Monday, 11 May 2009

Today the rains came and it was a relief. Nights of rain is not the same as days of rain. Days carry a threat not evident at night. Despite the fact that recent nights have been interrupted with claps of thunder loud enough to push things from shelves, the days have been dry until now. No matter, Monday was a day that had not time to worry of rain. Out of house, to bank, post-office, provisions at local market, train station, back home to prepare the day.

Across town, hours later with all work done (that is the only luxury I afford myself - a days work complete in three hours) , I was at a loose end and loathed to return to the apartment when more work could be invented. So, seeing as I was in the area I visited Charlottenburg Palace, itself built at the end of the 17th century and looking very much like a big, old building where rich people used to live. There is not an ounce of interest within me to look at gilded ceilings or baroque plasterwork.

Instead I skirted round the outside of the building to the gardens, designed in 1697 in baroque style by Simeon Godeau influenced by notable French designers who completed the gardens at Versailles. The garden is a large formal arrangement, flanked and surrounded by woodland and finally the slow curve of the river. With geometric patterns, lines of trees, carefully sculpted viewpoints along avenues, circles of moats and a grand central lake the garden attracted only a handful of visitors in the quiet drizzle and so I lost myself for some hours, desperate not to return home.

There is something about the architecture of gardens, something about the landscaping of woodlands that I equate to a novel. Beyond the distaste of the origins of the venture - a grotesque display of wealth and stateliness - it is hard not to allow a fascination to develop for how crafted gardens work. This constant struggle against themselves, a persuasion towards nature that seems to allow nature to thrive is interesting, if only to expose the process of our relationship to the natural world. And, indeed, within a city like Berlin.

From the two hundred year old red iron bridge, vantage points could be seen. Getting there initially was a work of intuition and discovery. Spotted across the carp lake, where huge silver fish were rolling at intervals, a path led through the woods, revealing a hidden neo-classical mausoleum. At the bridge, the finest view of the palace itself could be seen. In the opposite direction, an obelisk draws the next adventure. Obelisks, representative of sun pillars, those great towers of light that appear at sunset and sunrise, hold a strange attraction for me - their purposelessness leading towards an overt show of deification, myth and ritual. This is held, I think, without any knowledge of their origins, but perhaps not. More likely I associate it with some far off, childish exoticism instilled by Tin Tin or Indiana Jones.

Walking towards the obelisk took me through winding paths of long grass and past small flowing streams in which heron staked out the shallows and brightly coloured waterbirds eased v-shapes behind them as the crossed into the larger expanse of water round the bend. The carp continued to roll and the lake's surface and red squirrels - still a surprise to see given their scarcity in England - hurried down from trees to the riverbank, edging along the slopes with fluidity. Then, as if it wasn't expected, another building - a three storey belvedere, an old tea-house situated in front of an enormous oak and expanse of grass.

And herein, with this suspense and release - lies the similarities to my mind with novels. Firstly, there is this wilful movement of peoples, unknown to the peoples themselves, by external elements (paths, glimpses of structure, positions of attraction). Secondly, there are the revelations, expected as a concept yet unforeseen in their materialisation. Thirdly there is the distraction - the journey is hidden by a million details, by animals and flowers and grasses, so much so that time is lost and the transition (not to mention relationship) between key elements that underpin the entire narrative passes unnoticed, yet is absorbed.

Guaranteed, there is writing on this elsewhere. The demonstrative power of landscaping has not been lost on municipalities and civic bodies - politics, authority and power are played out in every boulevard and park here, especially in the East. Where this particular interest lies is within places of recreation, where statements and subjugations towards the general populace are not sought. Instead, in many of these places, it can be seen that they are meta-narratives of a type. They are an actual struggle with natural forms and a statement upon it. In the same way, good writing within the novelistic form is a statement upon the structures and anarchies of language, thought and meaning, whilst being a ground on which those structures struggle for superiority, recognition and clarity.

No comments: