Memory of spring

Autumn has started. You can smell it when you go outside.

In a forgotten corner of my storage room I found a box with old memories. Scents I caught 20 years ago when I had just started art school. The biggest one reads “voorjaar”, spring. The scent is gone though. Once there was freshly cut grass in it. Now it smells of decay. Of autumn before it turns winter.
“A dear friend”, “my love”, “grandmother”. The scents are still there, faintly, but the people who used those perfumes or soaps smell different now. Or not at all.
“Terschelling, the summer of ’89”, “Saterday afternoons a long time ago”, “my first job”, “Domaine de Merlac 1990”. Hard to recognise.
“Fishing nets made out of lace curtain” (there was muddy water inside), “for the love of cats” (liver, if I remember well: my mother used to cook it for our pets), all gone.
The strong smell of “Molenweg 29” is still there. The smell of the impregnated beams my father put in the front garden. Whenever I smell that, I am back there.
And the one reading "Opa", "Grandfather", still smells of what is inside. Earth. When I was little I used to work in the garden with him. I still love gardening. And the smell of earth.


Nature knows best

I wondered yesterday if I should eat the pumpkin flower or if I should eat the snails before they would eat the flower. Or maybe even stuff the flower with snails and rice and herbs.

I let it be.

And today nature took over my idea. In its own way.


Everything happens in a second

Nothing happened. I embroidered it in the pocket of a pair of shorts I found in the trash in Barcelona exactly one year ago. Nothing happened. They weren’t my own words, somebody else said them to me. I only stored them. When you put your hand in that pocket you can feel the words. Nothing happened. I long for those words sometimes.

Late this morning my bus arrived in Amsterdam. Sixteen hours from Wroclaw to my former home. A more human way of travelling than flying. A feeling of being in it together, staring at the moon at the saddest places possible, gas stations next to the highway in the darkest hours of the night. Sharing food and drinks. Sharing stories.

In the belly of the bus two red suitcases with my name on it. A big one I had just collected from a small village in Poland, Sokolowsko, a place I fell in love with a year ago. A place where Krzysztof Kieslowski watched movies as a child, sitting on the roof of the cinema looking through a hole.
I didn’t remember exactly what was in the suitcase. But now I know. It is the oddest collection of things. Golden shoes acquired at an auction in a permaculture garden, the letters LO on the left toe and VE on the right toe, golden spikes on the heels of both of them. Felt nipples made by a Hungarian felt designer I wore during a performance for a festival in Sweden last year. Paper airplanes folded out of the poem "Air mail" by Tomas Tranströmer, I threw hundreds of them in the air on a slow journey through Europe. The script of Kieslowski’s Decalogue which I was reading on the Kieslowski square in Sokolowsko daily last summer, Virginia Woolf’s “A room of ones own”, the Catalan translation of a children’s book a Dutch friend wrote and gave to me. My dead father’s suit, waiting to be embroidered and worn again. A sweater with a damaged worn out heart reading “I love Barcelona”, found on the street there, the gaps in the heart repaired with golden thread. A small plate made by an artist friend with a bird and the words “blue skies heal”. A walking stick I used on two long walks. A pair of shorts that look similar to the ones I posted last year but have yellow cross stitching instead of pink. There is a different memory in that pocket but I don’t remember what it is. And these are just a few of the things in the suitcase.

The other suitcase is smaller. I carried it around for the last 2,5 weeks. First to Amsterdam, then from London to the south of England, back to London and to Wroclaw from there. By train and bus to Sokolowsko and back to Wroclaw. I was supposed to carry it on to be reunited with my colleagues on the border between Slovakia and Hungary where I was a Bridgeguard once and from there to an artist' gathering in a salt factory in Hallein, near Salzburg but the load got too heavy. And I don’t just mean the suitcases. They are just weight in kilos. And besides, the small one is light. Half of it is filled with 250 paper boats. I am not joking.

Too much has happened since last summer. Amazing things. Beautiful people. The number of countries I was in don’t fit on two hands. Residencies and exhibitions and lectures and workshops. Meetings and articles and in the middle of all of that an unplanned long walk that left a lot of traces, of which I cherish the good ones just as much as the bad ones. But I forgot some of the names of people I became friends with. I owe them stories. Memories. Attention. I need to remember their names.

My former apartment in Amsterdam, the place where I am still staying whenever I am in town, is shaking. Literally. The garden next to my garden has disappeared. When I left here two weeks ago it was still there. But the neighbour has died, his cats have gone, the shed is demolished and all the trees and plants are gone. The owner of the house must have been eagerly waiting for him to go. To remove all his traces and turn it into a fancy apartment. Two builders and a big machine are driving long metal piles in the soft Amsterdam soil to build a foundation for an extension to the house.
I make coffee. I heat up some milk. I forget all about it. Another pan burned. Some things never change.

The bird clock on the wall in-between the kitchen and the living room is ticking but the hands don’t move, only the one for the seconds. It is stuck in-between the 32d and 33d second, 11.32. Everything happens in a second.


