The poles of Sulina

Guest writer Voicu Bojan takes the reader to the Romanian town of Sulina, an end – world which wins small daily battles in its invisible war with the Black Sea.

There are many kinds of worlds: centre-worlds, fringe-worlds or end-worlds. Looking for end-worlds doesn’t mean going to the end of the world, because the world, like a hydra, has several ends. To put it more suggestively, it’s as if you were an ant walking along the strings of a leaf, each string leading to an end, that is to the end of that string. Once you get to the brink, one more little ant step opens into the abyss, the unknown, death. But the end of that winding yarn referred to as the leaf string here is not synonymous to the end of the leaf. Unlike their string, leaves have no end. The end of the leaf is that pale root wire undeground, forever growing, obstinately digging in search of water, to which it is intimately connected without even suspecting it.

All end-worlds stop somewhere, be it in a sea, in a desert, in a pit or in the impassable wall of a mountain. The town of Darjeeling, for instance, ends once you see Kanchenjunga with your own eyes. Havana ends past the harbour, in Regla, on the shores of the Carribean Sea. Kazarman, an obscure settlement in Kyrgyzstan, ends at the edge of a runway nothing ever takes off from. Beyond this grey concrete strip sheepishly lies, heralded by some thistles, the desert. Looking back over your shoulder, you see boundaries of the saddest town in the world, sadder than Las Vegas itself. The ant in yourself has reached the end of its narrow string. Your head dangles above the precipice. Beyond this final point, there’s both freedom and death.

Once you go back on the winding path of the leaf string, however, passing through branches and stalks, you eventually reach the end of that fragile root hidden underground, the one which never sleeps, but, in its unquenched thirst, digs on incessantly. The same in Kazarman, for instance, where, if you turn away from the desert and go backwards on the town’s runway, you pass the airport and find yourself walking streets lined up with pathetic boutiqes enticing clients with all sorts of pitiful merchandise, coming across decrepit blocks of flats with brownish, scrawny horses haltered in front that seem to be awaiting their last trip to some slaughter house, discovering human beings in whom life throbs, as if in a root, beings who thirst for light, comfort and joy. That’s when you understand that, actually, you know almost nothing about these end-worlds, because they simply do not end how and when you want them to end. They end their own way, not caring a twopence about what you think in your little ant mind.

Sulina is, in its turn, an end-world of this sort. It is, though, a living world, winning small daily battles in its invisible war with the sea. Only that this war has no stake – it’s useless and, therefore, already lost. The sea would want to bring Sulina to an end, but to no avail. The sea washes the earth and, by erosion, it actually increases it, it spreads it. And the town imperceptibly grows like rising dough. The earth eats the sea, pushing its coast out and, thus, without realizing it, pushing itself into death and extinction. Three such meaningless battles has earth won against the sea, with three local lighthouses bearing witness to it. One of them absurdly soars now right in the middle of the town, among apartment buildings, another one a couple of miles away while the third lies even farther, where the ever advancing limit is now temporarily set.

When all of Sulina has branched like a deep root in the sea more than it should have, earth will be swallowed like a bitter pill much the same Jonah, the mad prophet, was swallowed by the big fish. Only the tips of the three lighthouses will haughtily tower above the mirror of the water and only a few poles, here and there, such as those used by fishermen to bolster their nets, will still testify about a world sunken by its very wreckless eagerness to swallow its own end: the wide sea. Cormorants will land on these poles to spread out and air their wings in the morning breeze. Some migratory bird will have a rest on one of them it its flight towards a promised warmer land not far away from the end of the world.

By Voicu Bojan, guest writer