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There are several walks. From the city through what is known locally as Marjan park-forest. I notice it was established with a public infrastructure in 1964. This is the year before I was born. I explore the space of this park-forest whose terrain, like a blanket of wildness, covers the eastern peninsula of the city. I am seeing a high rocky hill about four kilometres long consisting of prickly pears, whose thorns I find embedded in my skin, alongside what look familiar as scots pines and numerous trees I do not know the names of, southern species obviously, with many small feathery leaves. Also, gigantic aloe vera plants, or perhaps they’re called agave, enormous spikes of glaucous green with stiff points. The locals, or it could be the tourists, have carved their names in some of these leaf-spikes near the start of the walk. It is hot, arid.
Unlike the walks I took in the very first days – where I was seemingly neutral, learning, watching, listening, observing intently in detail this absolutely unseen and unknown extra-terrestrial surface – these walks resonate for days. My emotional energy is a large ingredient, my veins are coursing with it. Objectivity, subjectivity, passivity, a studious gaze even – all are out of the question.
The period of arrival – the first time ever I saw your face, rock face, karst cliff face – is irreplaceable. So, when the shock of the unknown has retreated, I am left with ourselves. You can run but you can’t hide. You can not leave your self behind. In fact your selves have a wonderful time on solo trips, growing, multiplying, kaleidoscopically mirroring on a minute by minute basis, into a glorious and monstrous being. And this being is both foreign and a part of ourselves.
I walk and think and do not talk. I’m getting to know myself. My mind is variously excited, lively, vital, tired, depressed, sluggish, forgetful.
Languages flow around, float above. I am submerged in this space. It is an interior cavity, a vast cave, a Wookey Hole, dripping, glistening, glinting, various overhanging points, dark in several directions, terrifying, beautiful, otherworldly. Ghosts haunt the mind, a cave of shadows, this cavern, in a parallax with the self image of a person – body face hair clothes rucksack shoes – in the foreground of mists from this central subterranean lake. Friends, lovers, family, children, float up out of the water, come and go. To caress or to knife. It’s a to-ing and fro-ing between interior and exterior that fuels a massive car-journey type introspection. A lengthy and detailed inspection. Looking out once more, after a long absence, what is found is rusty, creaky, dusty, cracked and the exit difficult to prise open.
I am in danger of ceasing.
The walk. My already vulnerable frame of mind has had a bad shock via a letter this morning. I hope to recover, by choosing a destination, making a plan, and going out. As I leave the apartment, which is in a house located by the palace, I feel that I am literally in pieces. Head awry, arms in front of legs, feet off centre, torso far behind. The mind, that was framed, is now scattered into the distant past, smashed glass lying about on the ground. A needling in the heart. I cannot speak and I thank heaven for anonymity.
This walk takes me on it. There are sunny hot pavements, shops. I am not really in control and soon find myself, unwillingly, unwittingly, standing at the taxi rank. Then, I am shoving my two bags onto the front seat of a taxi and getting in next to a tall grey-haired driver. “Do you speak English?” He nods. I ask him if he can also pick me up in a few hours from the bit of coast I am aiming for, the Maritime Institute, and he says, “I would, but, I have been married for twenty years, today is our wedding anniversary and I am going out for dinner with my wife at 4 o’clock”. We sit in silence as he drives the long way, through the tunnel. I am aware of my solitary condition – no husband, children, dog. Something has broken/failed/is gone, like an unanswered question – a pocket of oil.
As we travel underground I remember a previous walk on the peninsula. I had been using the satellite navigation on my mobile phone. I’d spent a nervous hour in the falling dusk looking for a right turn onto a main road. Walking up and down a back lane, the way had simply refused to materialise. On the satellite map it promised to take me towards the city centre. In rapid dusk, and in a final act of desperation I had taken my glasses off, and only then spotted an illegible, tiny font naming this supposed main road as the ________Tunnel. The tunnel which now reassuringly embraces me in the false night of a sodium glow. I had been hunting for the hidden all along. I’d felt again that wave of relief that I was not lost, and had not lost my mind. I’d then found and trusted an alternative route which had led me triumphantly on, into the welcoming darkness and lights of the city.
