On the Importance of Touching a Tree

Old Home

Only seconds remained until she would be launched into space at a hurtling pace. She heard the countdown through her helmet, but it was distant. Her mind was preoccupied with her own past and future. She remembered her childhood. She thought about all the fun times she had on this planet, but also all the embarrassing little mistakes she had committed. She was sad, she had to leave this planet, but there was no other choice. She had to. But what would be on the other side?

“20 seconds and counting!” – “t minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal” – “12 … 11 … 10 … 9” – “ignition sequence start” – “6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … 0″ – ” all engine running … lift off” – “we have a lift off 32 minutes past the hour!”

She felt a rumble going through the rocket, she felt her body shaken, and she was shaken. Was this supposed to happen? A tear started running down her cheek as she and her rocket slowly started to move off the ground with incredible power.

15 years earlier she had been a teenager. She lived in a small house with a disproportionally big garden, somewhere on the outskirts of a small German town. Her life wasn’t poised to be a normal one in the first place. She had to fight for her right to be who she was anyway, but she couldn’t have known what history had in store for her.

“Mum, can I please go out with my friends tonight? Dennis is celebrating his birthday, and we wanted to see the new Apollo movie at the cinema.”
“Well, have you done your homework?”
“No, but it’s the weekend I can do it tomorrow, and I’ll still have time to spare until Monday.”
“Okay fine, but don’t stay out too long, I’ll expect you back by midnight at the latest. Even if Dennis is turning 16 tonight, you’re still 14, and you still live in this house.”
“Ugh, yeah, fine, mum!”

Laura wanted to be older. She wasn’t excited about her adulthood, but then, finally, she would be able to escape the control of her mum. Her mum was just too worried anything might happen to her precious son. Laura didn’t want to be precious. In a rare accident of obedience, Laura decided to start her physics homework before the evening commenced.

Physics was one of her favourite subjects, well, to be fair there weren’t many subjects she disliked. There were some teachers she couldn’t stand, but other than PE school was manageable for her. Her biggest issue was boredom. If not for her mum constantly checking her homework as if she was still a 3rd grader, she probably wouldn’t have done her homework ever, but who knows.

Her physics teacher seemed exactly as excited as her about the upcoming rocket trials, her only homework for physics was a question about rockets. She loved rockets and she was listening intently when Mr Lampert talked about the ongoing programs to open up a final frontier in space. She could feel his excitement and she was excited as well. She caught herself staring out of the window into the garden. She often beat herself up about the lack of focus she would bring into projects. It made her feel even more inadequate than usual and she worried she would never fit into society.

She looked out of the window again. It couldn’t be. Was she just hallucinating? She felt tired from her day at school, it was probably just her mind playing tricks on her. She looked down again onto her empty page and her physics textbook. Where was she? Yes, rocket propulsion. So rockets apparently flew by pushing out a somewhat constant stream of expanding fuel, and then, well, because of Newton’s principle that every force causes an equal and opposite reaction, well that would push the rocket forward, or well upward. But wasn’t this too easy? Well, yes, the mass of the rocket would change. so it wasn’t just two unchanging masses pushing against each other, the process of pushing would change the mass of the pushed object. Oh no, this smelled of differential equations – Wait! There it was again, something in the garden had moved again. And it wasn’t supposed to move, was it? Trees don’t just move on their own, do they?

Laura was thinking if she should go out and look for herself what was up. Maybe it was all just an illusion. A weird artefact of diffraction or a lapse of her judgement, she had had a long day after all. Going out there could have cleared up her mind, after all, it was probably nothing, or was it? She looked out of the window again. She squinted, but she couldn’t see anything.

Still wondering, what was out there, she returned to her physics homework, just to be rudely interrupted by her mum: “Jonas, come down and set the table, dinner is almost ready”. Oh god, did Laura hate this name, but was there anything she could do to convince her mum to not use it anymore? Probably not. To her mum, Laura was just a delusional child, not willing to accept what nature had brought upon her.

“Have you had a look into the garden today?”, Dennis asked when he picked her up after dinner.
“Eh, no? Well, there was … why do you ask?”, Laura replied.
“Ah, I just thought something looked different when I walked along the fence. Just as if something had moved that shouldn’t, but it was probably just my mind playing tricks on me.”
“Wait, Dennis, no! I saw that too. Earlier, when I was doing homework, I felt like something had moved, but I thought my mind was just playing paranoid tricks on me.”
“Always, the good child doing homework, but maybe we should check it out”, Dennis mocked her with a grin.
” I don’t know what if it’s something dangerous…?”
“Come on, it’s just your backyard what dangerous thing could there possibly be?!”, Dennis urged her.

