In Praise of Reading and Fiction

In Praise of Reading and Fiction

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“This one goes out to those who read of General Simon Bolivar last days, feel the intense smell of dampness of the Colombian jungle, and start sweating because of the humidity. Even if they are about to switch off the light, they are in their bed, and they live in Torino”

(Singapore, October 2021)

My mum has a kind of morning ritual. Every day she walks with my dad to a park close to her apartment in Paris and checks the content of her “passe-livre”. A passe-livre is one of the many “French exceptions”, like the legal obligation for radios to broadcast a given, and big, percentage of French songs. People go to their favorite passe-livre, which is often a kind of wooden birds house, and drop the books that they have read. Everyone can go and pick the books that someone else left, for free. Normally, people pick up and drop books, and this creates a balanced system where written thought circulates freely everywhere. Your freedom to read is granted, even if you are broke.

You may be asking yourself: “Why is he telling this story?”. I am telling this story because, when my mum walks home with the random book-catch of the day, she is happy. I have never seen anyone happy because of social media.

A few days ago, a whistleblower revealed something that we all already know: Facebook top management is well aware of the fact that the algorithms they use to build engagement have horrible effects on people, especially teenagers and girls. Hate speech propagates thanks to such algorithms design and children’s self-esteem is deeply harmed by a social media instigated culture of untouchable eternal fun and physical perfection. Facebook decision makers know but prefer to look somewhere else, as hate and depressed teenagers make for good money. Facebook spokespersons, and Mark Zuckerberg, denied all allegations, and again, I suppose we all know that they are lying. 

Books are old school and today many cultures and tribes replaced them with phones, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and what else, but a die-hard bunch still believes that written thought can make better human beings. One of them is my mum, and another one is Mario Vargas Llosa who, when awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, delivered a memorable lecture.

I don’t know why, but I have the feeling that Mario Vargas Llosa does not have an Instagram account. My mum certainly does not.

Mr. Llosa full lecture can be found here.

In Praise of Reading and Fiction

I learned to read at the age of five, in Brother Justiniano’s class at the De la Salle Academy in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It is the most important thing that has ever happened to me. Almost seventy years later I remember clearly how the magic of translating the words in books into images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space and allowing me to travel with Captain Nemo twenty thousand leagues under the sea, fight with d’Artagnan, Athos, Portos, and Aramis against the intrigues threatening the Queen in the days of the secretive Richelieu, or stumble through the sewers of Paris, transformed into Jean Valjean carrying Marius’s inert body on my back.

Reading changed dreams into life and life into dreams and placed the universe of literature within reach of the boy I once was. My mother told me the first things I wrote were continuations of the stories I read because it made me sad when they concluded or because I wanted to change their endings. And perhaps this is what I have spent my life doing without realizing it: prolonging in time, as I grew, matured, and aged, the stories that filled my childhood with exaltation and adventures.

I wish my mother were here, a woman who was moved to tears reading the poems of Amado Nervo and Pablo Neruda, and Grandfather Pedro too, with his large nose and gleaming bald head, who celebrated my verses, and Uncle Lucho, who urged me so energetically to throw myself body and soul into writing even though literature, in that time and place, compensated its devotees so badly. Throughout my life I have had people like that at my side, people who loved and encouraged me and infected me with their faith when I had doubts. Thanks to them, and certainly to my obstinacy and some luck, I have been able to devote most of my time to the passion, the vice, the marvel of writing, creating a parallel life where we can take refuge against adversity, one that makes the extraordinary natural and the natural extraordinary, that dissipates chaos, beautifies ugliness, eternalizes the moment, and turns death into a passing spectacle.

