Saturday, 11 January 2014

St Albans

The sun has been shining today. After weeks of rain the sun shines, and the skies are blue. So today I sat, enchanted by this sun, on our balcony, book in one hand and cup of tea in the other, lost once more in the travels of Vasily Grossman. He was at a wedding, a time of decadence in a far from decadent setting — rural, mountainous, Soviet Armenia, where everything was made of grey stone: mountain bones, as Grossman puts it. Life there was tough, for it is hard to grow crops and rear animals on stone; houses were chiselled out of the landscape and possessions were few. Here were a couple born in hardship, to move to a tiny — stone — single room marital home with but one window, the bride leaving her family and village for another. And yet, there were feasts, there was music, there was joy.

I looked up.

We live in a brand new, rented flat. It is warm, dry, in easy reach of shops, roads, rail. The whole development, a village unto itself, was built for young twentysomethings to live in at night and commute to London by day. It is nestled within greater St Albans, a city of some considerable wealth. Money here — although alas, not for us — is rife. And yet.

And yet here I was, alone in the sunshine, reading of comparative poverty, in a silent world. An occasional car might pass and an occasional train might chug along, but between them was silence. In this world of red bricks and marketing suites, of artificial landscaping, not a soul was stirring. This is a land where people commute on week days, and leave in search of activity on weekends. A few stayed indoors: I could see washing hanging from one flat, vibrant red flowers on the kitchen sideboard of another. But hundreds of other flats remained quiet. This environment, an artificial human construct built for the convenience of humans, was absent of human life. But the cloudless skies, enriched by the vibrant sun, were alive indeed.

In the distance, from the pointed roof of an office complex, a race began. Starting with just one, then another, birds launched themselves into the air, quickly forming a flock. The flock swooped from side to side, up and down, rolling. A little gull flew over our balcony, an infant in early, exploratory flight. Soon it was being chased by a sibling, then another. Others patrolled overhead, following invisible yet established perimeters. Then none could be seen, hidden behind the buildings, and all was still once more. After only seconds their silhouettes returned, punctuating the sky: the patrols and the swoops and the chases. A human world, but where nature provided the life.

little gull, modified, by Ómar Runólfsson

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