Hiraeth

Photo: jessica sealey

Photo: jessica sealey

By Aoife Inman:

It’s late but the evening light lingers at the peripheries of the ocean making the day stretch long into the night. Time seems to stretch here, the minutes distorted by the quiet swell of the ocean.

The air is full of mist; it pads out the twilight zone between the last dregs of evening and the soft beginnings of the morning. I’ve always thought this is an almost mythical piece of the day, when it’s neither light nor dark and the sky is damp and thick with salt, brushed in off the incoming tide. You can hold the mist between your teeth, wads of it pressed against the insides of your cheeks like cotton.

There aren’t many who bother to come down to the sea front at this hour, with the weather, as it is, temperamental and unforgiving. The wind bites and scratches at any scrap of skin left bare to the element and my thighs are lined with small red welts and scratches – the claws of the ocean have dug their way into me, right to the bone. Today, however, there are a few faces who peer palely over in my direction as I trail down the hill – van dwellers, keen surfers and fishermen, who are all, themselves, half brine and barely human, at least in the city sense of the word.

This was always the place I felt most at home, not here specifically but this ocean, this crack of coastline that juts out obstinately, defiant and secluded. It feels a million mile away from the industrial powerhouse cities I’ve made my home now.

Home. It’s a strange word whose weight has always felt uncomfortable in my mouth, hard and bitter. I was born on the road, moving between a collection of cardboard houses, each one like the last and yet lacking something. I resided in houses, habitats, a series of rooms, plaster, mortar and board – safe and comfortable but never permanent. To belong to just one place strikes me as an exhausting concept.

I thought when I had grown up that I’d settle somewhere; that I’d stop moving and plant some roots, or whatever the metaphor is, but I’ve realised that those moments, those years spent on the road, they get into your bones over time. Slowly, you barely feel it at first, but I can’t stay still now. I’ve tried, time and time again, found a place I love and settled there with a job and a plan and a circle of friends and then I feel that itch, again, against the soles of my feet. It’s like a disease, that itch, that want for change, it’s exhausting sometimes.

I walk along the cliff path, away from the cove, to the world’s edge where the grassy slope seems to fall away into the deafening blue. It’s a steep rocky path carved right into the grit and soil of the cliff, the sort that has been etched by many pairs of feet, worn over many years. When the tide eventually comes in it will cut off this path completely, a void of cold, blue Atlantic filling the space where my feet have trod. Nothing about the breadth or surface of this terrain is easily digestible. It’s a wholegrain, bran and fibre sort of landscape – some find it lonely, harsh, and unforgiving – I find myself falling in love with the rough corners of it every time I return.

When I was a child we were taught to spot currents on cliffs like this, our hands tracing the motions of the sea, trailing the lines of white foam that spread across the ocean like a film. I reach out my hand to lay it on the horizon, palm obscuring the bulb of the grey sun.

If you follow the cliff path round the curling edge of the peninsula you reach a town, a knot of tangled streets that overlap one another like old strings, every one gnarled with potholes and cobbles. I follow it now, zigzagging through kissing gates and through fields of thick grass. Everything is further apart here, houses and gardens stretch along the street, sand banks drag the beaches way out into the bay and the years seem to trickle by – I do not have to measure time so carefully here, there are months to spare.

The town is simple, a harbour filled with thin fishing boats and crab pots, a lifeboat house, a shop selling spades and 99 cones. It’s fixed in another time, another era where people worked with their hands, in the earth and the water.

This place is filled with mysticism, steeped in folklore, luck bound in rhymes and patterns of three. It’s everywhere you look, tucked in corners of woodland and thin waterfalls where faerie stacks topple. Down in the town the boats that jut out into the cove are named after mythical lands and magical creatures, suspicion has wormed its way amongst the men who tend the land and drag the sea.

“Look down there.” The mother leans into the clove of her son’s ear as she speaks. “Look down at that boat there, see the lions on its side?”

