Thursday, December 28, 2017

From a strange planet - 12

Road webcam fascination - The silent pictures of Scandinavian traffic-webcams have a strange fascination for me. My previous outpourings of webcam obsession are here: part_1, part_2, part_3, part_4, part_5, part_6, part_7, part_8, part_9, part_10 and part_11. I've used video, fiction, literary criticism, art, topography and surveillance technologies to think through this window on far-away places.
This is also: Particles of deep topography nr.28. 

While looking at the Norwegian webcams I cannot escape the accusation that I'm wasting my time. I'm just looking at a virtual reality - through the black rectangle of a webcam. I'm not participating. I'm waiting for something - something I cannot specify. Am I looking at beauty and mystery - I still think so - or am I looking at an extremely stupid landscape?

This is the atmosphere in The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati. Here a promising young officer spends his life waiting for an enemy attack that never comes. In the meantime he can only watch the empty desert from the ramparts and dream of heroic deeds. And even that view - through the black rectangle of the window - is highly regimented.

And beyond it, on the other side, what was there? What world opened up beyond that inhospitable building, beyond the ramparts, casemates and magazines which shut off the view? What did the northern kingdom look like, the stony desert no one had ever crossed?

It was at this point, as he turned his head a little to the left, that Drogo's glance fell on the window opening on to the inner courtyard. He could see the northern wall, yellowish like the others and sunbeaten like them, with here and there the black rectangle of a window.

There was a clock as well, pointing to two o'clock, and on the topmost terrace a sentry walking to and fro with his rifle at the slope. But over the ramparts, far, far away, in the glare of noon, there rose a rocky crest. Only its extreme tip could be seen and in itself it was nothing out of the ordinary. Yet for Giovanni Drogo that fragment of rock represented the first visible lure of the northern territory, the legendary kingdom whose existence hung heavily over the Fort. "What was the rest like?" he wondered. From it there came a drowsy light shining through slow-moving smoky wisps of mist.

But Drago was scarcely listening to Matti's explanations, for his attention was strangely attracted by the picture framed in the window with that tiny piece of crag showing above the wall. A vague feeling to which he did not have the key was gradually penetrating into his inmost being - a stupid and absurd feeling, a baseless fancy.

But first of all he asked: "Sir," his voice was apparently calm, "may I take a quick look to the north and see what there is beyond that wall?"
"Beyond the wall? I didn't know you were interested in views," -answered the major.
"Just a glance, sir, merely out of curiosity. I've heard there is a desert and I've never seen one."
"It isn't worth it. A monotonous landscape-no beauty in it. Take my advice-don't think about it."
"I won't insist, sir," said Drago. "I did not think there was anything against it."

Major Matti put the tips of his plump fingers together almost as if in prayer. "You have asked me.'' he said, "the one thing I can't grant you. Only personnel on duty may go on to the ramparts or into the guard rooms; you need to know the password."
"But not even as a special exception-not even for an officer?"
"Not even for an officer. Oh, I know-for you people from the city all these petty rules seem ridiculous. Besides down there the password is no great secret. But here it is different."
"Excuse me, if I keep on about it."
"Do please, do."

"I wanted to say-isn't there even a loophole, a window from which one can look?"
"Only one. Only one in the colonel's office. Unfortunately no one thought of a belvedere for the inquisitive. But it isn't worth it, I repeat, a landscape with nothing to recommend it. You will have plenty of that view if you decide to stay."
"Thank you, sir, will that be all?" And coming to attention, he saluted.
Matti made a friendly gesture with his hand. "Goodbye. Forget about it-a worthless landscape, I assure you, an extremely stupid landscape."

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