit streets of today! The imagination and daydreaming are stimulated by dim light and shadow. In order to think clearly, the sharpness of vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent-minded and unfocused gaze.
Homogeneous bright light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenization of space weakens the experience of being, and wipes away the sense of place. The human eye is most perfectly turned for twilight rather than bright daylight.
When I left home at sixteen I bought a small rug. It was my roll-up world. Whatever room, whatever temporary place I had, I unrolled the rug. It was a map of myself. Invisible to others, but held in the rug, were all the places I had stayed – for a few weeks, for a few months. On the first night anywhere new I liked to lie in bed and look at the rug to remind myself that I had what I needed even though what I had was so little.