and then on the first monday of may the sun got stuck hanging in the eastern sky. our clocks continued to run, but the sun stood unaltered a few degrees above the horizon. it was another cold morning after a gray and wet weekend. the night before, the weather service had warned of ground frost, and air frost could not be ruled out. in those days i worked on the farm, with the animals in the stable. steam rose from the warm dung of the animals, and our breath hung in clouds in front of our faces as i drove the cattle to the pasture. although the sky glowed red and yellow and blue over long stretches, bands of mist ran through the tops of the trees and undulated over the green grass: the mainland shrouded in the morning haze, the war far away, the sun in the eastern sky. today nobody can say exactly how long it lasted. several weeks later, when the sky cleared up after a violent thunderstorm, the sun stood again where, according to astronomical laws, it should be at this time of day. the phenomenon did not repeat itself, and scientists cannot explain it to themselves – or to us – to this day.
I did a crazy thing, says alva. today at midday at nineteen minutes past twelve.
tearing down walls, says kolmogorov.
cutting old communication channels, giving up expectations.
burning down houses.
alva thinks, in English: it was a pleasure to burn (bradbury, ray: fahrenheit 451. new york: simon & schuster, 2012)
it was a pleasure to cut.
alva says, the moment when thinking only works in a foreign language, for fear of going astray in one’s own. or, how the unity of head and body becomes unstable, how in seconds a glass wall slides between the self and the world, how the noise drowns out the i’s cries for help; all of a sudden, arms of wood, legs of stone, fingers as thick as a cervelat sausage, and a tongue that fills the whole mouth, threatening to suffocate you.
so that something new can emerge from the old, says kolmogorov.
you cannot give up hope that things will get better.
sense [sinn] (5) goal and purpose, value that is inherent in a thing; example: it makes no, little, not much sense; middle/old high german sin = walk, travel, way.
one could live with the idea that the future ends here: the empty indoor swimming pool; the play of the sun on the light blue tiles; clouds of cotton fraying in front of the azure spring sky; fruit trees bloom and the world holds its breath.
the breaststroke is a style of swimming that has been known since the stone age. learning the tournament version is perceived as particularly demanding and time-consuming. the complex sequence of movements of this form often leads to incorrect execution.
alva says, when the sun wanders over the range of hills in the east in the morning, the light breaks on the surface, when the only sound is your own footsteps on the gravel, the sound of swan wings on the lake; when the smell of the last rain rises from the grass, of algae from bank stones: when the water is waiting.
reading list, in English (selection):
nichols, wallace j.: blue mind: the surprising science that shows how being
near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more
connected, and better at what you do. new york: little, brown and company,
smith, stevie: not waving but drowning. in: not waving but drowning:
london: a. deutsch, 1957.
woolf, virginia: the waves. london: hogarth press, 1931.
alva believes you have to agree with mister wallace: being under water can make you happier.
it is so wonderfully quiet here. and everything finally just stops.
the boundary between inside and outside dissolves, the faults of the i get lost,
the way it could be in the future. others have demonstrated it.
future. (1a) time that is still to come, that is not yet here; the yet to come or future time (and what is to be expected in it); example: an unsettled, uncertain future.
pill: an oval eight by six by two and a half millimeters, with a delicate notch in the middle. it is easy to break the pill apart along the notch; the desired dose is five milligrams.
what happens if you swallow a whole pack of these little white things at once?
kolmogorov says, I do not have all the answers either.
it’s about the ability to judge, about responsibility.
an accountable person, in the sense of this law, is any person not lacking the ability to act reasonably due to their young age, mental disease, psychological disorder, intoxication or similar conditions (art. 16, zgb)
after two weeks, kolmogorov doubles the dose and there is no need to break it.
dichotomy. (2) bisection; two-part division; bipartite; example from mathematics: the division of real numbers into rational and irrational numbers.
memories of 2019 (incomplete):
zurich, indoor swimming pool oerlikon. celerina, lej da staz.
zurich, indoor swimming pool city. edinburgh, portobello beach.
leipzig, swim hall south. edinburgh, portobello swim centre.
lake constance, various places. edinburgh, leith victoria swim centre.
lake zurich, various places. turku, ruissalo
limmat, various places. turku, sampplinnan maauimala.
aare, marzilibad bern. helsinki, allas sea pool.
st. gallen, mannenweiher. helsinki, hietarantannan uimaranta.
alva thinks, in English, the ineluctable strangeness of swimming with swans (norman, howard: devotion. new york: houghton mifflin company, 2007).
one could increase to fifteen milligrams, says kolmogorov.
one could. risks and benefits must be weighed.
but now let’s wait for a moment: see what happens.
39 : 2.6244 = 14.86053955
42 : 2.6244 = 16.00365798
45 : 2.6244 = 17.14677641
48 : 2.6244 = 18.28989483
on the first page of alva’s notebook it says: the human skin is on average one point four millimeters thick. below follows a sketch showing the various strata of the epidermis and dermis; with arteries and veins, hair follicles and fat tissue and three kinds of glands; with pacinian corpuscles and merkel cells; with mechano-, thermo-, and nociceptors.
alva says, where does the right to decide on the shape and duration of your own future begin. and where does it end.
kolmogorov responds with silence.
alva is certain, an answer will follow; just not immediately. the first step has been taken, she thinks. the first cut. and meanwhile: the floor of the room is pastel green, a slight wind moves the curtains in front of the window.
and in the shade it smells of liquorice and sandalwood.
Anna Stern grew up in Rorschach, Switzerland. She studied Environmental Science at the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich). In addition to her literary writing, Stern is currently working on her doctorate at the Institute for Integrative Biology at ETH. Stern won the 2020 Swiss Book Prize with her fourth novel, “das alles hier, jetzt ” (everything here, now). The Swiss Book Prize is considered the most important honor for Swiss writers. Stern lives and works in Zurich.
Translated by Dina B. Charnin NYC and Antje Eiger