Writing stories was not easy. When they were turned into words, projects withered on the paper and ideas and images failed. How to reanimate them? Fortunately, the masters were there, teachers to learn from and examples to follow. Flaubert taught me that talent is unyielding discipline and long patience. Faulkner, that form – writing and structure – elevates or impoverishes subjects. Martorell, Cervantes, Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoy, Conrad, Thomas Mann, that scope and ambition are as important in a novel as stylistic dexterity and narrative strategy. Sartre, that words are acts, that a novel, a play, or an essay, engaged with the present moment and better options, can change the course of history. Camus and Orwell, that a literature stripped of morality is inhuman, and Malraux that heroism and the epic are as possible in the present as is the time of the Argonauts, the Odyssey, and the Iliad.

If in this address I were to summon all the writers to whom I owe a few things or a great deal, their shadows would plunge us into darkness. They are innumerable. In addition to revealing the secrets of the storytelling craft, they obliged me to explore the bottomless depths of humanity, admire its heroic deeds, and feel horror at its savagery. They were my most obliging friends, the ones who vitalized my calling and in whose books I discovered that there is hope even in the worst of circumstances, that living is worth the effort if only because without life we could not read or imagine stories.

At times I wondered whether writing was not a solipsistic luxury in countries like mine, where there were scant readers, so many people who were poor and illiterate, so much injustice, and where culture was a privilege of the few. These doubts, however, never stifled my calling, and I always kept writing even during those periods when earning a living absorbed most of my time. I believe I did the right thing, since if, for literature to flourish, it was first necessary for a society to achieve high culture, freedom, prosperity, and justice, it never would have existed. But thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires, and our disenchantment with reality when we return from the journey to a beautiful fantasy, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables. We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better. We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal.

Without fictions we would be less aware of the importance of freedom for life to be livable, the hell it turns into when it is trampled underfoot by a tyrant, an ideology, or a religion. Let those who doubt that literature not only submerges us in the dream of beauty and happiness but alerts us to every kind of oppression, ask themselves why all regimes determined to control the behavior of citizens from cradle to grave fear it so much they establish systems of censorship to repress it and keep so wary an eye on independent writers. They do this because they know the risk of allowing the imagination to wander free in books, know how seditious fictions become when the reader compares the freedom that makes them possible and is exercised in them with the obscurantism and fear lying in wait in the real world. Whether they want it or not, know it or not, when they invent stories the writers of tales propagate dissatisfaction, demonstrating that the world is badly made and the life of fantasy richer than the life of our daily routine. This fact, if it takes root in their sensibility and consciousness, makes citizens more difficult to manipulate, less willing to accept the lies of the interrogators and jailers who would like to make them believe that behind bars they lead more secure and better lives.

Good literature erects bridges between different peoples, and by having us enjoy, suffer, or feel surprise, unites us beneath the languages, beliefs, habits, customs, and prejudices that separate us. When the great white whale buries Captain Ahab in the sea, the hearts of readers take fright in exactly the same way in Tokyo, Lima, or Timbuctu. When Emma Bovary swallows arsenic, Anna Karenina throws herself in front of the train, and Julien Sorel climbs to the scaffold, and when, in “El sur,” the urban doctor Juan Dahlmann walks out of that tavern on the pampa to face a thug’s knife, or we realize that all the residents of Comala, Pedro Páramo’s village, are dead, the shudder is the same in the reader who worships Buddha, Confucius, Christ, Allah, or is an agnostic, wears a jacket and tie, a jalaba, a kimono, or bombachas. Literature creates a fraternity within human diversity and eclipses the frontiers erected among men and women by ignorance, ideologies, religions, languages, and stupidity.

Literature is a false representation of life that nevertheless helps us to understand life better, to orient ourselves in the labyrinth where we are born, pass by, and die. It compensates for the reverses and frustrations real life inflicts on us, and because of it we can decipher, at least partially, the hieroglyphic that existence tends to be for the great majority of human beings, principally those of us who generate more doubts than certainties and confess our perplexity before subjects like transcendence, individual and collective destiny, the soul, the sense or senselessness of history, the to and from of rational knowledge.

