9.9.19

Birdwatching

I call this work. To sit under the trees - not in the chair I usually sit in, because it is occupied - and look at the tiny bird, sitting on the back of my usual chair, almost a perfect ball with its fluffed up feathers. The deep black when he opens his beak to sing, the bright orange or red - in my mothertongue he is called the redbreasted one, roodborstje -, the movement of the head when he stops his singing and listens attentively to the other birds. His song is beautiful. It makes me think of spring, even when I can smell the autumn in the air. A birdsong is a beginning.
He sings for ten minutes maybe. He looks at me. Robins are curious creatures. They come up to you when you work in the garden, drink your coffee, paint the windowsills of your forest house in a pale sky-blue. I hardly ever see them in the city but I hear them at night, when I am still behind my computer after 4. Just after the hour of the wolf. They are the first birds to welcome the day, even before there is daylight. They are calling it in. And then when it is there, they celebrate it in their song.

28.8.19

Cookie overload


Some days even while starting the day with a walk through the city instead of opening the computer one can be confronted with cookie overload.

27.8.19

seeds

once, as a child
when i ate an apple and swallowed the seeds
i panicked
imagining the seeds would sprout inside of me
a tree growing from my stomach
the branches piercing through my skin
until i would burst and die
and the tree would live on

my mother found me
in tears and held me
and told me i would live
she told me the seeds remain in the body
too short to start a baby tree
and explained how the acids in your stomach
kill the seeds anyway
somehow that made me sad as well

when i die
bury me under an apple tree

8.8.19

Identifying seeds


I often wonder what the use is of writing about a walk after you made it. It is kind of a walk in itself but much harder (or harder in a different way) than the actual moving through the world that is the starting point for this new adventure. The lingering, the waiting, the not knowing how to proceed during a proper walk is more enjoyable. You know you will finish it. You know you will reach your goal. You know the boring or tough bits will lead to wonderful experiences. Because it always works like that. Actually you also know it works like this when you are writing. You just have to continue and things you could not have foreseen will happen. When writing fiction, it happens when something new and unexpected comes out of your hands, your head. When a combination of words expresses something in a way you weren’t sure you would manage to achieve. Or you didn't even know you wanted to say. When writing non-fiction, which is usually partially fiction as well, it sometimes happens when you research and discover things you didn’t know when you walked into what brought you that knowledge later. Sometimes it even connects with your present state in mysterious ways, sitting behind a desk staring at your computer and taking breaks now and then on your balcony, drinking coffee and staring at the statue of Rafael Casanova on the other side of the street, the same statue the writer you bumped into during your walk was standing next to when he was arrested because of his political activities.

I sometimes say I walk to find stories. I sometimes wonder if that sounds silly or pathetic or sounds as if I’m trying to go with the current popularity of storytelling. But even if I would call it differently, that is what happens. Maybe it isn’t the main goal, I still haven’t figured that out. And anyway, it isn’t that important to have a main goal.

I only walked for three days. I've been writing about it for many more days now. Making detours, watching old episodes of "Planeta Azul', Blue Planet, not the recent BBC series by David Attenborough but black and white movies, made by "the father of Spanish environmentalism" Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, wondering what he would be doing now if he wouldn't have died in a plane crash on his birthday in Alaska in the 80's. (It is said that his last words before he got on the little Cessna were: "This is a beautiful place to die). Diving into the history of "Els Pastorets", the little shepherds. Looking into the drystone huts that are all over the Catalan countryside. Remembering small conversations with people on the road. Thinking about laws and rules and ownership. Identifying seeds. Both literally and metaphorically.

Here's a little bit:

(Day 2)

What was the connection between all these memorials dedicated to completely different people in the middle of a forest? The virgin Mary, the Catalan writer Josep M. Folch i Torres, Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente - the Spanish David Attenborough - and the unnamed victims of the third Carlist war? And what about the stone dinosaur? And the personification of the sea? Was it all a personal project? Who had been in charge here? Was there some sort of youth movement involved? Like the wooden building (clubhouse?) and the recreation area at the end of the strange driveway suggested? One of the monuments was constructed in the “Any de la Juventud 1985”, another in the “Any internacional de l’infant 1979”. And Folch i Torres became famous as a writer for children. Were camps being organised here yearly or every couple of years and did they build a new memorial every time? When I googled “Juventud” and “St Llorenc de Savall” I found something completely different. An announcent from 2018 about the destruction of “el orfanato encantado del general Franco”, the haunted orphanage of general Franco. Apparently in this small community a huge building was constructed during his dictatorship that housed 200 young children, some without parents, some just “difficult children” who couldn’t live at home. Unsurprisingly, the regime was very strict and from the beginning on, there were rumours about strange apparations and inexplicable sounds, defined as paranormal activity. On YouTube there are videos of people who lived there as kids and claim they saw nuns standing at the end of their beds at night, silent and motionless. Which inspired inquisitive young men in more recent years to spend the night at the abandoned building, wandering through the endless rooms with shattered windows, filled with broken furniture, sheets of paper, toys, filming with their GoPro cameras. But that is a different story. There are always so many layers, so many pieces of history in every village. Maybe they are connected somehow, maybe the only connection is that it happened in the same area.






