This was featured in the latest issue of Lostravellers Magazine. You can check the full spread here, and read more about Lostravellers here.
“Freedom is a strange thing. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart and no-one can take it away.”
There are many dreams to be had, out in the void. So dream a little; go on. Cast yourself out.. which will be yours? For there are dreams, and then there are dreams: dreams that inspire and dreams that scare; dreams that offer insight and dreams that serve only to muddy the waters. It almost seems self-evident: that these esoteric adventures would be as varied as the people that dream them. For dreams do much more than distract us from sleep.
Late at night, when your subconscious is hard at work and you drift between worlds, what dreams do you dream? Do you dream of escape and exploration, adventure and freedom? Are they dreams of the open road – stories with no predetermined endings? These are the dreams of lost travellers, waiting to be found. Maybe we’re all waiting.
It has been one of my trademarks this trip. From that first rinsed feed of KFC at the airport in Auckland to the ludicrous decision to eat a joint in Barcelona Airport, it now seems that I am unable of catching a plane without some skull-crushing hangover or ghastly chemical imbalance. This isn’t something I seek out but rather an inevitability given the hedonistic tendencies that The Last Night brings out. Who knew when I’d be back? Sleep was for the weak, I for the night – and there was always a price to pay.
The first part of this will be familiar to anyone who has been following along. It was an almost off-the-cuff response to a piece by Tourettes that featured on lostravellers. It tried to capture a bit of what Berlin brings out while mirroring his dissociative style, with only moderate success.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it wasn’t finished. The following is the full story, and what I hope is a more complete homage to the city.
It doesn’t seem to matter where you end up in Europe, or anywhere for that matter – you will inevitably find yourself confronted with the past. Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the positive and for every piece of magnificent art or architecture there is a corresponding evil lurking in the shadows. When you think about it, this might even say something about our wider nature.
Despite what they say about history being the story of the victors, across time there have always been losers and now, more than ever, we hear their side. History mightn’t be an objective discipline, but some horrors escape obliteration and rest in our collective memory as reminders of darker times. Or so we tell ourselves.
There is perhaps no place where this is more apparent than an hour’s drive from Karakow, in a quiet town on the edge of the Polish countryside. Once a small unremarkable village, Auschwitz is now scorched into the collective consciousness as the epitomy of human evil. The horrors perpetrated against Jewish victims in the gas chambers designed as the “final solution” are almost unspeakable, and even more so for the pre-determined and dissociated fashion in which they were done.
My arrival in Ukraine was once again a strange one. As expected the bus got in stupidly early – leaving me to wander the looming bus station under night’s last hour of darkness. It was eerily quiet and the only other people present were those from my own bus. None of them seemed remotely Western. Russian was the lingua franca here and I was, once again, out of my depth, misguided and mute as I searched the different levels for some clue as to how I might get into town.
In the upstairs waiting room I found a man passed out face down. He was still kneeling and his forehead rested on the bench where it must have fallen during this silent prayer for salvation. The empty vodka bottle clasped in his hand confirmed that his plea had gone unheard and I went back downstairs.
I’m not sure how you picture an exchange, if you’ve never been on one. I’m not even sure that I had a picture in my mind when I upped and left Auckland at the end of last year. The Exchange Office’s propaganda promised “international experiences” and “new friends;” and the walls in their office were crowded with pictures of people in exotic locales smiling maniacally for the camera.
At the final meeting there were murmurings that things mightn’t all be roses and sunshine, and that we should prepare for “culture shock” – but I paid them little heed. I’d been overseas before and knew what was to come, more or less: crazy nights, hot girls and little responsibility getting in the way.
It’s perhaps not unexpected, that over the course of a year adrift you might find yourself craving some familiarity. But I hadn’t expected it to come with the force it did, sitting on the toilet dry retching while I dreamed of home and friends absent. It felt like not much had happened, between Fez and here, but I no longer cared. I was sick and sick of it, and in my weakened state waned. Why the fuck had I come to Morocco in the first place?
Solitude is a strange beast, not really relevant until there is something to compare it with. The couples at my hotel in Fez, the pity from shopkeepers that I had no-one to travel with (not forced, I chose this), the self-consciousness that Ramadan intensified: these all conspired to fuel what came to burn as a numbing sense of solitude, enforced instead of volunteered for. But all men must do some time in the wilderness and Morocco was to be mine.