Stealing fates as a perceptive experience
There is a tiny second hand bookshop somewhere in Marburg. This picturesque university town in the midst of German vineyards exuded always its mysterious aura for me. On the other hand you can find similar bookshops in every random city, so the place and the time are irrelevant for this discovery.
I enter the shop and a small shelf with used postcards promptly draws my attention. You surely know those card boxes in bookshops and flea markets: countless old postcards, sent X years ago from a person A to a person B…
…and you ask yourself how had the card got from person B to this shop:
- is a person B dead?
- has this card been thrown away?
- or has even never been opened, like letters sent to Erik Satie — his room was full of unread letters.
People use to buy such cards to get another cool retro vista or to collect rare images of meanwhile bombed, rebuild, metamorphosed cities. An unused, blank postcard is usually more expensive than a written “used” one. But…
Suddenly I discover this.
A non-serial postcard, rather a private photograph: an elderly man, in a military uniform, sitting on the horse. Trees are glimmering in the background.
On the back side I read this spartanian text, written with a swinging handwriting in German:
In remembrance of blooming fruit trees in the cool morning air.
This contrast — the resonating cavity of the WWI mixed with parental love — touches me deeply. This — blurred but dominant — disappearing but so present — father figure suppresses even the fact of a complete absence of his son (or daughter?), who was addressed by this card. The horse, the man, the child, perhaps the garden — all this is now — almost 100 years later — vanished. Just this piece of photo paper.
Back to the May of the 1916th: pretty tumultuous time in Europe.
The word DADA firstly appears in the anthology “Cabaret Voltaire”. Albert Einstein publishes his monument “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity”. WWI is still lashing about with its bloody claws. And this nameless Father is sitting on his horse, looking ahead through the epochs, looking away from an unknown photograph, keeping in mind his child. A shrill intensity of an isolated phenomenon in a global context overwhelms me. The time bubble engulfs me. I become stuck in the year 1916. Am I the father? Am I his son? Who am I, and if yes, when? Only with a strenuous effort I uncage myself from this alien memory.
Thrilling urge to wallow in unknown fates is driving me badly.
So I kept delving into postcards with a gold-feverish enthusiasm. And the next one is a completely different story, another reality, like our fates always are:
Your another tourist serial card view from Bamberg, a historic city somewhere in Bavaria. But this image doesn’t matter in our case, because:
A clumsy, childish handwriting, dated with 19th January 1970, addressed to somebody named Thomas Merkel
I perfectly arrived to Bamberg. I’m doing pretty well here, but I miss you guys very much. Don’t forget the egg cartons. Obtain the thingies so we could begin with the basement, as soon as I come back.
Your friend Horst, called The Brutal.
What have planned Horst the Brutal and Thomas in their basement? Were they about to design a brutal torture chamber? Or did they launched a basement music band, using egg cartons as soundproofing?
There are some music bands in Germany with members named Thomas Merkel. There are many Merkels in Germany (including present Chancellor).
But this also doesn’t really matter.
The only thing that counts is this childhood’s glare, shimmering through the kiddy handwriting: tiny sorrows, strong friendship, common projects and this little Horst The Brutal, who is hellish missing his friends.
I cannot stop now, so I catch the next card with an old view of Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Noirish French flâneur are dandering in their Jean-Pierre Melville’s reality. Cool vintage cars are driving down the Avenue. Paris, mon amour. But here comes the text, written both by hand and with typewriter.
Recently we attended a funeral of Yves Farge, four (?) minutes from our appartment (away). It was a wonderful funeral, a lot of people, just I was disappointed with lack of music. It was an unique cemetery with tombs, many great men and women of history are buried there. The tombs look like small churches or chapels. The flowers and wreaths are made from colourful porcelain. Some tombs are made from bronze and an odd stone — very interesting!
Dear Bruno and Martha, I am very busy with my book, which I am about to write while of (about?) my sojourn in Berlin. I hope, with some success I will visit you in Dresden. This were our wish! Many greetings, yours YVES.
So, the author Yves sends this card, written in slightly weird German to Bruno and Martha. He (with his wife/friend?) saw a funeral of another Yves, a journalist and politician Yves Farges shortly before, so the card should be dated with 1953. Stalin still alive. Dresden still in ruins.
Yves Farge investigated in biological warfare by US while of Korean war. And even if he was awarded (post mortem) with Stalin Peace Prize, the circumstances of his death in a car accident in Caucasus are very ominous. Anti-Soviet dissident and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov speculated once that Yves Farge (while of his travel to USSR) got to know all the uncomfortable truth about Stalin regime. It doesn’t matter after all, who liquidated him — the Soviets or the Americans. It doesn’t never matter.
I wonder, who is another Yves, author of this postcard. And which book he is working on 1953 in Berlin (or about Berlin?).
These semi-told stories of unknown writers with unknown backgrounds and unknown fates are fascinating in their short term vistas. They are like small windows into somebody’s reality, that had been slightly opened one day — not for you and for me, but just for cards receiver. Is it ethical to read letters addressed to other people? Are we stealing their fates? Are we sneaking into their thoughts? Is it right to peep through these small time holes, to penetrate into somebodys life? Even as an invisible observer. As a ghost. Are there other ghosts looking into our lifes? Here, right now?
I cannot stop my voyeurism, I’m very sorry about it. But these tiny insights into other people’s lives do inspire, enrich my own life. I am literally parasitizing. The fates are connected to the Noosphere in the way like Vernadski had meant it. They are part of our civilization, part of everybody. I keep looking for written postcards at flea markets in Paris and in second hand bookstores in Osaka, and I keep finding and examining these unique and random splitters of humankind. These almost taciturn witnesses of time. These memory palimpsestes.
Find more on my blog “Inspiring Voyeurism”.