Burnout. Or cynic. Two words I didn’t know when I was four or five years old, the first time I watched this movie. It was my favorite movie as a child. And it sparked my obsession with the American Civil War. We had plenty of stuff lying around in the house, including a Belgian comic book series set against the background of the American Civil War, so if this movie hadn’t done it, something else might have. Still, this movie was the most important trigger. It has several scenes depicting aspects of the Civil War and I was hooked immediately.
I’ve never understood it. I vididly remember watching it on the couch with my dad, at our old home, a dilapidated shack with an outhouse for a toilet in Belgium (which has a lot of poverty, although it’s counted among the richest nations on earth).
How could a child instantly want to know everything about the American Civil War and be obsessed with it for the rest of his life. So obsessed that at one point my father threatened to burn all my civil war books in the stove.
But was the American Civil War the thing that hooked me?
Lately I have come to understand why people become addicted to alcohol.
It’s when you can’t relate to the people around you, when you can’t express yourself, when people reject you as the person you are, when you are not aligned with the world around you. For the first time in my life, here in Slovakia, I’m slightly at risk of developing alcoholism. I think about it, it calls on me, even if I don’t even like the taste of alcohol, I’ve come to like the stupor, the oblivion, the momentary eradication of dented, betrayed, desires.
Alcohol as the antidote to conversations that go nowhere, superficial blababla, people in your life that aren’t really part of your life, you know they are just passing by and that in one year or sooner you will never see them again, administrative chores you don’t see the point of, activities that don’t really lead anywhere, the absurdity of life.
In this mood I suddenly saw the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in a wholly different light. And I remembered what an impact that drunk captain had on me. He’s not incompetent, he’s drunk, but he’s still fulfilling his duty. Perhaps he’s ONLY doing his duty BECAUSE he is drunk. His speech about how futile the fighting and the bloodshed was to try and control one bridge in the middle of nowhere, left a deep imprint on me. I think even at that young age I had something like a burnout. The man next to me on that couch, my father, was a lot like that captain. He did what he needed to do, but with in an atmosphere of ‘we are doomed, this is useless, no good can ever come of this, but there’s no alternative’. Perhaps this movie got me so hooked, because it said so much about the atmosphere I was growing up in. A captain drinking to fatalistically doing his duty.
That’s also the feeling I’m developing over here in Slovakia, fatalistically doing my duty. I can’t relate to people around here. I have to suppress my sense of humor, because the locals don’t understand it, and rarely -some do- understand black humor. I’m surrounded by people who are efficient at pushing numbers, filling in administrative forms, making business related phone calls. No real warmth comes from them. When I give them a gift, as is in my nature, they either reject it, are shocked, uncomfortable, or simply don’t know how to react to it. If you would want to organize a second holocaust the Slovak people is absolutely ideal for it. They won’t initiate it, but they will execute it, in as far as they don’t need to get any actual blood on their hands, they will run the trains, do the math, organize the thing, dispose of victims, no worries, there will be no protest, they will do as they are told and even tell themselves that they are good people, doing what needs to be done. This nation is like a mindless automat, doing its predictable business, not questioning anything, with very little warmth, no initiative, no originality, no spontaneity.
I believe that almost everything that happens to us in life, happens because we’ve attracted it, so we can learn from it. I do wonder why I’m not in a country with warm, generous, sociable outgoing people. I’m almost certain that I’m punishing myself for something by choosing to be in a cold – in every sense- country like Slovakia.
And all day, I haven’t been able to shake off that image of the drunk captain who has to order his men to make a senseless and costly assault on a position of questionable value.
How do I get back to my planet??