I have always been fascinated to imagine the uncertain circumstance in which our ancestors – still barely different from animals, the language that allowed them to communicate with one another just recently born – in caves, around fires, on nights seething with the menace of lightning bolts, thunder claps, and growling beasts, began to invent and tell stories. That was the crucial moment in our destiny, because in those circles of primitive beings held by the voice and fantasy of the storyteller, civilization began, the long passage that gradually would humanize us and lead us to invent the autonomous individual, then disengage him from the tribe, devise science, the arts, law, freedom, and to scrutinize the innermost recesses of nature, the human body, space, and travel to the stars. Those tales, fables, myths, legends that resounded for the first time like new music before listeners intimidated by the mysteries and perils of a world where everything was unknown and dangerous, must have been a cool bath, a quiet pool for those spirits always on the alert, for whom existing meant barely eating, taking shelter from the elements, killing, and fornicating. From the time they began to dream collectively, to share their dreams, instigated by storytellers, they ceased to be tied to the treadmill of survival, a vortex of brutalizing tasks, and their life became dream, pleasure, fantasy, and a revolutionary plan: to break out of confinement and change and improve, a struggle to appease the desires and ambitions that stirred imagined lives in them, and the curiosity to clear away the mysteries that filled their surroundings.

This never-interrupted process was enriched when writing was born and stories, in addition to being heard, could be read, achieving the permanence literature confers on them. That is why this must be repeated incessantly until new generations are convinced of it: fiction is more than an entertainment, more than an intellectual exercise that sharpens one’s sensibility and awakens a critical spirit. It is an absolute necessity so that civilization continues to exist, renewing and preserving in us the best of what is human. So that we do not retreat into the savagery of isolation and life is not reduced to the pragmatism of specialists who see things profoundly but ignore what surrounds, precedes, and continues those things. So that we do not move from having the machines we invent serve us to being their servants and slaves. And because a world without literature would be a world without desires or ideals or irreverence, a world of automatons deprived of what makes the human being really human: the capacity to move out of oneself and into another, into others, modeled with the clay of our dreams.

From the cave to the skyscraper, from the club to weapons of mass destruction, from the tautological life of the tribe to the era of globalization, the fictions of literature have multiplied human experiences, preventing us from succumbing to lethargy, self-absorption, resignation. Nothing has sown so much disquiet, so disturbed our imagination and our desires as the life of lies we add, thanks to literature, to the one we have, so we can be protagonists in the great adventures, the great passions real life will never give us. The lies of literature become truths through us, the readers transformed, infected with longings and, through the fault of fiction, permanently questioning a mediocre reality. Sorcery, when literature offers us the hope of having what we do not have, being what we are not, acceding to that impossible existence where like pagan gods we feel mortal and eternal at the same time, that introduces into our spirits nonconformity and rebellion, which are behind all the heroic deeds that have contributed to the reduction of violence in human relationships. Reducing violence, not ending it. Because ours will always be, fortunately, an unfinished story. That is why we have to continue dreaming, reading, and writing, the most effective way we have found to alleviate our mortal condition, to defeat the corrosion of time, and to transform the impossible into possibility.

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The Swell Season

The Swell Season

This one goes out to my wonderful, loved wife. Baby, let’s paddle out and ride the next one together to the end
(Belfaux, December 2020)

Very interesting thoughts have been seeded in my mind during lonely training sessions at the gym. Maybe endorphins make my brain more receptive, so I like to listen to smart thinkers while training. The words I listen while I exercise hover at the surface of my mind for a while and often sink later, when I am in a more meditative mindset. One of the great things about humans is that thinkers come in all shapes and colors. We should always be humble: we never know who the person sitting next to us is. Despite being a legend of surfing, Gerry Lopez, also known as Mr. Pipeline, has an ordinary look. I recently listened to Gerry speaking at Wanderlust Speakeasy, on Youtube. In his talk, he takes the audience through the beauty of nature and life, seen through the lenses of Yoga and surf. Here follow the transcript of that talk and some of its many memorable quotes.

