Here Be Dragons

Tomorrow is the Diada de Sant Jordi who is famous for killing a dragon and traditionally it is celebrated here in Catalunya with books. It is also the memorial day for Miguel de Cervantes, he died on that day in 1616, a year after the second part of his Don Quichote was published. Unesco designated the 23d of April as World Book Day.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote 

It often feels like fighting against windmills, being a writer and artist in this world. But I can’t imagine anything that makes more sense. Today seems to be a good day to launch my Patreon page. It is exciting but also scary: asking people for support because you think you can give them something meaningful in return.

I won’t fight the dragon. I’ll invite it to come and live with me. If you want to help me feed it, take a look at my Patreon page.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

(Of course: you most support me by just reading what I write. Thank yoy for that! And any comments on or questions about my Patreon page are very welcome. For now it just has the basic information, more content will be added)

Seeing things

I was inside behind my computer when I heard fast footsteps, many of them. It sounded like people on the run. No other sounds, just running. When it didn’t stop I went out on my balcony. A stream of people, most of them in bright yellow shirts were running through the streets. Not on the run. On a run. I watched them for a bit and suddenly a man in an old fire fighter costume ran by, a shiny helmet on his head and an oxygen tank tied on his back. I thought he had dressed himself up, just like the Elvis whom I saw running a marathon a few weeks ago. But then there was another man dressed up like a fire fighter. And two more. And another eight.

They weren’t dressed up. They were actual fire fighters. When I got back to my computer I read this 10 km run is called La Cursa de Bombers de Barcelona. Today was the 20th edition. According to tradition, four firemen form a relay team and each member of the team runs 2.5 km in full fire fighting gear which weighs almost 20 kg. They compete against other firemen teams to win the coveted Fireman’s team prize called 'Premio Especial al Bombero Equipado.'

It is interesting how you see what you think you see. And hear what you think you hear. You perceive what you know already. I thought I saw a man dressed funnily until I spend some more time watching. Like yesterday, when at the beach I saw hundreds of similarly shaped transparant plastic objects, some of them bright blue, until I looked better and realised they were sea creatures. And when the beach cleaners were whispering the word “Medusa” I thought they were talking about a huge jellyfish species with long tentacles, resembling the head of Medusa, the mythological creature because that is the only medusa I know. But medusa is the word for any jellyfish in Spanish and Catalan.

We perceive things with our senses but then we interpret them with what we know, which is often limited. Or we just don’t take enough time sensing, hearing, watching, before we come to a conclusion. It can go both ways though. It can lead to wrong conclusions that don’t do justice to what was actually happening or they can lead to confusion and broadening our knowledge of things. Only when we take the time to wonder if our first conclusion was right though. Taking time and the willingness to question your thoughts are essential.

When most of the runners were gone and a thin stream of people having more difficulties to keep up to speed was still occupying the steet, a group of serious looking men appeared on the steet corner. They weren’t there to cheer up the crowd. They talked on their phones and seemed to be waiting for something. They didn’t seem to be business men or regular tourists. Most of them were dressed in black. The odd thing was that one of them had a balloon tied to his arm. Over his head a shiny horse with wings was floating in the air. “Pegasus” I thought. The winged horse that was the love child of Poseidon and Medusa. He sprang from Medusa’s blood when Perseus decapitated her. He rode into heaven and subjected himself to Zeus, who instructed him to bring lightning and thunder from Olympos.

The men left, the horse flew off. The last runners passed. The road is open to the usual traffic again. People walk their dogs. All is back to normal, so to say. But the magic is still out there. If you know it, you will see it.


To recreate (in) nature

There was a lot of driftwood and small bright blue objects with white and transparent skeletons were scattered across the wet sand. There was so much of it, all similarly shaped, and their colour seemed so out of place that I thought they were trashed plastic objects at first but when I looked closer I realised they were sea creatures I had never seen before. By-the-wind sailors I read later, small brothers of the Portuguese man-o war but not so venomous. They have a small stiff sail that catches the wind and propels them over the surface of the sea. Out here on the sand the blue looked unnatural but in the water it was the perfect camouflage. There were big jellyfish as well, wonderful purple species. I skooped the ones that seemed like they might still be alive back in the water. It was beautiful to see the beach in its wild state.

