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where your words mean nothing

Photograph taken by Michael Marsh, a stunning image taken on a beach in Whitstable, Kent. See more of Michael’s work on his Flickr photostream.

The world is crowded and I despair the noise of modern life. Too often inner thoughts are lost; drowned in the superfluous swells of people, traffic and advertising. With these eras of anxiety and neuroses and the burdens of responsibility there is not enough time spent on the self. The inner mind, solitary and unique. So rare it is now that those who do indulge in the self are dismissed as dreamers, romantics, hopeless fantasists. Clinging onto unrealistic desires. Floating through life with naive optimism. Clairvoyant wanderers, twilight visionaries. I just want space.

These surroundings desolate and at times unforgiving. With its emptiness however is a landscape perfect for self reflection. Spiritual reckoning. I walk out for miles to reach the very point where the sea merges with the sky, a transfusion of brine and cirrus clouds, a totality reached between water and air and no way of separating the two. Horizon consumed by a blue surface reflecting the brilliant white light of the sun. Towering wind turbines stand defiant with mechanical motion and the incessant whir across the waters. Hear them roar. The faintest ebb and flow from the slight winds rolling off the ocean out there. Time may be paused or passing at a slower rate.

Standing on a street of shingle surrounded by the calm waters and I acknowledge the obscene vastness of the sky above. Tranquility found, peace at last. But for how long. Hold it close because when it’s gone, it’s gone. Why don’t I do this more often? I should call my mother. Get in contact with my friends across the sea. Stop drinking so much. Become comfortable in my own skin.

My phone rings. Irritable as if vibrating from under the skin. I am torn and withdrawn from the sanctuary of my mind. Helpless as one by one the turbines slow then groan, rust and die. Sheets of worn and weathered metal stripped by the wind and carried away. The propellers fall into the sea causing spray to erupt into the air, and while a majestic sight it is also sad. Not long after follow the towers, emasculated and inert, crumbling away. With nothing on the horizon to stabilize me I look down at my feet but they are submerged and the growing waves lap over them. I have lost the coast.

Eventually I leave the beach. It is dark. My feet are wet and I see lamps swing on some distant pier. The wind turbines continue to hum across the water into the night. I reach my car. A parking ticket tucked under the windscreen wiper. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

kiekmal

Photograph taken by Flickr user ‘kiekmal’. Check out his Flickr photostream for some outstanding work in abandoned scenes, creating fascinating narratives despite the absence of life.

Of which direction the voices originated I could not say for sure but I thought it wise to keep my head down as I lay prone alongside a bank of earth. Face down and cheek pressed against sprouting moss and wild mushrooms. In a localised dialect they spoke low and urgent and I could not piece together their concerns. When the voices had passed I continued in the opposite direction, occasionally looking back over my shoulder while wading through the leaf-covered ground, stepping across fallen branches and in between stumps. There was no sound here but the crunching of my footsteps and the singing of distant birds. After some time I found myself walking on broken and cracked concrete, roots bulging beneath, an absurd feeling under my feet when all around me such an edenic environment – vines and ivy and dead or dying trees crawling over all – and yet here, something created by man. It became apparent I stood on what once had been a road, as when I glanced left to right I began to notice the faint outlines of doors and windows through the walls of green. I picked at random a door ajar and stepped through a curtain of matted vines into a hallway that was bare but for the staircase at the end. Musty scents overbearing in the confined darkness. Climbing carefully but the silence continued.

At the top of the stairs windows without glass were covered from the outside by vines and ivy and bathed what seemed to be an apartment in a sleepy green glow. If it was an apartment it was modest, with a few tables and several chairs scattered and abandoned. Dusty plates and empty brown bottles and on the cold concrete floor a large wall sign with peeling paint that spelt ‘RESTAURANT’. When I turned a tall thin man stood in the empty frame of a doorway. His hair was grey and his skin covered with dirt and dust. His shirt ripped and his trousers rags. But his eyes were bright and blue and looked alien on his weathered face; they made him look incredibly sad. As if his eyes took no willing part of this. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Excuse me please. I’m just passing through.”

“Through my home?”

“It doesn’t look much like a home.”

“It was a restaurant. We are closed for renovation. Sorry, you need to leave.”

I looked around. I doubted this man was the owner of the building, and much less once the proprietor of a small business. More likely he found shelter here, hidden in the forest and squatted in his filth and solitude. As I regarded this place and the man’s place within it he spoke again.