1. Quotes

Gerry Lopez quotes

“Life is for living. Life is a series of moments all strung together, moment to moment. While it may not be possible to live every single moment to its fullest potential, if we keep that intention in mind we will get more out of life than if we are too consumed, too anxious, too distracted, too oblivious, or simply not paying attention”

Message in a bottle (a.k.a. Chronicles of Coronavirus)

Message in a bottle (a.k.a. Chronicles of Coronavirus)

I send an S.O.S. to the world, I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.

Sting – 1979

Friday 29 of January 2021

The State of World Travel

They say that one picture is worth a thousand words. I want to portrait the state of air travel at the beginning of the year 2021 through the pictures that I and my wife took in the airports we visited on our trip from Singapore to Switzerland in December 2020. There is still a long way to go before mankind will be able to experience mass travel again.



Diary


Chronicles of Coronavirus

As more and more countries implement social distancing policies to try to contain the Coronavirus epidemics, some news websites estimate that today, more than a billion people are at home. Since this unwanted guest made his way into our houses, we are forced to rediscover life in a confined space. Today I start my chronicles from confinement. It is a way to defy boredom, reach out to the outside world and share what happens in this part of the world. These are difficult days, but we will overcome difficulties and who knows, maybe learn something from all this.


A sky full of lanterns

A sky full of lanterns

During 2020 Chinese New Year, raging Coronavirus was claiming a heavy death toll in Chinese province of Hubei, when me and my girlfriend travelled to Taiwan for a short trip. One morning, we visited the National Palace Museum, hosting some of the finest Chinese imperial era pieces of art sent to Taiwan during the civil war between the Communist and Nationalist armies. Later that same day, we took a train to the small city of Pingxi, just a few kilometers East of Taipei, to attend the local sky lantern festival.

Traditionally, at the beginning of the Lunar Calendar year, just after Chinese New Year Spring Festival (過年、春節), Chinese farmers used to write their wishes and prayers for a fruitful harvest, reliable water sources, lots of rice, protection from the elements, safety of farm animals onto paper lanterns and release them into the sky to reach the heavens.

In Taiwan and the Pingxi area, sky lanterns came to symbolise a wish to give birth to more boys to help out on the farm since the Taiwanese Hokkien wording for “adding a boy” to the family (添丁) and the word for sky lantern (天燈) have a similar pronunciation, roughly pronounced tiām dīng and tī dīng.

In a magical night, while the whole world held its breath hoping that the Coronavirus would not spread out of China, we looked at thousands of paper lanterns slowly ascending in the dark sky and wished that moment could last in our memories.


Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival Video


Photo credits


Coronavirus

Unfortunately the virus spreaded throughout the whole world. I am keeping a chronicle here

97 points in two games

97 points in two games

Going through physical pain and health issues is annoying but we have to be prepared to it as it is an unavoidable part of life; everyone eventually gets old and even individuals that seem immortal cannot escape this rule. Let me get it straight, with an example: everyone gets old and this includes Micheal Jordan.

In January 2000, Jordan returned to the NBA for the second time, after his memorable “I am back” in 1995. That time he would return not as a player, but as part owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. The next summer, Jordan hired his old Chicago Bulls head coach, Doug Collins as Washington’s coach for the upcoming season, a decision that many saw as foreshadowing another Jordan return.

On September 25, 2001, Jordan announced his second NBA comeback as a player in the team he partially owned. Here follows a story that Doug Collins told an ESPN interviewer; it is a snapshot of Micheal Jordan exceptional NBA career sunset. This story goes out to those that were lucky enough to witness this fantastic basketball player dominate the game throughout the nineties.


Micheal Jordan dunk

When I was coaching in Washington we played the Indiana Pacers and we were down 25 at the end of the third quarter. I took Micheal out of the game and I said: “look Micheal, I know you think that we can still win this game but we got to play again soon, you know. If we make a little run tonight I’ll put you back in the game”, but we didn’t.