(I am still trying to figure out why this odd monument has a penguin on top of it. Rodrigues de la Fuente was especially known for his love of falcons and falconry and his struggle for the survival of the wolf. It can't be because he died in Alaska. Unless the maker made the mistake a lot of people make, thinking that penguins live wherever there is snow and ice. There are no penguins in the Northern hemisphere though).

The road turned red, ochre. Became wider. Suitable for cars although no car passed me. The stones on both sides had the same colour. A striking contrast with the yellow flowers and the green bushes and trees. It was this ochre that once inspired Picasso, not here but not so far away, in Gósol, where I was during another walk. The cycadas in the pine trees were so loud and their sound was so rhythmical I stopped walking and stood still for a while to listen to them. The blue sky was turning grey again. Another summer storm coming up. This time I wasn’t so lucky as the day before. No proper shelter and the first drops of rain turned into a continuous flow quite quickly. I chose some big trees inbetween two fields to keep me dry. They barely did, it was pouring down and the wind was so violent it turned cold. Nothing my rainponcho couldn’t withstand though. I hid in it as if it was a tent, waiting 15, 30, 45 minutes …. then it stopped and I walked into the field only to see that the sky was pitchblack and even heavier with rain. I inspected the other side and found a cavity in the rocks where a big piece had broken off and fallen down on the ground just in front of it. It was barely big enough but with my legs bend I just fitted in there and the rain didn’t reach me. It was odd to sit in this space where a rock had been and stare at the rock lying just two meters away from me. Lightning, thunder, more rain. It lasted forever. It was beautiful though. I stretched a limb now and then and looking at the rock I tried to imagine I was the rock but you need to spend more time on it if you want to achieve that. A lifetime maybe. An hour passed and then it was over. No wind, the sky a shy blue again and then the sun, so forceful that the wet layer evaporated and everything became shrouded in a silvery mist. The word magnificent is in place here. I unrocked myself, it was six ‘o clock already, three and a half hours left to find a place to sleep before the evening would fall.



31.7.19

A stone protruding from the ground


There was a small stone in my mail box. It was sent to me all the way from Serbia. Freya Gabie had passed it while walking into Čačak and picked it up. It was dark grey, although that might not have been the original colour. It could have been brown or more blueish. Four centimeters long, flat at the base and narrowing towards the rounded top. The kind of stone I like to hold in my hand. It was light as a feather.

I googled Čačak. It is located in the western part of central Serbia, within the region of Šumadija. Once densely forested, today the region is characterized by its rolling hills and its fruit trees. It has around 75.000 inhabitants and is near the Ovčar-Kablar Gorge, which houses 12 different monasteries. The original name of the town was Gradac, which means “little town”, used when it developed around the Moravski Gradac monastery but in 1409 it was mentioned in an official document as Čačak. The word has disappeared from the Serbian language today but dictionaries from the 19th and 20th century and works from major linguists mention the word čačak, meaning lumps of frozen or dried mud or lumps of stone protruding from the ground. I don’t know if Freya knew this when she picked up this stone.

The stone was there already, maybe not in the same location but in existence, when the refugee Pavel Kiprianovitch walked from Bulgaria to France, carrying a Nansen passport. They were internationally recognised refugee travel documents, used inbetween 1922 and 1938, first issued by the League of Nations to stateless refugees. They got their name from the polar explorer and statesman Fridtjof Nansen who promoted them. It was the time after the first World War, four world empires had been destroyed: the German, Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian and many people were displaced. Around 450.000 Nansen passports were distributed, famous holders of Nansen passports include Robert Capa, Marc Chagall, Vladimir Nabokov, Sergei Rachmaninov and Igor Stravinsky but most of them were people like Pavel Kiprianovitch, whose name is only known because his passport is still there. He was 34, of normal constitution, average height, he had brown eyes, blond hair, an oval face, no moustache or beard. Profession says: ouvrier, worker.

Freya Gabie, an artist from the UK, retraced his journey with the help of his passport. His route, from Bulgaria northwest across Europe, is the same that many displaced people today are making from the war-torn countries of the Middle East, a further reason for Freya to explore it. For those current displaced people, sadly, there is no Nansen passport to help them cross borders and make their journeys easier and safer.

It is unknown what Pavel saw when he made his way through Europe. Freya took photos while travelling and I looked at them on her website. A lot of things must have been different when Pavel was on the road but some things haven’t changed. The stones were already there then and have been long before Pavel and other refugees moved around, trying to find a new home. Silent witnesses, drawn with care and attention and sent around by Freya while she was travelling.

I don’t know much more about Freya then I do about Pavel. I know what she looks like in more detail because I saw her photo on Facebook. There is no photo of Pavelon on his passport, just a description. I never met Freya, she reached out to me when she was preparing her journey, one artist keen on building bridges between the past and the present writing another artist who is doing something similar. I thank Pavel Kiprianovitch for that. I am honoured to have received this stone.

More about Freya’s project Hold the Line here: https://www.freyagabie.com/hold-the-line






25.7.19

One way to (not) enter home



I am a book addict. I taught myself a long time ago that when I fall for a book in a bookshop, I go home without buying it and if it stays on my mind long enough I will go and get it. Or order it online. But it is better to go back to the bookshop and hold it in your hands again. Maybe put it back once more but if you return for it again, it will be yours.

There was a book once in the bookshop next to the CCCB, the Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona I broused through every time I came there. It was the title that had attracted my attention. And the small drawing underneath it. Modos de (no) entrar a casa. Ways of (not) entering home. A drawing of a house that was a rain cloud, an umbrella holding the house or catching the rain. I wanted to buy it the first time I saw it but I didn’t. And I didn’t all the other times it winked at me. If it would have been in Engish I probably would have but it was a few years ago and my Spanish was not sufficient and I told myself that was a good reason to buy it because I could use it to learn but I also knew there were still a couple of unread Spanish books on my shelves I had bought with the same excuse.

After a while I forgot about the book.

Today was a hot day. I wanted to leave the house. I didn’t want to leave the house. It is often like that. I wanted to be elsewhere but I didn’t want to go. There was a performance by a writer and visual artist I like. I don’t know her work very well but I read her last novel, Brother in Ice, originally written in Catalan and I liked it a lot. Before the book there was a series of exhibitions in which she explored the explorations of people who were obsessed by the poles. The cold and white far south and north. The book is a mix of stories and facts. Science and fiction. But really the opposite of science-fiction. Heading into the other direction. Not out there but deep down. Inside. Into a similar unknown. Dark as a black hole. Or bright as a white one.

I went. This time it was closer to science-fiction. A performance about the possible relationship between a woman and a non-person. About Artificial Intelligence. A woman in a bed and a drone flying over her head, landing next to her. Her soft back almost touching the cold metal of the machine. In the gallery space there were drawings that looked like scientific drawings. Wormholes. A text as a drawing in a circle.

There are tiny black holes
their whole event horizon fits in your hand
If you enter, they tear you apart


There was the documentation of her communication with the gallery owner.

“Asi que a la gente como yo, que nos dedicamos a la minería de metales precioseos del alma, no nos queda otra que meternos en zonas difíciles, tratar con metales pesados y presenciar o vivir ciertas colisiones. E incluso entrar en ese horizonte de sucesos que parece lanzarnos de una dimensión a otra. Deberían existir esas lineas tan claras de los manuales de ciencia que delimitan donde están las fronteras de las cosas y nos dicen su nombre (por ello me gusta tanto el dibujo cientifico, porque hace el mundo tranquilizador y comprensible, aunque las lineas sean tan humanas y ficticias).”

“So for people like me, who are dedicated to mining the precious metals of the soul, there is no choice but to get into difficult areas, deal with heavy metals and witness or experience certain collisions. And even enter that horizon of events that seem to throw us from one dimension to another. Those clears lines that are in science manuals that define where the boundaries of things are and tell us their name should exist (that's why I like scientific drawings so much, because they make the world soothing and understandable, even if the lines are so human and fictional).” *

After the performance I went to get a beer at the entrance of the gallery. And there was the book. Modos de (no) entrar a casa. By Alicia Kopf. Of course. I asked the woman handing out the beers if I could buy it. She told me they had only this one, it was not for sale and as far as she knew, it wasn’t in the shops anymore.

Next day I went to the place where I had seen it first. Nothing. I checked online. Sold out everywhere. Maybe it will be reprinted one day. Or I will find an old one somewhere. Until that day I’ll enjoy longing for something I could have easily had. Or maybe not. “If I would have known …. “ is useless. Politicians misuse it often: “With the knowledge we have now we wouldn’t have …. “

It is often like that in life, timing has to be right. There is nothing you can do about that. You can look back and regret but it is better to look back and smile.

* my own translation in English

23.7.19

High time to build a dragonfly


I read a beautiful text by a friend on Facebook yesterday. We never met. But five years ago she sent me a big envelope. I never replied to it properly but I take it with me to every new home. I took it out today and broused through it. I put on the ring and maybe I will wear it until she is where she belongs. Soon it seems. In the meantime I will write an answer to her questions as if they are my questions. And in a way they are. Her answers are on the other side of the paper. I didn’t read them yet.

It will be time to build the dragonfly soon. It has been waiting for five years.


Here’s Mimi’s text:

my kind of people dance
read write eat walk talk
light candles
but not 50
every night
they know how to tell stories
how to look out of windows
how to spot a poet
they don't do too much for you
& because their occipital bone is soft
they're ok with you not showing up
but keep telling you they want you to
because they want you to
no other motive
my kind of people are different
without needing to be
they do things because they want to
not because they think they have to
they know you are their best audience
they aren't waiting for something
better to come along
they sing & know the words to songs
they know how to whistle but rarely do
they go out walking alone
& when you are out walking alone
you find them again & again
as if you were in orbit
my kind of people
keep inviting you
we'd love to see you
come
they make old family recipes
they eat with their hands
they always say something before they drink
& they look you in the eye
without it having to be a game
they save things
& can show you them
things you sent them long ago
my kind of people
don't bring their phones to dinner
or out walking or to bed
my kind of people aren't rushed
or bathed or newly shod
they all own folding knives
& crossdress without question
& stand close enough to you
without it being awkward
hugging them is never awkward
my kind of people grab the bottle
& pour yours first
they smile real smiles
they don't bounce when they walk
they aren't mesmerized by you
they are curious & glide
as they ask about your art
because they want to know
but objects never trump the moment
the moment is fit for real exchange
goodbye is a big deal with my kind of people
whole faces light up & go out

- mimi allan





20.5.19

When we had wings


Sometimes the name of things, people, animals, are exactly what you see. I was reminded of that yesterday, when being asked: What is that black bird roaming around under that tree?" by somebody who grew up in a city. I sang the first line of a Beatles song. And today, remembering it, and smiling about it, it reminded me of a friend. She was called Marybird once, I don’t know if she still uses that name but I do when I think about her. Sometimes you don’t see with your eyes. And sometimes you do with different eyes. She once took a photo of me walking through the mountains with a backpack. When I had wings. 