“I know what you are thinking. You do not believe that this place was once something else entirely, much like I was once someone different entirely. I understand why you would think that but that is the very nature of time. The beautiful thing about time is that it will continue to pass. But for now, it remains my enemy. For now I must remain closed. I cannot reopen. Who would use this restaurant? Nobody visits this part of the world anymore. The streets are covered by forests and cobwebs, long grass and dead leaves hide the concrete surface and the only clue that this was once a street are the stained and weathered signs, pointing to other, living, streets. This street is dead. They need something to come for. Would they come all the way into the forest for a restaurant? No. They might come if there were people here, living people, enjoying a fountain and rows of classical houses decorated with hanging baskets of floral beauty and elegant street lamps, and there were vendors and stalls selling fresh meats and ripe fruits and handmade trinkets, that can not be understood by foreign tourists but are revered all the same. If this street had all of that, something worth visiting, then I would open my restaurant. Then I would get customers and they would be in awe of the food and the drink and they would ask, how can you prepare such cuisine in this unforgiving climate?”

I wished the man all the best for the future and I left. Shielding my eyes from the blinding rays falling through the canopy of trees I stepped out into the street. I heard more voices, once again in a manner I could not understand. A couple were emerging from the forest and before they could see me I leapt into the long grass and continued in the opposite direction.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Tanzania - Mt Meru - Spooky tree

Image taken by photographer Marco Homrighausen. You can see more of Marco’s photography on his Flickr page here.

In the spectral morning light silhouettes played against a canvas of grey sky. A foreign landscape of twisted trees and the heaving shapes of waking creatures emerged through the murk like ancient thespians performing under a council of cloud. The audience a thousand droplets of dew, sat on tired xerophytes and dusty shrubs, which would have glistened but the sun seemed a distant prospect up there, somewhere far beyond the veil.

With caution the ranger unzipped a section of the mosquito netting and one side of the tent flap and held the flap open. Peering out this small porthole into the fog. The air was cool and he enjoyed the breeze, a fresh relief from his stifling quarters. Through the night his sleep had been plagued with dreams and night sweats. He closed his eyes and listened to the rustling undergrowth and far away to the east wild dogs yelped. He eased himself up and stepped out the tent, scanning the ground and treading lightly so as not to disturb resting spiders or scorpions before choosing a spot on the damp ground on which to sit. With a gas stove he boiled coffee and ate a slow breakfast of dried biscuits and fruit.

To the west there was a ridge that slowly ascended to the top of the valley. It could not be seen in these conditions but the ranger knew it was sitting there idle. Time passed and while the light shifted the veil did not. He continued to stare at the void around him, a vast and consuming gloom and he saw the mist disintegrate from something whole to multiple somethings; individual shrouds that interlinked and became one, then decoupled and dispersed between each other again, then became one, then many, one, many. The mist was alive and the ranger was captivated. So vivid and wonderful were these visions that he had to check that it was ground coffee he was drinking, and not by accident ingested a cup of peyote.

From somewhere behind the tent the ranger heard footsteps and this sudden and unexpected approach panicked him to such an extent that he let out a cry and retreated back to the tent. Here he waited and waited, listening with shallow breath and shaking hands. A man of considerable knowledge and experience in the field reduced to a blinded child in a sandstorm. Because last month he had seen his dead wife drift past in similar conditions, and this is why the ranger found the mist so troubling. She would not turn around and face him but such was his fear of dread he was relieved she kept her eyes hidden. He scratched at an imagined rash on the back of his neck and exhaled in despair.

A rabid and inexplicable fear took hold of the ranger and he reached for the hunting pistol in his pack before he realised that it would be no use. There was nothing outside the tent that could hurt him. Where is my mind? He whispered and he found himself looking out into the mist once more. Like a veil the cloud descends and obscures not only the landscape but the mind, to transform both into uncertain plains. Can you spare me this fate? He softly spoke to the mist but there was no response. Sleep brought more dreams. He woke in relief, tangled in his sheets. Beside him his wife slept peacefully and he reached over to brush the hair off her face and lightly kiss her forehead. She stirred and smiled and opened one eye, and he kissed her with passion. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Once Upon A Time in Val D'Orcia...

Image taken by Italian landscape photographer Edoardo Angelucci. See more of Edoardo’s stunning work on his website, and also be sure to check out his flickr page.

Youth was a grand farmhouse on a hill, surrounded by fields of long grass and crops that spread for miles around in every direction, under the clearest blue skies and a strong sun that drove dozy cats into the shade and kept stone walls warm deep into the night. It was the air, pure, clear and yet thick with a fragrance that lingered on your person where ever you went. It was distant relatives, or were they friends of the family, who cooked for large crowds around the kitchen table, shouting and laughing and at peace with one another and with the land they shared.

