About stumbling in everyday life: small craters in the asphalt

Those who stumble always experience a little more freedom than those who hurry straight to their destination. Time to deal with the bumps in your own path.

Those who stumble in everyday life always experience a little more freedom Photo: imago

So it takes a pandemic for the columnist to wonder why her column is actually called "Pothole." In a little digital tête-a-tête, we columnists got to talking for the first time about why this column is not called "The Word of the Week.

The "stumbling over something" is hidden in the pothole. Someone who stumbles always experiences a little more freedom than someone who rushes straight to the goal. Stumbling is actually a sequence of movements that ends with straightening up and looking around: What is it that one has stumbled over? Thanks to the shame, one is quite close to the childlike gaze.

If I had thought more about "the pothole" itself, I wouldn’t have been concerned only with my political analyses every time. Through analyses, after all, one floats above the asphalt. You don’t drive on it. You stand on the sidelines and judge what others are driving together. That’s also a good position, but not quite what the pothole is, even if you manage to drive around it.

I think back to a theater project I did years ago with friends in Romania; we drove in a small car on a day off to a mountain near Sibiu (Hermannstadt). I never saw such a potholed road again in my life. On the way back, it was night, I practically sat with my forehead against the windshield next to the driver and guided her around the potholes. They were rather small craters in the asphalt that almost ate up the rental car. You don’t want to fall in there. That was, by the way, one of my first lessons in the EU: You polish the Capital of Culture for Europe’s tourists, but you leave the surrounding countryside to starve to death from a chain of potholes.

Yes, I would certainly have written more about the potholes of everyday life here. Whereas such a term, when approached, always feels a little distant at first.

It’s a strange habit of mine to suddenly Google a term that appears more than three times in a text, as if I’m not sure I understand it. As soon as I want to rely on a term too much, a kind of basic distrust of my conception of words activates: what if I’ve somehow stored this term wrong?

I google "pothole" and see: potholes are indeed those cracks in the asphalt. Some look like earth wounds. The search engine immediately throws up corresponding images when you type in "pothole".

I learn from the motorist service pages that pop up that falling into a pothole like that with your car can end up being pretty stupid in terms of insurance law; I also learn that you can’t even go out in your own street with a bucket of tar to fill in the pothole, that’s the local authority’s responsibility – which brings a fundamental problem of this country back to my attention: Some authority is responsible for everything.

One even makes oneself liable to prosecution if one wants to do it well, and so everyone sits whining or grumbling in front of their potholes and harasses or insults the responsible parties, who naturally arrive too late because they are responsible for too many and too much. This is also how a society can be paralyzed by means of responsibilities.

I stumble physically much less since this second lockdown, simply because I move less. At the same time, this month-long Corona period is like a pothole in itself. Don’t know how I fell in, nor do I know how I’ll get out or when. I try to imagine what a pothole would have to be like that would feel like this pandemic when driving. But not even that fantasy gets its space because I’m already thinking about the car haters and how they’re going to tell me not to fantasize with cars in the convolutions of my brain.

I admire this resoluteness. I guess I’ve always had too much respect for the fact that, well, it’s the other person’s life, and therefore it’s the other person’s car. But they are our roads, of course, which brings us back to the potholes, because someone has to repair them and everyone has to pay for it. This interdependence of developed societies is sometimes an imposition for someone like me, who would like everyone to live in laissez-faire mode.

It probably stems from a transfiguration from my childhood: In the former Yugoslavia, people just built houses in the landscape because the land was empty. I found that very plausible as a child. In Germany, on the other hand, you weren’t even allowed to park your bike in front of a jewelry store, where you would immediately leave 200 euros for a necklace.

Last night on Twitter, a GIF came out of the US showing Rita Hayworth being driven around the streets in a carriage in the movie "The Lady from Shangai." Judging by the jerking, it must have been a pothole-filled road. Hayworth sits there, a bright woman’s body in the dark of the night, her head stretched perplexedly toward the sky. Her thoughts could be read at the edge of the picture: "I was not in my right mind."

Everyone knows these moments. Moments that are so intense that when you leave the situation, you still can’t make sense of it. Pothole moments. Who would have seen all this coming in January, for instance? The longer the pandemic unfolds, the crazier most of them seem to me. Whether it’s trying to be reasonable (as if this madness is somehow normal), or trying to deny the whole thing. Social media is jolting violently, with every third tweet a pothole. It’s obvious that life is hitting many in the face in so many ways right now. But it’s better to stumble over a pothole than to fall on your face.

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