The taxi driver drops me off. It feels like the end of the road, the tip of the peninsula, it is the middle of the day. Not many people about. Hot pines and the filmy sound of insects. I try to look like I know where I’m going, as I walk down the steps that are next to the sign saying Maritime Institute. There is a definite red arrow going horizontally from left to right and then curving down and straight again from right to left.
The steps though, took me disconcertingly into a private garden, washing hanging on a line, chairs and table, a patio. I turn back, reverse, almost blushing. I try several promising looking gateways like this, but they are all domestic gardens. The clues – a wheelbarrow, an orange plastic basket, some logs.
Now I find I’m at a more imposing gateway and I am entering – and confidently taking the elegant stone steps all the way down the steep slope to another gate, this one wrought iron, fancy, and as it turns out, the gate of the Institute itself. It’s a nineteenth century building on the water’s edge. A seductive sandstone ramp descends into the crystal blue, sky-reflecting sea. I envisage myself walking down the stone paving, submerging my body, my hair flowing cinematically into the sea.
I multiply. We feel grand, we are someone who lives in houses, chateaux, palazzi. As sure as if we were in this film, we have arrived.
A young woman, dressed in jeans and anorak, comes out through the gate and pointedly closes it tight, it’s a satisfying click, before turning to me and saying, “Yes?” “Is this the institute?” “Yes”. “Can I come in? I have come here to do the underwater filming”. “No”. “Oh… we were told we could swim here by a friend…”. “Swim? aah, yes, then you are in the wrong spot. You need to retrace your steps up the hill. Then go to that sign that I think is about rubbish collection or parking. You will see some steps there. You will find them, do not worry”. “No”, she agrees, a little friendlier now,“it is not well signed”.
I soon find out why. You can tell they want to keep it quite private. The steps lead down further to a path running along but just below a series of houses and gardens and on the far side of the path is the sea. Nice place to live I think, but half heartedly, I mean it is very picturesque but it is also somehow weird, suburban and forbidden, not exactly welcoming. I guess that, as an alienated being, all I want is a warm welcome. And it’s got to be said, that here this is not always forthcoming. A symptom of the underlying horror at the incoming tide of people – wakes and trails of liners and planes constantly cutting the blue – something like a veil colours many of the local residents faces when they see me. (Later I wonder, is there a different veil, to do with the specific history of this place, a kind of ideological fundament? Is it a socialist empathy or a pity for other people less lucky and not from here?) Your best strategy is to fit in and look like you’re a resident, easy for me as I’m good at pretending, having grown up under a policy of benign neglect in one of the largest cities on earth. Pretend to pretend you belong, and don’t look like a visitor, and then the volume of the locals seething glares are turned down – ideally they don’t notice you at all.
I remember times in life when not much was said, silence reigned – a too long relationship, a period working abroad – and how, as with underwater visions and drug filtered memories, they are suspended between the punctuation marks and remain indelible for their alteredness. I think of language plus gravity, words falling, like snow coming down and covering what was there, the whiteout of forgetting. Language is a double edged sword.
On seeing the sea I realise there is no beach as such but a generous scattering, a slathering, of the omnipresent light grey rocks, which edge an immediately clear and surprisingly choppy sea. This sea appears to be a very deep channel, as big ships pass me by during the afternoon. It feels like there is an industrial scale port hidden to the right of the pine trees and out of my view, as if the ships are entering the city from behind.
This is a large view, different from the one I have become familiar with. I have been facing islands, low level forms, hips, bellies, rising from the sea in silhouette. Now I am looking at, in the far distance, a less friendly and enormous cliff, which houses gigantic quarrying operations, though they appear tiny. I am able to only just see dotted clusters of coastal buildings, the terracotta corrugations of the roofs in the distance. It’s a vast limestone facade, the edge of the continental landmass.
