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.

6.2.19

Anticipation


It is the moment before the sun rises that is the most precious one. The clarity and the silence, the world in anticipation of the spectacle that is about to begin. "The most ordinary thing in the whole cosmos." It is the moment when I miss the dog that will appear in the sky tomorrow.

Weather forecast
 
Tomorrow we will see unsettled and unusual weather.
Instead of the sun rising at 05:24, a dog will rise,
a fiery red dog that will climb up through the sky,
wearing an iron chain round its neck,
and it will growl at the clouds
that will hastily make room for him.
At 13:37 he will be at the zenith and bark,
he’ll bend forward and chase everyone inside
                                                           with his furious scowl.
‘The dog is shining! The dog is shining!’ everyone will whisper,
but the dog won’t shine, the dog will yank at his chain
and bare his teeth.
Late in the afternoon he will descend to the horizon and howl.
Everyone will emerge again,
sit down on their benches outside their houses and say:
‘O dog, why are you howling . . . ’
People will want to pat him and console him
or give him something to eat.
But no one will be able to reach him
and everyone will close their eyes and let the howling
wash over them.
At 21:51 the dog will go down and never return.
The day after tomorrow the sun will shine again,
that big, round, dazzling thing that everyone knows,
the most ordinary thing in the whole cosmos,
that had already existed for billions of years before there was any mention
of a sky or a firmament,
and that does nothing but rise, set and shine.
It will be a pleasant day.
But should you wonder, the day after tomorrow, why you’re so sad,
it will be because you miss the dog,
the dog that will appear in the sky tomorrow.

- Toon Tellegen, translation: Judith Wilkinson

Original in Dutch & video of Toon Tellegen reading it here: https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/…/item/…/poem_english

3.2.19

Poetry


On my way to the beach I found a collection of poems for children, left next to a garbage container. Most of them written by well-known Catalan poets, some originally French or German and some very old ones without a known author. The poems describe the world, the seasons, different flowers, professions, animals, the sun and the moon, the village and the city, places in Barcelona, home, humanity, the mountains, games, holidays, the universe, sometimes zooming out, then zooming in again. The idea behind it was to teach children through poetry, “creació humana per excellència”.

Aixecau-vos de matí
i veureu el sol sortir
vermell com una magrana

Get up in the morning
and you will see he sun rise
red as a pommegranate

- Llorenc Riber

I watched it happen. And walked back through Barceloneta, no longer - as my new old book described - smelling of fish, of folded sails, of mildewed boards, but still a mix of colours, green, blue, yellow, red and clothes hanging from washing lines in the narrow streets.

Fortor de peix, de veles plegades, de taulons
amb verdet i la mescla de les colors més fortes
-el verd, el blau, el groc, el vermell- en les portes
i en les robes que pengen posades a assecar.
En colors i en olors la llum tota es desfà.

- Alexandre Plana

You can read the temperature here in a different way. The ladies who lived here when Barceloneta was the home of fishermen were inside. It was a cold morning. I seated myself at the corner table, where I always sit. The waiter brought me a cafe con leche without asking. My internet wasn’t functioning. I asked him for the password. “Poeta bosca 2” he answered. It worked. But I was puzzled. Did that mean wood poet? I looked at the trees on the other side of the square, wondered if the owner of the cafe had a poetic nature himself but since I was online I googled it. “Plaça del Poeta Boscà” popped up. It was the first time I read the name of the square I’ve been spending regular time on and usually refer to as Barceloneta market square, even though there is rarely a market. It didn’t solve the mystery so I googled Boscà and found Joan Boscà, a Catalan poet. His exact date of birth is unclear but he died exactly 430 years before I was born, 21 September 1542. Boscà is most famous for the incorporation of hendecasyllable verses (a hendecasyllable is a line of eleven syllables, used in Greek and Latin poetry), sometimes referred to as “Italian style”, into Spanish. His main subject was love.

Still I didn’t know if he was the Boscà in the password and in the name of the square. I explored the internet once more. He was born in Barcelona but was he born here, in Barceloneta? I don’t remember ever having seen a plaque with his name anywhere. I found a page with the location of literary monuments in the city. Number 6 was situated at the square I was looking out on, dedicated to Joan Boscà. I recognised the image straight away and turned around. I felt foolish. It was too far away to read from my table but there was a text chiseled on the side of the monument, surely his name and details.



I took a closer look. The top layer with his poetry had disappeared almost completely. A combination of erosion and having been used as a giant bench.

It made me wonder how many things there are on my daily walk I have overlooked so far.

