3.11.18

Terra incognita

My weblog statistics tell me that in the last week my writing has been read most by people from Spain, the United States, the UK, Poland, Germany, Turkey, Colombia, Denmark and Japan and one other location. What surprises me is that my home country isn’t in the top 10. But since I’ve taken some distance from the place where I was born and raised and express myself in a different language than the one I grew up in, it makes some sense. What surprises me more is number 7 in the list. “Unknown territory”. Where could that be? They must have internet there, otherwise he, she, they or it, couldn’t have read my posts.

in a landscape


1.11.18

Visitors


The first day of November. After a night filled with thunder and lightning the outside world looks like new. The streets are still quiet, the early morning light is reflected in big puddles of water everywhere. It is only a matter of time before the sun will rise, even though the darkest half of the year has just started.

Like a lot of Christian celebrations and holidays, All Saints has pagan roots. It originated from the Celtic celebration of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned and spirits could more easily come into this world. It was believed that the souls of the dead returned home for one night and had to be appeased.

I am in the habit of walking to the sea early in the morning of November 1st and think about the dead. The ones closest to me first and when I reach the beach and sit down to look at the waves, I try to think about the others which is harder because I don’t know what they looked like, how they laughed, how they drank their coffee, how they loved and lived. But they were here. Not here where I am sitting but here in this world where I move around in.

I walk along the boulevard to the plaça del Mar to pay my silent friends a visit. They are there day in day out, in the Room where it Always Rains. Five bronze figures, slightly smaller than human size, looking in different directions and despite of their physical closeness every single one of them in complete individual isolation. They always look sad. But it always makes me happy to see them. The sculpture was made by Juan Muñoz and has been here since 1992. Not a lot of people know it is actually unfinished. The cage that surrounds them was supposed to have an irrigation system that would make it rain continually but due to technical problems the installation of the system was delayed and when everything seemed to be resolved, Muñoz died before being able to approve it. The piece was left unfinished but the original name was kept.

On my way back I see parts of palm trees scattered along the roads. Big chunks of the bark, shaped like female corsets, leaves shaped like gigantic feathers as if a prehistoric bird just flew over. The greenhouse in the park, housing a small artifical Garden of Eden, is closed. Through the planks of the doors I can see the light filtering through all the different shades of green. I’ve been here many times but I only found it open once.






I sit down on a terrace, order coffee and open the book I brought. “The Shape of a Pocket” by John Berger. “The pocket in question is a small pocket of resistance. A pocket is formed when two or more people come together in agreement. The resistance is against the inhumanity of the New World Economic Order. The people coming together are the reader, me, and those the essays are about - Rembrandt, Paleolithis cave painters, a Romanian peasant, ancient Egyptians, an expert in the loneliness of a certain hotel bedroom, dogs at dusk, a man in a radio station.” The book was on my list of books I wanted to read and last Monday it was there, in the second-hand English bookshop in Gracia.
I read bits and pieces. Inbetween the essays are details of the photo that is printed on the cover, a crowd of anonymous people, made on Primrose Hill by Peter Marlow during the Eclipse of 1999. The last essay is titled “Will it Be a Likeness?” and between parentheses it says “for Juan Muñoz”. I knew it was in the book but that wasn’t why I had put it in my bag this morning. It was a random choice, I took it because it was the last book I bought. And when I left my house I hadn’t planned to visit the bronze figures.
I read the essay. The main character is a man in a radio station. John Berger performed the text in theater several times, directed by Muñoz himself. Apart from making sculptures and installations, Muñoz was well-known for his texts and radioplays. The first performance of “Will it Be a Likeness?” in Frankfurt was simultaneously broadcasted on the radio.
Page 246. “For sometimes a sound is more easily grasped as a silence, just as a presence, a visible presence, is sometimes most eloquently conveyed by a disappearance. Who does not know what it is like to go with a friend to a railway station and then to watch the train take them away? As you walk along the platform back into the city, the person who has just gone is often more there, more totally here, than when you embraced them before they climbed into the train. When we embrace to say goodbye, maybe we do it for this reason - to take into our arms what we want to keep when they’ve gone.”
I sometimes wonder if you can really sense the difference between somebody being out of sight for this moment only and somebody no longer being in this world at all. The sadness that comes with somebodies death is the awareness that we will never see them again, never talk to them, never hold them. But when they were still there, only somewhere else, out of eye’s reach, we never felt the same sadness. Maybe it is because we are incapable of living in the moment.

At home I continued reading on my balcony. Today is one of the last days I can see the sun for a few minutes just before 5 pm. In the next days it will disappear completely behind the buildings. The arugola is still thriving. The two avocado plants have doubled in size since spring. The weeds with the yellow flowers inbetween the cacti are still growing towards the sunlight and moved almost a meter out of the balcony into empty space. Small birds like to balance on them and eat the seeds. In one of the flower pots that has only soil and some unplanned plants in it, I notice two snails. A big one and a small one, cozily huddled up together on a dead leaf. I live on the second floor and in the two years I’ve been here, I’ve had bumblebees visiting, wasps, butterflies, caterpillars, sparrows, black and blue tits, once a big seagull, but I never saw a snail on my balcony. Where did they come from? Did they climb all the way up here? Together?