Two women are here, one is sun bathing and reading. They seem like me, we are older. A woman is in the sea when I arrive but, perhaps or perhaps not coincidentally, gets out when I put down my bags. I’m on some rocks as near as possible to the frantic waves without getting wet. I have all my snorkelling gear but no wetsuit. A mistake. I take off my clothes and leave them on the rocks. I have installed my camera in its underwater housing and I am feeling focussed as I enter the water. I feel that strange interior knowing that I am about to capture images, shoot them, like harpooning fish. Stealthy.
I plunge. The hit – instant sensation of cold-hot-cold-physical-sensory-overload and wipe-out of emotions occurs. An instant that empties one of all baggage, obliterates it, and one can just be, here, now.
I am swimming for only ten minutes, obsessed and enthralled by the seaweeds, the fish, rounded silvery and small, and striped black ones, like a painter’s tiger in the grass, crabs lurking, that familiar red weed, the whitish blue anemones, the fine white feathers, a dusting, flocking of beige particles upon everything. All around monochrome, sunlit by wavering beams, and perhaps due to the overwhelming blue green the colours are utterly different, less varied. All light being filtered through rippling seawater. Imagine being under here at night. Chilling thought. I become cold and clamber out into the breeze.
When I emerge dripping onto the rocks, moving carefully to avoid urchins or dropping the camera or falling, one of the other women calls to me – “This is a military zone. You must be careful”. She points at a sign affixed to a wire fence that entered the sea. Nowhere on it can I see “No swimming”, just “No video, No photo, No walking” – oddly designated by graphic images with lines struck through them, like mistakes. “Oh” I say, “Oh Oh”. “Yes” she says, then adds – “Someone was shot, you have to be careful”. I feel a shock run through my nervous system, bringing me back to myself. Yes, yes, the military, and war. I see a man in blue camouflage walk slowly out onto the jetty, it’s like a movie. But he is real, and he is more than a sign, and suddenly I look clearly at the fence, the way it juts into the sea and curves down into the depths. I feel sure he is looking at the camera in my hand.
I then realise I am shaking with cold, so get dressed quickly and leave. I look at my watch and in horror see that I am late for work. I realise I have about half an hour to traverse three or four kilometres. I am at the far side of the park-forest’s summit, and it’s a significant one. If I take a straight line it is extremely steep and rocky. An alternative is to curve round the hill’s towering outcrops and stay safely on the tarmac road, flat. Consider this, and get it right, I think. Daunted more by the known than the unknown, I head straight up a narrow footpath into the heart of the hill’s pine forest. I climb and climb. The path sometimes becomes invisible but I can, as if by a strange magic or hyped-up sense, see it, feel it, know it. I imagine myself as a clever animal, one with extra sensory insights, someone who can know a path when they see one. Other people have trodden here recently.
To orientate myself I keep the sea on both sides, solid choppy blue on our left and glaring calm, sun-broken water on the right. I am still climbing, now over large rocks. I read later that karst is a terrain constituted where the underlying limestone is soluble in water. It describes a landscape of underground streams, unseen caves and spectacular formations. These protruding rocks are smoothed, luckily, and pine needles make the track soft underfoot as it is twists and submerges through forest. I am climbing fallen tree trunks. Tall pines are everywhere here. A strong sense of leaving the edge and approaching the centre. Becoming lost, losing sight of the sea. Being at the point at which it’s equidistant to turn back or carry on. Deciding. There are no sideways, no alternatives, only the thin foot wide path of brown pine needles going onwards, appearing and disappearing. I am hot and I am sweating. I am walk-climb-running as fast as possible. I carry my heavy rucksack. I daren’t look at my watch now. There are crickets near me, the sea has long ago fallen silent and is far below.
