“You can make anything by writing.” C.S. Lewis
Image: Ines & Arthur Zimmermann
Let Yoga Begin – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
I ticked off the attendance list of the Yoga class I was about to teach when I met Ian for the first time. He waited patiently and despite the winter cold wore an orange, short- sleeved high-vis shirt and grey work shorts. Clutched in his arms were a red blanket, a thick blue mat and a white pillow. “Hello. I’d like to pay for one hour of Yoga.” His smile was as contagious as his answer to my question if he had done Yoga before. “Never.”
It’s in moments like these when ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjanli’ come into my mind, a collection of 196 verses (Sutras) on the theory and practice of Yoga. ‘The Sutras’ originally were written in the ancient language of Sanskrit by Patanjali, a Hindu sage who is believed to have lived in India around 400BC. Various translations of his work leave much room for interpretation, however, it still is considered to be one of the most important texts in the Indian tradition of Yoga. It takes years of teaching experience until the essence of this marvellous piece starts to shine through.
Chapter One, ‘On Enlightenment,’ starts with Sutra One, ‘Atha yoganushasanam,’ or ‘let the practice and theory of Yoga begin.’ Some may now think of cheap Yoga mats that stubbornly roll back, baggy old track pants or Julia Roberts in the American movie Eat Pray Love. Over time mats transform into expensive biodegradable rubber elaborates, legs into formed Lululemon’s or jittery movie stars into daylong meditation practitioners. Yoga, Sanskrit for ‘Union.’ It’s being done and all is looking good.
I’m certain that this is not what Patanjali intended to tell us with his first Sutra. Regardless of what type of rubber we roll out, what clothes we wear or how many trips to India we undertake, we need to understand that Yoga starts over and over again. It starts with the intention of wanting to do it and be there on time, yes. But once we realise that Yoga not only is a promise to ourselves but also a pledge to our fellow practitioners and teachers, only then do body and mind enlighten in unison.
Ian still appears in fluorescent shirts and grubby slacks. Moves along gracefully, wraps himself up at the end of the class and fills the quiet of the room with his content snores. Let Yoga begin.
The Drill is Simple
It definitely deserves its name. Standing at the bottom of this oversized sand dune makes our stomachs jolt. Looking at our 18-year old Toyota Hilux Surf adds a bit more to the tension. Shining in her best silvery form the car appears unfazed, almost as to say, come on guys, let’s do it. The seat belts click into place a bit more carefully than usual.
Big Red. Aptly named and located near sought after Birdsville in the heart of Australia’s State of Queensland, this spectacular landmark attracts many visitors. It poses like an impassable wall, trying to protect whatever lies behind. Once conquered, an ancient landscape manifests itself in front of the eyes of the yearning desert traveller: the Simpson Desert.
Crossing the world’s largest parallel sand dune desert, preferably from May to August to avoid relentless heat, takes at least five days. It involves packing away credit cards and mobile phones and replacing them with canisters of water and spare fuel, a satellite phone and plenty of two-minute noodles. Roughly 1200 sand dunes over the length of 500 kilometres will need an off-road vehicle that is in perfect working order, fitted with a radio and a 3.5 metres high sand flag to avoid surprises on top of a sand dune. Basic skills like lighting a camp fire and creating a deep enough desert toilet, including burning the paper, will help. Dingoes love digging and don’t care about used left-overs flying around like peace waving flags.
Adding to the adventure is traversing “the Simpson” from Birdsville in the East to Mount Dare in South Australia in the West. The dunes, battered by constant easterly winds, are steeper on the sun rising side. Also, there seems to exist an unspoken agreement that the beer in Birdsville tastes better after the crossing. Nevertheless. One early morning and with the sun in the back, we’re ready to Surf.
The drill is simple: seek out a suitable spot and stop before mid afternoon, set up camp, collect firewood, light fire, boil water, wash yourself, cook dinner and wash dishes. Watch the stars emerge and allow the stillness to sink in. With each travelled day, the loud nonsense of our fast-paced society grows into a silent intimacy with this grand planet. It is profound in every sense.
The beer in Mount Dare, by the way, tastes great too.
Image: USA Today, 10 Best
Image: The New York Times
Melted Cheese? Every Day, please!
It’s the homey appearance of the room that catches the eye first. Plain wooden benches allow for, we doubt comfortable, seating at rustic wooden tables. Simple also the dining ware, bare of any fine white appearance it suitably matches the furniture. The shoe carton sized boxes on the tables turn out to be makeshift hot stoves, ’powered’ by two tea lights. Talking, laughter and cutlery scraping on plates evoke the typical sounds of meals being enjoyed by people. And then it hits our noses: a very distinct smell of cheese.