I sat down on the sand and looked out over the water. A small van parked a few meters behind me and a man and a woman came out, wearing bright green and yellow working clothes. They carried big rakes and started removing all what was natural, they only left the stones untouched. It was a lot of work. They put the driftwood and jellyfish in big plastic bags.

“Medusas” I heard them say to a couple that had just arrived. The man who was in his swimming trunks pointed at the water in which I had just returned a number of jellyfish. “I saw them” he said. “Don’t swim there” the cleaners said, and the man cursed before he put his t-shirt back on.

Somewhere far away music started. The first cruise boat appeared on the horizon. More people arrived, now safe from hurting their feet on a piece of wild nature. I picked up a small fragile sail the cleaners had overlooked and let the wind take me home.



He built himself a house,
his foundations,
his stones,
his walls,
his roof overhead,
his chimney and smoke,
his view from the window.

He made himself a garden,
his fence,
his thyme,
his earthworm,
his evening dew.

He cut out his bit of sky above.

And he wrapped the garden in the sky
and the house in the garden
and packed the lot in a handkerchief

and went off
lone as an arctic fox
through the cold
into the world.

- Miroslav Holub


The labyrinth

Tomas Tranströmer:

It happens rarely
that one of us really sees the other;

a person shows himself for an instant
as in a photograph but clearer
and in the background
something that is bigger than his shadow.

He's standing full-length before a mountain.
It's more a snail's shell than a mountain.
It's more a house than a snail's shell.
It's not a house but has many rooms.
It's indistinct but overwhelming.
He grows out of it, it out of him.
It's his life, it's his labyrinth.

(from: The Gallery)

Rebecca Solnit:

"Who hears you? To have something to say is one thing; to have someone who hears it is another. To be heard literally is to have the vibrations of the air travel through the labyrinth of the listener's ear to the mind, but more must unfold in that darkness. You choose to hear what corresponds to your desire, needs, and interests, and there are dangers in a world that corresponds too well, with curating your life into a mirror that reflects only the comfortable and familiar, and dangers in the opposite direction as well.

Listen Carefully.

To hear is to let the sound wander all the way through the labyrinth of your ear; to listen is to travel the other way to meet it. It's not passive but active, this listening. It's as though you retell each story, translate it into the language particular to you, fit it into your cosmology so you can understand and respond, and thereby it becomes part of you. To empathize is to reach out to meet the data that comes through the labyrinths of senses, to embrace it and incorporate it. To enter into, we say, as though another person's life was also a place you could travel to."

(from: The Faraway Nearby)

Almost five years ago, when I was in Sweden in a project about pilgrimage, working with snails, I wrote this:

The centre

Next to the cathedral in Lund they built a labyrinth. The priests use it to do labyrinth walks, every morning at 7.15, sometimes in the afternoon as well. After our presentation in the Visitor Centre we were invited to join the priests in a walk. It was the second time I walked the labyrinth.

The first time, a few weeks ago, was with pilgrim priest Anna. Before she entered it, she told us how she usually walked the labyrinth. She took a stone, carried it with her while walking and with every step she thought about something she was dealing with in her life, big things and small things, trying to let them go. In the centre she would leave her stone behind and with it all her worries.

The first time I walked the labyrinth my mind stopped the moment I took my first step. I didn’t think of anything. I just walked with an empty head. Even though I tried to bring things to mind I should concentrate on, nothing entered my head. Only when I stepped into the centre my brain started working again and I wondered how long I could stay in there. The second time the same thing happened. I just put one foot in front of the other. No thoughts. Nothing to struggle with. Emptiness. Until I reached the centre. And the moment the thoughts came back, I automatically stepped out of the labyrinth.

There was a man in our company who didn’t do the walk with us. He said he was too impatient to walk slowly through a labyrinth. He sat at the bench on the side and watched us. Afterwards he said that everybody had been looking so serious and troubled. “You were the only one smiling,” he told me.

I hadn’t realised it. And his words made me sad. And the sadness made me smile again.

It isn’t that difficult to get to the centre. But staying in the middle is the most difficult thing there is. A lifetime usually isn’t long enough to learn the skill. And there is nobody who can teach you how to do it. You can only be your own teacher.