711 steps

“I closed the front door of my house in Amsterdam behind me and walked 711 steps. As a child I used to count them. My steps, I mean. I took a certain amount and tried to reach the given goal within that number. Usually the goal was my house or a shop my mother send me to in order to get some things she forgot during her usual morning shopping. If I succeeded, the day would be mine.

I don't remember any specific day I failed my mission. I don't remember any day I succeeded either. I just remember the ritual.

This morning I had a goal, as in the old days. This was to be found at step 711. I crossed a couple of roads on my way, bumped into a woman walking her twin dogs, avoided some kids playing football, noticed a giant pigeon looking at me taking my 699th step and reached my goal. There it was. A grey tile on the sidewalk. Next to it another similar tile. Next to it a bike leaning against a streetlight.
I looked around me. I knew this place. But I never knew it was a 496 meter walk from my front door. I took a picture and retraced my steps. The door was where I left it. I hadn't expected anything else.”

I wrote the text 10 years ago. Today it will be performed again by the trio “To be sung”, Albert van Veenendaal wrote the music for it. I wrote the song, which wasn't a song by then, for my first walking project ever.

10 years ago I read a call for the job of bridge guard in Slovakia, in a small city on the border with Hungary. An artist residency was looking for somebody to guard the Mária Valéria bridge, a creative person capable of building a virtual bridge.

“In the year 2001 the Mária Valéria bridge between Stúrovo (Slovakia) and Esztergom (Hungary) was reopened. During its history, this bridge was destroyed and unusable for a longer time than it was actually connecting the two towns.

The rebuilt bridge deserves to be saved from further destruction by people. To this aim, mental protection is more important than physical protection. As long as the mental connection between people is intact, the bridge is not endangered.

The post of Bridge Guard requires a person in whose work boundaries of countries of eras are bridged, mental, social, religious or political boundaries are crossed, different scientific fields are connected, or various artistic media are utilized.”

(from the Bridge Guard Residency website, http//www.bridgeguard.org)

I wrote the following to Karol Frühauf, the initiator of the Bridge Guard residency:
“I studied history. I learned seven languages but prefer to be speechless. I herded sheep in France. I prefer mornings to evenings. I rather make stories than be the subject of them. I’m fond of rituals. I hate miscommunication. I keep forgetting I’m growing older. I keep forgetting I’m an artist.
For being an artist and being a human being is the same thing to me. I’m trying to make art the way I lead my life. In my artwork, I’m trying to show how I experience the world.
In a way, art is something “out of this world”, art creates a world of its own, mirroring the real world, using elements from this real world. They depend strongly on each other, art and the world we’re living in. One can’t do without the other.
As an artist, I’m balancing on the border of these two worlds. This borderline is my subject.”

I was hired.

I prepared myself well. In the last months before I moved to Stúrovo, I walked an imaginary bridge. 496 meters. 711 steps. Every day again. Always starting from my doorstep, always ending anywhere. Anywhere 711 steps from the startingpoint. I filmed every walk. I took the material with me to Stúrovo to use it for an installation. I remember the day I walked the real bridge for the first time well.

Once you're a Bridge Guard you never cease to be one. Today I will go to the Roode Bioscoop in Amsterdam to hear To Be Sung perform Albert van Veenendaal's 711 steps, music that was inspired by words that were inspired by the dream of a man who once fled Slovakia and came back to built a home for artists, to change the world in his own humble way. Today I will think of the Mária Valéria bridge and how living and working there made me feel borderless.

 (In the photo you see the bridge with me in the foreground, involved in the intervention "Biological Graffiti" for which I planted a flower bulb on every new spot I discovered during my first weeks in Stúrovo)



I am filling my pockets with laughter today.


A Facebook Letter

I just lost another Facebook friend. He left quite abruptly, we were still in the middle of a conversation, he said “bye” and even before I had a chance to reply he was gone. His Facebook account closed. “I am taking the easy way out” he wrote just after I wrote to him that complaining is the easy way. He had started the conversation by writing “I'm growing tired of Facebook, it's all about self publicity and vanity, not much of it makes any difference politically, it just salves a bit of the chattering class' consciences.” I challenged him to try to make a difference but he wrote “I'm too tired and dissillusioned with it all, to even bother trying to make a difference. We are deluded to think we make a difference, all this sharing of political press releases, none of it matters. We are all grist to the mill.” And there he went. I couldn’t even get my last words to him: “Sometimes taking the easy way out is the best thing to do, is necessary: I think that before we can make a difference we have to feel ok with ourselves. Sometimes that means taking the easy way out. But I truely think we can make a difference wherever we are, here as well, on Facebook. Take care, wherever you are.”

So I am saying them to you now.

And his words make me wonder why I put this here. He made me think. And I like that about Facebook. I am not rarely afraid I post something for my own benefit mainly, to make myself look good in the eyes of others, but we all do that and sometimes the border between wanting attention and giving attention is a thin one. The best way to figure that out is to keep trying. To keep posting. To keep writing. Thinking. To take yourself and others seriously but not all the time. To keep talking, laughing, discussing, but also to be silent from time to time. To find good friends. On Facebook as in real life.

So here’s to friends. And to life. And to Facebook.

Take care.


Into the future's past

Learning Spanish with Michel Thomas. Disk 7. The future & conditional tense.

“Would. Say it. Would. Wood. Think of how you go for a walk into the wood. You walk into the wood and you see a river. Do you see the river? Have you ever heard of “rio”? River? Rio Grande? I bet you have. But this is another river. Another rio. It is a female one, a special one. Ria. You go into the wood, into the would, and there is the “ria”. So that is how it works. Take the verb and put the ria behind it. Ria with an accent. A special river. Ría. Let's try it.”

I try it.
To be. Ser. I am. Soy. I will. Seré.* I would be. (I go into the wood. I see the river. The special one. The ría. I add it.) Sería. It works!

And I practise my still barely existing Spanish, the conditional tense, I think about rivers and would be rivers and remember walking along the Danube for days, following the line the river made and how I embroidered it on my walking suit.  And I think of my last visit to Spain. How I travelled home with mountains in my head and this river in my suitcase:

(* And inbetween all of this there is a very beautiful moment when Michel Thomas asks the girl he is teaching on the Cd if she ever heard the phrase "Que sera, sera" and the girl says "yes" and he asks her if she knows who sang the song and the girl with her young voice says "no" and then his strict voice softens and you hear him smile and he says softly: "Doris Day. I taught her.")


Where is the heart(h)?

"Adventure lies not in mountaintops and distant glance but in one’s ability to let go of the domestic hearth for the uncommon resting place."
                                                                                       -Reinhold Messner (mountaineer)

“children have homes, adults don’t have homes”
                                                                          - Adam Phillips in "Patience. After Sebald"


Lost in time

“Sometimes you’re only a passenger in the time of your life.”
- David Sylvian, Snow White in Appalachia

“Monday no rewinds”
- Blaudzun, Monday

This morning it happened again. I woke up. It was getting light outside. A grey Monday morning.
I opened my computer, typed my password, opened Facebook and failed to scroll down the page. The trackpad didn’t work. I tried all the tricks I knew without a result. So I revived the old monster - a 2005 Powerbook with a malfunctioning screen and an ancient operating system. It was slower than slow. I didn’t have access to the documents I needed. E-mail sort of worked, Facebook only turtle-speed. No real use.
I considered driving all the way to the nearest city to get my MacBook fixed but I only left Amsterdam yesterday evening in order to stare at the wet trees, exchange quick glances with the robin, be woken up in the night by the sound of a horse running, to be silent, to slow down. Haha, to slow down ......
I gave the stuck trackpad a last try, I gave in, closed the computer and made myself some breakfast. Monday. Monday?

Last Thursday I woke up here because somebody tried to open my front door. I heard the key turning in the lock, the key that is hidden somewhere well, not a lot of people know where to find it (probably everybody in this small conglomerate of wooden houses in the woods has a key hidden under their doormats – mine isn’t ....). I jumped out of my bed, grabbed some cloths and welcomed the carpenter with whom I had agreed to have the repair on the window done on Friday after 10. It was Thursday, 10.30. I had slept 5 hours, after having worked all night.

“I thought you would come by on Friday?” I said and he gave me a strange look before he answered: “But it is Friday!” My brain quickly got itself together and ran through the last couple of days. I remembered walking through the woods on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, the day before, a Wednesday, wasn’t it? I remembered another walk earlier in the week. I remembered walking and thinking “no, it isn’t Tuesday today, it is only Monday”, having the feeling I just gained a day. And after that Monday there was a Tuesday and a Wednesday and then today, Thursday. Thursday? Had I been living in the past for four days in a row? I couldn’t have. Or could I? While the carpenter started taking out the window I quickly checked my computer. It says the day in the right upper corner but I never really look at it. Friday it said. I laughed, quickly got my things together because I was supposed to be in Amsterdam on Friday morning. I made a phonecall, postponed my meeting, made coffee for myself and the carpenter who works for a company that was founded by two related families named Hammer and Grind, no joke. Timmer & Schuur, Hammer & Grind.

While we were drinking coffee I tried to explain to the man how it happened that I ended up thinking it was Thursday on a Friday and how it somehow fits a way of living in which there is more time for things, where I am trying to plan less and be more. But mixing up days so seriously hardly ever happens to me and I was happy to notice, that, while my brain told me I had just lost a day, it didn’t feel like that at all. I must be making progress. So I drank my coffee slowly, waved out the carpenter and drove to Amsterdam. Did what I had to do there, listened to music, sorted out some things, decided on Sunday evening to change plans, hung around another day, got a lot of work done and returned to the woods last night, Monday evening.
So today must be ... Tuesday.
It happened again. I woke up on a Monday morning and in a split second Monday turned into Tuesday. A day has disappeared .... no .... time has disappeared. And returned. And nothing has changed.
So I made coffee. And while drinking it I played the record that was still lying on the record player. Blaudzun sang “Monday” again. And I thought about my walk from Amsterdam to Vienna and how off and on I had met somebody on the road who had told me: “Ah, how wonderful to walk for so long, if only I had the time ....” and having said that he or she had stared into the distance with dreamy eyes. Every time again I had smiled. I had used different words to give the same answer: "Time is just there. You can do with it whatever you want. It is yours, not the other way around.”
I never put it is as boldly as a friend who wrote on here blog that we have to TAKE time (and not ask for it, like power it is not given away freely) and who writes that true rebellion lies in taking back our time.* But I think she is right. Take it. Have it. Use it. But most of all: forget about it. Get lost in it.

* Andrea Hejsklov: Reclaiming time 


The language of walking

I used to have a heartbeat of approximately 60 beats per minute. It was like a clock. I used to like that. It gave me the feeling I was in tune with time. Sometimes it beated faster, now and then slightly slower but usually it was 59, 60, 62.

Lately my heart started to beat slower.

Could it be the walking? I know I once wrote that walking makes time disappear. It is true. Or at least to me it is. So it makes sense that now I figured that out, my heart needs a different rhytm. Needs to slow down. Be out of time. 51, 54, 53.

I walked with one of my old Walking Heroes last month. I made notes of all the important things he said. I didn’t write down much. We mainly walked. In silence. Slow. As slow as 75 meters per hour. We walked from one wall to another one in two hours. “How can somebody be a historian?” he had said earlier.

He didn't know that I studied history for almost seven years. That I can officially call myself Master. Master of what? Time?

Catching time. Impossible. But I wore the watch he gave me to be able to measure the two hours down to the second. Measure time to measure distance. I succeeded. In a way.

It was a beautiful exercise.

Can you measure a life? We measure it in years, in achievements, in what we reached. We say “he was only 37” or “her life was just about to begin”. But how can a life be about to begin when it is about to end?

The slower your heart beats, the longer you might live. The more you use it in a good way, train it, the slower it beats.