We're in this together. Moon over Wroclaw

I love Wroclaw

North of the Odra life is sweet and bitter. Beautiful buildings and bullet holes. Wonderful street art in run down court yards and squares. While walking I bump into new friends I made in Sokolowsko last weekend. They tell me this is the bad part of town. The best part of town. I drink a beer in a fancy cafe in an industrial setting. A honey beer. Sweet and bitter.



Three times I passed through Waterloo Station in London in the last week. Ever since I arrived there last Friday, the Kinks' song Waterloo Sunset repeated itself in my head. Walking though the fields in Devon in the weekend I heard myself humming it sometimes. Last Tuesday I left London from Waterloo Station, jumping into a taxi last minute after having waited for the bus to Stansted Airport for an hour in vain. The tune dissolved into thin air when I flew to Wroclaw where I wandered around in the last two days and made myself at home at the Vinyl Cafe. There is a huge collection of records they play on request. And just now, sitting outside, drinking wine and just having finished my dinner, I hear Waterloo Sunset coming out of the speakers.


"Someday, perhaps, a film will be made based on my writings. I hope that, in some devious way, I have laid a trap for myself so that I can stay in it forever."

- Krsysztof Kieslowski

When I woke up the first thing I saw was a big crane swinging its arm around outside my window. My view is far from idyllic, rooftops, construction sites, men in bright orange vests wearing yellow helmets, antennaes with small pigeons seated on them. I don't mind, I like being on the edge of things, on the border between different worlds. When I walk outside the hotel where I am staying it is only a 2 minute walk to the beautiful main city square.

Wroclaw, Cultural Capital of Europe. I should go to museums and galleries today, I should go to all the places where they have programmed cutting edge, experimental, thought provoking art but when I leave the hotel my feet bring me to the Vinyl Cafe again, old furniture, familiar music, Audrey Hepburn looking over me while I drink my cappucino and read Georges Perec's "Un homme qui dort" which starts with a quote by Franz Kafka:

"Il n'est pas nécessaire que tu sortes de ta maison. Reste à ta table et écoute. N'écoute même pas, attends seulement. N'attends même pas, sois absolument silencieux et seul. Le monde viendra s'offrir à toi pour que tu le démasques, il ne peut faire autrement, extasié, il se tordra devant toi."

(Méditations sur le péché, la souffrance, l'espoir et le vrai chemin)

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Don't even wait, be completely silent and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

I read it while John Coltrane is playing and outside a shabby looking man is hurrying past, carrying a bouquet of red roses, a heart shaped box with chocolates and the biggest smile I've seen today. A young man speaks to me in Polish and without having any knowledge of the language apart from the few basics you teach yourself straight away in a new country I know what he means and I answer "tak", "yes", of course I can keep an eye on his things for a few minutes.

What I first think is a woman singing "Always look for the silver lining" I discover after some closer listening to be Chet Baker in his younger years, playing the trumpet beautifully as well. My second cappucino is perfectly warm, the man serving it tells me that they normally never heat up the milk to make it as authentic as possible since in Italy, where it is always warm, they drink it with cold milk. He might be right, I am not Italian but I am not so sure.

I move to my other book, the one I bought ages ago and never read, like many books I collected, waiting for the right moment. That moment is now, being in Wroclaw to travel on to Sokolowsko, a small spa town on the Polish-Czech border where Krzystztof Kieslowski spent part of his childhood and used to look at movies through a hole in the roof of the cinema because he didn't have money for a ticket. The cinema is still there as are the remains of the old sanatorium in which his father was treated for tuberculosis, the first TB sanatorium in the world. These days it is owned by an art organisation and in summer three festivals take place in this tiny village of which the Kieslowski Film Festival is the last one after the Contexts ephemeral art festival and the Sanatorium of Sound experimental music festival. I have always been a big fan of Kieslowski and I was amazed when last year by coincidence I found myself in the village where he grew up, where the Kieslowski archive is housed and where the cinema he spent hours sitting on the roof peeping through a hole, forming images in his mind based on the bits and pieces he saw and heard (an experience that undoubtedly had a big influence on how he filmed his documentaries and movies), is still in use.

Krzysztof Kieslowski died on March 13, 1996, at the age of fifty-four. Not long before, after having made Red, he had announced his retirement from moviemaking. In her book "Double lives, second chances. The cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski", Annette Insdorf writes "And then we speculated - as do his movies - about the order of events. Did he stop making films because he knew he would die soon? Or did he believe that he had already said all he had to say and therefore felt less motivated to live? Was it by chance or destiny that he died in that hospital; or - given his refusal to go to more sophisticated medical institutions - did free will play the determining part in this drama? For a man who made the documentary Hospital twenty years earlier - in which Polish doctors find that instruments, electricity, and much - needed sleep are in ludicrously short supply - Warsaw was hardly the most promising place for surgery." (He refused offers from Paris and New York as well as two specialized open-heart-surgery centers in Poland - insisting that he was an ordinary Pole with confidence in his doctors. He never woke up after his operation in a Warsaw hospital).

