Invisible Civilisation - Chapter 3

This is a series about the people we don’t see


THE OLD HEROES

I had a recurring nightmare when I was a kid. I used to call it 70,000. After I slept, I would dream of the world as it would look like in 70,000 years. Effectively it was as if time was inflating. It was a future of a size I couldn’t fathom and so, fearful in front of what I couldn’t understand, I’d tremble. I remember calling my mum once. Crying. On that day I made clear the core of my fear. The reason why ’70,000’ robbed me of my sleep each time I had it. My mum smiled. And hugged me.

100 years is a big chunk of time. 10 years we can figure out from the differences between two pictures of ourselves. Our hair, the wrinkles next to our eyes. We can even project ourselves in 10 years. Imagine what our lives will be like. In a 10-year span, if we wonder long enough, some key events will emerge. We’ll pinpoint the turning points in our thinking and being. 100 years is history. It’s not life anymore. We leave the job to academia and books, old newspapers and encyclopaedia articles. And these usually pick out some heroes. People who managed to change things. 1000 years and the heroes of 900 years ago are already complete mysteries. 10,000 years and one wonders who the hell was Demosthenes. Demosthenes. Who are you ? So what about 70,000 years. The limit of humanity as we know it. Everything vanishes out of memory.

And I cried that day because in 70,000 years I wouldn’t be around. And for the first time, I had understood the world would be. Only without me. Old heroes are the persons whose names get given to streets. As if we give these grand conquerors a feel-good prize now that they can’t wield a sword and cut through frontiers anymore. As if they keep conquering even after their death. They took on every relevant square and every relevant street name. Every award, library and cultural centre. Their names become values. Concepts. They’ve transcended the human condition to live in the realm of ideas. And they've left no place for the new heroes. Who wait. There. Vivid yet vividly forgotten and subdued. As if the past leased the future for a long while more.

THE UGLIES

So  you’re already ugly right ? Why do you add oil to fire ? Why do you play bitchy as well ? You’re sucking the air out of the room. I basically can’t say anything here. If I try and block your heavy jokes, I’m the guy harassing the fat girl. If I ignore you, I’m the discriminating shallow guy that people will choose to slowly ignore. If I just tell you you’re ugly and fat and glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks and criticise people on the dance floor, I’m socially dead. Imagine? You’ll bad mouth my guts out to the universe won’t you? So what do I do? What do I do?

I look at your eyes, I look you in the eyes, I look at your stares, I look at your iris, I look at your mouth, I observe the expression, I look at your skin, its colour, your ears, your eyelashes, the movement of your lips. And I look at my unease. I see the way I’m judging your being. And slowly the thoughts slow down. My shoulders drop. My belly relaxes. Slowly I merge in you. I become your mouth, I become your eyes. Your lips. Your chin and the skin of your neck. I am you. I am you. Now, I am you. And I pour myself into you. All my attention is yours. You are the centre of my universe. Everything I am is here for you. No one will ever give you as much as I give you right now.

It’s beyond acceptance, beyond attention, beyond presence. I love you. I really love you.

THE MISGUIDER

I systematically point the wrong way when tourists ask me for directions. The following is a manifesto for locals who have understood the importance of misguiding tourists:

I, local, give a wrong direction each time a tourist asks me for one
The Eiffel tower can be seen from where I stand, yet I point to the Pantheon
The Louvre hasn’t moved for ages, yet I lead them East
This is not Sadism
This isn’t a game
It’s fun yet entertainment isn’t the point
This is a statement
Against beaten path, guided tours and group travels of all kind
Be it a pub crawl or a Jacques Tati inspired tour of the 5th precinct
Any form of organised trip through a new country is a target

I am here to tell you your destination is shadowing the journey
I am here to state your guides are misleading you
I am here to get you lost
Again
As you should be
In a place you don’t know
I am here to open your eyes
To pluck open what travel has always meant
A deep, effective, disorientation, in an unfamiliar place

Who said travel is supposed to be a breeze?
Who spoiled maps with a pic-art over every 100+ year old monument.
When did we stop noticing the braces of the 18 year old french girl?
When did the bus system stop being an attraction?
When did the outskirts of Paris become no man’s land ?
I will lead you to what you haven’t seen
Caus’ this is your chance to see it
Your moment to get it
Once and for all
That travel is not travel
It’s a mere reminder that you are a stranger wherever you live
Until you start seeing life

When in doubt always go right. No, left. Go left. Always. Sorry.