Sure enough, on its flanks are painted two yellow lions, their manes dipping and rising out of the green waters.

“They’re named after the legend of Lyonnesse…legend says there used to be a beautiful isle just set above Seven Stones reef that is halfway out to the Scillies. The city of lions and the land of Lyonesse, built with 140 churches atop it and a castle they say, all swallowed up in a single night by the ocean.”

The boy’s eyes widens as he listens, his hands gripping the handrails with his chubby palms.

His mother crouches down by his side, “look now do you see the top of the steeple there, just jutting out of the waves?”

He nods, eyes fixed on the grey sea.

The light is fading now, obscuring the edges of the day. Home, it’s a strange thing I think again, I wrap my tongue around it, a lump in the hollow of my mouth. It’s everywhere here and yet it feels distant. It’s in the lilt of the mother’s curling accent, the one I have lost over so many years spent away. It’s in each vowel, full bodied and warm, the crackle of pebbles under rubber boots in the evening tide, the low thud of water turning cliff to rubble.

I collect them in my palms as I count them, feel the weight of the love I hold for this place, and close my eyes as the day melts.

About the author:
Aoife Inman is a writer and historian based between Cornwall and Manchester. Her short stories have been published in Electric Reads’ Young Writers Anthology 2017 and New Binary Press’ 2018 Autonomy collection, as well as being long-listed for the 2016 Royal Academy Short Story Award. 

Like Home

In our home town of Berlin, Catherine Marshall visits an exhibition that explores notions of place and home through the work of different artists:

In a grand corner apartment block in Berlin’s Mitte near Friedrichstraße, eleven artists with a connection to South America and Berlin have set up temporary home, or ‘Like Home” as the exhibition is titled. It is organised by the project Loop Raum, and the focus of the work is on abstraction, patterning, repetition and colour. Visiting it transported me back to the time of abundant unrenovated spaces in Berlin, where you might come across pop-up exhibitions in unusual places and have the pleasure of discovering the unexpected. Stepping into the the first-floor apartment where the exhibition is held, the space exudes the former grandeur of its Grunderzeit architecture with its high ceilings, intricate stucco and beautiful parquet flooring. At the same time, the rooms are damp and cold in places, the corridors are quite spooky and maze-like and plaster lies exposed with remnants of wallpaper from bygone years. We start to explore.

Carla Guagliardi / "O Lugar do ar" (The place of air)

Carla Guagliardi / "O Lugar do ar" (The place of air)

In the first room, we see a delicate kinetic sculpture of iron rods supported by rubber bands that crisscross the entire room by the Brazilian artist Carla Guagliardi.  A piece called "O Lugar do ar" (The place of air), its structure imposes a new language over the room with its potential to shift and change shape. It's material and formal abstraction is incongruous to the historicist style of the room, yet it reinvents it. It is not solid and fixed, yet it has a strong presence. When we endeavour to make a new city feel like home, we wish to carve out a space for ourselves, both physically and mentally. Due to economic necessity, a transient way of life can also become a permanent state.

We turn the corner down a long corridor where a small drawing by Columbian artist Carlos Silva from his ‘Mazy Drawing’ series hangs. Its overlapping squares of blue ink appear to have been made with a scraping technique. The wall it hangs on carries its own marks: Swathes of white filler on plywood and torn wallpaper edges. The work draws attention to the layers of workmanship and materials of the flat itself. In this show, many of the artworks resonate with the apartment itself, its ghosts and history, making us question who might have lived here. It reminds us also that home is never static, is not just located in place but also in time. 

Carlos Silva / "Mazy Drawing II"

Carlos Silva / "Mazy Drawing II"

Leaving the corridor, Chilean artistGonzalo Reyes Araos’ grid-like “RGB Painting” revels in glitches that might appear on a computer screen, except that this is reproduced here meticulously in paint. It’s as if the romantic landscape genre of the eighteenth century practiced by artists such as Caneletto has been updated. Instead of architectural ruins we have crumbling technology. Have we passed the threshold where our home screens feel more like home than our actual home?