When I got my new cheap but much appreciated Ikea bookcases in the beginning of this year I left two shelves book-free and filled them with precious things, small gifts from friends, ceramic cups, memories of journeys, stones, a few small buddhas surrounding a little stone dragon and a rawhide rattle, handmade with much love, a shamanic tool that is used to help accessing the spirit realms. I received it last year, in Transylvania, when I was part of the Fire & Shadow programme, exploring the state of the world, our place in it, and how we might weave a new kind of story in an age of upheaval and uncertainty. Inbetween spending time in two of the wildest places in Europe - our first encounter was in the Scottish Highlands - our group of about 20 people met online to talk, discuss, learn and share. Susan couldn’t be there in Transylvania but she made a rattle for everybody and sent it over. I didn’t use mine to try to enter the spirit world but I was very happy to have it on me when on the fifth day, during a 24 hour solo retreat up in the mountains with nothing but a sleeping bag, I was woken up by a growling bear a few meters away, invisible behind some trees. My second thought was to grab the rattle and make some noise. Which I did. My first thought was to remain as silent as possible because I wanted to see the bear.

The rattle is made out of animal skin with a handle constructed out of dried cactus. We were all asked to think about our totem being, symbol, spirit animal, or mythical beast. I sent Susan a picture of a snail and she painted it on the dried leather part.
I don’t believe there is any meaning in my spirit animal deciding to appear on my balcony on this day. But you never know. I’ll see how long they will stay. There isn’t much to eat, they are not a big fan of arugola but I’ve got some lettuce in the fridge they might appreciate.


28.10.18

Looking for Jesus and Jeanette


I am always surprised by the things I find in my books. Usually I left them there myself, a long time ago. Polaroids, notes, postcards. But I didn’t put this in here. And when I brouse through the book I realise I didn’t even read it, which is odd because I love Jeanette Winterson and I read most of her books. “Sexing the cherry”, published in 1990; my book is the Dutch translation but the flyer is in English, printed in the U.S.A for the Pacific Garden Mission.

I find it an interesting combination, Jeanette Winterson and The Lord Jesus Christ so I google it. “Jeanette Winterson” and “Jesus” and I find a speech she gave in 2010. “The Temptation of Jesus”, The Manchester Sermon 2010, delivered in the Manchester Cathedral. She starts with a retelling of the story of Midas, who loved gold so much that he wished that anything he touched could turn into gold. It brings her to capitalism and modern day politicians and our individual responsibility. She quotes from Matthew, writes about the soul and describes the struggle between Satan and Jesus.

I read the back of “Sexing the cherry”. It says is it a mixture of history and the most fantastic and gruesome fairy tales. Of course the Bible is the same.

Still it doesn’t explain how a flyer with the purpose of converting an innocent soul ended up in a book about “love, sex, lies and truth, and twelve dancing princesses who lived happily ever after (but not with their husbands)”. But it led me to the beautiful and still very relevant speech.

“We can blame the banks. We can feel like victims. But we bought into this. Money has been our only currency and our core value, which is insane, as it doesn’t really exist. You exist – the person I love. My body exists – my one true home. The planet exists – beautiful, blue, long-suffering, fragile, and irreplaceable. Friendship exists, and our kids, and books and pictures and music, and the feeling we get, when just for a second, life in all its unlived possibility stands in front of us.

……………..

I said at the start that I had hoped that the economic crisis would cause us to rethink our values – what is so upsetting is that the progressive secular Left has not done any rethinking worth the name – just a bit of apologising and tinkering – while the really scary Right has gone for an all-out war on all those touchy-feely policies they hated – as though subsidised theatre and the arts and single mums and welfare payments brought us to our knees – not a totally naked and savage free market god. Even Baal the flesh-eating god of the Philistines wasn’t as demanding in his sacrifices as the god of the free market. All of the planet and all of its peoples fed into the money-making machine…”

Read the full speech here: http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/the-temptation-of-jesus/

20.10.18

Present


The day started with a nightmare. It was one of those classic ones, where you have to do something important and you are late and then you can’t find the right location and the harder you try, the more lost you get. It is hard to shake those off after waking up. Making coffee and drinking it on your balcony while reading something can drive it out. Not the newspaper. Some poetry maybe. Or a little bit of Jarman’s “Modern Nature”. But there was no time for it. I had to pick up the bag with my Spanish books which I had left at a friend’s place the evening before and do my homework before my class started.

It is still warm enough these days to walk around in your t-shirt most times of the day. The jacaranda trees are blooming for the second time. The street lights were still on but switched off at 8.15. Sunrise.
I used to walk to the sea in the mornings to watch it and do some writing on a terrace on my way back but these days I sit in a classroom four mornings a week, finally learning all the different ways to talk in the past and future tense. The present tense I master already, or at least kind of. The fifth day I teach. The sea is for weekends only.

I got my bag. I did my grammar exercises. There was still time to drink coffee and smoke and look at the people walking by. Some pigeons were fighting over a piece of bread. I lighted my cigarette and read the text on the lighter. I don’t know where I picked it up. It said “Nunca abandones tus sueñes. Duerme 5 minutos más.” Never abandon your dreams. Sleep 5 minutes more. Any other day that probably would have made sense.

My Spanish teacher likes to teach us some history and geography and language theory while explaining the differences between past simple and present perfect tense. We had to combine dates and facts. 1492, Columbus set foot in America. 2002, Olympic Games. 1981, Spain entered the European Union. 1936, Franco starts the Civil War. 1939, end of the Civil War, Franco comes to power. 1975, Franco dies. One of the students raised her hand and asked: “Who is this Franco?”

I walked home. I did the things you do on a Thursday afternoon. E-mails, laundry, reading the newspaper, preparing my Friday class. Nothing much to write about. An ordinary Thursday weekday. I opened my balcony doors - or tried to. When summer starts, they get harder to open. The wood expands and on rainy days it is even worse. There is a trick to open them, you put your right foot against the left door, pushing it back while pulling the handle. Sometimes it takes quite some force. Today they were very stuck. And when I pushed and pulled and leaned backwards the metal handle broke off.

