Denis Dobrovoda
Wanderers
DOOR Monika Kompaníková
30-11-2013

An airport for the third time! Who could have known how stimulating airports can be. Amsterdam. A return to reality. Today it seems like all those unknown faces I wrote about before are irrelevant to me. They are here, but I can’t see them. They walk around, carry suitcases, sleep, heads finding support on other heads. Today they are just shadows, blots, shapeless entities. I see airplanes taking off, their noses cutting through the air, their tails almost touching the concrete runway at the moment of their takeoff. The runway is gleaming with rain, wheels of yellow vehicles loaded with luggage are rolling through puddles. Commotion, departures, arrivals, connections. And I am still somewhere in Antwerp, with short flashbacks to The Hague.

Jaromir sends me a text from the railway station in Antwerp, he is still there. “Right now we are in the most beautiful railway cathedral … the station …” A sort of continuation of our conversation, which was interrupted by a two-hour sleep not that long ago.

Not that long ago DBC Pierre found a 24-hour smoker’s bar next to the theatre. Allegedly the only one in Antwerp, it was so close that not going there would be a shame. It would be a shame to disperse when we get along so well. We are tired after these four days of festival life and work, our tongues are twisting, the first language melding with the learnt one. All the grammatical errors and imprecisions are dissolving in the strong trapper beer. And there are a lot of them. I speak in English to Didi, in Slovak to Taco, but neither of them notices and so they answer. Didi in Dutch, Taco in Portuguese. Denis, whose mother tongue is the same as mine, is speaking to me in a foreign one, but it doesn’t matter, I understand him, because I want to. Didi is starting to speak Czech. Rudish could also speak Czech, but instead he is enthusing with XX, whose face is still veiled in a deep sorrow of sorts, in his German English. He grants us a short, benevolent smile. The sound of cracking glass scattered on the floor, laughter, fatigue, laughter. “Why not?” Asks DBC Pierre. Giggling. Why not? It seems to me like I can understand all the languages of the world, sounds coming and vanishing, everyone and everything. I want to read all the books by everyone here. Find out exactly who is who. I will be surprised, very surprised, when I finally find out. It will be too late for bows. I want to go see the Antwerp cathedral and the main square empty of tourists, at five o’clock in the morning, but no one wants to come with me.

A lady in a polka-dot dress says she will tell the man who wrote the lyrics of the song I dreamt about the previous morning in The Hague, how very much I like it. I am blown away, the world just cannot be that small, such coincidences do not exist, she just can’t know him! “Well, I am from Manchester”, the lady replies calmly. All the roads of the world lead to Manchester, together with the rails of the tower crane in The Hague. The loneliness of the operator cannot swallow us, because we have already been swallowed by this Babylon of languages.

“We also at airport with hangover. Wanderers.”

Jaromir is writing a text message from the airport. He and Rudish are flying via Brussels to Prague, Denis is flying to Paris, Tatiana to Portugal, Didi to Leiden, Daphne is taking the train to Rotterdam, Sam will hopefully catch his flight to London, Patrick to Canada, the lady from Manchester to Manchester, DBC Pierre is at home wherever there is a bar, he has it quite easy.

Airports. Wanderers.

The spleen is unusually long and deep.

Alle vertalingen van Denis Dobrovoda
Wanderers
30-11-13

An airport for the third time! Who could have known how stimulating airports can be. Amsterdam. A return to reality. Today it seems like all those unknown faces I wrote about before are irrelevant to me. They are here, but I can’t see them. They walk around, carry suitcases, sleep, heads finding support on other heads. Today they are just shadows, blots, shapeless entities. I see airplanes taking off, their noses cutting through the air, their tails almost touching the concrete runway at the moment of their takeoff. The runway is gleaming with rain, wheels of yellow vehicles loaded with luggage are rolling through puddles. Commotion, departures, arrivals, connections. And I am still somewhere in Antwerp, with short flashbacks to The Hague.

Jaromir sends me a text from the railway station in Antwerp, he is still there. “Right now we are in the most beautiful railway cathedral … the station …” A sort of continuation of our conversation, which was interrupted by a two-hour sleep not that long ago.

Not that long ago DBC Pierre found a 24-hour smoker’s bar next to the theatre. Allegedly the only one in Antwerp, it was so close that not going there would be a shame. It would be a shame to disperse when we get along so well. We are tired after these four days of festival life and work, our tongues are twisting, the first language melding with the learnt one. All the grammatical errors and imprecisions are dissolving in the strong trapper beer. And there are a lot of them. I speak in English to Didi, in Slovak to Taco, but neither of them notices and so they answer. Didi in Dutch, Taco in Portuguese. Denis, whose mother tongue is the same as mine, is speaking to me in a foreign one, but it doesn’t matter, I understand him, because I want to. Didi is starting to speak Czech. Rudish could also speak Czech, but instead he is enthusing with XX, whose face is still veiled in a deep sorrow of sorts, in his German English. He grants us a short, benevolent smile. The sound of cracking glass scattered on the floor, laughter, fatigue, laughter. “Why not?” Asks DBC Pierre. Giggling. Why not? It seems to me like I can understand all the languages of the world, sounds coming and vanishing, everyone and everything. I want to read all the books by everyone here. Find out exactly who is who. I will be surprised, very surprised, when I finally find out. It will be too late for bows. I want to go see the Antwerp cathedral and the main square empty of tourists, at five o’clock in the morning, but no one wants to come with me.