I found out after the game was over that he had eight points in the game and he broke a streak of like eight hundred and sixty something games in double figures and so the media was: “you know, how do you think Micheal is going to be with this?”

I said: “You know what? Micheal has got championships, rings, he’s got gold medals, he’s got NCAA championships, he’s got MVPs. He is not going to care about the eight points”.

So he (Micheal Jordan) met with the media and agreed.

You know, the bus is lonely as a coach when you’re sitting there after you got your head handed to you, so I was sitting on the bus and actually Micheal had hired me. He was the part owner and president General Manager and he hired me to be the coach and then he came back to play.

I’ll never forget this moment. As his coach this to me was greatness.

He got on the bus and said “scoot over”. Then he looked at me and said: “Do you think I can still play?” and I said: “Absolutely, that’s why I am here to help you”.

He said: “You know, to be my coach you have to believe in me and believe I can still play”, and I said: “Micheal, I believe in you”.

He said: “You did the right thing tonight, you did the right thing tonight. I don’t care about the points but I needed to know that you believed in me”.

Fast forward; we get on the plane, he has a few cocktails, smokes a couple cigars, all the things you’re not supposed to do. We get back about 3.30 in the morning in Washington. At 7.30 that morning he is in the fitness room with Tim Grover, training like you can’t believe. Nice 41 years old. We play the New Jersey Nets next night and Micheal scores the first three times he has the ball.

Byron Scott takes a timeout and Micheal comes over and says:

“I want the ball right there the rest of the game and don’t take me out until I tell you”

And so that’s fine by me but with two minutes to go in the game he gives me the sign like that’s enough.

I take him out of the game, he walks over the bench and I say: “Micheal, what happened tonight?”

He said: “Well, the guy that was guarding me told me his back was hurting, don’t ever tell me you got a problem, I’ll make you pay for that”.

51 points later, 51 points at age 41, he came back the next game with 46 (points) and he looked at me and said: “I told you I could still play”.

97 points in two games. I was absolutely blown away at what this guy could do with his mind, how strong he was, and he is playing on one leg, and he cut his finger doing a cigar, all his finger was bent, he had a bad knee; the competitive will and great, I’ve never seen anything like that, but that moment when he looked at me and asked if I still believed in him, as this is the greatest player to play the game wanting to know if I still believed in him. It was a moment I would never ever forget.


Micheal Jordan played his last NBA game on April 16, 2003, in Philadelphia and retired for good at the end of the season.  He scored 32292 points in his NBA career and for the impact he had on the game and his unparalleled skills, is generally regarded as the greatest basketball player of all times.

Good Bye Tsukiji​

Good Bye Tsukiji​

On October 11, 2018, Tsukiji fish market in central Tokyo will close down and the area where the market is located will quickly be redeveloped to become a transport hub for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tsukiji market started operations in 1935 and is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. It is also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind. The market was portrayed in many popular movies, including 2012 Jiro Dreams of Sushi, that revealed to the world the unlikely saga of Jiro Ono, the 93 years old chef that runs a three-Michelin-starred Japanese sushi restaurant in Ginza.

Tuna auctions are maybe what Tsukiji is most known for. Throughout the day, intermediate wholesalers assess hundreds of fresh and frozen tuna before they go up for auction. Following a ritual unchanged for decades, they check fattiness of tail cross-sections in the dim light of their torch lamp and scribble down the lot number of the best animals. After the auction, tunas are cut using hand-crafted traditional knives and dispatched to the next ring of the supply chain.



The fish market will move to a new location in Toyosu waterfront district and precious space will become available in the heart of Tokyo. Since the plans were first unveiled, the project has been delayed multiple times. The last delay was due to concerns about consumers health after important quantities of chemicals had been found in the new Toyosu site.

