Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
My trip to Düsseldorf has been terrible. I lost my camera – to be honest, it was my father’s old one, but still… and I realized I booked two non-refundable tickets for wrong destinations, and had to buy them again. The city was lovely, especially the astonishing contemporary architecture. None the less, that didn’t spare me a pseudo hysterical breakdown towards the end of the day, as I moved to Cologne with my friend M.
After landing, I had the time to stroll around in the city center on my own, because M’s train had almost one hour of delay. I went straight along Bismarck Straße, as suggested by my guide, until I eventually reached Cornelius Platz, the one with the Triton fountain. Malls and luxury boutiques everywhere. Beautiful. A little intimidating, perhaps, but still charming.
I walked in a circle, following the square’s borders, because the central part was cordoned off for work in progress. A particularly eye-catching building drove me to the north-eastern corner of the square. It was made of blocks giving the impression of sliding into one another, alternating glass and white vertical surfaces. A geometrical game of darkness and light. Art made to contain shops, banks and offices.
I took a step back to take a picture with the now-lost camera. Something was going on at the feet of the building. People where gathering around what looked like street art, a performance of some kind or an exhibition. I got closer. Several posters were lying on the ground, with windproof candles. Some churchy thing?
There was a vertical panel. And the story of the immigrants who die each day in the Mediterranean Sea written on it. The posters were photos of the gravestones in Sicily, where most corpses are buried. I kept walking. Slowly. Some of the tombs had only a date and the word “migrante” written on them. Others were reports of the way the dead bodies were found. I read a couple of them. The rescuers narrated the miserable conditions of the migrants’ journey, which found an end for many in the merciless sea.
It was the accuracy of the reports that struck me. Or maybe the brief and simple descriptions on other stones, something like “here rests a migrant, passed away in the search of a better life”. Why did the Sicilians bother so much to give recognition in death to those nameless outcasts? Why didn’t the rescuers write a book on the migrants’ tragedy, instead of writing on their gravestones?
Because each one of them is just like each one of us. They are poor and desperate, whereas we go to Düsseldorf, we enjoy shopping, we have “pseudo hysterical breakdowns” for cameras and wrong tickets. But, at the end of the day, they are no less human than us. They have been deprived of everything, even of their names. But Sicilians and rescuers remind us that we can’t look away. Those gravestones tell us we can’t.
We usually have in mind beaches, sand and games when thinking about the sea. But the sea is much larger. It is so vast that it can contain both our wealth and their misery, our happiness and their horror, our relax and their hopes. We are like the citizens of the Capitol in “The Hunger Games” saga, living on our pacific isle, where we get drunk to escape boredom. They are the rest of the world. We might think that they are exceptions, that most of the people on this planet live just like us. But that’s not true. And to convince ourselves, we reduce them to aseptic numbers. You can’t feel any empathy towards a number. You don’t apply moral principles to numbers.
I think that Suzanne Collins, the author of “The Hunger Games”, perfectly depicts our stupid blindness in the spoiled people of the Capitol. Stupidity doesn’t make them necessarily bad and, in the end, you feel pity and you are saddened when they start experiencing meaningless deaths on their part. You say to yourself: if only they had opened their eyes when it still made sense!