Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis.
– Everything fleeting is only an allegory.
These are the words that are etched on the grave of Kurt Tucholsky, who you can read about in the previous blog post.
After visiting the village of Mariefred, the castle of Gripsholm and the grave of Tucholsky, we went to the house near Vaxholm where I’d be staying with my girlfriend and her family. Around the table, we talked about the expression and what it could mean. Everyone wanted to contribute: although this bottle of beer will soon be finished, the act of drinking beer will still remain, i.e. there are actions that we do that won’t last forever, but the action itself will always be there. Or, in fact, life is about understanding that the experiences we have are merely fleeting and the fact of sitting around the table talking about it, is an allegory of friendship, family and futility.
I brought the expression back to Paris with me where my girlfriend now must have heard me tell this story at least a dozen times. One writer friend proudly declared that he understood it: that it has to do with art! Of course it’s to do with Art, Sherlock! Everything has something to do with Art!
But of all these expressions, I have been satisfied with none. Why? Because for me they fail to see the wood for the trees: at this moment, I am not concerned with the expression in itself – the expression is transient. I am concerned with the context in which this expression has been given to me, the allegory of why this quotation suddenly becomes an important part of who I am at this given time.
For this, dear reader, you will have to learn something about me: I am a collector of expressions. I love short, sentient morsels of so-called or proven wisdom. When I was a teenager, my toilet books were Eugene Ehrlich’s ‘A Dictionary of Latin Tags and Phrases’ and the epigrams of Oscar Wilde. In the last few years, I have been writing in conjunction with a friend a series of aphorisms of our own experiences. One of my favourite, inspired by a Heidelberg-based artist, reads “Quotes are worth running away for”.
They sit with me in lonely hours; journey with me on planes, trains and buses; offer a jolt to a conversation, or inspire a friend or loved one who is going through a difficult time. They are signposts that we meet on the path we are taking and indicate warning, approbation, felicity, humour or anything else it is that we are looking for at the time of discovery.
I am looking for any roadsigns at the moment because next year I turn 30. This is truly uncharted territory. For example, another aphorism my friend and I came up with is “the difference between going to prison in your 20s and going to prison in your 30s is how much time you spend there.” That is to say, our actions carry much more weight and consequence as we get older, which is on the hand great, because it means we can achieve more meaningful and serious feats, but on the other hand, we have much further to fall, if everything goes pear-shaped.
My going to Gripsholm Slott was certainly a pilgrimage for me, but I was not expecting to make such a discovery. I was not expecting to come out of this quest with inspiration to write a three-part blog post on the whole affair, considering that I haven’t written about my breakdown in Sirmio, Lake Como, or the craic in Sandycove, Dublin. But because of six words on a grave, here I am, sharing their intensity with whoever is reading this.
There is something in this moment and this metaphor that carries with it something greater that I can only sense, something suggestive of wholesome exchanges, something that might even feel like a twitch upon the thread.
To find out where this thread began, click here for Kurt Tucholsky’s Epitaph – Part 1.