Early morning arrival with the ferry to Bari on the south-east coast of Italy, after a lone cabin night and exhibition preparations on my laptop sticky from excessive amounts of cheap Albanian chocolate. Forced myself out of bed for my morning walk to see the sunset, the only routine I manage to cling on to during these endless transits, past youth on pre-uni adventures sleeping on the bare deck and old Balkan men in their best suits that seem to not have slept at all, and nor to mind it either.
Arriving to Bari is arriving back to actual tangible real-ass history, or my very biased definition of such, after a painful medley of faux masonry, cheap surface materials, billboards with half naked girls printed in the wrong dpi and other crap in Macedonia and Albania. Sometimes it seems like big chunks of the world just consist of concrete frame buildings either unplastered and filled with Chinese plastic junk or plastered and filled with gaudy showroom furniture.
How is it that some places lack history and some don't? seemingly arbitrarily. North England's small villages, where every stone is as real and thoughtfully placed as the cheerful greetings with the elderly inhabitants on my morning walk along the quick river in the norther town of Morpeth, where every windowsill, mullion, doorframe or street sign feel like they could be the subject of a book, and some most probably are.
Belgrade's crumbling soviet facades the same lack of colour just a notch darker than the sky, faded graffiti interrupted by snow flakes and cigarette smoke from groups of dangerous looking but most certainly fatherly kind men, huddling together over styrofoam cups of weak coffee, above the cracked asphalt of a main square that has seen to many rulers and ideologies come and go - but the history is here, embedded, ingrained, like a caricature of itself, the typical easter European scene, but maybe more true than any other rendition of it’s core essence.
The ancient brown stone cathedral in Puno, Peru, an obsolete monument over the grand ideologies of Christian colonialism placed awkwardly among the concrete frame and brick that sprawl in all directions along the Andean hills overlooking lake Titicaca, life that goes on no matter what the materiality, ideology or altitude. Like Santarem's bustling irrational city turned shopping mall on the bank of the sacred meeting spot where the Amazon and the Tapajos meet but don't mix, stubbornly ignorant of the never ending amalgamation of cultures and goods along its banks.
And the most painfully history-less is Skoplje, Macedonia, the failed capital over a nation who's been continuously occupied since the 15th century, now containing a copy of every memorable city symbol in the world, a surreal Epcot-style sumptuous film set for badly hashtagged government instagrams, red double decker buses and arc de triomphs, the weeping willows of the Seine and a bunch of concrete pirate ships. The home of someone who only use souvenirs as decorations - next: Banksy, Eiffel Tower, leaning tower of Pisa - which was also the interior style of my AirBNB there.
Which reminds me of Sweden, where we cleared out every city center with genuine but oh so misguided modernist trust in the devise that clean lines and empty spaces would spawn clean minds and empty consciousness - like, the thing we need the least in our emotionally barren wasteland of a country - now crumbling under both the weight of the success of social democracy and the success of neoliberalism, both disregarding the actuality, or tangibility, of the spaces and objects they produced. But once in a while you find an old wooden guest house in a forgotten farmer town in Småland and suddenly you catch the shadow of a smell revealing our old country, built on conviviality, hard labour and an almost intentional lack of ingenuity - a smell of turnip I suppose.
Like the messy land of every community garden - or just regular farm for that sake, the opposite of the fancy newfound dream life of every sudden middle class, but still lurching in the shadows - held at bay by an army of cleaners and strict social frameworks. But this dirty dusty muddy pile of mess will always be there, this is what it is, this is what life looks like, whatever veneer we hastily cover it under. It’s like Italy and the other nations of 'real history' never hid their mess behind this veneer, but rather the other way around, just slid the veneer beneath the pile of trash to give it a more attractive background, turning the mess into it’s something to be regarded as beautiful, into its own vibe.