What a beautiful description of a state of being, languishing in the Mediterranean sun:
The Croatian poet Jakša Fiamengo said that fjaka is a specific state of mind and body. “It is like a faint unconsciousness,” he wrote, “a state beyond the self or – if you will – deeply inside the self, a special kind of general immobility, drowsiness and numbness, a weariness and indifference towards all important and ancillary needs, a lethargic stupor and general passivity on the journey to overall nothingness. The sense of time becomes lost, and its very inertness and languor give the impression of a lightweight instant. More precisely: it’s half somewhere and half nowhere, always somehow in between.”
These things fascinate me, they’re unbelievably tough:
Tardigrades — also known as “water bears” — are microscopic animals that can live through almost anything: 30 years in a freezer, rapid dehydration, boiling and freezing temperatures, massive doses of radiation, baths in organic solvents, and a trip to open space. Today, scientists sequencing their genome have discovered clues to just how they do it — which may help us learn how to be just as tough ourselves.
Jumping on to one recently with all the prowess of a veteran rider, the editor in chief of the Berlin-based leftwing paper Neues Deutschland referred to the juddering metal cage as “the socialist among elevators”.
Together with a slim camera man, Tom Strohschneider squeezes into one – a relic of communist East Germany, clad in 1970s plywood – on a weekly basis to record a podcast called “1’24”, the time it takes to complete the full circuit.
“I’m used to talking about the Greek crisis, or the recent train drivers’ strike, but little did I expect that the paternoster would turn into my subject,” Strohschneider said.“Paternoster users of the world, unite!” he appealed, in a podcast dedicated to the lift during the recent ban, which included appeals from his reporters who pledged to occupy the lift until the labour minister saw sense.
Strohschneider believes the reason why many paternosters still exist in Germany, relative to elsewhere in Europe, is because they suit the “German penchant for reliability, efficiency and resistance to change. They are like Angela Merkel. They’ve been around a long time, they work well and because of that they give us a sense of security.”
Modernity isn’t the be all and end all. I do like this rather practical view on the safety of the lifts, which have no doors and operate on a continuous conveyor without stopping:
Cornelius Mager of Munich’s Paternoster Association, which was established in 1994 to fight off the last time the government attempted to ban the lifts, said arguments that the contraptions were dangerous, with some even comparing them to guillotines, were largely unfounded.
“There have been repeated claims that people have died riding paternosters, but no one has ever been able to produce a single case,” he said. “Sometimes you get an idiot who tries to take a ladder into one and that obviously can’t end well. But I think crossing the road is probably more dangerous and taking the stairs can also be a fraught business.”