The memory sits so deep that I keep discovering it in layers below layers of so many other places, no matter where in the world I go. Not even consciously so, it is deeper than that. I feel the dark walls and the smell of burned steel, the coal soot, the dust and the thick water; the blacks and blacks and blacks. I see and I smell them, even when I am on the other side of the planet, literally. Memories from one’s life’s beginning are true objects of reference. They are points of departure, but they also create a safe harbor, a place to that the soul crawls into when there is a storm.
Things can get dark in there. And they can get that dark for many, many reasons. It is a place that has experienced violence of unspeakable dimensions, a place that has been used and abused and exploited. But this is also the place where love began, where life began, where a little fragile story began, the thing that holds things together, for me. But obviously not just for me. I am not the first one, not the only one, and not the last; even if fewer and fewer stories seem to begin here.
The smells and colors of Upper Silesia in the 70’s will probably always be with me in some way. And it is curious that I have visited Beijing maybe twenty times more recently than the place where I first encountered the idea of togetherness and humanity, and what needs to be done to be alive. A lot of what it takes is not at all beautiful, of course. And yet it is. It is the reference point. It is where beauty began for many.
Even when I drink a ridiculously labor-intensive and bright green tea before sunrise, it is out of the blackest bowl I could possibly find. It is maybe as black as the snowflakes I remember falling from the sky on a summer day, across the rail tracks, near my grandparents’ home. It was when the lights of the cars cast overlapping cones into the thick brownish grey air ahead of them. When the sun was a dark disk somewhere up there, even its light somehow completely out of reach.
New York, August 2014