Art and nature

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before. Or maybe I had but I had failed to recognise it. My first thought was that is was new, although I couldn’t imagine it was. And the bronze placque in the street told me it had been here even before I visited the city for the first time, more than two decades ago. Deuce Coop, 1992. James Turrell. I remember my first Turrell experience. It was in a room that seemed to be completely dark when I entered from the brightly lit exhibition hall but when my eyes got used to the dark, slowly the space started to come together, revealing a triangular, wedgeshaped room, or more like a big alcove, bathing in soft blue light. The light source was nowhere to be seen. Time slowed down. It was like being in a dream.
I had seen his installations before, but only on photos. They hadn’t made a very big impression but being in that room I understood why. Without the experience, without actually seeing the light, there is merely theory and esthetics. You can understand its meaning and imagine its impact but you don’t really see.
On my wishlist is a work of his that is permanently accesible in the dunes in the Netherlands. Celestial Vault is a place to gaze at the sky. A bowl in the shape of an ellipse, an artificial crater, made out of sand. The slopes on the inside are covered with grass and in the middle two people can lie on a natural stone bench. In this position, looking up, the sky seems to be a vault. Light and space themselves become the objects and the act of observing makes the observer experience his act.

It was the yellow light creeping under the door that had drawn my attention here, at dawn, walking through Barcelona. As if there was a secret inside. And because the doors had long narrow openings in them I could look inside and see the blue light in there, the red round shape high up in the space, symbolising an oculus (a circular window or opening, which is often said to symbolize light itself, or the life-giving sun), the analogue for the pupil of an eye. Turrell uses the oculus a lot in his work.

I couldn’t linger long. The sunrise wouldn’t wait. I continued walking in the blue morning light and I arrived at the beach just before it appeared. I had seen this before. But never before twice in a day.



how long?
it might have been three years
or three weeks
time didn’t matter that much
but at the end of them she made a decision
she crafted it out of wood
with a knife she once bought from a red haired female blacksmith
it looked like a table
small enough to fit on her back, just in case
big enough to seat two people, just in case
but it was really a table for one
she bought a table cloth
and embroidered the edges
they almost reached the floor

time had passed
it might have been three years
or three weeks
it didn’t matter that much
she sat at her table
and made a new decision

(from: the woman without baggage, part 2)



After the sumptuous holidays the rats you find close to the overloaded garbage containers are enormous.


Kings and queens

The homeless were still asleep. In the hollow between the tall buildings where the fundaments of the old city wall are still visible two persons were huddled up in a red and a blue sleepingbag. Next to the entrance of one of the buildings a tent occupied the porch. It was 8 ‘o clock. 17 minutes before sunrise.

I crossed the big road and followed a sea gull. He was a resident here and I guess in a way I am as well. I chose the right side of the street. The left side. The side that said “RESIDENTS”.
A big black dog was waiting outside the corner bar for his boss to finish his drink. An old woman had just finished scrubbing the sidewalk in front of her home and emptied the bucket in the gutter. The water ran in my direction, away from the sea.

The golden light flooded the buildings. I was too late. But it didn’t matter. As long as the sea would still be there. I tried to imagine arriving one morning and see nothing but a muddy basin with half dead fishing gasping for air in big pools of leftover seawater but I couldn’t really.

And there it was. Wild today. A big cruise ship balancing on the thin line.

There was a new addition to the sand sculptures. Tres Reyes Majoos. The faulty extra “o” didn’t matter. The kings looked splendid, carrying their gifts and holding plastic bottles that kept the wind away from the candles inside. In the center, Homer Simpson had passed out on a comfortable sofa, an empty beer bottle in his hand, one of his feet leaning on a dog. Next to his head there was a phone and on the other side of the sofa, a small table with a vase on it. The flower in the vase was real. All the rest was made out of sand. The belt that held up the trousers, the dial phone, the folds in the sofa, Homer’s open mouth, the dog’s tail standing upright because the heavy shoe crushed his body, the curls in the beards of the Kings.

The Meter of Shame had been reset. 2019: 0. No mentioning of the 2242 drowned refugees in 2018 or the 3116 in 2017.
It smelled like fire on the beach. And it was hazier then normal. When I walked down the steps back into Barceloneta I saw the dark clouds. An apartment on the top floor of a building was covered in smoke. The street was blocked. Three fire trucks tried to get everything under control.