A lady in a polka-dot dress says she will tell the man who wrote the lyrics of the song I dreamt about the previous morning in The Hague, how very much I like it. I am blown away, the world just cannot be that small, such coincidences do not exist, she just can’t know him! “Well, I am from Manchester”, the lady replies calmly. All the roads of the world lead to Manchester, together with the rails of the tower crane in The Hague. The loneliness of the operator cannot swallow us, because we have already been swallowed by this Babylon of languages.

“We also at airport with hangover. Wanderers.”

Jaromir is writing a text message from the airport. He and Rudish are flying via Brussels to Prague, Denis is flying to Paris, Tatiana to Portugal, Didi to Leiden, Daphne is taking the train to Rotterdam, Sam will hopefully catch his flight to London, Patrick to Canada, the lady from Manchester to Manchester, DBC Pierre is at home wherever there is a bar, he has it quite easy.

Airports. Wanderers.

The spleen is unusually long and deep.

17-11-13

Instead of writing his first column in the hotel room in The Hague, Sam Byers wrote it on the sofa in his British flat – he had missed his flight. And he described this experience as quite pleasant – thanks to missing the flight, he had become non-existent. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be – in The Hague – and at the same time, for the people who believed he actually was in The Hague, he wasn’t at home, and as a result they didn’t include him in their plans and demands. Sam writes that today such non-existence amounts to magic, a nearly unachievable state. And when we find ourselves in that state, we begin to feel somewhat guilty.

How well I understand him right now! My typical day consists of dozens of tasks, deadlines, events, and duties which all have to be fulfilled at a specific time and place. Wake up when the alarm decides it is the right time to wake-up, get the children out of bed, prepare their box lunch and their clothes, take them to school or pre-school at the right time, catch the train which arrives according to the railway schedule at the same time every day, meet the deadlines, answer the emails in an appropriate period of time, have lunch while it is still served, make it to all the appointments and meetings, catch the train again, pick up the boys from school, take them to their after-school activities, pick them up on time so that they aren’t the last ones left there, help them with homework, prepare dinner at the right time, then a fairytale before bed, told in the same way every evening. If something goes wrong, I miss the train, I forget myself somewhere, the whole system collapses. That’s why I simply cannot forget myself anywhere. Facebook wants to know where I am now, and where I was before while I was writing my status. The bank wants to know where I live and how much I earn, all of my email accounts want me to identify myself, they demand a password, or the right answer to one of the security questions. At home everyone expects me to be where I should be, everyone wants me to be constantly online, with my phone on all the time, answering all of their calls. And at the same time I should take up one of the roles I was assigned – mother, wife, daughter, manager, writer.

I miss silence. A conversation that isn’t cut off by an approaching train, but only fades with the coming of sleep. A rendezvous that doesn’t lead to anything important, except for a few shared ideas, a beautiful sentence, a touch.

Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes I ask, if this is what I wanted, whether I expected adulthood to be like this. Pre-planned like a train that has to run according to a schedule set in a way that pleases the largest possible amount of passengers. A train bound to its tracks, pushed forward by its own weight. I ask whether this all has to do with my age, or the age we live in. And I ask myself what to do…

I don’t know about Sam – I have to ask him – but now, here, I am experiencing a few short flashes of non-existence. In this city where no one knows me, with my phone turned off. I do have a couple of duties to fulfil, but compared to the ordinary routine it’s a piece of cake. I do have a map, but I don’t look at it. I do have people around me, but no one expects anything from me, my decision to go here or there isn’t scrutinised by anyone. It isn’t lack of interest, it’s respect, the advantage of the anonymity of acquaintances that are delimited by time.

And so I wander around the city, look into people’s windows, or sit with a lukewarm cup of coffee in the café. I don’t know what time it is. No one is saying hello to me, no one is even taking notice of me in the crowd. My only job is to think. Be myself. And write. Words, sentences, stories – make them up, develop the people in them, create a new reality, search for connections. That’s a territory where everything is possible, where you can skip over time, shorten it, lengthen it, return to the past, repair it, change it, work with time like you would with plasticine.

My freedom, my autonomy.