A table for two? The waitress smiles. Her small face, framed by two blonde plaits, bears the reflection of a question answered many times before. She ushers us to a table of six where four guests already share drinks and a language as foreign as the whole ambience. We sit down and nod our courtesies to the others. Sips of crisp Riesling from sturdy wine glasses take the first edge away. Alcohol unifies nations.
An hour later two baskets filled with small and hot potatoes appear on the tables. The conversation stops momentarily, but picks up again. Plates layered with thick slices of cheese are served, followed by small bowls filled with sliced onions, pickled cucumbers, crunched pineapple, chopped bacon and speck. Do we have to cook the food ourselves?
Indeed. Our companions place slices of cheese into individual hot pans and, after some careful consideration, add pieces of onion, bacon and speck and slide the cooking utensil onto the hot stove. The audience laughs fondly while we do the same, and the wine is topped up for the umpteen time.
The heat of the candles is surprisingly radiant and soon the cheese starts to bubble. Potatoes are placed onto the dining plates, the melted cheese is swiftly poured over the spuds and a pepper mill is passed around. The first mouthful of the cheese-potato mix hits our taste buds, and just pulls it all together. It makes up for the steep and hourlong hike through snowy, eerily dark and still forests, leaving us wondering where we were headed for our dinner date.
No, we did not end up finding Heidi and her goats on a lush green pasture under the summer sun. Instead we came to meet people socialising around a simple but indulgent meal: a Raclette in a Swiss mountain hut. Every day, please!
“Better to be a tiger for one day than a sheep for a thousand years”
Once asked if it is worth to die for a dream Ueli Steck said: “This is expressed a bit harsh. But there are dreams that are certainly worth to take risks for.” Ueli Steck (1976 – 2017) was a Swiss mountaineer with hands appearing almost too large and powerful on his small and slender figure. Roof carpenter by trade and shy of interviews, he just had one passion in life: climbing mountains. Fast, alone and preferably without ropes and oxygen. The higher the sheer walls, the better.
Ueli challenged the world’s most difficult peaks and set speed-climbing records that only can be described as profanely insane for the vertigo-prone. His fast-lived affair with the most demanding of the north-facing mountains in the Alps and being the first to climb Annapurna’s South Face solo, earned him the Piolet d’Or (Golden Ice Ax, the “Oscar of Mountaineering”) in 2009 and 2014. The athlete pushed the limits of mountaineering and made the impossible possible.
“Speed climbing fulfils me and makes me happy.” Highly regarded by like-minded and doubted by others, Ueli continued to fulfil his dreams until he tragically fell to death in April 2017. Nuptse, known to professional climbers as a “seldom climbed but not difficult Himalayan mountain”, claimed the life of the free-solo addict while he was preparing for yet another Everest ascent. A stark contrast to his mastery on mountains deemed so much more technical.
In his in December 2017 posthumously published memoir “My life in climbing”, Ueli offers intimate insights of success and bouts of depression. The infamous brawl at Mount Everest in 2013 that led to a physical fight between him and a group of Sherpas, left a “painful mark in his belief in humanity” and he withdrew from the sport for a period. Supported by his wife Nicole of whom he married in 2010, he returned with the consistency of a professional mountaineer the world has lost far too early.
Ueli Steck was cremated in Nepal at the Tengboche Monastery, in the shadow of Mount Everest. In a memorial held in Switzerland in May 2017, Nicole said that Ueli’s favourite Tibetan quote “Better to be a tiger for one day than a sheep for thousand years” couldn’t have suited him better. “He lived his life as a tiger. In a world inhabited by sheep it can be difficult to be understood as a tiger.”
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
It’s without doubt that Bob Dylan’s best known and widely covered song acts as a major draw card in the by Thomas Jahn in 1997 written and directed German movie “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” German Rockband “Selig” (Blessed) transformed Dylan’s tunes into a skilful mix of punk and metal; perfectly matching handsome main characters like Til Schweiger and Jan Josef Liefers, a rare baby blue Mercedes Benz 230SL and countless crime-comedy scenes set in dark and raw places around Germany. This quirky feature is free of sophisticated, overly meaningful or long dialogues, but shines with one powerful message: live life to the fullest.
Imagine you are in your mid-twenties and are diagnosed with terminal cancer. What would you do? Drinking Tequila and stealing a Mercedes may be just one suggestion. Rather than waiting for life to end in the “Abnippel-Abteilung” (Hospice), Martin Brest (Til Schweiger) and Rudi Wurlitzer (Jan Josef Liefers), drunk and in their hospital gowns, take off to a road trip to fulfil Rudi’s dying wish: to see the ocean. What they don’t know: in the boot of the car lies a suitcase filled with money belonging to Mafia boss Curtiz (Rutger Hauer), now determined to catch the thieves of his future wealth at whatever costs.
