In a new light

The wind came out of nowhere and yellow leaves rained down in the sun. One got stuck on my black winter coat, like a brooch. A newborn was crying, the parents, seated at the table behind me, spoke soft words to reassure the baby that was wrapped in warm layers and so tiny she fitted in the space between her father’s body and his fluffy jacket. It was cold but not too cold to sit outside in the sun, the waitress who always looks stern and some days ignores me, smiled at me today. A new year, people seemed happy, maybe because of the sun, maybe because of the new life, maybe because the one that ended is behind us.

I don’t care for new year’s eve, I care more for the moment the longest night ends and the sun comes up at the same time it did the day before but sticks around a minute longer. I crossed the square where I am drinking my coffee now that morning 20 minutes before sunrise, when all the birds are gathered in the trees that just now shed their leaves and sing under a dark blue sky that will turn pink in minutes. It is not a holiday, it is an event without pressure because it is a natural event. No presents need to be bought because the light after the dark is the present. Winter still lies ahead but the days are getting longer again. You can call that hope. Or joy. Something to hold onto. Not something to lean into.

Celebrating the returning of the light, which in my case was nothing more than bearing witness, being present when the sun appeared over the line that separates the sky from the sea, is easy on your own. New Year is a different story. Choosing to not celebrate, or celebrate on your own, is scary when the whole world around you does and you’re in the middle of a city, not because you feel left out (and I wasn’t, because there were plenty of invitations) but because it can be discomforting to be different when you’re not in a quiet place, even when you’re in a tranquil state of mind.


Today's thoughts


In a month in which nobody familiar died
Not much happened, which was a big deal
The rain didn’t fall but the leaves did
And when I tripped in the street one beautiful morning
Landing face flat on the pavement
I felt welcome almost

This world is not a hostile place
I thought while lying there
Surrounded by splashes of red
And since it was early there was nobody to help me up
Allowing me to stay there for a bit
Blending in with the dead leaves
Feeling more alive than ever

As seen and unseen from the balcony

I cheer the growing of the trees
Applauding silently in thinking
Branches stretching, multiplying leaves
The sun is out of reach, October pleading
To embrace the fall, the falling
Sitting on my balcony untouched
I watch the world go by in bursts of sound
Pretending not to listen

Teach me how to live he said
When he meant teach me how to die
I held my breath, was he sincere?
I held his breath and kissed his eyes
With silent lips
I have to go I thought, just look at me
I’ll show you how it’s done
Breath in, breath out
Breath in, breath out
Breath in, breath out
Breath in-between the lines of life
Where love is hiding in plain sight
And when you leave, don’t close the door


I don’t know the reason why there is always an urgent need to do some gardening after I painted my nails a sky blue, the urgency existing in my head only, the seeds can wait, the bulbs don’t have to go in the soil today, the clippings can be prepared later in the week, but oh this blue, this longing to grow, to go up, I can’t keep it to myself, can I?



When autumn starts my garden is predominantly green and I wait for the purple of the monkshood that grows and blooms in the same place every year. The first flowers opened a few days ago, and enjoying the beautiful colour and shape, I remembered something I read in David Abram's "The spell of the sensuous". Here it is alongside the flower, the quotes in the text are from Merleau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of Perception": 

"As I contemplate the blue of the sky ... I abandon myself in it and plunge into this mystery, it 'thinks itself within me,' I am the sky itself as it is drawn together and unified, and as it begins to exist for itself; my consciousness is saturated with this limitless blue ...". 

Read "flower" for "sky" and "purple" for blue.