16-11-13

I woke up into a white morning. Now I am looking out the window of my hotel room. It rained on Thursday, it was sunny on Friday, and today everything has sunk into fog, only the dark tiles covering the expanse between the hotel and the theatre are gleaming, and I sense the moving arm of a tower crane in the distance. It’s like an apparition, a searching metal arm with four powerful lights. I am thinking of a song, which my little boys like, because it is about a tower crane, and little boys love cranes and all kinds of immense machinery. The operator, who is controlling the arm, is sitting in a glass cabin all alone. The ground and the people are far below, a fall would be long, the ending painful. But he is close to heaven. He can be God’s interpreter, passing on prayers.

I am thinking about construction machines. Thanks to my sons I know how a dredge, a dumper, and a pneumatic drill all work. Hmm…now I can look at dug-up construction sights in a city from a completely different angle. All thanks to my sons, and that song about a tower crane. By the way it’s Elbow, great stuff.

I catch myself thinking in English and searching for English equivalents of Slovak words. That’s all thanks to the festival people – they are talkative, they ask questions, explain, listen patiently – and I feel I am cautiously crossing the border of my limited language skills, of my fear and doubts about what I can do.

The fog gradually dissipates, and now there are only a few white puffs of it left hanging in the air, but that could also be smoke from a chimney, or a belated dream pushing its way out of someone’s bedroom into reality. The crane operator is working diligently, the ropes with heavy loads are swaying above the heads of the diligently pedalling cyclists.  All of them diligently living their lives.

My legs hurt and all of my toes are stiff. Yesterday, I walked to the seashore with Janet, along the tramway tracks. It took us over an hour. For a kilometre, we walked in English, and for the rest of the walk it depended on which words came to our minds first. The Dutch seashore is marvellous in that it doesn’t bring you to the water gradually. Its proximity is only announced by shrieking birds. You walk guided by the voice of the seagulls, or the map, or the wind, you ascend a hill and – suddenly the sea is in front of you in all its grandeur. The rounded horizon uncoils like an endless thread. In the distance, tonnes of iron welded together into the form of whale-like ships. They appear to be motionless, as if it were impossible for such behemoths to move. My legs are being brushed by the fine hair of sea grass, which is keeping the sand and water where they should be, as far away from the city as possible. Exactly like the robust, man-made bulwarks and breakwaters.

The sea. A strong wind is blowing in my face. My heart is beating. I can feel that with every wave both bliss and deep sorrow wash over me.  Alone. My fingers are numb and the nape of my neck is cold. Dogs are leaping into the waves to fetch balls, people are jumping away from the sea rolling over the hard sand, which is marked with the tracks of dogs, horses, bicycles, and people. Mussels are cracking under the heels of my boots. A young man is protecting his girlfriend from the wind, some lunatics wearing neoprene suits are jumping into the cold waves, looking happy. On one side, the shore is losing its contours, stretching out hazily for kilometres. On the other side, it is ruptured by two breakwaters in the shape of a horseshoe protecting the entrance to the harbour from the surge. The breakwaters are made of giant concrete blocks. What was the crane operator thinking about in his wind-proof, glass cabin, when he was laying them years ago? Two lighthouses, green and red, are standing patiently on each end of the breakwaters, day and night. I remember now – I was here fifteen years ago, the same wind, the same sand, only I was completely different.

15-11-13

I am standing at the airport again. This time it is Schwechat, in Vienna, just a hop away from Bratislava. And this time I am alone, with a small suitcase and various cards in my wallet. Direction Amsterdam.

I have the October issue of the National Geographic Magazine in my suitcase, a special one, dedicated to photography. At the airport I have an exceptional amount of time to read. There is one of the best-known Pakistani faces on the cover of the magazine – the anxious face of a young Afghani girl called Sharbat Gula, who was photographer by Steve McCurry in a Pakistani refuge camp thirty years ago. The chocolate brown face, the torn, brick red scarf, the green gray eyes, and in those eyes the whole of her life story, the fear, the distrust, the determination of a woman…

I am turning the shiny pages, which screech pleasantly in between my fingers, and I see more faces looking at me – the text is about race and nationality. Faces of children, women, men, young and old. Faces, faces, faces. A child with its skin white like milk and ginger hair, a woman with narrow dark eyes, light-coloured hair and pink skin, a man with yellowish skin and curly hair, a younger man with black skin and eyes typical of Asians, various combinations of facial features, colours, and shapes. A beautiful manifold medley of unidentifiable races and nationalities, of almost uncategorisable individuals. And all these faces are related in one way – they are children and parents of other uncategorisable people, of refuges and modern day nomads, who are at home wherever they happen to be, who travel, migrate, move around the globe, because they want to, or because they are pushed by their circumstances. The once simple division into three races – white, black, and yellow – which we were taught in the first year of primary school, is outdated, just like borders in many places, where they used to be literally carved into the surface of the earth, visually recognisable, so that everyone knew exactly where his place was, where he belonged. Barbed wire, concrete walls, checkpoints. Freedom of movement has made all divisions more complicated.