Dennis grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the little path that led around the house into the garden. Laura wasn’t really enthusiastic about the garden. She struggled a bit, but the fight she put in was more for show than a serious effort to stop Dennis. She secretly liked Dennis’ spontaneity, she wished she wouldn’t always worry about every single possible consequence of her actions, but she did. What if it was a dangerous animal? What if her parents would think they were crazy? What if Dennis found something embarrassing about her in her garden? Wait, what could a garden even tell about her.

They hadn’t moved more than a few steps, they hadn’t even passed the kitchen window when Laura’s mum screamed: “Jonas, don’t forget your jacket. It’s going to be cold today!”. Dennis stopped and looked at her slightly baffled. Laura just rolled her eyes. “When is your mum finally going to use the name you picked?”
“I don’t know. I’ve tried to tell her before, but…”. A tear ran down Laura’s cheek, glistening in the orange glow of the street lantern in front of the dark house. Dennis stepped closer on the slightly damp planks that made up the garden path and held her tight.

The second part of this story is First Contact. The whole story is collected in Touching a Tree.

The Seine and its Bodies

I actually like this entry. That’s a boring first, but maybe a good opportunity to flex my positivity muscles … about a thoroughly depressing song.

Trigger Warning: This post discusses mental health issues and suicide.

I actually like this entry. That’s a boring first, but maybe a good opportunity to flex my positivity muscles … about a thoroughly depressing song.

Well then, this took me way longer than it should have. I, honestly, thought that I would struggle more with the horrible songs of this contest, but apparently writing about something I enjoy is the harder exercise for me. This isn’t helped by my general propensity to abandon projects in the face of adverse circumstance or to start way too many projects at once all the time. Though, this probably shouldn’t become a testament to my mental health, even if the song potentially warrants a discussion about mental health in general.

But let’s get started with Eurovisions third final entry: The song in question is Messieurs les noyés de la Seine by Belgian Artist Fud Leclerc. Again Fud Leclerc is a name worth keeping in mind as he represented Belgium four times on the stage of the Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne and would go on to be invited as a guest star for the Eurovision Song Contest 2005.

Messieurs les noyés de la Seine translates to the Drowned Men of the River Seine and that should be the first warning to those who were expecting a happy feel-good melody to hum on their way to work. While if your French is as lacking as my own would probably not understand what is going on within the lyrics, the musical accompaniment doesn’t exude happiness either nor should it. Not every song has to be happy, but this one packs a particular punch of melancholy for me. The six repetitions of the title within the verses of the song, make them into a melancholic mantra that is only accentuated by my inability to notice the subtle changes between the stanzas.

Wikipedia posits that the persona of the singer is caught up in “a loveless marriage” and wants to drown himself in the Seine. While I can find supporting textual evidence for the first claim easily, I’m not so sure about the second claim. First of all, Wikipedia mixes up what Fud Leclerc himself and what the persona in his song wants to do, but secondly while the persona is obviously weighed down by the troubles of love and considers quitting the game I don’t think that necessarily points to a clear intention to commit suicide, there are other ways to quit the game. Also at this time, I feel it necessary to point to the fact that Messieurs les noyés de la Seine is definitely plural in French. That much I know.

Pourquoi, si tout le monde triche, jouer encore le jeu?

Fud Leclerc: Messieurs les noyés de la Seine

But there is a point to be made about the Persona’s suicidal ideation. After all, the song ends with the words “Paris me doit bien un berceau / Je m’endormirai sans amour ni haine / Entre ses bras de sable et d’eau”: Paris owes me a cradle / I will fall asleep with neither love nor hate / in its arms of sand and water

Paris me doit bien un berceau
Je m’endormirai sans amour ni haine
Entre ses bras de sable et d’eau

Fud Leclerc: Messieurs les noyés de la Seine
Skyline of Paris
View of Paris for the terrace of Les Galeries Lafayette

Even though not Belgian, Paris is a fitting choice for this song. As a city, Paris is commonly associated with love and beauty and while Paris is a beautiful city and there are many romantic and scenic spots to be found within its boundaries, Paris still comes with all the dirt, grime, rats, and annoyances of big cities. This disconnect between anticipation and reality even lead to what’s somewhat jokingly called Paris-Syndrome. This is usually more accurately described as an extreme form of culture shock. The disconnect between the imagined City of Love and the pain love can cause us in reality, can certainly make our own loneliness feel more intense.

What still is surprising to me, is that I actually enjoy the calm melancholy of this song. It’s so far the only song that has managed to find its way into my vast collection of meticulously sorted Spotify playlists.

If you enjoyed this weird look into obscure music you can read the last post in this series or can take a look at the entire series so far, in the appropriate category. Or look at the next entry: Germany 12 points.