Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Today, out in the dusty park, itself a former train station that used to send carriages out to Wroclaw and Vienna, there were many people, some of whom knew each other and others who just sat together in silence upon the benches watching the ice-cream sellers and bicycles. Echoes of previous use partly exposed, the park's previous function must influence in some way its present-day use. Severely damaged in the Second World War, repaired, then rendered untenable by the Cold War, what journeys are still taken from there? The park itself is a site for all within the neighbourhood, especially on a hot day, and in need of the unsociability of crowds I often head there to read, to a bench by the huge crater that dominates the centre of the park.

Once there today, I began to read Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. On a first glance it's narrative threads, delicately fractured and separated by thin lines between paragraphs, are immaculate. Characters are introduced, deeply characterised narrative arcs are split away from the dominant non-fictional prose, and the sets of sentences begin to run alongside each other like trains. The war on terror, technological advancements in guidance systems, avian flu (apt, as today my sister was diagnosed with that other media favourite, swine flu), suicide bombings and some eloquent unravelling of Hobbes alongside an unfolding story of infatuation and temptation.

In fact, I could have continued to read much longer in the park than I did but, prompted by a strange encounter, I returned home. As I sat silently, deep in the beginnings of the novel, a man rode his bicycle past me, stopped abruptly and dismounted. He then sat next to me on the bench, watching the ice-cream sellers and bicycles, and three times, very slowly, with each single word utterance preceded by a minute's silence, said bahnhof. Station.

Immediately after the third articulation, he got up and left on his bicycle. I felt for a moment like some kind of spy, as though I had been given some codeword which would be of invaluable use at some time in the future. Perhaps, I thought, I am a carrier of codes without even knowing. Perhaps I am not complicit at all and I think that by writing here I am in fact jettisoning any hidden meaning the word should have had. Perhaps that is what they wanted me to do all along.

Perhaps the man was a lunatic. Perhaps the man was learning German. I am learning German. Perhaps the word he said wasn't bahnhof at all, but another word in English that I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I just heard bahnhof because I was siting upon the buried railway tracks of a former station. Perhaps by writing it here I am transmitting it to another operative. Perhaps I am a lunatic. Perhaps I am complicit in this entire affair and I write here to absolve myself of a knowingness, to promote an ignorance. Certainly, that is it. I write here to promote an ignorance - my own. After the bahnhof incident, I could concentrate no longer on poor Coetzee. So, here I am, back at the apartment, not reading, promoting my own ignorance.

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