We lived with goats, harvested corn, watched eagles fly, recorded windmills crying, we measured things with our body and lived a story that has never taken flight but traces of it are caught by our cameras.

Remembering good things is a bit like flying.







19.5.19

On the edge of the middle of nothing


I failed. I was supposed to be at a beautiful city garden at 12.00 to watch a silent movie with a soundtrack made by a dj and drink vermut afterwards. I had reserved a ticket a long time ago.
I left in time. I skipped the first metro entrance because it involves a long walk through underground tunnels to the tracks. I wanted to take the second one but it was closed. I was redirected to the next one and I just saw the metro drive off but there would be another one in 4 minutes. It wasn’t. But it was there in 6. I would be a little bit late but with some luck not too much to be denied entrance. The metro was crowded. At the next stop more people entered. And more at the next one. Verdaguer. Verdaguer? No. That wasn’t right. I got out just in time. Wrong direction. Where was my mind? A soundtrack started in my head. The Pixies.

Up the stairs, around to the other platform. It was almost 12. I would be very late. Too late. I took the tram back to where I started. Go home? The sun was shining. Maybe there would be an empty table at the square next to the church. Coffee instead of vermut. Watching the real life movie in vivid colours instead of a silent black-and-white one.

There was an empty table. And there were books in my iPad. A good day for Christian Bobin, The Eight Day. “The eighth day is the day that follows the Jewish Sabbath when God rested from creating. It is thus beyond time.” It is a collection of essays, starting with “The eight day of the week”. It is one of his early texts and all his principal themes are already present: childhood, nature, death, time and timelessness, the role of writing in the life of the writer, and that of the writer as translator and interpreter of what he sees.

“Unable to write, and living out a penitantial time that sheds its hours as a tree sheds leaves, I read. I devour books, and not a word brings succour. It’s a common enough experience: this gulf between weighty knowledge, as embalmed in books or moral laws, and the breezy mood of life as it passes. One can be a mine of learning and spend one’s life in total ignorance of life. It is not the books that are to blame, but the meagreness of our desire, the narrow limits of our dreaming.”
I looked up, just in time to see a small boy walking over from the table next to mine to his neighbours or more specifically: to their big old golden retriever who was lying on the floor. The boy kissed the strangers’ dog on its forehead. His parents waved him back but he refused, got down on his knees and hugged the dog as if he would never let go of him again. His mother tried again in vain so his father walked over to pick him up. He didn’t want to let go of the dog and was about to start crying but when he heard the magic word, the dog was forgotten. Patatas! As yellow as his sweater. The waiter had just put them on the table. And his excitement got even bigger when he discovered that he hadn’t finished his pineapple juice. The sounds he made while drinking it became my new favorite soundtrack. After the patatas and the juice he wanted his father’s glasses and looking through them he laughed as if the whole world had turned into a carnaval. Then the empty chairs had to be dragged to the middle of the square so he could sit next to the fountain. I thought it was a splendid idea. His parents didn’t.

I continued Bobin because I suddenly remembered how it ended. I read the pages too fast to get there quickly: “To a child who asked me, ‘what is beauty?’ - and it could only be a child, for that is the only age that hankers after lightning and frets about what matters - I should answer: beauty is in all things that move away after once brushing your skin. Beauty is in the radical instability - a loss of balance and of voice - that the passing touch of a white wing provokes in us. Beauty is the sum of those things that pass through us, unaware of us, and suddenly intensifying the lightness of being …. I would tell him that a book is like a song, that it’s nothing, that it’s for saying all that can’t be said, and I would cut up an orange for him. We’d carry on walking late into the evening. In the silence we’d discover at last, he and I, the answer to his question. In the luminous vastness of a silence that words caress without disturbing it.”

The sun was still shining but when I got home I heard thunder in the distance, even before the sky turned grey. My plants were cheering. Then the rain started falling down. A message popped up on my Facebook saying that the other thing I had planned to go to, an outdoor music event, was cancelled. So I stayed inside. Everything seemed to be failing today. But beautifully. I made more coffee. Liquid happiness. And even more so when drank from a handcrafted ceramic cup, rough on the outside but after you’ve enjoyed your coffee you see it is smooth and shiny on the inside. Like life itself, from time to time.

While I was wondering if this last line wasn’t too tacky, my computer screen turned black. It wasn’t the first time. A few weeks ago it stopped warning me when it was running out of power and was in coma for two days, just until the moment I was about to screw it open to see if I could revive the battery. I am trying to keep it plugged in now but sometimes I forget. On days like this apparently.

It restarted, the programs reopened, I held my breath but the freshly typed words were still here. Time had moved backwards though, Thursday 1 January 2015, 01.14. It took longer than normal to reconnect to the modem and in the minute or two it lasted, I tried to remember where I had been at that time on the first day of 2015. It wasn’t hard to remember. The first hours of the day I was supposed to be in Barcelona to start a new life in a new year but had failed to leave the Netherlands. On a white plastic chair in a forest staring at the stars, drinking my father’s wodka. But that’s a whole different story and I already told that one here elsewhere. How he failed to live, one of the rare circumstances in which you can’t tell somebody that it is ok to fail and, like Samuel Beckett said, try again, fail again, fail better.

The computer switched back to Sunday May 19th, 16:04, later than I wanted it to be but lingering in  the past sometimes does that, it catapults you further into the future than you would like.

Bobin writes: “We fail our lives. We fail everything. What is strange in fact is that grace still gets to us, when we do all we can to render ourselves unreachable. What is strange is that - thanks to a wait, a look, or a laugh - we sometimes gain access to that eighth day of the week, which neither dawns nor dies in the context of time. It is in the hope of such things that I live, and it is under that light that I write, savouring the beauty of each passing day. Writing is doubtless vain, and there is no guarantee that it prevents the night from coming, none whatsoever, but, after all, it can seem just as vain to love, sing or pick the first periwinkles - pale and tender as though emerging from a long illness - to bring them into the empty room.”

I often have the feeling I am wasting my time writing. But sometimes I don’t know what else to do and then I just write. Today, or actually yesterday or last week, but latest today, I was supposed to finally write a text for my new blog, to explain about “The Middle of Nothing” which is the title I chose for the project I will start next weekend. I can’t get my fingers around it. Which in a way makes sense:

The middle of nothing
Doesn’t exist
Unless you know where the borders are
But you don’t
When you are in the middle of it

Maybe today I have been writing from there. Maybe I failed well.




18.5.19

wor(l)ds


writing inkless words here but painting memories with the natural inks we made at Estudio Nomada yesterday at the same time

(colour samples by Nadine Rauterberg)



23.3.19

Mercury



The day you decide to drag your big camera to the sea at 6.50 a.m. to be there in time for the sunrise is always a cloudy day. But it doesn’t matter. The appearance of the sun is something to watch, the red and orange and pink that come with it on a cloudless day are too much (too beautiful? too romantic? too cliché?) to catch. I still do it though, I don’t know why. And then erase the images when I come home so they don’t clutter my computer. And I remember my photography teacher who taught us that you might think you can just take as many photos as you want with your digital camera without paying a price for it but in fact every time you push that button your camera dies a little bit. Gets closer to the moment, one day, when it won’t work anymore. It is true. But still I push that button when I see something I know I should only look at.

There was no sun today - well, it was there of course, otherwise it would be dark - but without the drama of the sunrise, the filtered light on the waves has a different quality. More silent, even when the waves are violent. The greyness makes the sea you catch look as if it is made out of fluid metal. Mercury.

In the Miró Museum in Barcelona there is a mercury fountain. You can easily miss it and even when you look at it, you might not notice that the fluid you think is water flows too slowly and the drops around the fountain are slightly odd. We often see what we think is there. It is hard to be attentive, to look first, observe, and then think. Not the other way around.
The fountain was made by Alexander Calder. It is one of the deadliest works of art in existence today, mercury is highly toxic. The first emperor of China, Qín Shǐ Huáng Dì, died as a result of drinking a mixture of mercury and pulverised jade because he believed it would give him eternal life. An Egyptian ruler reportedly built a basin filled with mercury, on which he would lie on top of air-filled cushions and be rocked to sleep. In the 19th century it was used in the manufacturing of hats and the expression “as mad as a hatter” is derived from the odd behaviour that was displayed by men working in that industry.
Calder was commissioned by the Spanish Government to make a new work for the Paris World Fair, the Exposition Internationale in 1937. The story behind the fountain is less known than the one behind the other work that was commissioned for the same exposition: Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Both works are inspired by the same horrible episode in Spanish history, a bloody civil war that started in 1936. Picasso painted what happened on a market day in a city in the Basque Country, the first carpet bombing to be performed during that war. Calder was asked to create a monument for Almadén, where at that time 60% of the world’s mercury came from. Franco’s troops attacked the town and besieged the mercury mine, depriving the Spanish government not only of important financial resources but also of access to a metal which was used in the production of firearms.
Calder’s mercury fountain is now kept behind glass walls. The employee who cleans it occasionally wears something that looks like an astronaut suit. But in 1937 it was unknown that mercury was deadly and in the Spanish pavilion in Paris the fountain was displayed prominently.

The sea here is deadly as well, as it is everywhere, even when it looks beautiful and calm. The Meter of Shame on the boulevard has been stable on the number 223. It isn’t just a number though, as the metal sculpture clearly states, it is 223 people who drowned this year in the Mediterranean, trying to escape similar situations like the Spanish Civil War, risking their lives in small boats. I suspect the Meter only counts the dead and not the unaccounted for or maybe it can’t keep up with the numbers. The meter on the Facebook page of Open Arms, a non-governmental, non-profit organization whose main mission is to rescue people who try to reach Europe over sea, fleeing from war, persecution or poverty, says 361. From 2015 until 2018 they have saved almost 60.000 lives but since the beginning of this year, their rescue boat Open Arms hasn’t been allowed to leave Barcelona’s port because Proactiva Open Arms has become a controversial player in the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. And innocent people die because of that.

