Seeing the shape-shifting See

Updated: Jul 17, 2020, 05:27 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

An entity I first encountered in 2018, the Kalterer See, or Kaltern lake, has become for me a constant that changes its mood and colour according to those of the new land I now call home

Seen from the Leuchtenburg ruins, the Kalterer See appeared radiant green-blue. Pic/ Rosalyn D'mello
Seen from the Leuchtenburg ruins, the Kalterer See appeared radiant green-blue. Pic/ Rosalyn D'mello

rosLast week, when we finally ascended the ruins of the Leuchtenburg, an erstwhile castle atop a not-so-high mountain in the middle of the Etsch Valley, mid-afternoon, we paused to soak in the view. We were drenched in sweat, not because the path was strenuous, but because the sun shone directly above, and the southern wind, called 'Ora,' had yet to make its way to us from Lake Garda.

The heat cast the surrounding mountains in a hazy glow. We didn't have anything resembling the clear-sighted view we'd had some days before, when we took the cable car up to Aschbach, a mountain village in the Vinschgau Valley.

The view from the Leuchtenburg ruins was spectacular, nonetheless. I was once again wowed by the sight of the Kalterer See (Kaltern lake); its turquoise surface bathed in the shrill afternoon light.

I told my partner about how, lately, I had been remembering a novel I'd read almost two decades ago; Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea. Though I didn't recall much in terms of the plot, what had remained most with me was Murdoch's ability to describe the everyday ephemeral glory of the sea as a shape-shifting entity. Murdoch wants us, her readers, to know that it is never the same sea, even though its presence is constant.

I brought up Murdoch's book to explain to my partner how I had been processing my visual relationship to Kalterer See. The lake had assumed a mythical significance. I had cycled from Eppan to the lake back in 2018, in the early days of my residency at Eau & Gaz. It was here that I'd sampled my first Aperol Spritz. At the time, justifiably, I had no premonition that this entity would eventually become a feature of my everyday. A constant.

Each time I am on a bus or in the car from Tramin towards Bozen on the Weinstrasse, I must pass it. And each time the lake appears different, its sheen dependent entirely on the status of the sky. The afternoon we trekked to the Leuchtenburg to glimpse at it from that vantage point, the See was a radiant green-blue. he evening before, when we had gone to the lake for a swim, it was a softer green, and the southern wind blowing across its surface caused ripples that felt tidal.

On Wednesday evening, as we were driving from Tramin to Bozen for dinner, the Kalterer See looked grey-blue. The sky was overcast and the dense clouds contrasted against the chlorophyll-green of the surrounding vineyards. In a few months, when the grapes ripen, their shades of blushing red or amber or yellow-green will speckle the landscape.

If someone had told me 10 years ago, that on the eve of my 35th birthday, I'd be driving through vineyards not as a tourist but as a resident of a magical province, I wouldn't have believed them.

There are days when every small aspect of my present life feels incredulous, and I try to trace back to create a trail in order to unearth how I came to be where I am, in this new home, with a wonderful partner who is intuitively supportive of me and so deeply invested in my well-being; he sometimes appears like an angel.

Each time I confront the same conclusion: it was all my doing. I sit with this truism without feeling smug or arrogant. I allow myself to recognise that all my 'successes' have been self-designed. I know in my gut that I found ways to alchemise every stone that was cast at me. It took a lot to not feel frequently defeated by the misogyny of the patriarchal world.

These days, I rest on my laurels. I am done with chasing the capitalist dream of having a career at the cost of all else. These days I want only to live, to experience my self wholly, to allow for a range of emotions to be acknowledged. The pursuit of happiness is futile, I have learned. Instead, I am still learning to inhabit every moment of my everyday. I am more concerned with joy; with beatitude, which Clarice Lispector somewhere defined as 'the spasm of the soul'.

The uncertainty of the last few lockdown months in Delhi had been challenging. In May, when I was practising my German, I wrote about where I'd like to be when I turned 35. I wanted to be here, in Tramin. My wish was realised.

It isn't easy to start anew, to not only rebuild but to do so while acknowledging one's dependency on another person. There has been a dramatic shift in how I perceive my ideal selfhood. From desiring to cast myself as a bad-ass single woman who lives life on her own terms, I am now a spouse to someone and have inherited, through marriage, a family, a community, and an intimate relationship with land.

I am frequently lost in my inarticulacy of spoken German. Yet, never before have I been in such strong possession of self-hood. I have accumulated within my present, all the unwieldy weight of my past. I'm happy to trek to vantage points and soak in the gleaming, shape-shifting horizon.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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