Out of nowhere a man appears ahead, coming towards me. The usual cacophony of fear. A tightening all over. Quite young though. “Do you speak English?” I ask, “Oui”, he says. This encounter affirms I am going in the right direction. “When you get to the belvedere take the road, it is quicker.” I say “Merci” fervently, and keep going, passing his companion on the way, another young French man. What is a belvedere? I am anxious – is it a barn, a turret, a pole? I summon my italian and think “bella” and “vedere” – something with a good view. There is that high spot with a structure – I have been looking at it from the sea over the past days. Now I am located. The belvedere is the extremely tall steel pylon with a cabin on its top that is at the highest point of the park-forest. I approached it from the other side a few days earlier. I feel a surge of relief as I see it getting nearer, reappearing over every clambered, sweated outcrop of stone. I can anticipate the dark shade of the tarmac road that then leads past an intriguing small house on the right, and on down towards the city. Hot piney scent is emanating from the sheer drop on my right. A knife edge, a sheer slice of nothing. A cut. Air that is vertiginous, falling already. The edge enchants me.
I keep going straight on. It is all I can do now. Then quite suddenly I can climb no more, and as at every summit ever reached I exhale broadly and am smiling. It’s downhill all the way from here – I am telling myself that, as I break into an irregular run. I have a bad foot, a bad hip and a bad knee and I am not twenty five anymore. I jog and stagger in a quite speedy way that is unique, comical, ungainly. I am glad to be alone.
(There’s a splinter embedded in my foot and it’s moving around, causing intermittent pain, sometimes stopping me from walking. The splinter went in several years ago – slit, slip, spit, split – it’s a shard of time passed, thin ghost of pain, thorn in the side. Its emergence after years, is how I feel now- unresolved, undissolved. Bits, just small pieces, return to grind away my bone endings, “It will dissolve” my youngest child says.)
I have seen the time. I literally have to go as fast as I can, all the way down to the city and through the centre, then uphill again – up the grey granite steps, the street paved with white marble (which is incidentally a form of heated re-crystallised limestone) and lined with plane trees, sparks of London, and finally I will be there. This walk was about being so caught up in suffering my interior feelings that I actually achieved what I could never ever do – run for two miles – first up a rocky piney hill and then down and across a hot dusty city. I felt like a winner, a marathon runner.
I was still in pieces, scattered, distraught, shattered, but that swim into a military zone, that underwater escape, that rocky scramble, this sweat, these events, escapades, escapes, are acting like glue and sticking me back together again – a kind of gluey freedom, born of action.
The following day another walk in the peninsula’s park-forest. Again I have worked through till mid afternoon and become exhausted. I seemed to have attracted a whole lot of negative particles, a bit like a magnet, from a woman I met after lunch. We had briefly crossed paths at work many years before. I could see part of myself lurking in her. A state of mind that I try and keep the lid on – a dark wispy material at the bottom of the dressing up box – blaming, metallic, greasy. I had shuddered as I left her place, an old fashioned photography shop, and wondered “Am I also full of bitter rising shadows?”
War, we are, we’re… we are all part of history. Mostly we don’t feel it, I don’t. We are apart, separated. The screens stop things touching us, the thing becomes a picture of the thing, a representation, and we are atomised, distant. We want to join something on a collective scale, we want a narrative to trump contingency. What would an alternative be? Someone suggested – a festival, a procession, a strike?
I wander, having set off from the apartment with two heavy bags. I cannot decide where to go. I find my multiplicity – my other selves who help and hinder, never drawing breath – they are the elves, dwarves, wizards, fairy godmothers. Internally confused, prepared for all eventualities. Why do I have the wetsuit, camera, all the potential gear when I won’t use it all? I walk first one way then the other. Indecisive. Self consciously turning back, and turning again. Tightening. Then, inexplicably and without thought, I start to walk up the wide steps leading from the city onto the steep hill, and I am entering the park-forest, again. I know the significance of this choice by now. I know that once I am on the top road it is impossible to descend to the coast until several kilometres have been traversed, when the road curves back down to sea level. I know this. I have felt stranded and lost more than once. Remember the nerve-fuelled run across the seemingly impassable summit? Yet I press on. It is an unseasonably hot day. Everyone says this. Everyone says how lucky we are with this late September sun.
