Sunday, January 28, 2007

Winter is a State of Mind

I love winter. Not necessarily the everyday experience of living through winter, which usually gets old around mid-February, but the general idea of the season. Frigid cold and darkness. I love the way snow and ice transform the world into something alien and pure and colorless and elemental. And then there’s the pleasure of being inside when it’s cold outside. Cocoa, tea, warm fireplaces, blankets, candles.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing because I live in the tropics now, and the weather here is more or less the same every day. I miss winter. I have whatever it’s called when you’re homesick for seasons.

Luckily, last winter – no, crap, it was two winters ago now – in Munich was extremely snowy, and I stored up enough experiences of trudging around in the snow to last me for years. To add to the whole thing, that was the year when my friends Mithra and Frank got me a pipe for Christmas, so I spent a lot of time wandering around the Englischer Garten and the Nymphenburger Schlosspark trying to light the pipe. The combination of snow and futilely lighting match after match was somehow unforgettable – I would pretend that I was trying to light a fire that would keep me alive, like some really bad Bavarian remake of a Jack London story. So I have particularly vivid memories of several walks I took that winter.

But when memories alone aren’t enough to put me in the right wintry frame of mind, there are always photographs, right? Wrong; I have taken perhaps ten rolls of photographs in my entire adult life, and I don’t even know where they are now. I love pictures but I hate taking them. Something about putting that stupid machine up to my face makes me so upset and angry that I hardly ever keep it up there long enough to take a good picture. I am a shy person. I always feel like everyone’s looking at me. Normally this is bad enough, but when I hold up a camera in public, it multiplies that feeling enormously.

I feel like Frodo when he puts on the One Ring. I feel like everyone’s attention is drawn to me, and that there’s some kind of horrible giant eye staring into my soul. I feel, in short, unbearably self-conscious. And to make things worse, when holding a camera up in public I feel like I’m sending out an invisible beam that will make people want to not step into my picture, and the anxiety of disturbing other people’s walking like that is enough to make me want to throw the camera down and stomp on it. I hate the fact that whenever any jackass holds up a camera, suddenly it’s rude to walk in front of them, and I don’t want to be on either end of that stupid, horrid interaction. So I’ve known for years that photography isn’t my thing, and I’ve just had to rely on memory and other people’s pictures to satisfy my nostalgia.

This is why I got so excited about Google Earth a few months back – finally I could mentally relive my past adventures, based on a reliable photographic source, without having had to take pictures of everything. But Google Earth doesn’t usually have wintry pictures, except for Salzburg, which for some reason is snowy in the satellite images while everywhere around it is green.

So I needed some way to periodically revisit places I’d been during winter, in order to help assuage my homesickness for the season. I only recently found a pretty good solution: webcams. Today I’m especially homesick for Germany, after a nice meal with Darby and David at a German restaurant here in KL, where I had some pretty good Schnitzel Wiener Art and a Weihenstephaner, and so for the last hour or so, via webcams, I’ve been watching night fall on the snowy Bavarian towns of Munich, Augsburg, Garmisch, Dachau, Freising, Rosenheim and Landsberg. I think it did the trick. You know, I really can’t remember what life was like before the Internet. What would I have had to do to see this sort of thing, 30 years ago? Go to the library and find a book with pictures of Germany in it? I guess I would have just made do with fading memories.


La Niña said...

Sometimes I take photos of very minute details. The way the tree looks like when I look at it while I'm lying down on the beach. It makes me remember little details that otherwise would have washed away in my memories. I never thought much about details before but after realizing that my memory would eventually fail me, I capture these small moments and look at these pictures to remind me of an exact feeling or thought at an exact moment of my life and feel as if I'm right there again :)

albtraum said...

That's a great description of the importance of small details in triggering memories, like Proust's Madeleine biscuit.

I definitely agree... photos of a hotel bathroom or a stairwell somewhere can, to someone who was there, be a thousand times as powerful as a picture of the town's famous monument...