Discover more from Culture & curiosity
First, this week, I spotted a sheet weaver in our back garden. I’m sure it’s a new species to arrive there, as I had to google the beautiful spider hiding in the undergrowth. Then, yesterday morning, I noticed that for the very first time, we have a nest of tits in our birdhouse. It’s either a nest of coal tits or – more likely – great tits. I don’t see their parents much, and I’m not yet a proficient bird watcher.
What I see and hear every 90 seconds is another plane descending to Schiphol. We live on one of the lesser-used routes into the airport, but a look at flight radar will tell you that after two years of relative calm, there is no such thing as a lesser-used route.
We have a choice between bad and various degrees of worse futures. While I watched the wildlife on the few square meters of the earth I can control, you may have been watching the Rodanthe beach houses collapse into the sea. (Soon on a beachfront near you.) Or, devastatingly, the factoid that 91% of the Great Barrier Reef is affected by coral bleaching.
Among my climate-conscious contacts, a conversation has begun about the validity of hope. Can we still be hopeful? Is hope a sedative? What is the moment to start despairing constructively?
As I’m writing this, Google tells me a Holly blue butterfly is flying through my garden. Another new species. I hope its caterpillars feed the tits.
Flabbergasted and stupefied, I watched The Occupant. The Occupant is a Ukrainian documentary consisting entirely of footage found on the smartphone of Shalaev, a captured Russian soldier. Before the invasion, Shalaev spends time with his wife and young daughter and drinking. Once in Ukraine, it gets darker. I’ve never seen anything like this before. The conclusion reminded me of the tense 2009 war movie Lebanon, but non-fictional this time.
On theme, I continued with the much-hyped documentary Navalny. The film documents Alexei Navalny’s poisoning in 2020 and its aftermath. The filmmakers are in the room when Navalny talks with the Russian spy that poisoned him. Regardless of Navalny’s opinions, it’s an extraordinary story, with star roles for Yulia Navalnaya and Bellingcat’s Christo Grozev.
The electrifying finale of the documentary, when Navalny flies back to Moscow, seated next to his wife, had me on the edge of my chair. Everything, from the crew’s apparent calm, when the plane is redirected to Sheremetyevo to the little comments of profound support from the few non-reporter passengers on the flight. And then, of course, his goodbye from Yulia midway through passport control.
I’ve always believed we do not need fiction in a world full of stories like ours. Non-fiction will do just fine.
In the documentary, we can see Navalny playing Call of Duty. He even prefers it to chess, he says. I wonder if he played the controversial No Russian mission. I wonder what he thought about it.
24 hours later, the sound of the tits has died out. I haven’t seen the parents in hours. Great tits sometimes leave their nests if they find a more suitable spot for their chicks. I don’t have the heart to have a look.
Disheartened, I went for a run around my old neighborhood. A city like Amsterdam is full of little acts of kindness. The car that stops to let you pass, the cyclists that cheer you on, other runners giving me a smile. On the land allegedly owned by Putin’s son-in-law, the largest of Ukrainian flags is surrounded by wildflowers. Birds are twittering all around.
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