I walk upwards, blind to ideas, blind to knowing. I am wearing heavy jeans clammy on my skin, hugging too tight my muscles. My legs are mechanical, pistons carrying me up. Ascending, I sweat more. I see few people, a man cycles past me, puffing, two women run by chatting, they are young, and two tourists, a couple, are taking photos of the view (bel-vedere) which is, I admit, spectacular and breathtaking. I have become inured to it after only a fortnight. Today I take it for granted and barely appreciate it. I am the visitor putting down roots.
Walking fast uphill, hot and carrying a lot. That is my minimal world right now, shrunk being, shrunk down to the cage of a body, my heavy stiff limbs, my thick head. Just a minimal being. It transpires I am stubbornly intent on finding a small path down the slope to avoid the long doubling back I know the road takes.
All the while it is getting sheerer. I spot an opening on the left and a path and decide to just drop down onto it, livening things up a little. It twists shockingly down into the pines, with yet more rocky outcrops, dark earth now a chalky gravel, these omnipresent pine needles. It’s a hidden path, surprisingly well used. I reach a fork and have to decide. I go down, then another fork, left or right, I don’t know. I imagine the path zigzags to manage the gradient, but this is more serpentine, sinuous. There are many possible paths in many different directions. People play here, games take place, rituals, or are they cycle tracks? What games are these? Who plays them?
I make a choice and follow it. I am lacking momentum and I see an edge, that knife. Feel instantly panicked and lost. A voice hoodwinked me. I am hearing a man shouting, he is calling a friend or a dog. Calling the same word over and over again. It is too unusual and it clangs too loud on my outstretched nerves. Something is wrong. I become hyper aware that I am there. I am wearing a highly visible white shirt. No-one knows where I am. Instantly and deeply afraid. And, quickly now, I commit myself as to where to go and what to do, for the first time this afternoon. Turn back. Retrace the path. Lost though, just go up, blind panicky, climbing, up. We don’t feel anything, we are numbed by adrenaline. Part of me observes, yes, I like to do this, I clearly must like to take these risks, these thrilling geographic, geo-sociological risks.
But it’s sometimes too much, another voice says – It’s as if you don’t have the proper sensory capacities for edges. You are always bargaining with what is real and what is fiction – there’s been the fantasy versus reality, internal versus external battle raging in my head all the life long. Snap back to now, this is a step too far, it’s not worth it, I have to rock climb, to actually get away. I am gripping the protruding stone, stretching my being, my body into contortions of upwardness. I am seeing my daughters hands gripping that far away coloured climbing wall. And so, now, I take encouragement from you, distant children. My hands are expert – feeling, finding, testing, gripping. My feet searching for solid rock, then grasping a surface that shifts, and then another under my foot, it’s moving ominously. I am taking it slower, with care, it’s okay.
Suddenly, thankfully, easily, I am on the top road once more. Safe. I breathe, and walk again. Long, along and along in the heat of the afternoon. Pines above, pieces of gravel underfoot, crickets, sun glare, shades, phone, google maps, satellite connections, reading glasses, rucksack, and below the light splintered sea. Long in the heat of the afternoon.
After a little while another opening appears off the left of the road. This path has actual steps and I again decide to try and cut short the walk. Again I venture off piste down the steep slope to the sea. Around a corner I meet one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen. He has black hair, very curly, and looks like someone from the historical images I saw on the internet the night before. He is obviously distantly related to a roman god. He is with a young boy, probably his son. They have a large calm dog with them, an alsatian. I ask him the way. He reassures me it is easy to get to the beach, “Keep going down, and even though it is written ‘Private’ don’t worry, just go through.”