Just in front of the doors there is the one piece of furniture in my room I really like. A big coffee table. I found it online not so long ago, somebody wanted to get rid of it but didn’t want to carry it all the way down many flights of stairs to dispose of it. With the help of a friend I picked it up, transported it back to my place and loved it. A heavy metal frame with an ingenious system to lift and move the top part so it turns into a table with two table leafs next to each other, one slightly higher than the other. In its “folded” state the two heavy glass sheets are in the same position with a bit of space inbetween them.

Physics. When you pull at a door the energy gets transferred into the movement of a door. If the door is stuck and the handle breaks off the energy gets transferred into the movement of your body. I fell backwards with a lot of force and fell full body through the first sheet of glass. It completely shattered. The second sheet of glass held my body.

I didn’t have a scratch. Not even a tiny bruise. Just before I wanted to go out on the windy balcony I had put on a big sturdy long sleeved vest. Pieces of glass were hanging from it.

I imagined what could have happened. But nothing did. Only a table got lost, no big deal. As simple as that. Still I made sure I told the two people I talked to in the evening that I loved them.

Life is good.



16.9.18

Going through life in circles. Grasshoppers, blue memories and the gift of food repeated.

Five years ago I was walking from Amsterdam to the south of France. People had adopted my walking days by giving me something to get me through "their" day. People often gave me assignments as well or asked me to think about somebody or something. 16 September 2013 I posted this:

“Day 33. Two companions today. Alison Bell asked me : "Think of past lovers and the joy they brought into your life, think of this, for all of us out there who remember and smile."
Solla asked me to use my heart today: "Ask for food, ask nature or people you meet, you can do it straight out or in a more delicate way and by giving something from your heart on that day." She asked me to really look at people, look them in the eye and see them from my heart.

I left Luc early, it was freezing cold. I sacrificed a pair of socks. Cut two small holes in them. Now they were mittens.
The blackberries were back and I ate them, hadn't seen them for days which was good because I was getting afraid my blood would turn into blackberry juice. I can't resist them.
Coffee in La Bastide-Puylaurent. I don't like asking for food or drinks. I payed. I looked the lady in the eyes. She smiled. I gave her a tip.

I had received so much already during this walk. Coffee, tea, pancakes, fruit, dinners and deserts, wine and snacks. We had been generous, the people and me. Sharing stories, chocolate, attention, smiles, food, ideas, anything. Today was a day to remember that. And smile at anybody, even on this cold day, especially on this cold day.

I thought about past lovers, about love, about being loved. And it warmed me. And there is much to say about that. Not so long ago I read Barthes' "A lovers discourse", a shocking book in a way, but I realised again we are all the same, we do the same thing again and again. Love is never a new thing, it is the same thing always. And it is true what Bobin writes:

"... love does not fill anything, not the hole you have in your head, not the abyss that you have in your heart. Love is an absence much more than a fullness. Love is a fullness of absence, this is, I grant you, an incomprehensible thing. But this thing that is impossible to understand is so very simple to live ....."

and wearing my suit, my soft armour, my body, I thought of John Berger too:

“To be so desired – if the desire is also reciprocal – renders the one who is desired fearless. No suit of armour ... ever offered, when worn, a comparable sense of protection. To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody can reach in this life to feeling immortal.”

I walked and the sun started to shine. The views were amazing. Finally I walked in the mountains without just looking at them from a distance.
There were no villages. And at some point the path I walked on turned into silver. There were hundreds of grasshoppers sitting in the sun and with every step I took they jumped up, showing the beautiful blue of their hind wings which is usually hidden.
I tried to catch the blue and I failed but it is in my memory and when I close my eyes I can see it.

I walked to Prévenchères where a friend was waiting for me. I looked him in the eye. He took me out for a very nice dinner.

————

The words from Alison and Solla were still in my head when I walked over to the supermarket across the street this morning. I passed the monument where last Tuesday, the Catalan National Day, people had put flowers at the feet of Casanova. The air was warm. The street was empty again, earlier today the sounds of thousands of feet running through the street had reminded me of the sea, it sounded like waves crashing on the beach and when I looked down from my balcony I saw runners in blue t-shirts in the middle of a 10 km run, la Cursa de Mercè, named after La Mare de Déu de la Mercè, Our Lady of Mercy. The legend says that in 1687 Barcelona suffered a plague of locusts and placed its fate in the hands of the Virgin of La Mercè. Once the city overcame the plague, the Council of Barcelona named La Mercè patron saint of Barcelona.

In the supermarket I saw a woman who seemed to be deep in thought. She was looking at the packed meat. When I was about to pass her she asked me if the pink slices of something that looked like pork were indeed half price. It is my regular supermarket so I know how it works: you have to buy two of the same product and you pay 50% of the price for the second one only. I explained in my bad Spanish. “Is it nice?” she asked. And then “Does it have many calories?” I wondered if she mistook me for an employee but she couldn’t have, I was wearing weird stretchy black pants and an old t-shirt without sleeves saying “I will kick you out of my house if you don’t cut that hair!!!” and even if she wouldn’t have noticed I didn’t look like a supermarket employee my Spanish would have given me away. She was wearing a running outfit but she didn’t look like she had been running 10km. “I don’t know about calories” I said, I don’t care about them. “ She slapped her rather voluminous butt, laughing, and said: “I have to!” She looked at the meat again. She wanted it but she was worried about her figure. She looked great though, she was chubby but it didn’t make her unattractive, maybe even the opposite. “It is nice meat, buy it!” I said. I had no idea if that was true. She smiled and put it in her shopping basket.

The woman at the counter greeted me and scanned my few items. She struggled with the giant water mellon, it didn’t fit on the scale and kept rolling off. I payed. Very little. And when I came home and checked the receipt I saw she hadn’t charged me for the mellon.