Paradoxically, the urbanists that layout plans for the capital of the most traditional country on Earth seem not to care about symbols and legacy of old times. Ancient buildings are a very rare sight in Tokyo: many have been destroyed by Second World War bombings or earthquakes. Those that survived will likely be wiped away by Japanese passion for progress and novelty.


More travel photography on this blog


Other media on Tsukiji fish market

The incredible hands: a documentary on Tsukiji fish market and tuna wholesalers

Big Jet Plane

Big Jet Plane

I like Angus & Julia Stone because they are chill and have beautiful voices. It is the kind of music I want to listen when I’m at home for the first weekend in a long time and I’m laying on the sofa, while the warm sun filters through my living room window shade and caresses my cheek.

I definitely took too many planes in the last weeks. Every time the same routine, it seems normal. But flying is a miracle and recently inspired me a collection of pictures named “Airliners”.

Last Sunday, while my stereo was playing that relaxing music and I was enjoying the warmth of the sun filtering through the window shade, I suddenly started feeling creative. So I thought of asking Angus & Julia to lend their voices to my pictures and the result was this video.


Big Jet Plane Video


Floating wishes

Floating wishes

According to the Royal Institute Dictionary 1999, Thai word loi (ลอย) means “to float”, while krathong (กระทง) has various meanings, one of which is “a small container made of leaves which can be floated on water during the Loi Krathong festival”.


Loi Krathong falls on a full moon night, in November. Come the right time, Thais dress up in their best clothes and go in a place close to the water, a pond, a canal or a small lake will do, holding a little boat made of banana leaves. In the boat, they have put flowers and a candle. They light up the candle, set it afloat and make a wish while they look at the small thing going slowly away.

More travel photography on this blog

Airliners

Airliners

A famous quote by Richard Branson goes: “If you want to be a Millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline”. There is almost no rationale behind accomplished businessmen obsession to invest into a high-risk business like civil aviation.

Unfortunately, unlike Sir Richard, I am not wealthy enough to bet on airlines. Instead, I have moral concerns working in an industry that accounts for a huge share of the world greenhouse gas emissions; I hope technology improvements and regulations will one day inverse the trend and make air transportation environmentally sustainable. Nevertheless, having rubbed shoulders for years with airlines people and dragged my ass on the most unlikely commercial routes, I cannot avoid feeling sincere sympathy and admiration for those who carry our life around the world with care,  every day and in every season.

No airline is perfect: glitches appear here and there when closely looking at the fusion between the technological prowess of a 180 tons aircraft floating in thin air and the work of hundreds of persons allowing it to detach from the ground.


 


Ignore the glitches and consider how in only a few decades, civil aviation made accessible to the majority of people two of our most innate dreams: defeat gravity and go discover remote places.

Please restrain from displaying contempt to the stewardess showing the way to your seat while boarding your next delayed flight. It takes an amazing resilience to sustain the stares of the 160 annoyed passengers fitting in an Airbus A320, a remarkable humanity to smile and say “welcome onboard” to each of them and many weeks of exhausting training to make it sound so heartfelt.

In the blink of an eye, you’ll be floating in the sky and that is incredible. Forget the delay, sit down and relax. We hope you’ll enjoy your flight.


More travel photography on this blog

 

 

Let’s get lost – episode three

Let’s get lost – episode three

What happened so far?

In episode one, when told that I was going to Mongolia to meet some airline executives for my job, I decided to lose myself in the silent wilderness of that country. Before leaving I did some research and chose as destination a place that even Google Maps fails to locate, named Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve.

In episode two, after arriving in Ulaanbataar, I meet mysterious Mr. Batar, who delivers me a rugged Toyota Land Cruiser. On an early Saturday morning, I and my British workmate Mark leave the town; throughout the whole day, we will explore a scarcely inhabited territory while trying not to lose our track. We also become familiar with the solid beauty of Mongolian horses, roaming free in the wildland.


