Carving out islands of decency

Hi T,

Quick note on travelling foot, as you would say in Swedish. The Joan Baez tour is over for my part, it ended suitably with a Bob Dylan concert in Lörrach yesterday. I’m making my way to northerly latitudes now for a completely different style of life and reason, and am once again confronted with the contrasts that life brings.

I left Ulm and travelled via Esslingen and Tübingen to Freiburg. In Esslingen I stayed with our former flatmate and fellow food enthusiast. She cooked up some amazing Persian/Filipino fusion as always and we enjoyed long chats about the corrupted spheres of academia, where contacts are more important than skills, and good social abilities can smooth over the rough edges of poorly conducted research. I guess there isn’t too much we can do about this phenomenon, we are just humans after all and can never really be objective in our way of relating to others or the work they do. We agreed that the most important thing is to recognise this limitation and not let it push us into even more corrupt tendencies by not admitting when we are wrong or just don’t know. It was a St Andrews flashback, and I felt glad I have left this world for the time being.

Somewhere along the way all technology decided to abandon (or liberate) me through suddenly and unexplainably dying, so I am now without phone, time, and camera. It doesn’t bother me other than that setting an alarm in the morning is a bit more challenging.

So how do I feel here, post-Joan tour and leaving the groupie lifestyle behind? I miss it of course, but I’m also content and happy, and feel that I managed to get what I wanted out of it. You see, when I met up with Joan in Wiblingen, just outside Ulm, we talked about Amnesty International and how to get people involved or at least engage somehow with the state of the world. I think it was inspiring for both her and me, and she promised she would mention Amnesty in her upcoming concerts. The following concert was in a very hot circus tent at a festival on the outskirts of Freiburg. Lots of sausage-munching, beer-gulping Germans again, but also a wish-tree and some grassy slopes where you could take a nap. It was great again, of course, and the crowd was very enthusiastic, cheering at pretty much everything Joan and the band did. This time, she took a few moments to make a longer political statement – about the lack of decency in the world today, how there is more violence than she has ever experienced before, and how we must attempt in the midst of this to carve out little islands of decency for ourselves. Islands of compassion and non-violence that can, through their very presence, inspire and invite others to join. This of course brought a roar of sympathy and approval from the crowd – and she went on to say that Amnesty International is one such island, and that every little action, however small, has an impact and is worthwhile. Needless to say, the local Amnesty group experienced a boost in interest at their little information table after the concert. I left, happy that our wee chat might have encouraged Joan to be more open about urging people to take action for a better world. I feel that something worthwhile may have come out of my infatuation with Joan’s music here, so I am actually rather fine with leaving it at that.

After the concert I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to meet someone, so I sat down on some steps in a prime people-watching location and waited for this someone to turn up. After a few minutes an elderly American guy (I always seem to attract these fellows) asked if he could sit down next to me and embarked on his life story. It turns out he wasn’t American after all, but born in Germany and had just lived his entire life in the US without ever bothering to get citizenship. After a couple of arrests related to minor offences he was without warning placed in an immigration detention centre where he stayed for a year and a half. Realising that he might never get away from there, he decided to agree to be deported to Germany, left his entire American life behind, job, partner, house, and arrived in Germany in February three years ago, carrying 34 Euros and not even a winter coat. He’s managed to carve some form of life out for himself now though, is active in church groups and volunteers at sporting events. Just shows you how life can turn suddenly and you never know where you end up – we are all there, but for fortune, and it does good to remember that.

The day after the concert I spent wandering around the beautiful squares filled with old houses and ice cream cafés of Freiburg. I then made my way south for my last concert. Bob Dylan in Lörrach last night was pretty fantastic. His newest album has given him opportunity to show that he actually can sing, he did some songs from it and also a rendition of Shelter from the Storm in the same style, utterly amazing. Blind Willie McTell, Duquesne Whistle, Visions of Johanna, Ballad of a Thin Man, and The Levee’s Gonna Break were also highlights. The Bob Dylan crowd is an interesting mix of real connoisseurs, who can’t hide their excitement as soon as they notice a harmonica solo is different, and people who just come for the name and the image. Next to me, at the very front, were two ladies discussing fabric patterns and lace. They bobbed along to all the songs more interested in looking at the crowd around them than anything else. I wondered what Bob thinks of playing night after night to people who only go in order to say that they’ve been… As per usual, he didn’t speak a word. But he smiled, bowed, and seemed to enjoy himself immensely. I certainly did.

Now I’m travelling to Norway to sign on a boat in the Tall Ships Races. I’m actually flying to get there – not something I’m feeling too proud about – where did all my principles fly off to? Anyway, I’m flying from Schiphol, Amsterdam. Ironically enough, it seems like this airport is committed to “achieving sustainability” (whatever that means). So they’ve gone for green sofas, plastic plants, logs instead of benches and are playing bird song and waterfall sounds instead of music. What I like though is the bike powered phone charging station – and you can also go outside and sit in the sun, among real plants, without having to buy something in a café. To get there you go through revolving doors hooked up to generators that charge the electric buses that take you out to the oil-guzzling aircrafts. A step in the right direction perhaps. The best thing though is that they have water fountains where you can fill your own water bottle. That if anything is an island of decency in this crazy airport life.

I haven’t managed to switch to my sailing brain enough yet to remember when I’ll next be in port, but I’ll give you a shout here sooner or later. Until then, peace and gratitude.

M

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