Weaving thoughts

I like to tell myself I got as close to thinking like a sheep when I became obsessed by apples, but I don’t know if that is true. For weeks I walked with them and no walk was the same. It was the best part of the day, the two best parts of the day, the hours after sunrise and the hours before sunset. I never knew what would happen, where we would go. They didn’t know either, but they were in charge, as long as they didn’t try to go where they weren’t allowed to go, which weren’t many places. I counted them now and then, to make sure they were all there, 19 black and 21 white ones, but they themselves didn’t perceive each other as coloured differently. The lambs randomly approached ewes of any colour and appearance until they found the proper scent. I sometimes tried to bleat like them if I wanted their attention and it sometimes worked, but just as often they ignored me. Now and then I wondered what they were thinking, but the only moment I had the feeling I knew was just after I let them out and they started running. “Apples!” While I observed them eating, listened to them chewing, I ate an apple myself. Afterwards, in the wide open fields, I collected their favourite plants of the moment. While they were grazing, I was picking: wild plants, tree leaves, grass, the same things they were eating. Apples were their favourites though and wherever we went, there was always an apple tree close by. At home, a yellow house we kept warm with a wood fire, I turned everything into ink: different kinds of green material, plums, the charcoal from our stove, giving me a whole range of colours.

The best teachers don’t tell you what to do. They make you wonder, question yourself and your actions, they don’t give you the answers, they just show you a way to move through life. Literally, in this case.

Does spinning thread out of wool from sheep you herded bring you closer to them because your fingers sense something about the specific sheep the wool is from, or does it - even when it is necessary and first of all for their own benefit to shear them - widen the gap because you are turning something that was originally, before they were domesticated, meant to keep them warm and protected only, into a human product? I didn’t know what was the right answer, I just knew it was another way to be in the moment, like walking with them was. When I was spinning wool, my mind stopped spinning. I spun for hours at length and even considered spinning a thread as long as the distance between the sheep’s grazing grounds and the gallery where the artist-shepherds would present their work, until I realised spinning an 18 kilometre thread would take forever.

Apples were everywhere, it wasn’t just the sheep eating them every day. I made apple sauce, apple compote, dried apple slices and since there was no oven I could only dream of apple pies. When visiting local events, there were baskets of apples to welcome people. The trees around the house carried big yellow apples and smaller pink ones, sturdy green and cute little red crab apples for which the sheep broke through the fence one afternoon because they were irresistible, perfectly sheep bite-sized. Sour apples and deliciously sweet apples, most of them not perfect enough to be able to make it into a supermarket, but even the ones that didn’t taste great had the potential to turn into a whole new tree. Sometimes when I thought I was drawing an apple, it turned out to look more like a planet.

If I didn’t hide the balls of thread I had spun, the little cat that had entered the house as a wild creature a week after I arrived, stole them and unspun them under my bed. I was delighted the first time I found the result of our collective actions. In my mother tongue, the purring sound of a cat is called spinning because it sounds like a spinning wheel. She sat on my shoulder whenever I was typing on my Apple computer, which wasn’t very often because I preferred the apple world I was sharing with the sheep.


My apples are for human consumption only. When you look at them, remember that they contain what the sheep ate and what remained of the wood that kept me and everybody else in the house - my fellow shepherd, our host and our guests - warm. Feast on them with your eyes. They are not perfect but they are not supposed to be, they are the complete harvest - some unripe, some rotten - of the last two days I was in Kabeliai. I didn’t draw them to resemble apples but “to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination”, as John Berger wrote so beautifully about the act of making something visible through drawing. I don’t know what they are, only that they are just as much sheep and shepherd as they are apple.

Title: Gravitating (natural inks on paper)

we think we own what is inside the skin
we store the heaviness within us
whereas the lightness of its being
could easily repair us

Title: Gravitas (birch bark, black and white sheep wool, red thread)


A random day


At 6.30 the darkness starts to lift and the blackbird sings his song. I don't know if it is the same one, the song sounds the same every morning and the bird looks the same but they might take turns and maybe they think the same about the person sitting on the balcony at that hour. I also wonder if I am the same person I was yesterday when I was sitting here, waiting for the black to turn into a deep blue. The streets are still empty at this hour, the first cars start to drive by, people walking the sidewalk to get to work, dog walkers, a sleep deprived father with a baby on his chest, two young girls coming back from an all night party, laughing just a little too loud, underdressed for the early morning temperature.

