Every so often in my late night meanderings on Spotify or Youtube I find a song that gets to me so viscerally, I feel as though I have found a soulmate – and wish nothing better than to disappear into the folds of melody like how Ariel became one with the waves. Tonight’s unexpected romance is with Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, written by Stephen Foster, the same guy who wrote Oh! Susanna. I have been listening to and liking Bill Murray’s version from his New Worlds album with Jan Vogler (which I cannot recommend highly enough) for a while now, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon Sam Cooke’s version just now that it really hit me – what a beautiful, beautiful song. I switched back to Bill Murray’s version, let the piano notes trickle in, let Bill Murray’s quavering, despondent voice envelope my heart, and then lay on the bed covers, quite unable to move.

I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Borne, like a zephyr, on the summer air;
I see her tripping where the bright streams play,
Happy as the daisies that dance on her way.
Many were the wild notes her merry voice would pour.
Many were the blithe birds that warbled them o’er:
Oh! I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air.

I long for Jeanie with the daydawn smile,
Radiant in gladness, warm with winning guile;
I hear her melodies, like joys gone by,
Sighing round my heart o’er the fond hopes that die:—
Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain,—
Wailing for the lost one that comes not again:
Oh! I long for Jeanie, and my heart bows low,
Never more to find her where the bright waters flow.

I sigh for Jeanie, but her light form strayed
Far from the fond hearts round her native glade;
Her smiles have vanished and her sweet songs flown,
Flitting like the dreams that have cheered us and gone.
Now the nodding wild flowers may wither on the shore
While her gentle fingers will cull them no more:
Oh! I sigh for Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air.

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There the sky begins to melt into the watery grey, taking the hard edges and pointy tops of buildings with it. The wind, with its cold insistent bite, tunnelling its way through the people and the cars, dodging walls, rushes past ears and eyes, grazes the skin, throwing the world into sharp sensory relief. Grimy water gushes nowhere and everywhere, all at once, its unstoppable weight descending upon all objects that dares to stand upon the earth, heedless and flawed and free. A lone cigarette butt clings on to the top of a rubbish bin and then makes one last desperate spin before falling to its liquid meaningless death. And then thunder! Blessed thunder! It resonates and shakes and booms, enveloping all before it, vibrating through every atom, burrowing through the very depths of my existence…

 

…and suddenly, silence.

A car door slams, a man steps out onto the curb. He walks round to the boot and extracts two umbrellas and passes one to his passenger. They walk off together, chatting about some banality or other. The pitter-patter of drizzle and feet. People walking in all directions, umbrella in hand or slung on crooks of elbows, some disappearing into the shadows of the evening market. Puddles lie dormant and disparate. A splish splash or two, a feeble rivulet of rainwater. The sky, now still. The veil, lifted.

“Now that I’m walking again to the beat of the drum” I cannot be more grateful that I have my little cave to escape to. There is, at least, joy to be found in the pinks and the blues and the green and earthy hues that drape my walls and windows and things, little hums of peace as I run my fingers over the rows of X’s adorning the duvet sheets and the rough threads patterning the sofa rug-turned-throw. The evenings seem so short, however…the day’s music goes on for far too long, far too jarringly.

Many times since I’ve returned to KL I’ve looked back upon Frankfurt as some of my happiest days. The surface contrasts are hard to deny. I miss the feeling of liberation one gets from meandering by foot about the city, choosing to settle on an empty bench if I wish, without fussing over a plan to Waze and park or Uber; the feeling of losing oneself without actually getting lost. I miss my old habit of looking up at the sky – if there is one definitive memory of Frankfurt for me, it is that of returning home after the sun has set, about to cross the threshold of my flat, hands stuffed in coat pocket, and then stopping in my tracks to look up and marvel at the countless stars – how vast, how clear, how beautiful.

But memory is a most unreliable thing, especially when viewed from the lens of present-day emotions. So many sayings, so much research tell us that memory is always relativised to the present. Our brain is not flawless, and often falls in thrall to our heart. The past is always a pretty story mainly because it’s no longer here for you to cross-examine. And therefore on occasion one feels like such an irrational overwrought thing, because you know you are pining for an abstract, a concept, and conveniently glossing over the day-to-day humdrum that, if remembered, would make a memory seem a lot less wondrous, and the present a lot more to be happy about, than it seems when one is sunk in the depths of stubborn despondence.

But then there’s the other side of the coin, isn’t there? Emotions colour how you experience life and love and everything else in between and beyond – and so they shape what you create, and they make what you create uniquely yours. My singing teacher has often told me – bring your day into your lesson, bring your life stories into your singing. Singing at 25 and 40 are different, not only because your voice physically matures but because how you see the world changes. As Rebecca Mead says – “All our loves, realised or otherwise – all our alternative plots – go to make us who we are, and become part of what we make.” A final word of comfort from Goethe in The Sorrows of Young Werther, through which I am currently midway –

“He values my understanding and talents more highly than my heart, but I am proud of the latter only. It is the sole source of everything of our strength, happiness, and misery. All the knowledge I possess every one else can acquire, but my heart is exclusively my own.”

 

 

 

 

Overhanging whoosh
Steady chugging down under
Me sandwiched between

Forlorn pink trash bag
Vending machine spits candy
People chatter on

Rows of red poppies
Bulky chunks of railway tracks
Basking in the sun

Marled coral rooftops
Poking through unbroken green
Cower beneath cranes

News of Manchester
Drifting past the countryside
Slightly incongruous

27/05/2017

We got stopped by the police the moment we crossed into Bayern…

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….but made a narrow escape with the sheer power of conversational wit (according to Julia).
Our car also screeched to a halt in the dark, deserted high street, because we were waylaid by a hedgehog.

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We waded through dangerous waters…

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…And then got stalked by a Mexican hiding in the shadows.

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We had to survive in the wilds with nothing but a Swiss Army knife.

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But through it all, we cooked ate drank talked sang walked; like we owned the whole world.

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Because, you know – menschen leben tanzen welt.

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May 2018
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