I am walking down the aisle in between the seats, which is marked out by two reflective lines that lead me all the way to the toilet. I can see the backs of the seats, the unkempt heads, the limbs of the passengers hanging across the armrests all the way to the floor. I stumble on someone’s bag, a child starts to cry. The stewardess is trying to back up with the refreshments trolley. The plane is flying at the speed of 750 kilometres per hour and outside, in the altitude of ten kilometres, it is minus 64°C. We are somewhere above Germany, or who knows, maybe we have already flown across the Dutch border, but there is no Great Wall of China between Germany and Holland, which could be seen from space, no line, and the knowledge of this doesn’t seem to excite any of the passengers, Germany here, Holland there. The airplane is humming quietly, the sun is shining above the clouds.

A little while later, when I leave the shadow of the back of the plane, and the stewardess pulls away the blue curtain, my eyes are hit with light and the whole board of the plane stretches out ahead of me. I see all the faces from the front, heads spread out across the cabin in regular intervals, just like in the magazine a moment ago. They are hardly moving, which strengthens the illusion of a moment frozen in time.  Some are sleeping, heads bending backwards, mouths slightly open, as if they wanted their soul to leave the body, while they are so close to heaven. Some are looking at their mobile phones, reading, dreaming, suffering. An unimaginable mix. I am slowly walking down the aisle, a white woman with lips full of botox is playing with a ring on her well-groomed finger, an old man next to her looks like Herman Hesse in the last years of his life. Behind them sits a dark lady of my mum’s age, with purple hair, and two cool Asians listening to music, bound together by a pair of earphones. A robust Jew with a yarmulke on his head stretches his leg into the aisle, and his shoe is as tiny as a child’s.  My neighbour bought some pumpkin oil in the duty free shop and wants to present it to the lady sitting behind us. She is blushing and smiling happily – perhaps it will lead to another romantic relationship and another child of unclear race and nationality.

02-11-13

I’m standing in the security queue at the airport in Bratislava, my twenty year-old sister behind me, my mum in front of me. Mum’s nervous, alert, on guard, she watches what’s going on around her, who’s doing what, so she’ll know what to do herself without asking anyone. It’s her first time at the airport, waiting for her first ever flight. Rome awaits her, a grand city, a grand dream.

I see her uncertainty and hidden fear. The fear that she’ll do something she shouldn’t – put her suitcase on the wrong conveyor, forget about something in the suitcase that shouldn’t be there or choose the wrong queue, and then she’d have to explain, which she dislikes.  She doesn’t like to talk, especially not to strangers.  And we’re only at the tiny airport in Bratislava where all the staff speak a language she understands.  She herself speaks in dialect.

She holds only her ID in her hand – just the one card and a small suitcase. “Mum, don’t take too much stuff, if we need something, we’ve got a credit card, we’ll buy it,” we tell her before the trip.  She asks whether there are cash machines in Rome.

When she was twenty, as my younger sister is today, Czechoslovakia was enclosed by barbed wire, surrounded by checkpoints, wedged between other countries suffocating under communist regimes. She spent her productive years in a country that very rarely opened its borders to its citizens. And when it did, it was only to some and only to a few countries. If you wanted to travel to the democratic West, you had to have a valid passport, a visa, an exit permit, a bank-issued currency confirmation, customs and foreign currency declarations and other documents, whose provision depended on the good will of a number of bureaucrats. You had to state where you were going to stay, with whom, what you were going to do there and when you were coming back.  Upon your return, they would search your luggage and confiscate any books or magazines that could show people in Czechoslovakia that a different world existed beyond the border. In 1989, after the Velvet Revolution, people cut the barbed wire and stomped on the carefully kept border zones where, until then, soldiers used to search for the tracks of emigrants. They opened the border bunkers, burnt travel permits and set off breathless into a world the regime had portrayed as evil and corrupt. They didn’t know any foreign languages, only Russian, because the regime had also claimed that Russian was the language of the future and they didn’t need to learn other languages. Imagine how they must have felt, like animals let out of a dark crate into the light of day.

Now everyone can travel, they can learn foreign languages, they can go wherever they want and they don’t have to explain anything to anyone. But standing with my Mum I see that memory is too deep a thing full of hide-outs and holes where old recollections, limitations, fears and customs rest. And I know that it’s impossible to erase everything the way we erase the borders, abolish the checkpoints, send home the border guards and turn the bunkers into museums. It’s impossible to cross the border of yourself, the border of your inner freedom.

In a few weeks, I will once again board a plane, direction Amsterdam. I will have one small suitcase and a few small cards in my wallet.  It will be one of many border crossings I will make this year, but with the memory of my mother’s first journey in mind, it will take on a completely different dimension.