Other works in the show play with optical illusion, geometric forms and seem to want to reach beyond the boundaries possible between four walls or even within the limits of their own frames. Carla Bertone’s colourful painting ‘Turgoxid’ looks as if origami paper has been folded and refolded in a quest to reach the limits imposed by the square, if there are any. Maria Muroz’s “Lemniscata” is a play on the mathematical symbol of an infinity loop. Close up, however the progression of colour through the figure of eight is not so straightforward. New angles and colours become apparent, questioning our own logic.

When you move city or country or live between places then perhaps there is ‘no place like home’. Instead it is something better, a plurality of homes, experiences, memories, friends and origins. We have moved on from Dorothy’s trance-line repetitions of “there is no place like home” as she returns to her Kansas’ origin. We prefer the uncertainty of Oz, and its new possibilities. In ‘Like Home’ I felt these artists might enjoy that notion too.

The exhibition ‘Like Home’ has been extended to July 21 and has been expanded to include an additional fifteen more artists. It can be seen at GLINT, Glinkastraße 17, 10117. The show was originally paired with another project called ‘No Place’ with the joint title ‘No place/ Like Home’

Five Questions for... Mitch Karunaratne

Image: Mitch Karunaratne

Image: Mitch Karunaratne

For our series of interviews with contributors and friends of Elsewhere, we caught up with documentary landscape photographer Mitch Karunaratne. Mitch's wonderful photo essay 'The Land of Maybe' from the Faroe Islands appeared in Elsewhere No.05, the most recent edition of the journal and available via our online shop here.

What does home mean to you?

Home grounds me, keeps me energised and focused. It’s my memory box.

Where is your favourite place?

I’ve always been drawn to water. I was born on a small island in the Thames Estuary and the connection to water flows through my soul. Whether it’s the canal running through the Olympic Park or the view of Tilbury Dock from the roof of Thurrock Nature Park – all my favourite places are in liquid form!

What is beyond your front door?

Ted. He’s lived on the street for over 60 years, moved in as a newlywed, raised his family and now looks after the street. Rising at 5am, he delivers the papers, takes in everyone’s parcels and packages, feeds the cats and looks out for us all.

What place would you most like to visit?

At the moment, I’m feeling the drawn of lands close to home. I’d love to look down from the peaks of Snowdon or Ben Nevis – but would definitely struggle going up!

What are you reading right now?

The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy - This book crept up on me really slowly. McCarthy writes well about the personal and the political - in ways that leave room for the reader to insert themselves. But as it developed I became more and more quietly drawn into understanding that I too, like the author, and I'm sure most human beings, had some very memorable moments orchestrated by nature and wonder, it felt good to give those moments a vocabulary.

Mitch is a founding member of the Map6 Collective, exploring the relationship between people and place.

Five Questions for... Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

For the next of our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal we have five questions for Brendan Walsh, whose poem 'Playing War’ appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

I've realized that home, for me, can only be determined in retrospect. Home is a memory. I can look back at times/places and say, "yes, that felt like home," but in the moment I'm not sure it can be pinned down succinctly. Oftentimes we equate "home" with "comfort," but why can't comfort exist without home? The more comfortable one becomes in the absence of a defined location, the greater comfort one can find in every single place.

Two years ago I would have said that home is wherever I am with people who accept/love me, but it isn't that easy. I have been with wonderful people in places that were definitely not my home. Before I had the ability to travel freely, this question was much simpler to answer.

Where is your favourite place?

My favorite place is Laos. I lived in Vientiane for one year, and I'm currently back visiting for a month. I won't say that there is one place within Laos that I prefer--I am simply enamored with the feeling of being here. In my life I've never encountered a collective society that is more welcoming, humble, kind-hearted, relaxed, and hilarious. The landscape is calm and brutal in the same blink. Mornings are hazy, slow, and warm.

