When I was a child I loved the smell of new things. I could not help it. The erasers, the clay blocks, the cellophane, the glue, the plastic toys or the sharpened pencils gave off an intense aroma that always tried to soak me. As I grew up, I found out others: the one in a freshly painted room, the one in a disinfected bathroom, the one in fresh cement and, above all, the one in a new car. I am unable to forget the smell of the last car my father bought. I remember the day he took me to pick it up at the dealer, thirty years ago. It was a gray Ford Escort. In its front part, an inscription said Laser. Those letters made me feel like I was getting on board a spaceship.
All things smell different when they are opened for the first time. They smell like a new present. For a moment, they move us to the place where we can still be children, activate our most basic mechanisms and return to us that sensation that we perceive when we first smelled them: that of discovery. There is undeniable magic in that process, but it is just a trick. As time goes by, we stop growing up to become old and we begin to understand that the truth is not in the new, but in what remains of what was once. That’s why it makes so much sense for a child to recognize himself in the smell of new things as for an adult to be captivated by the charm of the ruins.
The Ruins. Leonard Cohen says that there is a crack in everything that allows light to pass through. Where I live, it is plenty of cracks. Light, not so much. Every time there are more empty or abandoned houses. I pass in front of them every day. In their gardens, lots of commercial mail and bank letters resist dying in the brush, along with cans of soda and garbage bags. Arrived at that point of loneliness and decay, the houses begin to look like sad and careless people. It is difficult not to fall in compassion. Whenever I look at their gates or their walls, I imagine entering them. The idea of being the light that passes through the cracks is tempting.
Rügen is an island in the Baltic Sea, north-eastern Germany. In the 1930s, the Nazis built a huge holiday complex there, consisting of eight 500-meter-long blocks with capacity for 10,000 families; a monstrous row of concrete facing the sea, 4.5 kilometers long, which they called Prora. In 1939, World War II forced the Germans to paralyze its construction. And the Nazis dedicated themselves to war. They failed. Their defeat caused the complex to fall into the hands of the Soviets, who used it as a military base until the reunification of the country when they returned it to East Germany. Since then and until a few years ago, the hotel did nothing but decompose.
If we speak in terms of absence, there is more death in an abandoned hotel than in a cemetery. This was how Hitler’s holiday dream agonized long and painfully until 2004 when the German state ended up selling Prora to several investors. It was a delicate decision because part of the people demanded history to be respected and another part that it was demolished. Finally, with the intention of doing both at the same time, it was agreed to reconvert Prora into a luxurious resort, respecting the original construction.
The new denazification project has entered its final phase. By 2020, the rehabilitation works of the complex will be completed and, very soon, next spring, the first of the eight blocks will be inaugurated. The great colossus will come back to life. I wonder how it will smell.
Well, from this short story by the great writer Hugo Izarra, I would like to highlight a phrase from the postwar: ” part of the people demanded history to be respected and another part that it was demolished “.
If we think that peace is the period between two wars, the meeting we start today has a lot to do with the opposing ideas of each side, winner, and loser, but as my father says: “then there are the normal people, the day-to-day people”. The normal people, who never wanted to go to war, who prefer to live quietly and peacefully.
Seven years ago, we started this international project and today we begin its last phase and a whole week that smells new, like that gray Ford Escort; a week where you, young people of the YMCA, normal people, from 15 different countries, but who represent many more, will work to understand and understand the other, to speak and listen, to live in peace and tranquility.
Gonzalo López Cerrolaza, Director Toledo YMCA (Spain)