Jahn’s work reminds the viewer of Thelma and Louise’s epic journey. There are plenty of police chases, bullets, explosions, flying cars, scenes of full-mouthed cursing and a police inspector trying to hold it all together. In between the lines though subtle expressions of human existence and its meaning emerge, nudging the viewer towards the belief that “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” may be just more than the average mainstream movie about life and friendship. Despite of being played by what appears to be characters full of clumsy idiotism, the cast manages to yarn a heartfelt story about loyal camaraderie and unconditional love. Then, after all: “In heaven that’s all they talk about: the ocean” (Rutger Hauer).
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was filmed only two years shy of a decade after the German Wall fell in Berlin in November 1989. Yearlong suppressed dreams, wishes and opportunities finally became somewhat existent for many of Germany’s “Easterners.” Perhaps a reason why Thomas Jahn’s work was so well received by over 3.5 million visitors, making it one of the most successful German movies of the 90s.
This (weighed) life
Column – The Australian
I travelled Australia many times before I eventually called it home. This as a die-hard backpacker, accompanied by relic panel vans and modern part-time lovers or full-time friends. At times this burdened heavily on my shoulders, finding that the now-lover may not at all be the round-the-clock trustee. Or, perhaps a bit more concerning, that the at first flawless looking van proved to be an oil drinking tyrant, its springs groaning under countless cans of black juice that made sure to take us at least to the next outback horizon.
Nevertheless, these mental burdens did not at all outweigh the joy of shopping at Australian supermarkets. Filling sacks with heat resistant carrots and potatoes and having them weighed and priced at the counter: all worries of a world-carrying globetrotter taken care of by someone else, how heavenly cosmopolitan that felt!
Here, I must quickly leave the fifth continent and take the reader to Europe, more precisely, Switzerland. The country I grew up in and where bank accounts are deemed audacious. Daring so mine, having spent every cent on engine lubricant or hippie hostels when love turned into loathe.
The Swiss like judging things. From zesty articles to arid zones and everything in between. Political battles on bouncing scales, with the media putting on kilos and mega bites. But there was one thing our democracy asked us to ourselves: weigh produce in the supermarkets. The politicians surely didn’t care about the battles I fought at the computerised weighing machines. The amount of fruit and vegetables I secretly placed back because that darn variety hid on the screen often tolled on my guilty mind. Imagine doing that in our now leaden Covid world. At the end of the shop, all the frolicking Frollein at the till had to do was to scan nature’s gifts. Needless to say that I had to pack the bags myself.
Once, back from an overseas trip (Australia, of course), I jet-legged into a supermarket and filled bags with fresh produce, bearing prices as hefty as the just rained on winter snow. I shouldered the lot and plodded to the cashiers.
“Didn’t you weigh this?” Frollein, not so frisky today, swapped looks with me and the bag of tomatoes in her hand. I ran back. ‘Trophy’, ‘Grosse Lisse’, ‘Mighty Red’??? With stickers plastered across the bag I returned to the register, and to a merciless stare into my shopping basket.
The paddock basher has since been replaced by a chonky truck. Australia did give me the forever bloke who also happens to be my trusty spanner monkey. And with my veggie garden toiling, there isn’t even the need for a checkout-chick.
Short story – Fiction
“It hasn’t rained six months or more
Until today, a sudden pour
Now I can smell the petrichor outside
The sighing ground gives up its love
Unto the breeze and the trees above
And suddenly your phantom shoves my side …”
Paul Kelly – Petrichor
She loves the rain. The countryside gives away that distinct smell noone can really describe. Clouds hang deep and grey on the horizon. Blobs of water are smeared to stripes by eager windscreen wipers.
It was a long and very hot summer. It’s hard to imagine the now lush green pastures being yellow and burnt in the lighter months. Neverthelss, the stock had managed really well this year. The dams had lasted, so the hay the had cut the season before. Lambs and steers had sold well too, for good money.
Money the bank now owned. The same bank that now demanded the land back. Land that has been cared for by many generations, nourishing animals and humans alike. She’d never forget that young bloke the financial institution had sent. Wearing a blue tie and a dark suit, he uncomfortably kept shifting his weight from one foot to the other in the living room of the weatherboard farmhouse. His explanation was listened to by unmoved faces.
The clouds appear ponderous. The clock on the dashboard tells her that it will be dark soon. The glittery white lines on the road rush closer and are swallowed by the car’s bonnet in a fraction of a second. The pain burns inside her. Before the young man left, she met his eyes. Eyes full of sorrow. He momentarely paused on the verandah, the evening sunlight surrounded his tall and sturdy frame. Then he turned around and stepped into the evening, onto the now dark red glowing soil her husband had loved so much.
She nearly misses the turnoff. Minutes later she turns the key in the ignition, the radio silences. She sits still. The raindrops have stopped their dance on the car’s roof. “We’re here,” she whispers. Her fingertips touch the soft clay walls of the urn while her eyes scan the dwelling. The bank had agreed to another meeting.