Tuesday, December 2, 2014

La Isla, or: i is for i/dentity

The story below, "La Isla", is a story I wrote a while ago. I thought of it today when I walked along the ocean. Another thought I had: that I want to revisit more of my stories in the next weeks, both short stories and travelogues. And turn the time to come, the time after the journey, into a time of a revisiting journey.

Reading the story now, in this different contest, also brings the reflection on how my life will be shaped by the illness I am going through, both in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I am so used to my long hair. How will I feel with short hair, and without hair? How much is my identity defined by my appearance? How will this "I" feel that otherwise never would happen? And strange to think that nuns do the same, letting go of their hair, and so turn visibly into another person

Right now, the thing that worries me most is that I don't know how the coming weeks will shape out. If the therapy  (and I still am not used to typing the word: chemotherapy) will leave me with enough energy to see it as a different kind of journey, one that I wouldn't have chosen, but that will bring its own kind of encounters and reflections, and places that I havn't been to before. If the therapy will allow me to read and write, to go for walks, to drive, to work, to not feel too miserable.

There's no real way to know it beforehand, though. Which actually is true for most of life: we don't know. The weather here is a playful reminder of that: it has been a strange and rainy summer and autumn in Europe, with forecasts often promising weather that never arrived. It's the same here on the Canary Islands this week: there is an unusual amount of rain, and the weather models don't seem to fit. So despite checking forecasts, you just don't know - while the sky keeps teaching its own lesson: after rain, there will be sun. And after sun, there will be rain. And so on. And on and on. The very way it always has been, both for the weather, and for life.

But now, the story:


La Isla

There was something magical about the island. Maybe it was the closeness to the elements that made the difference, the presence of those fire mountains that were only sleeping, that would wake again one day.

Isla de fuerta, the island once was named. Now it is called Lanzarote. She had been there years ago, in the time before digital cameras, in the time of just taking a few photos with a pocket camera. The intensity of its colours remained in her memory anyway. The white houses. The black beaches. The red hills. The green plants that were growing on lava earth. The blue water. And the sand that sometimes was carried by the wind, all the way from the Sahara, white like snow.

When she woke the next morning, she looked out of the window, and was drawn to the beach. She walked through the sand barefoot. Picked up a black stone and a white shell. Like back then. She even remembered the words she had learned, all those years ago, those Spanish basics of life: Yo soy - I am. Tu eres - You are. And the common greeting phrase: Buenos Dias. Good Day.

Everything was moving there, every single grain of sand. That's what she realized some days later, at the beach, where she stood still and watched the wind move across the ground. And was stunned. For what she saw was the miniature of a dune desert: the beach, a lake of motion, a genesis of sand, following the path of the wind. She kneeled down, and touched one of the tiny dunes, wondering where it came from, and how far it could travel. The dune gave its answer by gliding on underneath her hand.

Back at the bungalow, she looked for a book to read and picked up the one she brought from the library, a book of essays from Adolf Muschg, titled „Die Insel, die Kolumbus nicht gefunden hat“ – „The island that Columbus hasn't found." The book, it was about Japan, not about Lanzarote. She knew that much when she picked it, without idea how fitting it was nevertheless: one of the places Kolumbus wanted to find was Nippon, this city Marco Polo told silver roof stories about. And the islands Kolumbus started his journey from was - the Canary Islands. The very string of islands Lanzarote belonged to.

In those days, Lanzarote was covered with forest. Later, the forest was turned to sailing boats by the Spanish sailors and the army. A fact that was hard to believe when you saw the effort it nowadays took to just grow one single grapevine.

To protect the plants from the wind, and with it, from the moving sand, the farmers built strings of stone circles on their fields, which made the fields look like landscapes of abstract art. The wind didn't seem to mind. It kept blowing, across the fields, across the mountains, changing its direction with the names of the days, lunes to jueves, viernes to domingo.

The story of Columbus made her curious for more snippets of history, and so she headed towards Teguise, the oldest town of the island.

There, she learned that the first settlers of Lanzarote probably were Arab Berber groups who sailed to the islands from North Africa. After the Berbers came the Spanish sailors, in the 13th century. And with them came colonialization. And the slave trade.

Walking down the streets, she tried to imagine life back then, and arrived at the church in the middle of Teguise: Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, it was called. She tested the doors, but they were closed.

In a sidestreet, she noticed a flag, it’s presence a reminder of the closeness to Africa and the ongoing conflicts there. The flag, it carried a plea for a different life, noted not in Arab or English, but in French: Sahara Libre.

Back in her apartment, she looked up Arab key phrases and words, something she had never done before. The first word she learned was marhaban – which meant Hello. And next, in the unyielding logic of being, ila al’likaa – Goodbye.

That evening, in good time for sunset, she went for a walk along the shores of the island. She watched the seagulls while she followed the curved line that separated water from sand. The sky kept changing its color as the sun neared the horizon. She took a photo, then another, and kept walking, on and on, until it was only her and the ocean, her and das Meer, her and la mare.

Walking back, she followed her own trails for a while, and couldn’t help but wonder how it would have been to grow up here, on this island, surrounded by water. She would have been another Yo, that much was sure.


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Chris said...

Dorothee, this is beautiful. I love the way you've combined travelogue, history and discovery, and written it in a flash fiction style.

karyneisler.com said...

i agree with chris. beautiful, gentle, thoughtful, soulful ... full also of generosity for sharing these moments of your journey; your life ~

Dorothee said...

Karyn, Chris: thanks! glad you enjoy the journey moments and the moments of discovery and reflection.