A squat man stood labouring in the soil, his sweat dripping onto the very earth he was cultivating, and on approach he stopped and leant on his hoe, to listen closer.
Where can I find the podere capriccio?
He considered the question for a long time. A long time. Then he raised his right arm, a sun-burnt arm with thick black hairs, and listed it lazily from north to north-east.
Thankyou.
The squat man turned back to his work and did not look up again.

Memories had been formed around the farmhouse but of the surrounding area nothing was certain. These eyes have changed with responsibility and the irreversible damage of age. As vivid greens were now dull browns and once lush and fertile fields were barren and forgotten. Sand coloured dust tracks were gone and in their place printed tyre treads in the mud. Faraway pylons stood defiant and tremendous in scale, their lines powering the little specs of light in the valley. Would it still exist? The building, but more specifically the feelings it once evoked. If not for him then for some other family, a generation of descendents linked not by blood but by land.

On the horizon the distant shape of the farmhouse grew and it became clear the place had long been abandoned. Approaching slow in a void silent, interrupted now and again by the sound of the wind passing through broken windows and creaks from disjointed frames. Inside the layout was as it had been but the atmosphere was not. The air thick with dust, musty and warm. Brown wilted ivy and vines crawled over walls and overturned furniture, and paintings and picture frames lay where they had fallen. It was impossible to tell how many people, and who, had lived in this house after he. To recall its past appearance caused nausea and vertigo, and the walls seemed to pulsate gently. Memories that had never been defined by time felt old and devalued now. Nostalgia replaced by loneliness. Leaving the house and walking out into the dry fields under sporadic shadows of dead and dying trees, downed tools lay rusting in the soil.

There was still something beautiful to be gained in the isolation, something beautiful hidden in the desolate ruins, and slowly some of the colour began to seep back into the world, but still it felt hollow.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

miami

The backstreet behind our apartment in Miami, FL, taken in March earlier this year.

Earlier eyes stared out from barely-lit rooms, through blinds or from behind twitching curtains. Now a much later hour and a much darker night. Apologetic streetlights remain pulsating while the city breaths carcinogenic air down the cluttered way-bys. The alleyways separate the blocks like vital capillaries providing access for parking and garbage disposal and fire escapes. She walks past a group of homeless; all but two are passed out. The conscious talking in delirious and tragic tones, eyes small and black. A door is open and she walks up the stairs to his apartment, where a rat-like man escapes as she squeezes through and inside. It is dark and smells of sweat and bleach. He is on the sofa; there are others but he is speaking, no one else.

There are dead bodies decomposing in beds and bathtubs. Of course. The undersoil beneath the city is rotting and has been for a long time. We sit and wait while it slowly starts to taint the surface. You can smell it now, the dead waste that looks like broken dreams and concerns of crime and unemployment but the issues run deeper than that. All of that stuff is like overflowing trashcans. Unsightly yes but nothing to worry about. But those trashcans are being filled with trash from beneath the surface, and it’s growing quicker than this city can clear it.

It was clear he was high. His fevered speech quick, his movement erratic. Impossible to discern if he was preaching to her or delivering some unhinged soliloquy.

It’s not all bad. Don’t want to scare you, of course. But you need to know the depth of the situation. It runs far deeper than superficial problems on the TV, the radio, the papers, the internet! Oh, the internet. I won’t go into the internet, but you know all about that anyway. So yeah. It’s bad, but don’t lose hope. Don’t panic. It’s been building for a long time, all of this. You just got to think to yourself, for yourself. What am I doing today, and what will I do tomorrow. Remember what you said each day – does it correlate with what you said yesterday? If it doesn’t you should get flat out drunk. Flush the doubt out of your system and start again. You should also ask: why am I here? And also: do I feel safe? That one can be sort of objective, you know, do I feel safe in my job, do I feel safe on the streets, what is safety…how can you feel safety if you’ve never been safe? You know the sort of thing I’m getting at. Of course. Is it warm in here? Fuck it’s warm in here. And he stood up and strode over to the window, throwing it open then closing the curtains. Muting the weak glow from the street below.

When she left his apartment the next morning she heard the laughter of children from a school across the way. The streets were crowded and her straw-like hair covered her bruised face nicely. Opposite her bus stop was a convenience store where cars stopped to open their trunks to women carrying bags of groceries. She watched them come and go, fill up and move on. Her bus was late but it was a beautiful morning and she stood there, warmed in the sun and she didn’t mind the wait.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016

 

chichen itza

A photo I took on a visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Mexico, earlier this year.

