Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves, engage in child labour, exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.
– Lewis Thomas
The room we entered was cool and slightly damp, bathed in a soft blue light that seemed to have dribbled down from the sky above. It was perhaps 19 hundred or so and we had just alighted from a different planet: central Switzerland.
The transalpine jaunt from Luciaria to Locarno seems to be precisely this: a snow&rock&tunnel-capped [Goeschenen–Airoloooooo] leap to a different quadrant of the universe. Or at least of the world. At the very minimum of the meteogeographical areas of Central Europe. You step into the long living room of the interconnected Cisalpino coaches, loll about for two hours drinking Weissbiers in the restaurant wagon. For a while there, as the composition glides down the steep dark green slopes in parallel to impossible highway bridges, the high-flanked narrowness of the valley rouses disquieting notions of an Italian-version of Wallis, ski-crazed tribes wedged into a shadow-addled crevice, considering the rest of the country some sort of miscommunication. Nice people whose hypnotic singsong language threatens to spellbind you there forever, quaffing white wine with the natives.
But then the valley folds on down like a vast piece of Origami. And in good time, already almost tired of liquified wheat, you step out into the citta of filmfestival fame, the Grand Piazza, the abandoned Hotel. I mean, I step out. A part of me irrationally fevers to catch a glimpse of George or Brad. I‘d even settle for Ethan. But no; we are a few weeks early, the plazza is crisscrossed by cityfolk and sun-crisped geezers&geezettes from the teutonic territories of Switzerland.
Not that it matters. We approach the house up on the hill. The ants are here before us; they‘ve always been here before us, whether we migrated to parched savannah or inclement altiplano, the plucky six-leggers were there long before we bipeds hauled ass. Ocean to shining ocean mapped out by the frenetic empires of Antdom. When we open the door to the compound appartment, a semi-amalgamated shape of bed-living-room plus kitchenette, the first thing we see is an ant street running from the doorjamb to the corner of the wall, thence along it and into a small orifice at the end of it, suggesting a subterranean hill or hive or lair. Whatever it is that ant colonies can construct between the backwall of a house and one bloody steep hillside. They are here already too in their dozens, speeding to and fro in two approximated lanes, stopping briefly to touch antennae and exchange some vital piece of information in furtherance of the colony‘s progress. The street is not a street but our anthropomorphic construct, what are there are industrious ants moving more or less in a line. For one night we ignored them, acknowledging their immemorial claim to the earth and the soil and all things within the reach and strength of their mandibles. We suppressed the fantasy of being eaten alive in our sleep. But the next day we fought them, plastering up their gateway with talcum, powdering everything up in talcum. The appartment eventually smelled like a baby‘s freshly prepped bum. I think one of us even went so far as to stomp some of them out. Or did we vaccum them? I cannot remember.
Even so, within a day a weaker version of the street sprung up again, the talcum plug tunneled through as if the bedroom were Goeschenen and whatever lay beneath, Airolo. As human beings, being colonizers ourselves and entirely unforgiving about our territorial claim, we kept fighting them in what quickly turned into a war of attrition. And though we eventually managed to keep our little adversaries outside our living quarters, the redoubled, trebled, tumultous ant avenues just outside our door were a reminder of who this planet truly belongs to.
Not having truly run [outdoors, beyond the dreadmill] in a long time [september! oh sweet march, come hither] I can feel the reproach of this quote physically: ill-discipline, softness and risk-aversion – has not this triumvirate of human failings taken me hostage? Placed me complacently on the soft-saddled exercycle where I meekly pedal away my weekly mileage? Nowadays even the rotary blacktop-replica, spinning away below me, has me in paroxysms of pruritus within the quarter of an hour so that I must once again repair to the ergometer. Furiously scratching the ol‘ crack on the way to.
Weakling, I, runner in spring and summer and during the clement stretch of fall. Is this my best? To do one‘s best, as a runner, is a part of what is best about it: our every simple inclination is towards the easiest thing, relaxation, endless sleep. To somehow overcome that impulse [it‘s only 40 minutes out of 48 hours in my case] is temporarily glorious: you have surpassed some part of your own nature, you have transcended, you have officially overwhelmed the lowest common denominator. That which anybody could do without even thinking about it: not Run.