Dordrecht, September 15.
Above me on the wall in green faux handwriting a long quote from Francis Bacon’s “Of Gardens”. It begins GOD Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures…
This has been a different mode of travel since August; less the spiritual philosphe-weg through the vineyards of the mid-Rhine, more a series of exercises in how people live. It began in Koblenz this time, as it ended last year. I am still walking, but these pieces are in a surge of recollection and Moleskine sitting in a converted Water Tower on the outskirts of Dordrecht.
In late September 2010 I took, following Tom, my first boat, from Boppard, location of the Chinese beer-garden, at dusk, standing on the prow like one of those wooden statues from the 17th century brig, amazed at how much faster, how changed the perspective when moving with a little more speed. The colours change as well, purples and mustard yellows replace the fertile greens; the river is lead, then blue; the moon is out.
The trip ended last autumn because of stolen credit cards; and began where Koblenz let off last time in a chorus of people. Last year it was students doing a pub crawl which made my bar, Mephisto, heavenly quiet and then hellishly fully. The bar features old movie posters, plays punk – especially Richard Hell – and a plenty of Wombats, and though later in Cologne and Dusseldorf I’ll be told the place is “far too commercial” it suited a need last year; this year I stay for one drink.
Albert Speer spent a great deal of time after his release from Spandau in Koblenz, pouring through the archive to prove he didn’t know what people said he must know. Ultimately Gita Sereny proved that Speer’s actions were in vain.
In the main square around midnight a group of strange zombie like characters in white bathrobes, but look for all the world like members of the Klu Klux Klan. Tourists from America, off a cruise liner and told to wear the outfit so they didn’t get lost because these were (though hardly Chandler’s) mean streets. And I am Moose Molloy.
This time it is a few weeks earlier and there are thousands of tour parties in many languages, the new spin being head-sets for each member and a guide speaking into their cell phone. No more palatable. Rain too, as before; Koblenz was then and leads this time, the sense that the sunshine of the mid-rhine is over. I wander around at night, visit the archives, really try, but can’t get started….
Tom must have been exhausted by now, unlike me he hasn’t had breaks, years passed, in which to regroup and make sense of his experiences. It is not a surprise to hear that he began rowing now, and picked up some other Englishmen who had been studying in Heidelberg. I think his heart was on Cologne – the last biggie, with its famous cathedral – and then London. I didn’t want to be in this frame of mind, but couldn’t quite connect. I wrote poetry instead….hmm.
The first walk was to Andernach and on the way I got sick; and Andernach was small and not unlike Boppard. Then I got really sick, took a train to Bonn and slept off the languor for two days. Travel wimp.
Germans had shown surprise I was walking on from the glorious mid-Rhine. It gets ugly they said. I was about to see.