After several weeks of excessive energy and restlessness, I suddenly felt really tired last night, and went to bed (and to sleep) around 9pm. I knew then that today was going to be one of those lazy days. I had planned on going to a mini film festival with a friend. Canceled that, went back to bed, read 1Q84 and listened to Tori Amos. Suddenly I was overcome by another one of these longings for the desert.
I find it hard to put in words what exactly the desert means to me. This longing is both something melancholic but not in a foggy, gray kind of way but somehow very vivid, alive (while, yes, there is a sadness to it, too). Obviously my yearning has something to do with my past, the exchange year I spent there, which was a most amazing and wonderful time this my life. But as I’ve come to realize, this feeling doesn’t not just stem from reminiscing about a time and place in my life when and where I was very happy. I have felt something similar since then, here in Sweden. It has something to do with nature. I don’t need to tell you that the landscape in Pahrump (the name of the small-town north-west of Las Vegas where I lived then) is very different from the scenery here in Sweden. However, what they do have in common is just the thing that moves me so much (and which in turn may very well have to do with me growing up in Germany, a place relatively dense with population, where you can cross from one town into the next without even noticing that they are two different cities): the vastness of nature.
I particularly remember a Sunday trip out into the mountains surrounding the valley with my host family. We took the Rollo and Shadow with us, the family’s dogs, and walked around in the heat. I think my sisters may not have been as thrilled by that as I was, the whole thing probably wasn’t very exotic to them … just plain hot. My dad was enthusiastic, though, he’s a geologist, and us being in the mountains, you know – there were a lot of rocks, so … He and I made our way to the top. I remember passing rocks with Indian carvings, which isn’t exactly something you come across in Germany every day, either.
All the way up there, we placed my camera somewhere so we could take a picture of ourselves (it was before you did the holding-the-camera-while-pointing-and-shooting – you know, analogue). I remember looking around, seeing nothing but sand and stones, joshua trees and other cacti. (Back in Germany we struggled to keep pathetic little creatures that don’t even deserve the name “cactus” alive on our window sill, and here they just grew like weed, in fact: people regarded them as weed.) All this under a huge bright blue dome of a sky with the sun radiating from it like the queen she is (sorry, in German unlike in most other languages the sun is “feminine”, so in my mind the sun will probably always be that).
In my memory, my eyes couldn’t detect any traces of mankind in this view, which is probably not true, I am sure the town must have been somewhere in the background, the road we came on, maybe even Vegas. Either way, the emotions standing on that mountain top evoked where true. This was something that I had yearned for, something I had wished for to experience at some point in my life: to stand in a place where you could imagine you’re the only human being in the world. Maybe that was a longing for truth, for a place that is a more accurate depiction of reality. Here, the natural order is still intact, you are forced to face the fact that you as a human being are not above the rest of nature but part of it. It makes you feel powerful, while at the same time you can’t elude the awareness of how small a piece of the puzzle you are. I write “you” because I don’t fancy myself being uniquely sensitive or poetically inclined to notice those kind of experiences. I would argue that this is something very human, and one of the reasons why the desert (or other places where nature couldn’t been tamed completely) is a fascinating subject or backdrop for stories. Also, it is a magical place (but I am kind of running out of “flow” here to go into that one, too).
Although there is no desert here in Sweden, and the sun is a definitely more shy in comparison (even more so here on the west coast) I have still been able to encounter that common denominator, albeit in a different guise: the vastness of nature.
The size of the country (449,964 km2/173,745 sq mi) is slightly bigger than Germany (357,021 km2/137,847 sq mi) – almost double the size of Nevada (110,622 sq mi/286,367 km2), while the population is nearly 10,000,000 (Germany: ca. 82,000,000 | Nevada: ca. 3,000,000). Meaning: a lot of land with not a lot of people on it.
There are mountains and seemingly endless forests, also seemingly countless lakes, and you can find yourself driving on a highway with no car (or the same car) driving behind you for hours, going on the road for miles without passing by a town. In fact, Swedes measure distances in miles, too. 1 Swedish mile being 10 km (roughly 6.2 “American” miles).
Looking at it from this angle, moving to Sweden has increased my chances of soothing my yearning (although that is not why I moved here … I think …). I am sure my longing for a life on the country-side springs from the same source. Sometimes, however, I just miss really miss the desert. Period.
Maybe it was playing Tori Amos that triggered me today (somehow her music makes me feel the same kind of melancholy, especially “Rattlesnakes” and “A Sorta Fairlytale“) though there is no more specific connection than just the feel of the music.
While I was lying on the bed, that wave of melancholy washing over me, some films came to my mind which both somehow nourish and heal my longing:
Gas Food Lodging
And obviously the theme song from Bagdad Café, Jevetta Steele’s Calling You:
Breaking Bad (a series, I know, but let’s not split hair here, ok?)
Last but not least: a book that was actually written by someone from just the town where I spent my exchange year. In fact, we even had a class together (but I cannot claim that I know her, and she probably has no memory of me):
I apologize for only throwing trailers/images at you at this point but this turned into a very long post, much longer than I had intended. Maybe this will inspire me though to write more detailed about each of these “desert remedies” at a later point.