I walk the same route every morning. I look at the same things every morning. I like the way the same looks different every day. And how I am being looked at differently. The men, not always the same, but always a combination of some of the regular early morning visitors of the bar at a corner of the Carrer dels Pescadors, the road of the fishing men, once shouted “Americano!” behind my back after I had walked by. They don’t do that anymore. But neither do we greet each other. Sometimes I hear the cat and when I hear it, I know it has noticed me and will try to push its small body as far as possible through the metal bars covering the groundfloor window to be petted. Every time I see it I expect him to wriggle himself all the way through the narrow space between stone and metal and jump in the street but he never does.
The people at the beach are different every day although the new ones always behave the same. They are either noisy, drinking beer, chilling after a long party night or they are daring, young tourists taking off their clothes to go for a quick swim, daring twofold because they leave their things on the beach and sometimes, when I am close to where they are, I keep an eye on their belongings without them knowing it, they don’t know how quick and smart the thieves here are. Some are in love, they have come to watch the sunrise on their first holiday together, sleepy eyes because they made love all night and now sit close to each other under a blanket.
The young father is new. It is the fourth time I see him. The first time I noticed him here he tried to show his young son or daughter the sea. I wonder what a two month old thinks, if anything at all, seeing this vast blue surface. Today his baby is asleep and he keeps him or her carefully covered in his warm bodywarmer. When he walks along the water I read the words printed in white letters on his back. “Special”.
There is usually a treasure hunter, sometimes a woman, sometimes a man. Maybe I am a treasure hunter here as well, but where they use a special device to find things hidden under the sand, I use my eyes to find what is valuable. And there are the dog owners. The man with the two Weimaraners. The woman with the annoying untrained herd of dogs. The woman with the cocker spaniel, always reminding me of the dog we had when I was a child. On the corner, where in summer the old women from Barceloneta sunbathe unashamed with beautiful bare saggy breasts, the dragon man washes himself and does his exercises. He lives in a tent on the sand - or maybe two tents, I am not sure if he recently expanded his home or if he got a neighbour - and watches over his dragon while his dragon watches over him. The mythic animal is his livestock, every day he repairs it, sometimes he constructs it anew when the night was stormy, either because of the weather or because of violent nighttime beach wanderers. The sand creature spits fire now and then but gently. The flames come from a candle he puts in its open mouth.

The Roman god Mercury guided souls to the underworld. He was the god of travelers, eloquence, communication, bounderies, luck, trickery, thieves. Ovid wrote that Mercury carried Morpheus' dreams from the valley of Somnus to sleeping humans. His day is Wednesday, miercoles, Mercury’s day. Which is today.
A planet was named after him. The smallest one, the one closest to the sun, the fastest one, moving around its orbit in 116 days. Small but heavy, scientists think that the planet is composed of about 70% of metallic iron (by weight) and 30% of rocky material. One day on Mercury lasts 59 Earth days. Imagine that. A day lasting 1.416 hours. Almost two months.

The word planet comes from the Greek term planetes, meaning wanderer. Ancient astronomers noticed how certain celestial lights moved in relation to other lights and started to make a differentation between stars and planets.

What would you rather be, a star or a wanderer?

I like stars who are wanderers at the same time. Who stick to their trade but sell it or communicate it in a different shape and with a different appearance always. I remember how long ago, before the Internet was a world I moved around in daily and I still listened to the radio to discover new things, I heard a song I fell for straight away. I got on my bike, cycled to my favorite record shop, listened to the album and bought it. Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens. It came out in 2004, so 15 years ago. The music and the approach on the album Planetarium he made with Nico Muhly a few years ago is completely different. My favorite song is titled Mercury. It is the last song of the album, the most intimate one. In an interview Stevens said: “Life is so abundant here, and yet we’re so obsessed with the exterior of here. That’s what’s so interesting, there’s a sort of beautiful, perfect order to life on earth that’s so mysterious and so profound. And yet, as people, we really fuck it up. We’re so dysfunctional. And we seek guidance from the exterior world — from the heavens — to help us understand our purpose here, and to sort of create a sense of order.”

Mercury is a love long. It is about somebody who has been abandoned by a loved one. It starts like this:

And all that I've known to be of life
And I am gentle
You ran off with it all
And I am faithful

The lover who ran away also took “all I’ve said to get it right”, “all that I thought to be precise”, “all that I’ve known to be at peace”, “all that I’ve known to be of love”. The singer stays behind speechless, desperate, restless, faithless, messed up. There is sorrow, deep sadness but there is no blame. It ends like this:

Carrier, friend
Where do you run?

Mercury, the messenger, carrier, traveller. Carrying what is right, what is precise, what is at peace, what is of love.
It is one of the hardest things to be left behind by somebody you love without being bitter about it. To realise that the love that was there when you were together isn’t lost but can be carried on. And that we are all carriers, messengers and even when we are empty handed for a while, at loss, faithless, somebody else will bring the things we felt were lost forever.