My route is the same every morning. Across the street they call the new Soho, along the triangular square with the church I never entered, past the stairs where later in spring the steps will be covered in little yellow flowers and later on in the morning a man will throw bread crumbs out of the window that will attract dozens of pigeons. The fountain under the trees where a multitude of little birds chirp and chatter, through the street with the homeless man sleeping under a soft brown blanket on the windowsill of a shop window, along miniature fenced off gardens carefully planted around tree trunks. The sky is my favorite shade of blue now, a melancholic blue, warm and cold at the same time. Street cleaners pass by now and then, the streets are wet, not because it has rained but because they desinfect the city every day.

It gets busier close to the train station but the little ally next to it is devoid of people. The hole in the earth, where parts of the Roman wall still stand, is empty. Sometimes little improvised bedrooms are installed in the far away corners, matresses and shopping carts with random belongings, picked up from the street. Grafiti is covering the walls, colourful tags, the Catalan flag, three windows have been covered for ages in the letters VA GI NA. Every time I pass it I wonder what on earth was going on in the mind of the person who sprayed it there. Was it meant as an offensive word? Some obnoxious kids who said "let's write VAGINA!" Or was it the opposite, somebody who thought it is a word we shouldn`t be afraid to use? Probably not. I feel the urge to add another body part. Earlobe maybe. Or hippocampus.

The last stretch goes through Barceloneta, the former fishermen`s quarters. These days there aren't a lot of fishermen living there. The beach is not a natural beach, it was constructed before the olympics, to make it more attractive for visitors. Nowadays, tractors straighten the beach every morning. Cleaners pick up the pieces of nature that are annoying for bathers. Driftwood, jellyfish, but also the endless amount of trash that is left by the tourists.
The sun is about to rise from the waves, there is a small audience spread out across the sand, the view is slightly spoiled by little figures on paddle boards. I prefer the days when the weather is less glorious and there is nothing on the water surface apart from the big fishing boat in the far distance surrounded by hungry seagulls.

On my way back I cross the Plaça del Poeta Boscà, for a while I thought it had something to do with a poet from the forest, bosque, until I realised it was his name, Joan Boscà There is a monument dedicated to him on the corner where I always drink my coffee. It doesn't look like a monument, more like a weird construction part of the underground garage one can enter just next to the monument.
The regulars are not there anymore. Some of them are still around, the younger ones, but the two sisters, always meticuously dressed, wearing red lipstick and looking as if they were ready to go to a party, have not been around. Jordi - I only know his name because the woman were always greeting him when he walked up from the newspaper stand - who used to be there at exactly five minutes after nine, seating himself at ¨his¨ table next to mine, has not been around. Maybe they didn`t survive the pandemic. Or maybe they moved out of the city. Others have been absent as well. These days I seem to be one of the last regulars at this terrace.
A man with a plastic cup in his hand asks me for money. I don`t have any coins on me and I say sorry but he doesn`t mind. He smiles and takes my hand and kisses it and wishes me a good day. I can`t help thinking that it is still unsafe to let a stranger kiss your hand but I deem it unhealthier to live with these conditioned responses to unexpected affection and let him hold my hand a bit longer. He continues his little journey, still smiling. I smile as well, order another coffee and search for Joan Boscà’s poetry online.

Amor es todo quanto aquí se trata;
es la sazón del tiempo enamorada;
todo muere d'amor o d'amor mata;
sin amor no veréyes ni una pisada;
d'amores se negocia y se barata;
toda la tierra en esto es ocupada;
si veys bullir d'un árbol una hoja,
diréys que amor aquello se os antoja

Love is everything treated here;
it is love's season;
all dies of love or kills for love;
without love you'll see hardly a footstep;
with love, you trade and barter;
the entire world is thus occupied;
if a tree's leaf buds
you will say that love tickles your desire.

Joan Boscà (1490-1542)