10.9.18

Home


It feels like returning after a long holiday but it wasn´t me who was a tourist elsewhere and came back home. Other people were tourists here and I stopped going on my early morning walks when the streets were taken over by drunk tourists and the beach had turned into a party area. Today the morning silence has returned and although the beach bars are still there - they pop up in spring and disappear in the fall - and lifeless bodies are scattered on the sand as if they washed up on the shore in the night, it is quiet and and the sand is free of trash. The big ugly sign is new. An enormous cigarette butt with the puzzling text "don´t leave me in this mess" dominates the view. A different kind of polution.

I don´t see the sunrise but it must have happened because the sky is turning lighter, from dark grey to light grey. A blanket of clouds. The sea is stale blue and doesn´t care what is happening on its shore. Two big basalt blocks sticking out of the waves have been transformed into rubic cubes. A cormorant sits on one of the other blocks that has been painted bright pink and spreads its wings to let them dry in the wind.

The last photo I took of the sea is dated June 30. The meter of shame wasn´t working that day but a few days earlier it had displayed the number 857. Today the number is 1549. It almost doubled. In the last two monts almost 700 people drowned in the Mediterranean.

I sit on the sand. I look at the man grooming his dog. At the elderly couple swimming. At the treasure hunter with the metal detector. It is windy.

I am the first one to arrive at the terrace but soon after I sit down the others make their way slowly across the market square. They wear carefully chosen dresses, bright red lipstick, they look like they just came back from the hairdresser. The slowest ones, the ones behind their walking aids, are being greeted from afar by the ones who are already seated, "hola guapa!" They are beauties indeed, with their amazing wrinkles like rivers running through a landscape. I sometimes wonder if they recognise me. I am not here as often as they are, which is daily, always looking as if they dressed up for a celebration, but I am a regular here.

The waiter brings me my café con leche and calls me cariño. The sun appears.

8.9.18

From the balcony

I hear loud cheerful voices, laughter. “You there with the hat!” I look down. A rikshaw bike is waiting in front of the red traffic light. Three middle aged tourists wave at a young woman waiting for the pedestrian traffic light to turn green. “Nice hat!” one of the men shouts. “Thank you!” she shouts back and quickly looks at her phone. “Do you want his number?” one of the other men shouts. She answers: “No!” and the man who complimented her on her hat shouts: “No, she wants my body!”
She looks at her phone again. The traffic light turns green. The rickshaw bike starts to move. The men wave at the woman and laugh out loud. She waves back.


Not really worth writing about. Or to make a fuss about. Didn’t she wave back politely? Maybe she didn’t mind the encounter. But the fact that she responded didn’t mean she didn’t mind. She had to do something. Ignore them while waiting and risk that they would become more intrusive than they already were. Walk away and cross the street somewhere else. Or just smile and be polite and hope the light would turn green quickly. Their traffic light first. Because otherwise she had to walk past the rickshaw.

Maybe she didn’t think all of this. Maybe she thought it was normal. Or funny even. But that thought bothers me even more.

22.4.18

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.

21.4.18

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.



20.4.18

Fairytale

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
unending
rain
into the world.

- Miroslav Holub

9.4.18

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.


5.4.18

Shadows



On what promised to be the first really warm and sunny day of many more to come, I found a long rainjacket that looked like it was almost new and a red woolen winterdress, neatly folded, lying next to one of the garbage containers on my regular route to the sea. I once spent a summer in a Swedish forest where people were so busy preparing for winter that it was hanging over the warm season like a big shadow. Here it is different. When spring arrives, people remove the wet and cold days out of their daily lives. I picked them up.

I passed the landmark between beach and city that tells the sad story of men and women trying to cross the Mediterranean to find a safe place to live. The last time I passed it, it read 2018: 497. Today the number had changed. 2018: 498. A small difference. Only one. It is close to nothing. But this man or woman or boy or girl only had one life.

The sea was calm, the sun already up in the sky, the dogs were noisy and nosy. Some people have their regular place to sit on the beach, like I do. We recognised each other.

When I was drinking my coffee later on and tried to finish a book, I got distracted by my neighbours’ conversation. They were speaking in a mix of English and Spanish. The man on the left was saying: “A mind with doubts will always have doubts. It is useless to try to convince a person who is like that.” The man on the right was talking louder and louder. They were discussing the use of having a discussion. They didn’t agree. The man on the left never raised his voice. The man on the right got more and more agitated.

I returned to my book, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time to keep Silence” and read “…. the rule of silence is absolute. A special deaf and dumb language for cases of necessity has been evolved and codified, and the entire lifetime of a laybrother, who does not participate in the singing of the offices, may pass without the uttering of a word beyond the confessional or his spiritual consultations with the Abbot … a mythical agendum in the duties of a monk is the digging of his own tomb, a few spadefuls a day.”

A friend joined me at the sunny terrace. She had been practising the bodhrán on the beach. It is also known as Deafening or Thundering drum.

I walked back. The small pink flowers on the square were withering, it looked sad. But the trees were still blooming and the shadows were beautiful.


3.4.18

The first day.


It is five years since I walked through the world naked. I was in Gent, Belgium, the 3d of April 2013, staying at the house of friends who were travelling. I was enroled in a Master Programme at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. I studied Media Art & Design after having studied Art in Public Space and New Artistic Strategies for a year. That day we had to present the projects we had been working on to our teachers. I wasn’t in Weimar. The presentation date had been changed a few times and as always, the students were supposed to do whatever their teachers were telling them. I had planned this trip according to their original planning and as always, I had tried to explain my point of view to them. I was only a student though and they knew better. They thought. I am not sure if I knew better. But I thought differently. And I still do.

I had been wearing a three piece suit for 108 days then. I started wearing it on December 16. I had embroidered a big QR code on the back of the jacket. Every day I made an embroidery on the inside of the suit. Sometimes they referred to something that had happened that day, in my own life or in the world. Sometimes it was a drawing, sometimes words. Sometimes I just started without knowing what would come out of it. Every day I posted two photos on my blog, one of me on that day, in my suit, doing whatever I was doing on that day. The second one showed the embroidery. The QR code on my back linked to the blog. The inside of the suit was invisible when I was wearing it and while the outside got dirtier and more worn out every day, the inside became more beautiful. I had no idea how long I was going to wear the suit. But one day I read this in Thoreau’s Walden and that shed some light on it:

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.”

When I read that, I decided to wear the suit until I had reached that point. I had no idea what that meant or what I had to do to become a new woman. I just continued to go on walks every day and make an embroidery on the inside of my outside.
While I was in Gent I wrote my teachers that I wasn’t going to be present physically on the 3d of April but that I would be present online and had been continuously. They had never liked my project, they never liked any of my ideas and they didn’t like me doing things out in the world on my own that were sometimes connected to other art or social institutions. They also didn’t like it when I spoke up in class and had a different opinion than they had. I had left the Art in Public Space programme when my professor used the word “narrow-minded” to describe me, not once but three times, in a meeting about a group exhibition in Sarajevo with my fellow students. I know I have my limitations and you can call me stubborn but there is no use in trying to learn something from somebody who calls you narrow-minded to put you down, or to defend herself. If said once, maybe, but three times is too much. And there was only one professor in that programme so I did what I had to do. I left. I thought Media Art & Design would be different but it wasn’t really. The professors were busy with their own projects and weren’t interested in students whose ideas clashed with theirs somehow.

I don’t mind when somebody doesn’t understand my work or even thinks I am on the wrong path. At the Rietveld Academy, where I had done my BA, I spent many wonderful hours with my drawing teacher who openly admitted he didn’t get what I was working on but also said that maybe he wasn’t capable of understanding it. We respected each other and had many things to talk about that were influential for both our ways of working and we discussed philosophy and poetry and how daily life transforms our work. There was another teacher I was always a bit afraid to meet up with because he was very strict and didn’t like my work but he always made me wonder whether I thought he was right or if I believed in what I was doing anyway. He never told me what to do. I made sure I saw him regularly. One of my favorite teachers there once said that we are in the same boat, the students and the teachers and that for the moment the students are artists with less experience. And that teachers still have a lot to learn as well.

In the week before the 3d of April 2013 I finished some texts about my suit project. I posted daily. I had worked hard that semester. I was happy about the things I had been doing. But I worried about whether I would get my credits for this project. And I wanted to get my Master title in order to make my life easier in the future. As an artist, some doors open only if you’ve got the right papers. When I had arrived in Weimar I had thought about maybe teaching there in the future. Doing a PhD. I didn’t anymore. I didn’t really fit in that system.
On the 2d of April I thought about my absence in Weimar the next day. I wondered what would happen after I would return there. I realised I didn’t really care what my teachers would be telling me. And I realised I preferred having two unfinished Master Programmes because of not being suitable on my CV than just going through the motions to be a Master with a capital M.

Thoreau had spoken. The next day I took off my suit. Instead of a photo of me in my suit I posted a photo of me walking through Gent naked.

My project had been titled A Soft Armour all along. When I travelled to Amsterdam a few days later I met a tattoo artist in the train on his way home. I asked him if he could help me. Shortly afterwards he put those words on my left shoulder. When I gave a talk about my suit project a few months later somebody asked me why I had chosen to wear the suit for 108 days. When I explained it was because apparently that was the right amount of days she told me that a mala, a string of prayer beads used in meditation, has 108 beads. It is said that there are 108 stages on the journey of the human soul

I wear my soft armour every day. It is strong but vulnerable. I like it that way. It got some scratches here and there, some bruises. It failed me for a very long time after I made a tough walk from Barcelona to Paris, my third long solo walk. It still fails me when I want to do the things I dreamt of in the past. But it helps me to do other things instead. Create new dreams.

Some people think I didn’t get very far. I am 45. I don’t own anything more valuable than the computer I am typing this on. My bedroom and my livingroom and my workspace are one and the same room. I wear clothes I find on the street. Not because I can’t afford to buy new clothes but because I like to reuse and the things I find are beautiful and surprising. My accountant told me last week that although I had answered the question “Do you work more than 1250 hours as an artist/writer” with “yes”, he had changed it into “no” because I had earned very little money. I didn’t try to explain that there are weeks when I work 168 hours and that I am not always payed in money. I just told him that when I say “yes” it means “yes”.

I walked thousands of kilometers in the last five years. I met amazing people, some of them ashamed of their ordinary lives, others proud of what they achieved but unhappy, a lot of them wanting to live differently but not knowing how to do that. I walked thousands of kilometers only to get close to the point where I started. When I was a child and had learned to walk I made myself at home in the world with ease, without worrying. My safe places were clearings inbetween trees, hollows, flattened areas inbetween the tall grass, the arms of people I loved, my books. I built things. I grew things. I was happy with little.

Today I celebrate that it is five years since I walked through the world the way I came into it.

People who think I didn’t get far are right.

Today is the first day. Again.

(embroidery on day 108)





All images and texts about 108 days in a suit here: A Soft Armour


1.4.18

Wings

 
Since the first time I thought the word “Bar” next to the name of restaurant Andorra looked like a P, I can’t read it differently and in my mind the two r’s become one. I’ve been in this small box-like place a couple of times and pass it often but I’ve never seen anything catastrophic coming through the door there although for horse lovers who read the menu it might be a dark place. I had some enjoyable evenings in there but in the blue morning light and with the graffiti-covered shutter closed it does look like a life-size version of Pandora’s box.

Even though it is a holiday, or maybe because it is Easter Sunday, the streets are quieter than they normally are. It is hard to say if the people I pass here and there are early risers or didn’t get their sleep yet.

The blue moon - it is the second full moon this month - is hidden behind pink clouds. The sun will rise shortly.

And so it does. Captured by some tourists. Like I did when I was still inbetween being and not being here. I never liked the photos afterwards. Colours that are only beautiful when you see them in real. Light that becomes kitchy in 2D. Proof of something you don’t need proof of. The sun is only halfway through its life, it will probably do the same thing for another 5 billion x 365 times.

To weaken my argument I take a photo of the line between the sea and the sky without the sun in it. It is there every day as well, 24 hours a day even. Why take a photo of it? I don’t know. I’m intrigued by that line and how on the photo it becomes a proper line whereas in real it isn’t, only in my eyes.



The palm trees in front of the hospital have shedded more of their skin. The pieces look like wooden corsets, human-size. A while ago I took one home and tried it on. It fitted perfectly.

The stairs are covered in small wings. As are the squares and sidewalks. They are in the gutters and porches. Every day there are more of them. Seeds. I take some home every day. They pile up on my table. Old wings.

When I walk back home Andorra’s interior is lighted, I open the glass door, order a coffee and think about Pandora. According to Greek mythology she was the first human woman created by the gods, on the instructions of the god of the sea, Zeus. She was molded out of earth as part of the punishment of humanity for Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire. The box wasn’t really a box but a jar (pithos) and when she opened it she released all evils of humanity, leaving only Hope inside once she closed it again.

New wings are groing. New seeds.

29.3.18

Old and new connections


An old story. Because the world is in turmoil, is always in turmoil and inbetween all the sad things that are happening everywhere it is important to remember that there are just as many, or maybe even more, beautiful things happening. Often it is in small things, in small encounters.
An old story because a friend told me that somebody she knows is on her way to a place where I spent half a year of my life, on the border between Slovakia and Hungary, being a Bridgeguard but in a mental way. Creating new connections while moving inbetween different worlds, often literally moving inbetween different countries. “So wonderful how we are all connected to and through places and people somehow” I wrote to my friend and to her friend, on her way to where I once was, I wrote: “Be careful when you arrive, they have strange Easter rituals over there!” I tried to find my writing, 13 years ago, about how at Easter they ring your doorbell and when you open, sprinkle you with perfume or water, and how you are in danger of being gently whipped with young branches but I couldn’t find it on my BridgeGuard blog. I did find some other stories I had almost forgotten. This is one of them:

12/04/2005 (Sturovo, Slovakia, next to the Danube with Esztergom, Hungary, at the other side of the Maria Valeria Bridge, on the other side of the Danube)

I didn’t know him at all. And here I was, eating his biscuits, drinking some strong homebrewn liquor. Wondering who put the fresh flowers on his table. Admiring the small painting which reminded me of Francis Bacon. I was looking straight into a young man’s mouth.
He told me he had been fighting in France in the Second World War. There was a moment he considered the option of fleeing to Belgium. But he couldn’t get the image of his parents out of his head. He had to return, if only to see if they were still alive. They were then. But not anymore. Of course. He was 84 now. Still living in Sturovo.

I had been on my way to the other side. But things don’t always turn out the way you plan them. I filmed a garden behind a long wooden fence. At the end of the fence, a man stood in his doorway. If you film somebodies property and he invites you in, you can’t refuse. Besides, if you are on your way to the other side, a chance meeting can’t be a coincidence.
He poured us another drink. It was three o’ clock.

He used to be a “menegdzser” (read this out loud and you will know what the Hungarian word means). He travelled at a time when most people couldn’t. He had been in Amsterdam before I was born. Before my mother had even kissed a boy without any other intention than to tease him. He tried to find the name of the hotel he had stayed in during his days in Amsterdam. But the memory was buried under other memories. When you are 84 they pile up. Hide themselves between more recent ones. He took a new one. “Julia, wie Julia Roberts. Sie ist acht Jahre alt.” He got that look in his eyes grandparents get when talking about their grandchildren. When you can’t walk as fast as you used to, they do the running for you. Maybe even the living.

At four 'o clock she walked in, Julia, just like Julia Roberts. She brought her aunt with her. I knew her. She had brought me beautiful flowers once. Probably from the same garden that got me into this house.

She offered me some homemade cookies. They were delicious.

(image from Biological Graffiti, planting flower bulbs to mark my territory)

28.3.18

Found and lost


 
The policemen with big guns on my daily route are new. I pass a van and three vigilant men when I am approaching the train station. The entrance to the park a bit further down the road is blocked completely. The Catalan Parliament building is situated in the park. I sometimes take that route back home but clearly not today.

The jacarandas are blooming. Under the trees small delicate flowers form a pink carpet on the square. The space next to the old Roman city wall is empty. The young homeless guy who was there all winter moved a while ago but I still expect to see his improvised bedroom when I pass the big hole inbetween the tall buildings where he had made himself at home. Just after he left there were still two small suitcases in another corner, not hidden very well. They disappeared at some point.
In Barceloneta, the area closest to the sea, I find a coin on the sidewalk. I want to pick it up but it is glued to the tile. I never saw it before but it might be because I often look up here, at the laundry hanging from balconies. Sometimes a sock comes floating down.

The first beach bar has opened. Earlier in the week they were still constructing them. I will miss the empty beach and the silence. The cleaners are out already to remove the trash tourists left on the beach. A man with a metal detector is looking for treasures. I know where mine is. That is why I walk here most days early.

From a distance I see something lying at the spot where I usually sit down to look at the sea. It looks like a book, it has Chinese characters on the cover and seems to be a menu from one of the nearby restaurants but when I open it, I only see empty pages. It is a notebook with the first pages torn out. There are four old photos inside. The first one shows an outdoor swimming pool with five children. On the next one a young man is lying in a playpen, either fixing something or pretending to be a baby. In the third one he is on his knees in an oldfashioned interior, staring at what looks like a big radio or heater. His tie is almost touching the floor, I can only see the back of his head. The fourth one is the most intruiging one. A beach scene. A sunny day, five people lying under a parasol and a woman in the foreground in the straight sun, surrounded by shoes and clothes. I am not 100% sure but it looks like the photo was taken from where I sit now. Before the big W hotel was built. Did somebody leave this here on purpose? Was it lost?

I walk down the beach. A small stack of stones is waiting to be taken by the waves. A single rose is stuck in the sand close to the water, its petals gone. They probably have no connection whatsoever, the notebook and the piled up stones and the flower but if I wanted to, I could make a sad story out of it.

I won’t. Because I don’t know the facts and anyway, it would be a far too romantic story to be interesting. The really sad story is elsewhere. And so are the facts of that story. There is no romance to it, only useless suffering. I always wonder if people walking along the boulevard take notice of it. It is a metal sculpture with a text and a digital number on it. The number changes. Every time when I pass it I hope it is the same. But often it isn’t. Today it says “2018 : 497”. It is the number of people who have drowned in the Mediterranean this year. There is a text in four languages. “This is not just a number. These are people. The Mediterranean, a meeting point of cultures and civilisations, has now become an enormous mass grave for thousands of people without shelter who were seeking protection. We do not know their names or their personal stories, but we do know how many they are. We would like to count them, so we can pay tribute to them and never forget them.”


26.3.18

The power of sound

It is only a big concrete-mixer in front of the building that is being renovated across the street. No need to feel anxious. But it sounds similar to the noise of police helicopters circling around in the area close to my home whenever the Spanish government does something the people here don't support and they go out on the streets to let their voices be heard. Every time I get immersed in my work I forget it is only a concrete-mixer. And have to remind myself and look out of the window when I start feeling a bit nauseous again. Intruiging how you get conditioned so quickly and how the memory of sound makes your body respond before your mind realises what it is and changes how you feel about it.

25.3.18

It is always time to love

Where did it go? I stayed up until 3 am to see where it went but in the moment I kept my eyes on the time in the left corner of my computer screen to see when 02:59 would change into the next hour, it had gone already. It is stored somewhere and will be returned in the fall. An hour had vanished, the time had changed but times aren’t really changing. In 6 minutes and 20 seconds 17 young students were gunned down, one of their classmates made it tangible by being silent for 6 minutes and 20 seconds during a speech she gave at the March for Our Lives yesterday. The Brazilian politician and activist Marielle Franco died in an instant. Life on earth has lasted at least 3.5 billion years. When I was asked earlier this week what I would do if I only had an hour left to live I wrote down the first thing that came to mind: nothing. None of the other answers that were given seemed more appealing to me, apart from maybe “making love”.

21.3.18

Growth



They are so vulnerable. The leaves break off so easily. I try to be careful when I move the plants or water them but it is almost impossible to not lose some now and then. Sometimes some leaves fall behind the pot and lie there in a dark corner for a few weeks. They don't give up easily though. The leaf creates new roots and forms new leaves, turns into a new plant. Vulnerability is a strength.

18.3.18

The woman without baggage (Part 2, in progress)

Of colour                

Sometimes she raised her hand, when early in the evening
The sky had this particular colour blue
And I was never sure if she was pointing up
Or asked permission for a question
Last time I saw her do it was not long ago
One day just after seven

Almost like a dance move
But never moving her feet
And looking straight ahead into the distance
Never up, or down

Sometimes she did ask something   
After her hand had landed, heavily
After being silent for a while

Do you want a beer? she would ask
Or: how was your day today?
And sometimes: what are you doing tomorrow?
Shall we go somewhere?

————————


She had come a long way, she said
and she showed me her maps
Glued against the window to keep the light out at daytime
Pinpricks across three continents
Which didn’t make sense to me until she asked me to stay one night
and I saw Orion


—————-

She held her breath

Leaving is easy
She said
Look at me
And she shot herself in the head
With an air gun
Air as in air guitar
Airborne

——————-

In her cloudless eyes

i saw animals chasing each other in the sky tonight she said
a snail being followed by a dragon being followed by a bird
a big white rabbit was hovering over them
when i looked again the snail had turned into a person
and the dragon and the bird had become dogs, howling
the rabbit had thrown its head in its neck
it was real she said
it was real i said i saw it too

——————-

he tickled her under her feet
she didn’t laugh
callus, she said

——————-

Pinprick

An insignificant puncture made by a pin or similar point.
A mildly annoying wound or damage.

17.3.18

A day

I saw animals chasing each other in the sky late at night.
A snail being followed by a dragon being followed by a bird,
a big fluffy white rabbit was hovering over them.
I wanted to take a photo but they had already changed.
The snail had turned into a person
and the dragon and the bird had become dogs, howling.
The rabbit had thrown its head in its neck,
as if it was dying.
Why take a photo of that?


I had taken a photo of the panther in the porch across the street early that day.
Only it wasn’t a panther, just a blanket covering a homeless person.
But when I watched the blanket being folded later on it wasn’t a homeless person at all.
It was a young couple, nicely dressed, saving money for who knows what.

