I went to see the mermaid

by Villads Schou

    Last summer I went to see the mermaid. I had heard that it had its route between New Jersey and the west coast of Denmark. I’m trying to remember how it was. I don’t have my notebook and I’m not sure if I ever wrote any of it all down. 

    I went alone. Taking the train with bike and yellow tent. After departing the train, I biked the last kilometers to the beach following a long abandoned railway. 

    In the US, parts of the internet’s physical structure are built on top of the old railway system. In Tung-Hui Hu’s book A Prehistory Of The Cloud he describes the internet as emerging like a graft, forming from something already there. Nothing, of course, grows from nothing I think to myself. 

    The mermaid was nowhere to be seen when I arrived. I think I hadn’t expected anything else. As I’ve understood, fiber-optic cables are, when reaching land, drilled into the underground to later resurface at a secret location. I had found a map online that would show the world’s internet cables and my own location in real time. So with my phone in hand, I roamed the beach to find the exact spot where the cable supposedly ran. I was looking for the transatlantic fiber-optic cable named ‘Havfrue’ (mermaid in Danish). 

    The cable is primarily owned by Google and Facebook. Standing on top of it without ever seeing it, I traced it in the sand with a piece of driftwood. Afterwards, I went to the parking lot where the map pointed out that the mermaid would show but there was nothing to see. 

    Earlier that year I had gone to a Google-owned site in the south of Jutland where they are thinking about building a data center. But then Google announced that they won’t for a while. They’ve simply claimed space for the future. In the same way, I thought that there was nothing to be seen. That I had gone to a place of ‘Nothing’. On Google Maps satellite photos I could see that here was supposed to be a farm. What is nothing of course depends on the eyes that see.

    I met the farmer of this land who told me that after he had sold his land to Google, they had removed all the buildings, as if they had never existed. But they couldn’t remove everything, or perhaps they just didn’t notice on their raging path to the future that the past tends to stick, it floats to the surface, it gets dug up. 

    When archaeologists did a pre-survey of the site preparing it for the possible construction, they discovered remains of several old buildings, some reaching 4000 years back. A pair of hands carefully uncovered 24 amber and glass pearls from a woman’s grave dated back to the Late Germanic Iron Age (200-525 AD). It was as if the amber pearls came alive seeing the sun for the first time after laying in the ground for so many years. I imagine holding them in my hands, so light and warm to the skin. Within them, amber holds tales of mighty forests and worlds so old and distant to humans. 

    When I went to the west coast I wanted to find my own piece of amber, somehow connecting the two places in a way that Google didn’t intend to. Amber glows bright under UV-light so on these shores people often go out at night, trudging in the shallow water searching with purple light. I picture them in groups, walking with their necks bent, searching in the washed up seaweed. Amber seems to magically appear from a place not here. It has been proposed by a German naturalist that amber is sea foam condensed by the air and the heat of the sun. I sat for a long while at an ice cream stand closed down for the season waiting for the sun to set. But UV-light works poorly on a midsummer night and I went back to my tent empty-handed. 

    Half a year passed by before I painfully realized that I in fact had seen the mermaid that summer day. I just wasn’t able to recognize her in the form she had taken. I must have looked right at her while she was there floating in the waves and laying on the shore. I realized this after reading the famous fairytale The Little Mermaid. In the story, it’s told that when mermaids die, they turn into sea foam. I went back to look at the pictures I had taken on the beach and now I saw her clearly. 

    Google and Facebook had attempted to create a living being but creatures created by their hand will always be half-starved, never fully alive. Disguising what is dead as living is a gruesome craft reserved for those who believe they can control the future single-handedly. The mermaid refused to take part in this future. Her sisters held her as her tears caught the sun and then dissolved into the water. Gently she became one with the waves. They took her in like they knew all her reasons. The sea foam would wash ashore. Lying there, she was touched by the air and the heat of the sun. After a long time, the sea foam was condensed so much that it could barely be said to be anything. Entangled in seaweed, 24 small pieces remained, only visible when either lit by the bright light of the sun or the purple light carried by a night wanderer. One day the mermaid was picked up and transported by horse carriage to the south of the country. The pearls were gifted to a young girl as she had recently experienced the loss of a loved one. For over a thousand years, she came to wear these amber pearls around her neck. Over time they became one with her. Now an operation initiated only in the name of profit has awakened them from their sacred rest. The mermaid’s sisters will flock to the field. With them they bring the ocean. The land will flood in thick resin. A sorrowful revenge will be taken.