The diary of solitude
(In the summer of 2002 I went into exile on my own accord in a village at Pyrenees. No mobile phone, no computer, no communication whatsoever with the people except the necessary words: Bonjour – Combien ca coute? – Merci.
Back then I thought I did this in order to write undistracted. Now I know that I did this to give a test to my endurance in solitude. The initial euphoria quickly morphed into discomfort, into antisociality, into hatred against people, into nightmares that seemed to go on when I would open up my eyes.
I endured it, but only just. Some nights I had to put away the scissors and the knives. I came within an inch of becoming mad, but I got away with it because I was writing.
The following short texts were written somewhere in between France and Spain, in this solitary summer).
Sunday, 5th of June
Les Bagneres de Luchon
A trampoline was set up at the central square of Luchon. The children became aware of its presence so fast that one would seriously think that they possess acute senses and abilities which atrophied in us, along with many others like feeling truly happy with a cone ice cream or by learning twenty new words in a day.
They seized their grandparents and grandmothers by the sleeve and poured out whooping in the direction of the trampoline like hyenas feeding solely on game.
It was a four-person bungee trampoline and thanks to a system with cords that the children attached to their waist they didn’t just jump up and down, but they were hurled and whirled into the air, laughing.
Some children were waiting for their turn. Some others were afraid to get closer. There was a fat boy whose grandfather wanted him to trampoline against his will. The boy was in tears.
“Why are you crying? How are you supposed to become a man if you act like that?”
I never figured out the connection between masculinity and trampoline. Many people maintain that you become a man by joining the army. Of course it would be much preferable to make some jumps on a trampoline instead of doing a meaningless military service to pay our dues to our motherland.
Finally, the plump boy was forced to trampoline. He was screaming and he was banging his feet in midair. If he was a comedian, the show would raise a lot of laughter, but the child clearly wasn’t relishing the whole experience. When he came down, he could hardly walk. His knees were trembling and buckling. He had become a man.
As I discovered to my cost, heights are not a breeze to all. It is an innermost terror, not a fear or phobia, an unfathomable terror which can’t be rationalized and it is hard to face it down.
You know very well that you will not fall, or at least everyone reassures you about it, but you still can feel the void pulling you down, attracting you perhaps, a lure you have to resist, you must not succumb to it.
This terror looks like a relic of a mythical era, a relic to the descendants of the Fallen Angel, named Eosphorus by some or Prometheus by others, but most in the sleep of their patriarchal sleep exorcize as the Satan.
The eyes of the children would open wide as they soared into the air and the initial hesitations bore by some were succeeded by the refusal to get off the dream.
I was having a good laugh with the grimaces the children made when I took notice that the trampoline had become the centre of attention for others, too. On the one side children were soaring high and on the other people were confined to their wheelchairs.
The latter were looking the trampoline and their feet, their feet and the trampoline, the children and I felt a bit embarrassed, can’t tell why, maybe because I could stand on my feet so I moved round the back to keep myself out of their view.
The guys who run the operation, two half-naked totally fat-free acrobats, were looking at me rather suspiciously.
“A man all alone, without a family, without company, what business brings him here?”
One of them approached me, his eyebrows knitted and his brow furrowed with the question aimed for me already etched upon his face.
“Would you like something?”
The kindness of French people is a tremendous gun. They keep you at bay from the get-go.
“No, thank you very much”.
My accent gave me away. A foreigner is always a bigger threat than the meanest compatriot.
“You’re no French?”
“No, I’m Greek”.
I thanked my lucky stars for not being an Algerian – or, generally, an Arab. Still, I braced myself for the imminent attack since they hold Greeks for perverted, bestialists and lazybones.
“May I ask what are you doing here?”
“For starters I watch the children playing and…may I ask you a question?”
“Could I trampoline for a few minutes?”
“What are you talking about? How can it be? You must weigh at least…85 kilos.”
“Eighty eight to be precise…OK, ninety three. Cheese fondue and milk pies did the trick”.
“Oh là là! You must on the loony side if you think I’ll allow you to climb on my poor trampoline, you must have lost your marbles!”
The acrobat went over his colleague and conveyed him our conversation. They stood for a while glancing at me, quite tactlessly, and they were in stitches. When politeness is but superficial, it turns into rudeness in a heartbeat.
Still, it is way better to count as a fat man than a pedophile. The latter is a crime. The former is a token of love; towards food.
I went to det mailh spring, as it is called in Basques. I played a couple of songs on the guitar and then I was simply looking at the forest, doing nothing. Only there, at this spring, did I remember how blissful idleness can be. All these years on the island I was either working, or I was having fun, or I was reading, or I was doing something, it was always something.
In retrospect, I saw all this struggle, the socializing, the one-night stands in a different light, as if I was trying to escape from myself.
It is a lie that you only see yourself in the eyes of others. In this way you see what they want you to be or what you would like them to see in you.
But you have to stay alone to see who you truly are.
How much solitude can you endure? How much self can you take?
The photo is from Annie Hall by Woodie Allen.
Translated by Alexandros Mantas: