Wings of Desire 1987

First released in 1987, Wim Wenders’ film, Wings of Desire is a love poem to a city which at the time was riven in two. Viewing it now, feels like watching archival footage of a Berlin I knew back then but which no longer exists. It also features real archival footage taken just after the war, when ‘Trümmerfrauen’ or ‘rubble women’ cleared streets, cleaned bricks, and helped reconstruct the bombed city.

The scenes depict many of the iconic places in the then West Berlin. The angels in the film sit atop the Victory Column on a golden statue of an angel. It is from there that they observe the city beneath them. They also congregate in the State Library, a stunning modernist building which reminds us of an ocean liner. There are images of Anhalter Bahnhof (railway terminus) in ruins, as well as Potsdamer Platz, the centre prewar Berlin, which until unification, was a deserted and muddy no man’s land butting up against the Wall. In addition, we see local nightclubs of the 1980’s and hear the post-punk, emotionally intense music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Most of the movie was shot in black and white which gives the film a dreamlike quality echoing the story of the angels who watch over preoccupied people as they go about their lives. Adults are unable to see the angels, but children can, and so we lament the loss of childlike wonder and children’s openness to possibilities beyond logical understanding.

The angels are poetic creatures who bear witness to humanity but are unable to participate in physical experience. This is amplified by the script, which was cowritten with Peter Handke, a well-known, if controversial, Austrian poet. These angels can only assume the meaning of human experience as they document their words, but they cannot feel them. When one of the angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) falls in love with a trapeze artist, he decides to trade his immortality to feel something real. Through his own actions, the fallen angel invites us to be amazed at the singularity of our own existence and be in awe of feeling the full extent of our humanity. After all, he has chosen to eventually die for the privilege to become fully human. At the end of the film, Damiel states, ‘I know what no angel knows’ and we are to understand that this knowledge, with all its complexities, ought to matter most.

Falling ill

When I am well, I take my health for granted. I forget about the aches, lethargy and depression that beset me every time I go under. I rush about my days as if I were invincible and eventually illness strikes as if from nowhere.

Two long weeks ago, I visited my daughter in Canberra. She mentioned she was ‘snuffly’ but forged on in the way her mother always did. By the next day she was much worse and by the time I left, she was bedridden. I now wish I had set a better example when she was younger.

It had occurred to me that I might have picked up the bug, but I put it out of my mind. After all, I was feeling fine. Did I slow down or take better care? Hardly! I kept running until I felt that rug pulled from under me. Predictably, I landed with a thud.

The first few days were a guessing game. Covid? Flu? A cold? After a process of elimination, it turned out to be nothing more than an ordinary common cold. Except that there was nothing ordinary about it. I coughed for nights on end, hardly slept and my energy levels were depleted. It went on for days and more days, then a week and now I’m three days shy of a fortnight.

What is fascinating is how quickly it affected my mood. I’m usually all smiles, cheeky, irreverent, and able to find humour in most situations. I consider myself buoyant. Within a few short days, I could feel myself sink. Then I was struggling to stay afloat. Dark thoughts descended and seemed to pin me to the bed. Although I knew it otherwise, it felt as if I would never get better. I thought about people with serious illnesses who spent years plagued by pain and I wondered how they ever found the tenacity to go on. Would I ever find my inner strength, or would I go under? I hope I’m never put to the test.

Yesterday, I finally rounded the corner. I had energy to complete some simple tasks, my mood lifted, and I found beauty at my doorstep – a purple rose in bloom, a parrot in the yard, a gleaming shaft of light. Slowly, the fog lifted and my body has fought off the intruder.

Driving without a phone

I was in a hurry. It takes three hours and fifteen minutes to drive to Canberra and I had precisely three hours and twenty-four. Doable but it was cutting it fine. I couldn’t get stuck behind a cattle truck, come across road work or, dare I say it, hit a roo. I threw everything I needed to stay the night into the car and did my final check. Keys, wallet but where was my phone? I ran back inside calling ‘Siri’ but there was no answer. Frantic now, I began turning bags inside out. I was wasting precious minutes. It occurred to me that I might have left my phone at work. Could I drive back to the office and take a different route? No, there wasn’t time. I had to jump in the car and leave.

I was beginning to sweat. Waves of panic came over me. What if I were to break down? The sun was reaching the horizon and the roads were empty. What would I do in an emergency? Then I remembered the long stretches in the journey where there was no reception. My phone was useless in these dead zones, so why should I worry now? I thought back to journeys of the past. I often drove long distances then and mobile phones only existed in our collective imagination. My cars were much less reliable and from time to time, they did break down. The difference was that I remembered many more phone numbers back then and I probably carried a small address book, just in case.

This time, I could only remember my daughter’s number.  It happened to be fortuitous as I was driving to her place. She had managed to get last minute tickets to a show and knew I’d be up to the challenge of getting there. But I knew she would be tracking my journey on her phone and would worry that I hadn’t left yet. So, when I came across a public phone in a deserted small town, I called her. Of course, she didn’t answer. A strange number was most likely a scam caller, so I called again and again. Finally, she picked up.

‘Your phone is at work,’ she said. ‘How are you calling me?’ Clearly, she is too young to have ever relied on phone booths.

The next couple of hours did have their moments. Thunderstorms, pouring rain, potholes and road works all slowed my journey. Still, I arrived with twenty minutes to spare, and we made it to the theatre in time. I could finally relax. By the time I was to return home, I had embraced the experience. I didn’t miss my phone once.

The following day was a Sunday. Could I wait until the next day to retrieve my phone? I thought about it. I really did. But the truth is, I enjoy the many benefits of the twenty-first century and nostalgia for simpler times has its limits, even for me.

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