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