I am skipping along now, not literally, but relieved, glad to be going in the right direction. Descending. I pass two teenage boys smoking weed and then pass a woman who looks like someone at my daughters school, incongruously well dressed in the mornings. This person is so upbeat that I feel astonished and delighted by her. Wearing fishnet tights and a green dress of wool on this hottest of afternoons, she is obviously very happy.
Then I am on the beach. Other people are there and they may or may not notice me arrive. And now, of all the surprises of this long afternoon, a weird disappointment floods me. There is a cafe here. I sit on a generic white beach chair with a bottle of mineral water. I cannot move. Having felt so close to doom, I am stricken, inert, stopped.
When I eventually get up from the terrace of plastic tables it is much later, almost evening. The sun is cool, a wind has picked up. I walk round the small bay and all the way along to the jetty to where some sun still shines. I am stubborn. I am late. I throw my bags onto the upholstered benches and lie down, landing in a heap of longed for ease. It will soon be October, the water incrementally losing warmth, the sun going down earlier, every day. Self consciousness returns, the earlier rushing fear had stripped it off and left it lying on the rocky path. Now it’s been put on again and I have to cajole myself to get up and walk past the dwindling sunbathers. I climb down the ladder, in, and swim through dark cooling water into deep green sea.
Light levels are too low for filming, underwater is just turquoise-black-bottle-green. It is liquid night. Partially terrifying. The pressing down of air onto water, a subtle defining layer that is now hard to make out from below. I need that division of matter, the place where I know I can surface and breathe. It’s this layer, this fine line, this film, this is what I keep wanting to capture with the camera. Looking for it now, I cannot see it, I cannot breathe. It’s a type of claustrophobia from losing the vital senses – sight and hearing – an extreme disorientation.
The surface, this pressed upon surface, where one can see gravity tangibly pulling, pushing the air – the substance we live in, onto the medium we don’t – water. This is where I dwell. Looking up at the next life.
I do some filming, even though the built in meter insists it is too dark. Limpid silken surface – low sun flares into cinematic moment – too pink, too gold, capturing glory, amber-set, another watercolour, varnished, another blood-logged sunset.
At the apartment later I watch the footage. What seems to work is where I’m holding the camera still, tight against the swimmers ladder off the jetty. The waves are agitated, repetitive, and arrive on the lens aggressively tapping, driven by the breeze. Like this they are starting to erode the glass eye of the lens, the surface of the image.
The camera, on auto, deals mechanically with light and dark, distance and closeness, and the waves, also automatic, retreat and overwhelm. The device optically and digitally breathes. The camera is my prosthetic eye. It has become part of my body but also our collective body – everyone seems to be filming now. The waves overlap and submerge and recede. Glistening surface gives way to the dark green under.
I feel more scientific – I am a geological core sampler, a scanner of the interior, a dip stick in oil. The video somehow works. This attempt to go beyond the end of looking, seeing, to get further into the world, in it, senses-wise, to get haptic. The eye, the look, has dominated, decimated our consciousness. I’m trying to get away from views and images, there’s too much to look at, too much. It’s incomprehensible, off the scale, and it outweighs everything else. It makes everyone’s heads hurt. We are all lying down now, on these benches, the upholstered ones by the sea where the sun’s rays fall, and we all close our eyes in massive relief.
Walking amongst these pines was about the language of their needles, about adrenaline and heat, a meeting of inside and out, interior and exterior worlds. About the physical presence and urgency of the body, the self, exuding through its pores. Pores not eyes, pine needle pin pricks, lungs as well as thin reticent images.
I had decided to make towards a point in the far distance and then physically reach it. Imagine the belvedere, way up there on the top of the peninsula’s ridge, way above all the rock climbers, towering small above everything, looming over the tops of the pines, there it is – as I walk towards it, it became large, a massive thing, tall, too tall to climb, too tall to look at, craning my head, it’s becoming a serious body in space, a location, and no longer a sight. I am a tightrope walker between two geologies, plateaux. The journey between is tremulous. And tremendous.