Distant drums shake the ancient earth and a faint chorus of chanting grows stronger in the heat.  A pained father in a stained fabric loincloth watches on, his arms arranged in prayer to some deity in honour of which the ballgame below is being played. Several young men with plaited hair or shaved heads and decorative paint on their dark skins run on the dirt below, sweating bodies glistening. At this distance and under the haze of the midday sun they take on the forms of upright ocelots, chasing the sphere from one end of the court to the other. All the while they yell and screech, to themselves, to one another, to what lies above, but their shouts are swallowed by the noise of a thousand spectators who watch on with fevered intensity. Clapping and shouting and hooting their lips moist with spittle, the crowd like myxomatosed hares. Without any perceptible change in the atmosphere the game is over. Ceremonies start and finish. Sand and soil is stained with blood and down white limestone steps streams of sacrificed crimson escapes to become one with the soil. To feed the worms, the underworld below appeased. The sky is red and shadows grow stronger, emancipated from the trees and temples. The crowd disperses into the evening, drained from the passions of the day. The endless cycles of victories and defeats. Civilisations built and broken and rebuilt and reborn.

1,450 years pass and still the sun burns hot and people gather in the ball court. Less bloodshed, on these soils at least, but admiration and passion from travellers across the continent and beyond the seas. A culture lost but not forgotten. The architecture is outstanding and the acoustics are incredible. A handclap propels itself off the weathered surfaces. Noise refracting through these spaces as it always has done but unable to replicate past events. The visceral history and a wholeness that can only be imagined. Still images preserved on electronic devices, to be shared. Locals of mayan descent sell their goods; carved trinkets and wooden ornaments that imitate the catcalls of jaguars which scare the tourists.  

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

CNV00075

I took this using a disposable last summer at a folk festival in Sark, Channel Islands.

From the dirt track past fields of livestock they came in droves, wearing denim shorts and vintage shirts and straw hats. Some wearing less. Sore heads and bloodshot eyes in abundance, they shuffled their feet like condemned around a prison yard, but morale remained high on the approach. Over the hedgerows the white canvas tent tops stood tall. Weakened sunlight forced through cirrus clouds almost cosmic in their distance and it would be warm but for a gentle ocean breeze that brought the scent of brine and the calls of seagulls.

Across the fields the enchanting sounds of revelry and laughter. Jangling stringed instruments came muffled from within tents. Bunting and face painted children. Stalls with decorative shells and sheepswool jumpers and local jams and chutneys. Smoke from the hot plates of food vendors offering fresh fish and lobster, burgers and fries. Scents that stimulated goodwill. Mere distractions. Within a large tent the crowd sought an elongated bar staffed by thin black figures. Still pressed ciders and warm ales fizzed continuous from well worn brass pumps, the source of a benign frenzy whereby punters battled for the attention of the bar staff for a drink. Two or three, to lift spirits. Vitality restored, and stepping away from the bar revealed the view of a hundred heads, nodding in approval of the folk music for which they all were here and which after several days all sounded the same. A merged soundscape of local groups and acts from the mainland and beyond took to the stage with determined enthusiasm. Faces strained but smiling. 

The afternoon sped by, in and out of a tent now rife with the sweet smell of perspiration. The crowd smoking cigarettes and splashing beer from plastic cups onto the once green soil. Rhythmic dancing inconsistent with everything. Applause and whistles. Screams and shouts. Broken vocals fragmented down a microphone. The evening brought a blood red sunset and later a light but continuous rain that drove the saints away.

Joyous confusion when another band took to the stage after the last scheduled performance, but concerns were voiced when these latecomers were themselves usurped at an even later hour by another band looking tired and drunk. Now past midnight and still the crowd swelled, not yet ready to concede the evening over, not while music remained to carry them into the morning hours. The bar staff however were unwilling to carry on their shifts, nor the security staff, and rightly so, for this had not been agreed in their contracts and they were tired. And so from within the crowd bottles of foul smelling spirits began to appear and smokers crept in from the night into the warmth of the crowd with their lit cigarettes like amber warning lights in thick fog. Some climbed over the unattended bar to serve others and themselves. The temptation of dancing on the stage, with another apparition of a band taking over almost seamlessly from the last, proved too much to resist and they joined now, barely visible up on stage in the dim lamplight except when a stray strobe caught the face of a drunken reveller, fevered with eyes closed as if experiencing celestial interference from above. Old men partially concealed by smoke, swaying and leering like wraiths. The muddy path to the portacabin toilets was shameful, with lights, swarmed by insects, illuminating the vague and inebriated forms of the damned.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016