Around the corner it smelled like freshly baked bread again. All over the city people were starting to line up in front of the bakeries now to get their 3 Kings Cake. They arrived yesterday, the Kings. I hadn’t seen them but I accidentally had tried to cross the central part of the city when the parade was about to start and I only realised my mistake when I saw more and more people walking in the same direction I was walking in, carrying step ladders. When the Kings arrive the sidewalks are so cramped that the only way to see something is to be there an hour in advance or bring your own stairs.
Like in other years there had been some discussion beforehand about Melchior, the black King. He is often played by a white person using black make up which of course doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the Netherlands there is a similar discussion happening before Saint Nicholas which is more serious though. Saint Nicholas assistants, the Black Peters, have also been played for decades by fair skinned people wearing black make-up but what is worse is that they are his servants and they are portrayed as unintelligent, silly characters, punishing children who haven’t behaved well enough during the year. At least Melchior is a King, the King of Arabia and equal to the other two, Balthazar who according to the legend ruled Tarse and Egypt and Caspar, King of Sheba.

The terrace at the market square was still quiet. The old women were already there, they always arrive when the doors open at 9. The waiter greeted them. “Buenes dias reinas!” The Queens of Barceloneta. They indeed looked like they deserved that title.


A happy new year!

He was sitting next to a green tent on a foldable chair, drinking coffee. There was a similar tent a bit further down, exactly the same size, same shade of green. Probably the cheapest ones on sale in the Decathlon. A big dog was sitting next to him. He had his back turned towards the sea which didn’t make much sense. The sun was just rising.
He didn’t look like one of those fucked up tourists camping on the beach after a long party night. It isn’t allowed but the police don’t care. The beach cleaners don’t care either. I don’t know if, when you are a street cleaner, you are happier when your working area is in the sun and you stroll along the waves while doing your job or if it is frustrating because the contrast is so big. Maybe they don’t think about it, maybe they just do their job. Sometimes I talk to them, when there is a mystery they might be able to explain. When the beach is covered in things I can’t place. Like thousands of sea cucumbers, complicating their job. Because they have to put anything that could bother the tourists in plastic garbage bags. There is no difference here between empty plastic bottles, jelly fish, cigarette buts, and by-the-wind-sailors. It all has to go.

The man turned around and only then did I realise he was the owner of the five meter long dragon next to the tent. He was guarding him while he was sleeping. The man guarding the dragon, not the other way around. He had wings and a long tail, scales all over his body and triangular fins allong his spine. He looked like the dragon that lived in the attic when I was a child. In my imagination. The only difference was that this one wasn’t green. It was brown, the colour of sand. Later on in the morning flames would be coming out of its mouth, to make the tourists pay more. The man was one of the regular dragon builders on the beach. In the last years the dragons have multiplied and have become more refined. I wanted to take a picture, steal an image but you can’t when you don’t pay. Not when they are being guarded.

The meter of shame was just behind the man, on the edge of the boulevard. 2017: 3116, 2018: 2242. A lower number doesn’t mean it has been a less shameful year. Less refugees died crossing the Mediterranean. But that isn’t what it says. It says: refugees die crossing the Mediterranean. Only 0 would mean less shame.

The sun had let go of the horizon by now, detached and shiny in a cloudless sky. The red was only a memory, some vague traces of pink and orange where the sea ended and the sky started. I am always in awe when I watch the sunrise here but I prefer the stillness and the strange shade of blue when dark turns to light. The hour before it happens. The sense of newness, the expectation of a new shiny day.

A father was collecting stones with his son. A mother was so keen on getting nice photos of her one year old daughter crossing the beach running that she only managed to get a hold of her seconds before she was about to run into a biker passing by on the boulevard at full speed. Three brave girls were swimming, their backpacks abandoned on the beach. I hoped they would still be there when they came out of the water.

Barceloneta was waking up. While walking to the bakery I thought about the Catalan tv series I had been watching recently. Nit y Dia. Noche y Dia. Night and day. The scene with the man who didn’t know how to make up with the woman he loved and had been fighting with. His female collegue advised him to just bring her croissants. “La función de los cruasanes será decirle “te quiero”, the subtitles said. The function of the croissants will be to tell her “I love you”. It is how I celebrate this city. I sit on a terrace not long after sunrise and eat a croissant. The baker got mine straight out of the oven with big heat resistant gloves that looked like you could go to war with them. My regular corner table on the market square was free. The women were already there, as always looking as if they just came from a dinner party even though it was only 9 am. Nicely dressed, red lipstick, their walking aids parked next to their chairs, calling everybody “cariño”.

There were still 2 days to go before the new year would start officially, today included, but I didn’t care. I decided to start my new year today.