I’ve been using it a lot lately, in many ways. It slowed down. I might live longer. But longer than what? Than whom? Than the other me?

In Spanish there are two words for the verb “to be”. There is “estar” and there is “ser”. One is used for permanent states, the other for non-permanent. If you would only say “I am.” you would translate it “Soy.”. It indicates basic characteristics or origin, whereas “estoy” is used to describe location, situation, position. Sometimes I rather feel myself as if “Estoy.” As if I could be anywhere, anybody, anything. Anytime.

I started learning Spanish only a few weeks ago. I had a vague idea of moving to Spain possibly. Doing Permaculture somewhere in the mountains. So I went to do a Permaculture Design Course near Girona, I walked through the mountains to a village where I once was happy, I danced in Barcelona. A friend gave me the soundfiles of a language course by Michel Thomas of whom I had never heard but apparently he survived several concentration camps where learning how to block out pain while being tortured unveiled the potential of the human mind to him. He used this experience to build his new method of teaching languages, a very succesful method. 
I like learning Spanish with Michel Thomas. And it makes me somewhat sad that we need extreme situations to learn wonderful things, but I'm afraid there is no beauty without ugliness. Some things can never be changed. And therefore history will always repeat itself. And the historian, if he exists, is doing the same thing. Like a clock.

It is good to learn a new language. To think about words. I like having different possibilities of being. And I realise that there is a word that has been troubling me. It is another verb. The verb “to have”.
To have. As in “possess”. Have to. As in “must”.
We have a lot of things. And we have to do a lot of things.

Tener. Tener que.

Is there a language where this word doesn’t exist? I’d consider moving to the country where they speak it. But I guess I’d have to forget about all the other languages I know. And there aren’t many ways to forget.

I wonder if walking is one of them.


The first exercise in being here

I returned. I hadn't planned to. In fact I hadn't planned anything. That was the whole idea. Leave and walk and see where your feet bring you. I had made sure there was nothing fixed in my schedule for the next 50 years. Nothing apart from 1 thing.

Already before my 96 day walk started in April this year, I had been asked by guitar player and composer Corrie van Binsbergen if I wanted to be part of a project called "De Verlichting": a series of five meetings for which she "composes" an afternoon together with a philosopher, musician or artist in order to bring new ideas into the world, give people something to think about. I was honoured. I said yes.
We talked about the content. Of course walking will be a central element. My video "A plastic journey" will be shown and harpist Miriam Overlach will play "The Plastic Crusader", written by composer Albert van Veenendaal inspired by that 4 day walk collecting all the plastic on my route. Miriam will also play a duo with tapdanser Marije Nie. Feet and music go together well in many ways. With singer Kristina Fuchs I will perform the one person opera "The woman without bagage" for which I wrote the libretto some years ago and I will do some talking probably. Show some images. Wear a three piece walking suit.

We talked about the content but we never talked about a title. I left on a long walk and somewhere inbetween Amsterdam and Vienna, one morning after having crawled out of my tiny tent and browsing the internet while eating a sober breakfast on the edge of a lonely forest I found myself mentioned on the website of Lux, a theater in Nijmegen. It was titled "Exercises in being here". February 15, 2015.

I was catapulted back in time. 2007. The Elsewhere Living Museum in North Carolina. A three storey former thriftstore in the city of Greensboro. For 1 month I lived in the middle of a huge collection of things together with many other artists, we worked night and day, we became part of the collection almost, we got lost in space and time, magic happened every day. My project was about absence and when I was asked for a title for my presentation, the first one in a series of lectures that was going to be held all summer, I came up with "Exercises in being here".

I was absent the evening my project about absence was presented. I hadn't planned to. A video I had shot in the night before my departure was shown while I was in a plane back to Holland to say goodbye to my grandmother and my mother in law who had died on the same day. July 4. Liberation day.

Exercises in being here. I still love that title. And it still covers what I am doing. I am glad Corrie found it and chose it.

So that is what I will write about here. Exercises in being here.

(images: from "Exercises in being here, 2007, Elsewhere Living Museum)