22 Jul He Who Speaks with the Voice of the Wind
I entered a strange frame of mind. I wasn’t doing the world that I passed through any justice. Turning hairpin 48, leaving the highest pass in the Eastern Alps and following a gentle river, a vast valley opened into a world of bright greens imprisoned between the enormous grey mountains I had previously been cycling over. Freewheeling under a blue sky through quaint villages, between piercing steeples and past perfect wooden cottages dressed in flowers, every poor photograph increased my frustration with myself. I cycled around a psychological spiral, descending deeper into my own negativity, removing myself from the world outside, searching my mind for answers and reasons.
I stopped and opened my eyes. My world had changed. Laying Dolly on the orange dirt I walked tentatively around my new surroundings. The dark Kansas of my mind had been swept up in the tornado and was definitely on my way to Oz. In this Technicolor world, hundreds of brightly coloured faces stared at me from totem poles and rocks, robotic forms crashing bright plates like cymbals walked hand in hand with the limp limbs of mutilated animals and pebbles hung like pendulums from structures of oil drums and rotten wood. Across the road stood a house decorated in the horns and antlers of animals, where spines and skulls hung from balconies. My imagined inhabitant, a crazed psychopath, sat inside stirring his tea with a baby’s elbow while scooping the brains from his pet dog with a shoe.
Further into the maze, a call, “Hallo” the call of a psychopath for sure. “Deutsch, Italiano, Francais, English?” hmm, a multilingual psycho, the most dangerous of all, “English” I replied, “a beautiful language, though I don’t speak very well, I learnt for only one year” his English was perfect for a German speaking Italian. I asked his name, “I call myself He Who Speaks with the Voice of the Wind…”
He Who Speaks with the Voice of the Wind had created this magical world. Wearing just a small pair of shorts and a straw hat from which two feathers hung down the back of his neck, he stood barefoot on the dirt, his deep blue eyes piercing my own as his weathered face spoke to me through a thin grey beard.
“The voices of the American Indian spirits speak to me” his voice was relaxed and thoughtful, explaining the creation of this bizarre land. He talked about Native American beliefs, the necessity of both good and bad, the need to live in harmony with the earth, to exist without striving for material possessions, and made comparisons to modern Western living. My eyes opened and I nodded and smiled, agreeing with everything he was saying, entranced by his words, “yes, I believe the same, I have given up all that I had, now all I own is what I have on my bike, I sleep under the stars, I’m cycling around the world…” He looked me up and down and pointed at my camera, inhaled like the silent punctuation before a poignant twist in the movies and with his exhaled words untied all the knots in my mind. “When the white man went to America, he took all that he could and gave nothing back. He cut down the trees for wood, he killed the animals for meat and fur, and he continues to take the oil from the whole world. If you kill another man in the name of your morals, you are deemed a criminal and sentenced to life but if you kill a thousand men in the name of your government you return a hero, and what for? Money. White man’s greed. Why do you take photographs? You want to keep that moment, it is greed. You cannot keep the moment, once it has passed, it is gone. Like the water continues to flow and the wind will continue to blow, moments continue to pass us. But in doing this, we change and grow, although the moments pass, they make us who we are.” He picked an ant from the ground, tore it in half and ate it giving me time to digest.
Why was I taking pictures? For the last month I had become a pedalling speed camera, photographing every piece of evidence, accumulating hundreds of photos of roads and a whole album of cow pictures. Who wants a picture of a cow?! What does a pile of photos prove? What was I trying to capture? My brain ached in thought churning effort… Emotion. The freedom of being on the road, the knee crunching climbs and the carefree descents, the something that you cannot photograph, although I consumed myself trying.
“I understand!” In shocked disbelief I told him about my negative spiral and what he had made me realise about my photographic philosophy. Barely finishing my excited rambling he calmly began my second revelation. He walked me to his car, on which, in German, he had painted on one side ‘be who you are’ and on the other ‘I am me’. “Do you understand?” he asked, “I think so”. He explained, “If a student goes to music school wanting to become the next Mozart, he will only come out disappointed. The student may learn to play Mozart’s songs, but he will not see through Mozart’s eyes. We all see things differently. When I look around, maybe I see the grass and the trees, and in the same place you see the birds.” A smile spread across my face and my annoyance of an hour ago turned into dust and fell out of my ears. The comparisons that drove me mad were meaningless. I am the naive cyclist driven to madness by what others think and a desire to be better. I had been given the answers to the questions that had spiralled within and in doing such had been given much deeper questions. I realised how much I have to learn about myself and my reasons for the trip.
“It’s my dinner time, I normally charge one euro for taking pictures here” said He Who Speaks with the Voice of the Wind. With my hands in my pockets I examined my change; by the time I looked up he was on the other side of the asphalt scar he described bulldozed through the landscape. I laughed, picked up Dolly and rejoined the road. After ten minutes of cycling in the wrong direction, turned around and coasted to the nearest roadside spring to splash my face in ice cold water.