Being right there

In the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller plays a middle-class man, trapped in a 9 to 5 job he does not like anymore. For a succession of unforeseen circumstances, one day he quits his office and embarks on an adventure on the tracks of Sean O’Connell, a legend photographer who disappeared while hunting the animal whose image no-one has ever captured, the snow leopard.

When finally Walter Mitty meets Sean O’Connell on a frozen Himalayan ridge, the snow leopard is there, in the middle of the zoom lens, just one click away. Oddly, Sean O’Connell, although mesmerized by the unique vision, is not shooting, and this dialog happens:

Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it [the snow leopard shot]?
Sean O’Connell: Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O’Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here. It’s gone [the snow leopard]

In the strange days we live, when was last time we were “right there”? How much “right there” experience we allow ourselves in one of our average weeks? Are those moments something we look forward to, or we prefer to escape them and comfortably choose the distraction, being it social networks, messengers, noise, other people opinions, scary news on TV, information overflow, a job that does not excite us…

And so we are, me and Mark, my British workmate, in a place named Gun-Galuut, in Mongolia. For a whole day, we have been breathing fresh air and wandering across the vast grassland. Since the moment we entered the Nature Reserve, every trace of human presence has vanished. We continue venturing deeper into this unknown territory, using the profile of the hills or the clouds in the sky to locate ourselves and hoping we will be able to find our way back. All around us, Mongolian horses roam peaceful and free.


 

 


The track becomes rougher and now insinuates at the feet of low promontories, covered with sharp rock fragments. Afternoon sun is going down and the lights around us change, giving the landscape a more dramatic pitch. I decide to look for a viewpoint and see on our left a steep path leading to the edge of a higher hill, possibly accessible to our Toyota. The full power of our four-wheel drive is barely sufficient to climb our way to the top. The car pants and progresses slowly as we gain altitude and approach the end of the ascent. Finally, we get there; I stop the car, turn off the engine,  pull the handbrake and get off, followed by Mark. We are on level ground now: in front of us, the upwards path that took us there finishes into a vertical rocky wall. On the right, at a distance of about fifty meters, we see a natural terrace ending on a cliff top and I start walking in that direction, instinctively attracted by the panoramic opening.

As I get closer, my point of view changes and a chain of mountains starts to appear at a great distance. I am maybe twenty meters away when I see the horse and, at first, I do not understand. He lays on the ground, on a side, you would tell that he sleeps but he is dead. It had to happen not long before, as the hair is still shiny and the body is in a perfect state, except for a little scar on the head, probably caused by a scavenger bird.

Now I am just next to the dead horse and appreciate the harmony of his figure. While I walk around him, the first thing that awakens irrational thoughts is the position of the body. It lies exactly at the middle of the half-circle shaped terrace; his head looks at the view opening from the height of the cliff on hundreds of kilometers of emptiness.

I look at Mark, who has not made it to the terrace and is standing a dozen meters away, staring in my direction.

The second thing is the ascent and how hard I had to push the Land Cruiser in order to get there. For a dying animal, that had to be a hell of an effort.

The wind blows and the sun has gone down; the air is chilled now.

The third thing is the dead horse position, the effort to get there, the absolute majesty of the landscape.

I keep turning slowly around him, observing the scene from many angles, immersed in my thoughts. The view in front of me is the most beautiful I have ever seen. Far ahead, hundreds of identical peaks, crowned by bright white clouds rise up to the sky. The physical space between the dead horse and the mountains is an immense empty prairie where the animal lived in freedom from the very moment he first stood on the ground to his last day when he decided to climb there and look at all that again from a height.

As I continue standing right there, in front of that mystical scene, lights and composition remind me the most accomplished Caravaggio paintings. I have my camera with me, in my backpack and I am looking at award-winning photography material but there is something bigger around me on that cliff and I just want to stay in it.

I look at the horse for the last time, then I look at the far away mountains, turn around and walk away. When I pass by Mark, he follows me and asks: “What do we do?”. I can only tell: “We go home, man. We go home now”.