The bumblebees on the balcony where real.
Two of them, slowly plunging themselves into the hearts of the flowers that had appeared mysteriously one day in March.
Traces of the person who lived here before I did. Who sat on the balcony to watch the world like I do now.

In the afternoon the road was blocked.
Groups of elderly people walked in one direction to join the crowd in front of governmental buildings to protest, accusing the government of squandering money while they don’t get a decent pension.
Some time later there was a big march in the other direction.
Young and old people protesting against the government trying to reduce the importance of Catalan in education.
I wasn’t sure if it was a different protest, a different manifestation but the opponent they were speaking out against was the same.
After the people were gone and the roadblocks were removed the helicopters were still there.
But they were gone by the time the animals appeared.

(Two days after I wrote this I found a map online with the meaning of the names of different countries. Spain means: land of many rabbits)

11.3.18

Vamos!

I saw Elvis. He was running a marathon. He was wearing what looked like blue suede shoes. And his iconic white suit. He only had another 5 kilometers to go. His black hair was impeccable.

Around 11.30 it was mainly single men. Small groups now and then. The fastest ones. Their passing in front of my balcony was announced by big drums a couple of hundred meters down the road. After 12 there was a continuous stream of runners. Some of them had wheels instead of legs.

A man dressed like spiderman passed by, in full costume, his head completely hidden, sweating like a maniac. The people along the road were cheering, some of them waiting for friends and loved ones, carrying banners with names on it. Some were there for whomever passed, trying to keep them going, putting almost as much energy in their cheering as the runners put in their quest.

I always find it touching to watch. Friends sticking together and adapting their speed to the slowest one. A young boy running along with his mother for a short stretch of the route. A man with a running buggy, I couldn’t make out if there was a baby in there asleep, hidden under the blankets. A man running with his guide dog. Two young guys with a cardboard sign and bottles of massage oil, ready to treat anybody's tired leg muscles.

What I first thought were a father and son running hand in hand were two men connected by a small piece of rope they were both holding. The young man was blind or had bad eyesight and his older running partner kept him on track. The man in the golden cape wasn’t pretending to be a super hero. It kept him from getting undercooled. He just came out of an ambulance and was escorted to a taxi where two of his running mates were waiting for him, neither of them would cross the finish line.

Around two the pace had slowed down. Most people were walking, some of them still making running movements with their arms and legs but moving in a speed that was probably slower than their normal walking speed. Slow motion runners. The audience had thinned out as well but some of them didn’t give up either. They knew they were needed.

More than 17.000 people passed. I don't know who won. I bet most people felt they did.


16.2.18

Brainwash



“The quest for a better shampoo has been the Holy Grail of hairdressing” *

They appeared one day. A man installed them. Three immaculate women dressed in shiny white, their real beauty hidden under a layer of digital make-up, their hair in perfect shape. It wasn’t them I was seeing, they weren’t real. But they were looking at me, sitting on my balcony. I wondered how  long they would keep me company. Whenever I sat outside for a cigarette or coffee break, working from home with messy hair in my favorite old black jogging pants, we looked each other in the eye.

It was a few weeks after the heads of first three, then five blond women’were placed on a container filled with construction debris. The builders who put them there laughed their own heads off. Young men passing took selfies with the bodyless brainless women in the background. Three female street cleaners ignored the scene. They just talked and smiled, taking a break from their working duties.


The heads were training heads, clearly from the Schwarzkopf Professional Academy. Hans Schwarzkopf, a qualified chemist, opened a tiny drugstore with a popular perfume section in Berlin at the end of the 19th century. In 1903 he developed a powder shampoo and in 1927 he developed the first liquid shampoo. These days, Schwarzkopf & Henkel is one of the largest cosmetic companies in the market. Their website says they stand for innovation, reliability, quality, trust and competence. “We believe in the whole - being greater than the sum of its parts. We believe in a passion shared – a passion for hair. We believe in true partnerships – a two-way relationship for life.”

The 6 women, 2 identical sets of 3, remained untouched for a month. Then one day a word had been spray painted over the faces of the threesome on the right. “Brainwash”. A lovely addition.
They were soon hidden behind a new temporary wooden wall; instead of seeing their faces I now saw a door and sometimes a glimmer of their eyes behind it when one of the builders used it. It looked a bit as if it was a portal leading into their heads.


The logo for Schwarzkopf - German for “black head” is the profile of a head, usually in black, sometimes in white. It is a family name, maybe it started being used because all the prominent members of a certain family had remarkable black hair. In a different context it might almost sound like a word a racist might use. And the English word “blackhead” actually means a clogged hair follicle (pore) in the skin. The Schwarzkopf women surely weren’t suffering from that. Or at least not originally. Being exposed to the elements now, their paper skin might have caught black stains I couldn’t see from across the street.

The 3 women on the left were still there but now the logo was targeted. One morning a white speach balloon came out of its lips. It was empty. It had nothing to say. Or maybe it was a big chewing gum bubble he was blowing thoughtlessly, about to blow up in his face. The women on its left sight were effected as well. Cracks started to appear in their perfect skin. Life on the streets is tough, they could have known.


Today, almost three months after they made their appearance, their faces are gone. What is left of them looks like an iceberg, being afloat. I like it much better like this. Schwarzkopf still has nothing to say and the bubble didn’t blow up. Yet. The builders continue working steadily, some time this year they will have finished the hair academy on the ground floor plus 19 fancy apartments on the upper floors, indoor communal swimmingpool with fully equiped gym and outdoor roof terrace with swimming pool and stunning views. I imagine real women sitting behind those windows then with perfect hair, looking at me sitting on my balcony. Maybe I’ll wave at them from the other side.






* (quote from: Hairstory. The history of shampoo. https://www.hairstory.com/stories/2017/3/24/the-history-of-shampoo/)