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Friday, November 22, 2013

Oars in water. By John von Daler

                 "When I walked through northern Europe in the early thirties, men were scarce..." The old storyteller took a sip from his Bulgarian red wine; this was not a big enough occasion to break out the French bottles. Then he took a bite of pheasant liverpaste on a piece of French bread. He took his time; he wanted the point to sink in. I needed no pause in which to think it over. I had heard his tales before; I knew his methods; I took a drink too.

                He stroked his straggly gray beard, "and lakes, fjords and rivers made #Finland into one big watershed. Walking the main roads, which in those days were not very impressive, you were constantly running into ferry crossings. You would come up over a hill and there would be water as far as you could see to the right and to the left - and often the distance across would be impressive too. At some point a ferry would arrive, you could just sit in the grass at the top with your back against a fir tree and watch it arrive. If you had something to eat you could break it out and nibble a little and just watch the ferryman work his way up to the shore."
                He used this moment to light his pipe and to scrutinize the corner of the yellowed ceiling in his little, cluttered living- and diningroom. The miscoloring of the plaster did not seem to bother him. Maybe he saw the shadows from his stories in their smoked out patterns. In pauses like these he often tested his audience to see if they could get his point without his having to explain, so I took a sip from my glass.
                "I say ferryman with a slight touch of irony. As I mentioned at the start, men were scarce. The ferrymen were young Finnish peasant women, strong and tanned, often beauties whose features were reminiscent of the Slavs, with high cheekbones and clear, broad foreheads and they were, well, very, very lonely."               
                "You could sit there on your mountain and look down and decide more or less that this might be a good place to spend the night. If that was your intention you could just wait until the sun started to glide towards the horizon. Usually they would row over and pick you up for the last tour of the day. If you got to talking or doing sign-language you might be able to get your dinner at her place. You might even end up sleeping in her arms."
                The old man held up his glass and looked through the wine as if it held or withheld a mystery he needed to understand. After a few seconds he sloshed it around in the glass and drank some and then looked at me as if he had understood something. Or was it just his way of finishing off his story?
                "The Inuits in Greenland who live in tiny settlements far out and away from the rest of their society used to share their wives when the very occasional guest came by. Scientists say that that rejuvenates their race, gives it needed genetic strength."
                He stopped and looked at me across the table.
                "Never mind science. Sitting up on the mountain looking down towards a beautiful woman rowing to meet you is all you need to know at that moment. If you decide to tell about it later, she lives on. Genes or no genes."
                I thought to myself, He hardly ever tells too much. That is the last thing he wants to do, to tell too much. But even a great storyteller can feel the need to be his own listener, to decide both what is said and what is understood. Then I sat a while looking at my glass and listening to the sound of the oars in the water.

I rowed in
other waters.
You can buy
my book
by clicking


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