Dedicated to my friends
Let’s try something, would you like to? Close your eyes and listen carefully all the sounds around you and then try to describe them (if you feel like, you can write them in a comment below)
If now, when you are reading this, you are in front of the computer, the dominant sound will be brrrrrr and zzzzzzz from the computer 🙂 But if you do this exercise outdoors, it is amazing how many sounds you will hear, that otherwise pass unnoticed. Many times I feel there’s a whole world right in front of our eyes, that we are blind to, unless we make a deliberate effort to slow down and notice its details (I feel that I am doing the same exercise through photography, visually).
About a week ago I tried this exercise, to close my eyes and listen and I will tell you what I heard:
…the hissing of the sickle cutting the grass, repeated regularly, like the ticking of a clock measuring time in a different rhythm; the sighing of the grass falling on the ground; the rattle of the bells tied on the cow’s necks, which sound like wind chimes; the murmur of the bees from the nearby beehives, like a choir with thousands of voices; tweeting, whistling, tingling and shrieking of birds flying, like a loud party where they talk, scream, laugh and sing; clamping of horse shoes on a rocky road and tinkling of bells tied on the bridles; neighing of a horse, like a high pitched laughter; the rough sound of metal hitting another metal; the roaring of thunder, echoing in the distance, or maybe it was the rumbling of a plane high in the sky; howling, whining and barking; the whisper of leaves, touched by the warm wind, which I also feel like a caress on my face; crackling of wood in the fire; light steps in the grass…and I open my eyes.
By now you must have guessed, I was in the countryside (in a village called Livada, in Romania). It is an isolated village, between hills, with mostly old people. It had no school nor hospital, but a small white church on top of a hill. There was almost no phone network, the Tv was old and almost unusable. There was no tap water, so we had to carry it with buckets from a well nearby. The toilet was in the garden and there was no fridge.
But this seeming lack of comfort (compared to the city standards that we are used to) did not prevent me from having a good time. On the contrary. I think I felt better than in a luxury hotel. I have nothing against luxury, mind you, I’m not gonna preach against consumerism and materialism, but I often felt that the things we want (or even stranger, even if we don’t want them, we are constantly assaulted by them) are not the essential ones for being happy. I’m sure that we all felt that the more we earn, the more we spend, the more things we have, the more complicated and hurried our life is. Actually, there in that village I had everything I needed in order to feel good: a house, food, friends. And maybe equally important, some kind of peace or quietness – inner and outer – that I think is connected to simplicity and nature, which somehow escapes us in every day life. I wonder why.
After a week during which we have spent most of the time outdoors, in the garden, walking over the hills, through the fields, in the wood, getting sunburned and dirty, like the barefoot kids from the village, we played all sort of games, we laughed, we slept under the nut tree, we cooked, we ate together around a wooden table in the garden, we drank fresh goat milk, we did cloud gazing, we made a fire in the evening, we made hay, we climbed a hill near the village to watch the sun going down, being surrounded all the time by the sounds described above, we were so relaxed and peaceful, life seemed to flow in a different rhythm. And that’s not a little nowadays, is it? I felt that peace and quietness came also from being disconnected from the tv, computer, internet, information, images, email, facebook, shopping, things to see and to buy, hundreds of people, cars, movies and commercials. The brain was finally not overloaded.
Those days me and my friends we have often imagined how it would be if we moved to the countryside, all of us. Of course, things are more complex, and any decision implies giving up something. Moreover, as I have found out myself, when you try to make big changes, it is unbelievable how you are pulled back by the power of habits, the need for security and the “traveled road”.
This reminds me of a a book by Alain de Botton – The Consolations of Philosophy, in which he spoke of Epicurus and his recipe for happiness. Epicurus – epicurean – pleasure – orgies – this is eventually associated with his name. But apparently it was not so. He lived a simple life, he moved outside Athens with his friends in a big house that had enough rooms for each one of them and common spaces. They tried to be self-supported, by living off what the garden they cultivated provided. In these circumstances, Alain de Botton makes a “happiness list” according to Epicur:
3. Thinking (analyzing the main causes of anxiety: death, illness, poverty, superstitions and thus finding relief)
And to these, the author adds – with his typical irony – a fourth component “A woman like Madona, as painted by Giovani Bellini, whose melancholic expression seem to hide spontaneity and wit, dressed in hand-made clothes bought from second hand shops”. (it’s not the official quote from the book, I made the translation from the Romanian)
Now let’s get real. Besides the fact that throughout history all attempts to create a commune have failed, I believe that the real issue is not if one would be happier in the village or in the city, if one was dressed with second hand clothes or designer clothes, if one had a car or a bike, but: why what we are is (almost) never enough? Maybe only when somebody loves us, that voice inside us is silenced. For a while.
I have the vague feeling that all my life I’ve been waiting for something (poem), something hard to define concretely, it’s not “Prince Charming”, nor a great job (meaning to do what I like), nor to have a house (a place of my own), nor a fantastic travel around the world, nor an adventure (to do something crazy and brave like in a Jules Vernes book), nor to win the lottery – or whatever ingredients are in the happiness recipe. It’s a restlessness, sometimes more quiet, sometimes louder, which tells me I am not there yet, although I don’t know really what “there” is. And I believe I am not the only one who feels that, that’s why I wrote this. But maybe we are already “there”, all we need to do is…. what do you think?
If you feel like, leave a comment below. I would like to hear from you. Thank you!
More photos from the countryside here
For the Romanian version of this post go here