Karl Wiener

Solo Sailors


      They float around the world, as if driven by remote-control, one arm bent with the hand at the ear, chattering into their handsets. Mentally, they are never in the same place as where they are physically. Already in the sixteenth century the French philosopher Michel Montaigne wrote wisely: "We are never at home with ourselves, but always away from home. Desire and hope rob us of the feeling and the appreciation of what is around us."


        At the very first phone forum in 1861 in Frankfurt, the well-known inventor Philip Reis listened to the revolutionary words: "The horse doesn’t eat cucumber salad”. The Emperor of Brazil exclaimed whilst visiting the 1876 World Exposition in Philadelphia: "My God, it’s speaking!". Since then communication technology has developed enormously, but the content of the information being exchanged sometimes remains far behind this development. Sometimes it’s reduced to the message:    ”I’m just in front of the house, the doorbell will ring immediately”.

        These anecdotes are ascribed to great men or great events. They seem to be authentic, although no one is able to testify nowadays that the horse really didn’t eat cucumber salad at that time. The following story is related to a lesser known person and is concerned with a less important event, but it has the advantage that I can vouch for its veracity.

        On a beautiful Sunday in May some friends and I had decided to go on a picnic  right next to a small lake in the forest, some miles from where we lived. We met at a parking lot nearby and set off to find a suitable open space where we can sit and enjoy the fresh air. After arriving at our destination we spread our blankets on the grass and sat chatting and enjoying our day. After lunch, some of us set off for a walk around the lake. We started our circuit in a clockwise direction, so at each junction we had to keep starboard, assuming that the branch didn’t end in marsh or water. Having walked for about half an hour we gave a wave across the lake to our friends at the opposite side, who were waiting for our return. Then, after an hour or so, we arrived safely back at the point where we had started. But on our arrival we were astonished to be confronted by the question, as to where we had left our friend John.

         John had set off some time later than us. He had chosen the opposite direction and walked counterclockwise around the lake intending to meet us halfway. To this end he always had to keep to the left when he came to a junction, but for some reason we had missed each other. Nethertheless we expected him to arrive as soon as he had completed a full circuit of the lake. But we waited in vain. Where he had got to?


         After hours, he emerged, escorted by two policemen. He had lost his way and in the end he had used his mobile to call for help. The police pinpointed him far away from the lake in the midst of the forest. They picked him up and guided him safely back to us.  John seemed proud of his resourcefulness.


       I don’t know why John left the path of his circuit. To my mind he had tried to navigate his way by using his mobile, but he didn’t steer by a star of lucky charm. However, if he would have kept an eye on the surrounding landmarks, he wouldn’t have lost his way. I believe that he thinks he owes his soul to modern technology, but “ the appreciation of what was around him” would have shown him the right path. Fortunately he didn’t drift off in a central direction. In this case he would have had to call for a lifeboat instead of the police. 

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