Sunday, August 9, 2015

Midsummer


                                           
                                                                                               View from workplace one afternoon.

Halfway through the course of my first English summer, I came to the conclusion that English summers have been incessantly romanticised for centuries. But it is certainly not half as bad as this sentence sounds. I haven't yet had the occasion to lie down in meadows and read decadent books while drinking Pimms to the accompaniment of the heady smell of English flowers that I had read about for years; but I am thankful that I still often need to carry a light jacket when I leave home; that while some days are very hot, others are cool; and that I am slowly getting used to the unpredictable weather.

I know the precise day when spring started in England this year. It was the remarkable day of the solar eclipse, and I had taken a little trip with my supervisor to my future workplace and clicked pictures of lush gardens belonging to English stately houses. On the other hand, I do not know the exact day when English summer crept into the country this year. After abandoning warm clothes only for a couple of days each month since March, people all around me began complaining about the never-ending chill of 2015. I decided to take a gamble and wore my new blue summer sandals at 6 one June morning, and with a denim jacket over a summery top, started my journey for the south of France. In the echelons of my mind which keeps track of unimportant personal milestones, that day is my first day of English summer.

Contemporary popular culture's romanticisation of summer is very literal. One cannot be more beautiful, more confident, more carefree in this one summer, which is fraught with important episodes. The subjects of such summers are almost always innocent late-adolescents, drawing on their summers of love for future experiences, and life lessons. However, when the subject is a 26-year old woman, the situation becomes problematic. Isn't she too old for life lessons, for sentimental episodes? Very possibly. But when I set sail that June morning wearing blue sandals, blue denim jacket, and pulling a dark-blue little suitcase, I was carefree, confident, and heady with the flush of (what I thought for ten whole days) new romance. I felt the full blast of 30 degrees of warmth when I landed in this little airport in Languedoc-Roussillon, and I know that summer was instrumental in all the curiosity and attention I received over the next five days in Provence.


                                                                                               The Rhône from Pont d'Avignon.

Roughly a month later, Sheffield had an unexpected day of 32 degrees temperature. I was travelling to Baden-Württemberg the following morning, but with the rest of my flat, I lay in the mound of grass outside our apartment, looking at the sky and hoping for a rogue breeze. None appeared, and I left early the next day for four heady nights in south-west Germany: heady with warmth, endless conversations and huge quantities of wine.

One of my major reservations against life in England is how quickly time passes here. I observe time with the passage of seasons. Hence in England, tracking time has been achieved by watching the appearance and disappearance of flowers. With a pang in my heart I realise that it has been over four months since the first daffodils appeared in the village, and I had clicked a very enthusiastic photograph. It had been a glorious spring, and my superstitious mind was wary that it would be an unremarkable summer. The mind has been corrected several times over the past couple of months. Like the weather in this country, life too has taken unpredictable ups and downs. Such an art-imitating-life kind of synchronicity, which I have learnt to accept graciously after nearly eleven months here. In the past two months I have seen my personal life fall spectacularly to pieces, and then attempt to come together again, and then fall apart again. The final time, I bore the falling apart with more confidence. I travelled to work, worked, wrote, read, talked, negotiated many deadlines, cried, met new people, and dreamt, each time having to push myself far beyond my comfort zone. When I tried to explain this to my supervisor the other evening over tea, I realised how meaningless words were quickly becoming, to convey the gist of lessons learnt every single day. It only means that I'm getting used to it all. And like a typical English summer, the realisation has followed a complicated, circuitous trajectory.


                                                                                  Another view from workplace a different afternoon.

I often think about past summers. The versions of summer I enacted in my mind for nearly twenty-five years could only have been made possible by the generous air-conditioning afforded by my parents in their houses in a tropical country; for my version of summer, was a thoroughly European one. At that time, lying in parks, walking in Mediterranean towns, or drinking sparkling wine in central Europe was ahead of me. But what I had longed for then was the feeling of intoxication in languid, sultry days and cool nights. For the rest of my life, that taste of languishing inebriation--that has finally been achieved--will equate with freedom. It will smell of lavender, and will carry with it the serene happiness that I felt as I shut my eyes outside the church at Vyšehrad in Prague on the last day of July 2015, while the church bells rang a familiar tune and a light breeze blew around me.




                                                                                                            Vyšehrad, Prague.

[I started writing this post in midsummer, on a day when I needed to be reminded of aspects of  this summer that were extraordinary. I abandoned writing it soon enough. Nevertheless, I returned towards the end of summer, to reflect on what a rich few months it has been, riding the crests and troughs of emotions and experiences, and emerging as a marginally fuller person. Midsummer makes it sound romantic, and gives even more hope for the rest of the season. That is why, even in the second week of August, I'll keep calling this "midsummer".]



                                                          Gönneranlage, Lichtentaler Allee, Baden-Baden, with the Black Forest in the distance.

Monday, May 4, 2015

How Should the Sun Be?

I like the luxuries of days, when I will not have anywhere to be, and can drown myself in endless cups of tea, going to the shared kitchen every time to make one, and sigh as I read all that I want to, and all that I'd never ever need for my thesis. There is so much I want to write, but every time I try to put finger to keyboard, I cannot think of anything. I am sat here on this glorious Monday morning, a Bank Holiday giving me the legitimate excuse to not go to my desk in the university (but grad students don't have holidays), cooped up in this little room in student halls, reading moving personal accounts in The Paris Review, making a cup of tea every time pangs of hunger surface, reminding me that I haven't had dinner or breakfast, and deriving a vicarious pleasure in drowning those pangs every hour with Darjeeling. How refreshing to break away from my gnawing everyday-neuroticism, which forces me to plan and consume meals, plan work, get about doing work, laundering, cleaning, going to libraries, and cooking. I even have the luxury of being amused at the thought that it will all return with renewed vigour late tonight, and I will spend the rest of the week in exhaustion.

I am still trying to figure out my relationship with the sun. It is problematic at its best: Thanks to spending twenty-five years in the tropics, begging the sun to show some mercy and not burn me down; and spending the last seven months begging the cloudy/ windy/ rainy sky to part just enough to let some sunshine in to brighten up the day; and then asking the sun to take it easy when it blinds every thing on certain spring days. One morning, as I walked to uni, I looked at the sky and confessed to myself that I had never seen such a rich shade of blue. White blossoms from trees stood as a majestic contrast to the shade of blue and I could only look with wonder. Warm days lasted a week, and then temperatures dropped, and the sun vanished. Now as I vacillate between two tabs on my browser, listening to the soundtrack of Mad Men on one, and Alexandre Tharaud's rendition of Chopin on the other, while reading a beautiful, intense article in The Paris Review, I think that the sun too might pattern its behaviour like me, vacillating between gloom and light, giving in to the mercies of its mood every morning.