What is beyond your front door?

Palm trees, geckos, coffee, mangoes fallen to the sidewalk, beaches, hopefully sun.

What place would you most like to visit?

Right now it's a tie between Papua New Guinea and Mozambique.

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

I'm reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coatesand Become What You Are by Alan Watts, listening to thousands of motorbikes tear through Vientiane's Lane Xang Avenue, and looking at three women congregated around a cart weighed down with coconuts. 

Swimming in the city and country: Turning - by Jessica J. Lee

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

Read by Paul Scraton:

Early on in the pages of Turning, a swimming memoir about taking a dip in 52 lakes in Berlin and the surrounding Brandenburg countryside, Jessica J. Lee admits to fears and insecurities in the water. This is something I share. I have never been a massive fan of swimming, whether in the sea or the swimming pool, and especially when out of my depth. It has only been in the past couple of years, swimming in some of the very same lakes that Lee visits in this excellent book, that I began to conquer those fears.

It was then that I began to understand what people were talking about when they - like Lee herself - quoted Roger Deakin and his description of the ‘frog’s eye view’. As Lee describes being in the water in Brandenburg, surrounded by the pines and the sky, I can picture it exactly as I have experienced it as well. You do get a different view from the water, a different understanding of place. And that, for me at least, is ultimately the story of this book: as well as personal history sensitively and bravely told, Turning is about a person gaining a feeling for the history and the stories of the places she visits, deepening her knowledge of the geology, ecology, communities and political history of the city she lives in and the surrounding countryside, each time she takes to the water.

As someone who both shares these interests about place in general, and about Berlin and Brandenburg specifically, it is not surprising that I found myself nodding in agreement and recognition as I read. There were other elements of the story that resonated as well: the loneliness of being new in a big city and of building a personal connection to the place by getting to know and to love the landscape, the forests, the suburban S-Bahn lines and the gruff owners of rural snack kiosks.

Lee is an elegant writer; precise in her description, thoughtful in her observation, and most of all interested in the world that surrounds her. This is not always the case when it comes to memoirs, which can sometimes become so tied up in the internal emotions of the writer that there is no space for any exterior, for the world around them, and therefore context to the story they are trying to tell. In Turning, Lee’s personal journey is deeper and richer for the reader because the lakes and their surroundings are characters in the story. As is the weather. As are the seasons. The plan was to explore the 52 lakes over the course of a year, and so Lee was swimming at the height of summer and in the depths of the winter, breaking the ice with a little hammer in order to clear enough room for her to have a swim.

Indeed, one of my favourite lines in the book - one that had me reaching for a pen in order to scribble it down for later - concerned the shifting of the seasons: “It’s all too easy,” Lee writes, “to be sucked under by sadness in the autumn.” I understand that emotion only too well, even if I haven’t (yet) tried a plunge in an autumnal pool to try and alleviate the October blues.

And then, a few pages later, more recognition: “I’ve become divided, stretched across places.” At the very time I was reading this book, I was working on my own project about walking the outskirts of Berlin. One of the motivations for these walks was to try and gain a better understanding of the city I live in a time when my feelings about place, belonging and identity had been thrown into turmoil by referendum results and a series of trips “home” that made me wonder, more than I ever had before, where “home” actually is. I too have felt stretched and divided. The only question, is whether it matters. Each walk, each swim, can help the clarification process.

Walking or swimming. Building our connection and understanding of a place by interacting with the landscape, the history and the people, can be done in different ways. The strength of the book is, I believe, that it not only is a good story very well told, but that it will make readers think about their own places, their own feelings of home and belonging, of their own lakes, forests or city streets, and think a little deeper about them. Jessica J. Lee’s is a trip to the lake well worth taking, inspiring even this reluctant swimmer to reach for his swimming shorts (if not the ice hammer).

Support your local bookshop! Go and get your copy of Turning by Jessica J. Lee there. Meanwhile, here is Jessica's website.