On my way home I passed the busstop with the poster of the movie Aqua Man. I smiled. At the Boscà - I am tempted to keep calling it Wood Poet - Square I had just read the last chapter of Grayson Perry’s “The Descent of Man”, a brilliant, funny and wise book about the need to question masculinity and the role of education and conditioning in gender roles. The train station a bit further down was filled with people. I walked inside and checked out the stalls. There were tiny trains everywhere, train tracks, tiny houses and streets. It was a model train fair, completely packed with mainly elderly men.



Next steps (a walk to the COP 26, 2020)

“Some people would rather have wings but we don’t, we have feet. We were born to walk. Scientists say that walking gave us our brain capacity, walking turned us into the human beings we are. Walking made it possible for us to have the desire to fly and to come up with ways to turn our dreams into reality.

Walking made us fly. We can go anywhere. Still the easier it becomes to move through this world, the more disconnected we seem to get from it. We have to land again. Get close to the things. Be part of the world. Walking teaches us where we are, who we are. A slow speed makes our brain work fast. Makes us see more. Be more. And best of all: walking makes time disappear.”


People sometimes ask me if I have a next walk planned. I hadn’t so far. The last long solo walk resulted in a neck hernia I am still recovering from and spine problems my manual therapist thought were caused by a car crash. I don’t regret the price I payed for doing my extreme walking projects, and not being able to walk intensely and carry my house on my back gave me the opportunity to write more, teach more, be at home in one place and think about next steps slowely. 
My feet have been itching though. And my mind as well.

After my first long walk from Amsterdam to the Nomadic Village in the south of France (2013) and shortly before going on the second one, a 1346 km. walk through Europe during which I had wonderful encounters and conversations with all sorts of people, I wrote an article for the Dark Mountain Project. The quote I started with is from that article. It finished with these words:

“Here I am. Sometimes I don’t see the sky all day because my city apartment is on the ground floor. Sometimes I don’t see my friends for weeks because they have to earn money. Because I have to earn money. Sometimes it feels as if the only way I add meaning to the world is because I pay taxes. Sometimes I follow the rules and feel unhappy, I go through the motions and feel like I wasted my time. People tell me that this is how the world works. Some of my good friends even tell me that. And if that makes sense, then walking the world in a three-piece walking suit might make even more sense.

I’ll get my things together.”


Some things have changed in the meantime. I can see the sky from my desk and I live in walking distance from the sea. I mean “normal” walking distance. Half an hour. I go there most mornings before sunrise to be able to survive the rest of the day in the middle of the noisy city.
Some things haven’t changed.

In 2015 I walked from Barcelona to the COP21, the big Climate Conference in Paris. In a business suit, without planning ahead, surviving on the road, sleeping outside, talking to people I met by chance. There was an excited atmosphere when I reached my goal. Everybody in the city had the same focus. In a different way though. The politicians pretended they were making change, doing something about the ecological crisis we’re dealing with. The activists were working hard to do something about the same problem, calling to attention that all the politicions do is make fake promises and no real action is being taken.

I still don’t know if my participation in all of that made any difference and if I did it for the right reasons. When I arrived in Paris I had the feeling that being on the road slowly to make connections and put my trust in the world was more important than my direct protest in the streets of Paris. It was important to walk towards a goal though. That particular goal.

The COP26 in 2020 is likely to be a critical summit, marking both the full adoption of the Paris Treaty and the date by which countries are expected to come forward with strengthened national action plans. It will also come just weeks after the next US election.
I’ve got the feeling that since the COP21 there has been a heightened awareness of the serious problem we find ourselves in because people are starting to realise the world as we know it will come to an end if nothing will be done. Most people don’t really know what to do though. And it isn’t that simple, especially not when the people in power don’t really work on it and every day more news is being published about pollution, species disappearing, ice melting, forests being cut down. There is “climate change depression” and “environmental melancholia” but there are also a lot of people who don’t worry too much, believing there will be a solution even though it is probably already too late for that. What is promising though is that the new generation seems to be more willing to take action. Promising and sad as well, because they aren’t responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. I know that I will probably die before the shit really hits the fan and I had a pretty carefree childhood but when you are growing up today, your future looks quite bleak.

Maybe it is time to get myself ready again. To see what the state of the world (or at least a part of it) is from a closer view. To hear what people have to say.

November 2020 I will be in the city where the COP 26 is being held. Somewhere in Europe. I’ll walk from my hometown. I’ll report from the road. This time I’ll have more time to prepare myself, but I’ll walk as unplanned and vulnerable as always. I’ll keep you posted.


(1 December 2015, Barcelona - Cop21 Paris, Fontainebleau Forest)

Man


"masculinity needs to be questioned"

- Grayson Perry, The Descent of Man