Julian Lass

Eh bien, si vous voyez exclusivement le monde avec cette lunette-là, le monde sera teint de sa teinte et les mots pour exprimer votre sentiment se trouveront donc dans un rapport fatal avec les faits qui l'auront causé (Gustave Flaubert).

As the dog days draw to an end, began the famous narrator, and perhaps you can be part of my little experiment too, he continues, I shall set off to walk along the Baltic coast of north Germany. He pauses. Always best to start a tale with a specific time and a place, he says slowly. You need to set things very thoroughly like that, unless you have good reasons not to. In September 2009, he begins again, I travelled 20 minutes from Lübeck to Timmendorfer Strand in Schleswig-Holstein, and now I will find my bearings in the story as you are also finding your own way. In any case, he adds, I know how to make the wind veer to help you. He clears his throat and continues, glancing at the clock on the wall, which still reads four o'clock. I arrived on a glorious summer’s evening at the small seaside town known only to me from the stories my mother had told me of her childhood. Even on my arrival, as the train pulled into the small station and young Germans boarded with their bicycles and I hauled my heavy rucksack off, a small red dog barking on the platform, I felt uneasy, and I still remember the doubt in my footsteps, as I walked along the long road following the signs to the beach, down Bahnhofstrasse, Bergstrasse, Strandallee, until at last, aware of my growing hunger and my uneasy thoughts, I took refuge in a small beach café, waiting for my anxiety to clear. So I sit there in the evening light with a glass of wine, watching him. But who am I in all this? He stops again and takes off his glasses. You should really have a ghostlike presence in here somewhere, he says softly, perhaps something omniscient. It makes it a different reality. He puts his glasses back on and continues to read, bringing me back to the café. And though the wine had turned, it was some time before I felt able to take a dip in the perfectly flat sea. As I entered the water, a jellyfish floated past me, gently pulsing with the ebb and flow of the current, languid, unaware that it was the cause of my alarm, or that it was so close to the shoreline, an unreal world in which it had arrived, so to speak, through no fault of its own. You see, he says, there is a certain merit in writing to a pattern and following an established model. It is a limitation that gives you freedom. And there's some obscurity here too that I like. Now we have two animals in the story, a barking red dog, who may still be barking for all you and I know, and a floating jellyfish that may or may not still be ebbing with the Baltic tide. You see, physicists now say there is no such thing as time: everything co-exists. Any narrative chronology is therefore entirely artificial and essentially determined by your emotions. So, I remember feeling fear that comes from swimming above the unknown and unseen depths of the sea, and maybe you feel that fear too, which leads to thoughts and speculations, just as my thoughts then turned to speculations about my mother – whether she had also walked this stretch of the beach, watching the waves gently lapping the shore, the foam left there, but also to more practical matters like where I was going to eat and sleep that night. It’s very difficult, not to say impossible, to get physical movement right, the narrator tells me. You sometimes need to magnify something, describe it in a roundabout way. Thus I am trying to conjure up an image of me on the beach, choosing where to pitch my tent, with the jellyfish stings on my arms still aching, and in turn as I sat on the beach I tried to conjure up a picture of my mother's boarding school in the woods behind me, but I could only see images of dark trees, hidden spaces, and in my head fairy tales of threatening things lurking in wait for me. That folklore and myth and tales were in my thoughts was surprising to me, but my mind was saying something to me, warning me of dangers after dark. He stops reading again. There is a long pause before he speaks. Some minutes pass and the watch on his wrist reads four o'clock. It is good, he says at last, to have undeclared, unrecognised pathologies in a story. It makes a tale more interesting. There on the beach, upon this deeper psychic substratum speaking to me, I was determining the course of my action that night, choosing a safe spot to sleep, how to boil water for tea, but at the time I think my thoughts dwelt on the fact that my mother spent her transition to womanhood here. The ending of one's school years begins a journey from a familiar and known past into an uncertain future. I realised this was a journey similar to my own present situation, and by coming here to the place of my mother’s childhood, I was perhaps gaining enough strength to face my own, uncertain future. Dawdling around the boarding school in search of whatever I paused to admire the view with the boarding school standing inside it. So, he says, I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt. If you look carefully, you will find problems in all writers. And that should give you great hope. And the better you get at identifying the problems, the better you will be at avoiding them. Well, he finished, if you only see with one telescope, the world will be tinged with its hue and the words to express your feelings will be in a fatal relationship with the facts that caused them. So, above all, forgive those unhappy souls that that have chosen to do this pilgrimage on foot. And with that thought he stood up and left.