So, the 103rd edition of the Tour de France has come to an end.The riders conquered mountain passes in the Alps and the Pyrenees before the procession to Paris. Kilometre after kilometre of climbing as the air thins, the oxygen supply diminishes. And they are racing. This is not a sponsored bike ride with rest stops and an opportunity to relax along the way. This is hard. But the riders do everything to drag themselves up mountain passes and retain control of the road as they descend at speed, as fast as cars.
As they do everything physically possible to make up into the clouds the riders rise up off their saddles and push harder still on the pedals, their bodies swaying from side to side as they seek to employ their core strength and even the muscles in their arms and shoulders. They call this ‘dancing on the pedals.’ This not aerodynamic, smooth, metronomic pedalling we see when a lone cyclist takes on the challenge of cycling round a track to see how far s/he can go in exactly 1 hour. No, climbing the Pyrenees, in a race, involves swaying and twisting, a lot like on a dance floor.
I went to a Jewish wedding recently. A lot of dancing is involved. Not the dignified waltzing newly weds kind of dancing, No one is asking to have the next dance. It’s circle dancing, men and women dancing separately (in this particular case the two groups were separated by a curtain.) And before you ask – there’s no space here to delve into the whys and wherefores of the cultural practices of orthodox Jews celebrating at weddings. I raise it here because that wedding represented a significant positive shift for me.
In the past I have written about the impact of genocide, in particular, the Holocaust on me. https://puncturerepairkit.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/614/ In that post I wrote that ‘the Algerian/French philosopher Albert Camus (1913 – 1960), the only footballer – he played in goal for Racing Universitaire d’Alger – ever to have been awarded the Nobel Prize (for literature, 1957) wrote in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’: ‘revolt gives life its value.’ What is the connection between mass murder, an existentialist philosopher and dancing at a wedding? It’s like this: My upbringing, especially my idiosyncratic religious practice, is heavily influenced by what happened to my family in the years of European infamy (1933 – 45).
For me, observing Jewish religious rites has been a long series of acts of revolt. The most potent of these has been dancing at weddings. Why is it that my creaking gyrations on the dance floors of assorted ballrooms, Jewish community venues and synagogues is steeped in such energetic meaning? Back in the 1980s I read a book called ‘Hassidic Tales of the Holocaust.’ It is a series of short of accounts of the experiences of members of the myriad of Hassidic groups during that deadly era. In one account it is recalled how a survivor of the terrors of one of the death marches that took place in the months before the end of the war, who, despite missing toes from frostbite, made it his practice to dance at weddings despite the physical pain that doing so caused to his feet. This response to such suffering pierced me. It has stayed with me. It lives in me as an outstanding feat of resistance, a positive response to his pain, sorrow and loss. At a distance of 0ver 70 years my response has been to dance … vengefully. A revolt against annihilation.
Annihilation. A revolt against suicide, the ultimate destruction of the suffering that is life. It is my decision to act in the present moment, to risk celebrating the continuation of the life cycle in public, to stand up and dance on the pedals.
This room is breaking out,
Of itself, cracking through
Its own walls
In search of space, light,
The bed is lifting out of
From dark corners, chairs
Are rising up to crash through clouds.
This is the time and place
To be alive:
When the daily furniture of our lives
Stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together
In celebration, clang
Past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,
Fly by the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.
In all this excitement
I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
My hands are outside, clapping.
Imtiaz Dharker (1954 – )