HEIGHT AND VALLEY

In order of cure the depression which has come over me, having fallen into my depths, I am seeking great heights. After all, I am not a doctor.

 

The destiny chosen is the Puy de Sancy, a mountain in the middle of France at the centre of its Massif Central – its peak at 1886 metres. After hours of driving the smaller roads of La France Profonde, in order to slow down my arrival and take it easy, I suddenly perceive my target in the far distance.

 

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Once in Bourboule, the place where I shall sleep, I experience uneasy trepidation. Have I gone mad? Did I completely forget that to be amongst mountain heights one must enter the vale?

 

Swiss writers – why no call them specialists – have rubbed it in: Mountain valleys are depressing.

 

Only yesterday Thomas Hürlimann, in his story Die Tesserin, explained the never ending cold and humid sombreness which those living in the Swiss Alps suffer. Decades ago, the great Max Frisch, never one for outright optimism, speculated profoundly on the intrinsic connection between what he saw as specifically Swiss miserable melancholy and life in the mountain vales. I think the title was Der Mensch enstand im Holozän – or something like it.

 

So, neither am I a doctor, nor a Swiss person, also I am a man with a bad memory. Then my ‘room with a view’ offered this:

 

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Knowing what views you can have here, this from former and far more joyous visits to this place, I immediately fell into a spell of worse depression, down and down and down.

 

The people here are immensely unpleasant to behold. Either a few autumn tourists who always dress up to show that they are on holiday; or that peculiar species of homo sapiens, at least of homo erectus, the one who is ‘taking the baths’. After all, this is sulphur territory.

 

The one who ‘takes the baths’ actually loves to submerge in the valley and stay there, living in bath-hotels, scurrying along the road on their way to the Thermes, in cold times in capes ‘so as not to catch a cold’.

 

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These weirdoes have that sullen bio-bio gaze which always depresses me. In their ‘free time’, when not washing their misery in sulphur, they may apply that gaze to mountain minerals exhibited everywhere, magically expecting wholesome effects on their soul. Mens sana in corpore sano, so to say.

 

After a bad night I rise and shine in order to catch the téléférique up the mountain – I want to be the first man today to reach the peak. My afflictions, for which no sulphur helps, make me tired easily. But since a while steel pills do their work, it is only 100 metres to actually climb.

 


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The morning is cold; driving towards the Puy de Sancy a glorious morning sun is catching one of its smaller brothers right in the face.

 

Before my car may start its arduous climb toward the lift, I pass through Mont-Dore. Just to remind me of my depression which we are going to fight up there, a sign serves as a reminder. The graveyard is just around the corner.

 

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Then the Master himself, proudly awaiting its visitor up there with the climb and afterwards a drink in the small café.

 

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It will be of my own doing if I do not return from this endeavour. Chances that the equipment might fail – certainly a thought coming to the depressive, melancholy man – are slim. The fitting of the lift cabin to its cables looks professional.

 

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Then, up there, The Sublime. The spirit soars. The whole of France in one’s arms – a full 360 degrees of it.

 

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There is one thing, however, which defines mankind. Wherever you are, the beauty and the sublime of it – there is always at least one asshole ruining the pleasures. While I am up there, together with the two others plus their dog who came with me in the first lift, we hear behind us and down there an awesome noise.

 

We thee are old, it took some time to climb. In the mean time some one else has taken the second elevator, an old man who has been following us. Steaming like a 19th century engine, he jogs up the steps. The dog, who was very nice before, starts to scream at him. The exhibitionist, sweating and grumbling, older than the three of us together, joins us, drawing all the attention he intends to draw. Behaviour and outfit succeed in destroying the surrounding grandiosity.

 

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Suddenly I feel so depressed.

 

Sierksma, Bourboule, 1 September 2016

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Author: rjsiersk

contact: rjsiersk@xs4all.nl Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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