“There is no oxygen in Syria”

Dearest T,

Sorry to be the bearer of such bad news (the maritime version of the song should of course be tack, gybe, tack again…), but the sea is indeed calling me. Water and wind is freedom of a different kind, which I’m sure you are experiencing through your frollics among feathered, weathered, and bewildered beings (birds, interns, and tourists that is). I am glad your flipflops have finally made you join me in lightly treading the earth – there is no better way and nothing as sexy as dirty feet.

I’m now sitting on a balcony, surrounded by the scents of lavender and mint, sipping some Bavarian beer in Münich. The balcony belongs to our German friend’s parents, they are the sweetest people and have welcomed me into their home like we’ve known each other for a long time, rather than just a couple of hours. I love meeting people’s parents, and can really see where our friend got his characteristics from, so in a way I actually feel like I know these people pretty well already.

My Münich adventures will have to be accounted for in another post though. I first want to tell you about a day I spent in Vienna. The day after my latest Joan concert I spent wandering around Vienna. I was struck by how orderly everything seems to be, the red trams always arrive exactly on time, the benches in parks are neatly in rows, there can’t even by a spontaneous food market selling sausages and schnitzel without there being a map detailing where you can find which stall. The order has it advantages though, the public transport payment system is entirely based on trust, no ticket barriers and only very rare controls – somehow people seem to trust each other to pay and get on with it – refreshing!

There is a lot of impressive classical Western architecture (eg. Athena, goddess of wisdom, facing away from the parliament – wonder what that is supposed to signify…). When I reached the point where I felt like marble monuments had thrown up everywhere (it didn’t take very long) I decided to put away my map and see where my feet took me. I stumbled upon some interesting book shops and, lo and behold, a peace museum! I loved their concept, they had used windows throughout the entire block to display short infos about ”peace heros” i.e. people who have fought for or advocated peace in different ways. That way the exhibition is open to everyone at all times. They also have a small room from which they work, where they had a more detailed exhibition about Bertha von Suttner. I went in and had a good old chat with them. The French intern told me all about other activities they have, such as peace kitchen, where they cook food from a certain country (e.g. Afghanistan) and then discuss the situation in the country. Combining bellies filled with good food with peaceful conversations – what a concept! Something you can never get enough of, and incidentally the best strategy for tense meetings I’ve ever come across. They also do film and conversation evenings and work a lot with schools. An Afghan guy who seemed to be in charge explained to me how they want to bring attention to peace, to emphasise it even, as this is the only way to prevent violence and war. We discussed the situation in Syria today. He compared peace with oxygen, without either people die, yet why is it so easy for us to understand the necessity of one but not the other?

I really like the idea they promoted to give attention to what you want to see in the world. If we have weapons we will find a reason to use them, but if we devote our attention to other, more peaceful, means of relating, what would happen? When talking to the Afghan guy, I couldn’t help but thinking of my recent visit to Belfast. I spent a fair bit of time wandering aroung the West part of the cuty, which is till very much divided between Protestants and Catholics, gaping at the murals like a proper tourist, much to the annoyance of locals no doubt. What struck me though, looking through book shelves in culture centres and graffiti in housing estates, is how much the conflict is remembered (and perpetuated?) by the causes and divisions behind the conflict. Accounts are always discussing where the divisions lay, what people where fighting about, and what the causes were. But there isn’t so much attention given to what unifies these people, what brought them together even during the conflict, and who thought to work for it. I wonder how history would be written differently if we were to pay more attention to the things in the past that we want to see in the future. If Irish history were written from the perspective of what the different sides have in common, instead of trying to spell out in detail what divided them, would we see a difference in how the two sides, still divided by a ”peace wall”, relate today?

Coming out of the Peace Museum, still not quite sure of where I was, I came to some fencing and barricades put up by the police. Putting on my best innocent and bewildered tourist face, I went up to the police and started questioning them, pretending I had arranged to meet a friend in the closed off area and asking all about it. It turned out I had stumbled upon the Iran nuclear talks, currently being held in Vienna. So I hung out for a while, evesdropping to what stressed out journalists muttered in terms of analysis to each other, as they came out through the barriers. And I couldn’t help but wonder if all the fencing was there in order to prevent the one Iranian activist standing outside with photos of political prisoners from getting in, or if they were preventing the delegates to wander around and be inspired in the Viennese streets – they might even stumble across the photos of Berta von Suttner, Mahatma Gandhi, Andrei Sakharov, Kofi Annan, Joseph Rotblat and company that the Peace Museum has put a couple of blocks away. Maybe that would have been too much inspiration.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in Vienna. Apart from long and wholesome chats with my friend (who I hadn’t seen in several years, how time flies), I experienced some Viennese culture through the open air film festival, showing a modern dance on personal freedom expressed through gloves (fantasticly weird) and a jazz concert with, believe it or not, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. I didn’t know she can sing, but apparently she can – check it out here. I also had the best ice cream Vienna, and the world probably, can offer – all vegan and full of bits of proper fruit. My German is improving slowly, so far I’ve managed to buy cherries at a market and attend a yoga class all in German (die Schultern weg von den Ohren).

Bis bald,

M

(no photos this time, internet connection is not of such a nature…)

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