Mercury, the planet, is notoriously difficult to see with the naked eye. It stays close to the sun, it never wanders out of the twilight sky. You can only see it shortly after sunset or before sunrise, these inbetween moments when it is neither day nor night. It is said that when Mercury is in retrograde, when it appears to be moving backwards, it is better not to do business, take important decisions or start something new. Mercury retrograde periods are said to cause computers to crash and machines, appliances, and other electronic devices to break down and show signs of wear, requiring urgent repair. I don’t know if that is true or if proper research has shown that that is in fact the case. Things always break down. And get repaired again. Or replaced, when they are beyond repair. And not only things. People, relationships, ideas.
There is a spaceship on its way to Mercury, it was launched last year and will cross 8.5 billion kilometres of space. If all goes well, it will reach its destination in 2025. 8.5 billion kilometres of space. I try to imagine that in the 5 x 4 meters of space I’m sitting in now while writing this. It is too much. I can’t imagine it. But it is still easier to imagine than the space of my thoughts. That other endless universe.

If robots would cry, their tears could only be mercury tears.

18.3.19

Random acts of kindness versus random acts of violence

It was the first day that was longer than the night. Yesterday it counted 11 hours, 59 minutes and 12 seconds. Today the sun rose at 6.58 and set at 19.00. I watched it appear. Then read Rebecca Solnit. “I am, we each are, the inmost of an endless series of Russian dolls; you who read are now encased within a layer I built for you, or perhaps my stories are now inside you. We live as literally as that inside other’s thoughts and work, in this world that is being made all the time, by all of us, out of beliefs and acts, information and materials. Even in the wilderness your ideas of what is beautiful, what matters, and what constitutes pleasure shape your journey there as much as do your shoes and map also made by others.” Then I went for coffee.

A young man asked me if he could join me at my table. All the other tables were occupied by couples and families. Apart from that, my table got more sun than the others so it was the best spot. Of course, I said, si claro. I was deep in my book and he was distracted by his phone so we didn’t exchange more than a few words. When the old man who asks for money for a coffee every morning did his usual round, he gave him some coins. I ordered a second coffee and he finished his, said goodbye and left. When I walked into the bar later to pay my bill, it was payed for already. A small act of kindness that made my morning.

I walked home smiling and still was when I opened my computer and read the newspaper. Breaking news. A man in Utrecht had opened fire in a tram and fled. I tried to get more information but it had just happened and as always the word “terrorism” was doing the rounds already. I checked in with a friend whom I knew was working in Utrecht today. He hadn’t heard the news yet. It is amazing how three countries away or even at the other side of the world you can know what people who are in the middle of something aren’t aware of yet.

I kept an eye on the news. Three people had been killed. Nine were seriously injured, later this number got corrected to five. The mayor of Utrecht said they assumed it was a terroristic attack. I had my doubts. The political meetings and public debate that had been planned because of the upcoming elections were cancelled. Only the Forum for Democracy decided to stick to their public campagne meeting and declared that the immigration policy of the other political parties was to blame. Their leader, Thierry Baudet, said that if in the upcoming elections, this Wednesday, people wouldn’t take this into consideration, these kind of attacks would happen more regularly in the Netherlands. The media showed an interview with a former colleague of the shooter who was still on the run but identified as a 37 year old Turkish man. He said that he used to be a normal guy but the last time he saw him he had a long beard and talked about religion. A journalist on site tried to get a shot of a hearse and this image popped up again and again in the news afterwards. I didn’t understand why that was necessary. At the same time facts about the shooters history were made public. Since 2012 he was a suspect in 9 different cases. He was convicted in 2013 for an attempt to kill his sister in law. Two weeks ago he had to go to court for 3 different cases: bike theft, burglary and rape. He was a heavy drinker and drug user although off and on he would live like a devout moslim. He had a hard time after he got divorced 2 years ago. Still the politicians and officials put the focus on it most probably being a terrorist act. They created an enemy that created fear. And that is the real enemy. Mahatma Gandhi said it wisely: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Hate comes from fear.

I was glued to my screen most of the day. Unconcentrated. Worried in the beginning, irritated later. People were advised to stay inside and public buildings were closed off because the shooter (or shooters?) was still on the run. The authorities raised the terror threat to 5, the highest level. Around 17.00 people were told they could go back outside again.

Only in the evening did I remember the kind man in the morning and how I had been planning to write a story about kindness and the importance of small acts when I was walking home with the smile he gave me, my own smile. It wasn’t the other man who had ruined it, the violent man. It were the politicians and the media. And I had allowed them to.

I am not sure if I can fix it by writing that in a way there is just as much power in a random act of kindness as there is in a random act of violence. I am not sure if it is true. But I think it can be.

17.3.19

Foresight

 
I had a dinner date. I picked him some flowers. He cancelled. I went home and ate the flowers. Pink malva, blue borage, yellow fennel and rapeseed flowers.

4.3.19

polaroid spring


Woman's prayer

Woman's prayer

Ashen sky. On the seashore - a memory.
Birds. Threads. Trust. Souvenirs.
What arms are these for you!
Maria.
Regina.
Barbara.

(the poetry in the titles of my Spotify Discover weekly song list)

2.3.19

A storyteller about storytelling

"What's your story? It's all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself into their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.
Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller´s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the person you've only read about, or the one next to you in bed?
We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment. Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we´ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop. Not a few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when lifeboats are bobbing all around us.
........
We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and to become the storyteller."


- Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

28.2.19

Fishing



My mind wandered off. I was reading how carnival is being celebrated here and was intrigued by "the funeral of the sardine on Ash Wednesday". "Maybe I should go fishing this weekend," I thought but the chances of catching a sardine are small unless you know what you are doing. My fishing experience is limited to building nets out of old lace curtain or improvised fishing rods using branches, fishing thread and a bended piece of metal. Didn't W.G. Sebald write about sardines and their luminous quality after dying in "The Rings of Saturn"? No, not sardines, it was herring. And I found this nice article he wrote about fishing: Gazing into Eternity

Garden feelings

Woke up with garden feelings. Walked to the sea to shake them off. Couldn't. Bought some more.

19.2.19

Alice in Wonderland

It is very possible in this city that you walk home hungry in the light of a supermoon and you pass a tray with small chocolate croissants leaning on a garbage bin asking to be eaten. And you try one and although it isn't as fresh as it was this morning when they were baked, it still tastes like magic.

watching

yes, the sunrise at 7.40 was beautiful but not as beautiful as the attempt of a young father to show his 3 month old daughter the sea 10 minutes afterwards

14.2.19

The heart of a city

(I wrote this last year on the 14th of February, still here, still in love ..... )


I wasn’t raised to live in a city. I was educated by trees and birds and mud and the scent of wet leaves. I hung out at hidden corners in the forest on my own, I knew what berries to eat and what mushrooms to leave alone. In my mind there was a map of the locations of all the chestnut trees in places where no regular walking trail was leading.
I learned not to be afraid of the big grasshoppers jumping around in the fava bean field when I was cutting off the tops of the plants that were almost as tall as I was small. I developed the soft touch necessary to hold last year’s old wrinkled potatoes in my hand without damaging the new young roots and putting them in the small holes my grandfather had dug in the garden. I made ink out of aok galls before I learned to write and I made soup from rainwater and insects and rosebuds before I learned to cook.
I still get a sense of belonging when I see a cornfield. And when I spend time in nature a hole fills up in my heart that I had forgotten was there all the time.

I dream of moving to the countryside. And I could. Easily. There is nothing really that keeps me tied to this city to which I’ve been coming back to in the last three years and I now call my home. Where I no longer lie awake at night because the street noise invades the silence of my room. Where my garden is a square meter slab of concrete with plants hanging from the metal railing and crowding the area around the tiny table and chair I sit on every day around 17.30 to catch the only 10 minutes of straight sunshine filtered by the big plane trees planted all along the busy road.

There is little here of some of the things I always thought would be indispensible for me to feel at ease. But because of that, the little there is is something I cherish immensely and enjoy deeply. The avocado plant that unexpectedly grew out of a seed I threw in some old plant material. The lonely broccoli plant that was part of a group of 10, overcrowding the balcony and not producing anything but leaves so they were discarded apart from one that now, a year after I planted the seedlings, is producing flowers that will seed and might give me more than the 10 plants I started out with. The sound of the birds at night attracted by the street lights. The changing patterns of the tree trunks. The sky that is blue every day even on days when it is grey. The word for blue in a language so different from my mother tongue. Azul. A word like a magic spell.

So why am I still here? It is simple. It is the same old story we walk into again and again.
I fell in love. Head over heels. Love at first sight. A love that grew stronger through time and I still don’t completely understand. A love that was tested, I wasn’t always faithful. I always returned though. But this winter, my third winter here, I seriously started thinking about whether I shouldn’t make a move. Find more green under the blue, find more silence, find more room to grow things. Replant myself. Leave her.

Her.

I am not sure if this city is feminin. My favorite blue here is masculin by language but in other tongues the sea is feminin or neutral. Das Meer. La mer. El mar. I stubbornly adress it as “her” as well.

Barcelona. I learned to pronounce it in the right way, even though saying ‘th” when reading “c” still doesn’t come naturally. I understand more and more of what the locals are saying but my speaking skills are not what I was hoping they would be after having been around for a quarter of a decade. In my conversations with this city it doesn’t matter though. We understand each other somehow. I read her from my balcony daily. I leave my footsteps in her streets in the morning when I walk to the sea. When I need something I find it. Warm winter sweaters folded up in a bag next to the garbage containers. Abandoned plants about to bloom left on the sidewalk. Wine glasses. Books.
We fit each other. We feel comfortable in each other’s company. We get tired of each other now and then. When we aren’t attentive. When we’re caught up in our individual drama’s. Histories. Future planning.

“Maybe I should leave” I thought this morning when I walked through narrow streets on Valentine’s day. But then she put her oddly shaped heart at my feet, like a shooting star. And I fell for it again.

I guess I am learning about my true nature. It isn’t carved in stone. Only sometimes for a moment. For my eyes only. I wasn't raised to live in a city. But I wasn't raised to not live in a city either. I was educated by nature and now I am learning from a place that happens to be a city. And I know it is foolish to start a love affair with a place made out of stone when you really want to be surrounded by fields and forests and mountains. But the longing for the countryside is a vacant plot in my body that is a good nurturing place for sprouting words. So for now I stick to growing small stories. And she is a generous supplier of seeds.

(14-2-2018, Barcelona)

11.2.19

A thought can change in a second

First thought: so sad that somebody buys a tree and discards it. Second thought: how wonderful somebody kept it for so long.