He became a filmmaker by chance. Because his family was poor, he needed a school that would provide a scholarship as well as lodging. "By chance, a relative directed a school for theater technicians in Warsaw," he explained during the 1994 New York Film Festival. "If this distant uncle had been in charge of a bank, I'd be a banker now." His intention was to become a theater director but because advanced studies were required, Kieslowski applied to film school as an intermediate step. The prestigious Lodz Film School rejected him twice and he only fiercely attempted to get in a third time because they had rejected him.

I watched his Decalogue again before I came here, last year I read the script while sitting on the Kieslowski Square in Sokolowsko where he walked around himself and must have looked at the people passing by in the same way I did.

Pawel: What remains after someone dies?
Krzysztof: What a man has done.

- Decalogue, 1



It is always tempting in a new place to try to see as many things as possible, especially when you are in the Cultural Capital of Europe. But when you move around a lot the first thing you do in a new city is find the places where you feel at home and stay there for as long as you need.

I am in Wroclaw, in a way by chance. I was in the south of England to give a workshop and travelling back to either Amsterdam or Barcelona was expensive so I took a 14 euro flight to this Polish city. Since a year I've got a suitcase stored in a small village in the south of this country and it is time to pick it up. It was too complicated in the last year to travel back to the fairytale town I fell in love with last summer but now circumstances seem to tell me it is the right time. A cheap flight to the city that is the Cultural Capital this year and is also the city with an airport closest to Sokolowsko (where my suitcase is stored together with a part of my heart), where in a few days the yearly Kieslowski film festival is starting. The original plan was to travel on straight away but landing in this city where I don't know anybody I felt a strong urge to be invisible for a few days, wander around without a goal, breath in and out, talk little while keeping my eyes and ears open.

I am writing this from the Vinyl Cafe that is just around the corner from the hostel where I rented a room for three nights, not far from the central square. It has vintage furniture and old photos on the wall and lots of records for sale, although the best ones can't be bought: they are the private collection of this place but they play them on request. I drank coffee here when I arrived early afternoon and stayed for a Polish beer while listening to Patti Smith's "Horses", reading my book about Kieslowski.

My homes are cafe's and bookshops, my home is in language and sounds, being surrounded by people talking to each other, the smell of coffee, the taste of cheese cake. Strange languages, familiar ones and specifically one I haven't mastered yet but makes me feel more at home than hearing my own language does. When I seated myself on a small terrace outside a cafe/bookshop yesterday evening I was surrounded by Spanish, small kids counting from 10 to 1, playing hide and seek, adults drinking beer and talking about art and literature. Somehow I managed in this Polish city to choose the place that reminds me of the city I have chosen to be my home for the coming time. A city that has welcomed me in since the first moment I set foot in it. A city with the sea on one side and mountains on the other and inbetween many kind people and dear friends.

Barcelona seems so far away but it is lovely to find traces of it here. I guess you always somehow do that, find the things you long for in small encounters, gestures, words, scents; a sign that everything is connected and all you have to do is to be open to it, to be in the middle of it.


Wa(l)king around the Dark Mountain

Embercombe, 5 September 2016. Dark Mountain Base Camp. 03.43. The hour of the wolf.
I fell asleep after dinner. I had set my alarm but it hadn't woken me. There was a sense of sadness when I woke up because I had stayed last night to be able to talk to some people I wanted to spend some more time with. I had cancelled my train and booked a new one for tomorrow morning. But I thought of a quote from Christian Bobin straight away, the book I have been carrying with me for the last two years, The Very Lowly. "All good things start with sleep. All good things start at their thinnest edge."

I checked the time, my clock said 01.11. A magic number which didn't surprise me. I was in a yurt, it was dark. The rain was dripping on the roof.

I was still wearing the trousers and the vest. I put on the jacket and walked outside in the three-piece walking suit. The east yurt village was silent but I saw a light in my neighbour's home. I walked the path going down, following the bend in the road, staying in the middle to avoid getting caught by the big blackberry bushes on both sides I couldn't see but knew were there. It was too dark to see the path but I trusted my feet. I could only walk by touching the surface carefully, slowly, stroking the earth with the soles of my shoes almost.
I heard soft voices. There were four people in the Story Fire, the round clay structure with totem animals watching over the people in the middle. There was a fire. Of course there was a fire.
They invited me in and we talked about how to combine the modern way of living and thinking with the things the people before us had learned and thought and lived. We talked about the things we had done during the day. We talked about leaving and returning. And when they left to get some sleep I stayed.

I kept the fire burning. I listened to the rain on the roof. I found marshmellows next to the log I was sitting on and I looked for a branch to stick them on so I could hold them over the fire like the people who were here before me had done. They had left their sticks as traces.
I usually don't like eating things that are too sweet but the sweetness of the act was irresistable.

The days passed through my mind, not only the last two ones here but the ones before as well. The past ones and the future ones. The people I met here, the people I met on the road, the people back home, the friends I had planned to see last night in Exeter and London. The people I hope to see soon. The person I was and the person I will be and the one I am now.

I gave a workshop yesterday morning in this exact same place with Nick Hunt. We only met two days ago but I had the feeling we had known each other for a long time. Maybe because I have been walking in his footsteps off and on unintentionally during a 96 day walk from Amsterdam to a mountain in Austria two years ago. Crossing his path here and there where he had walked in the footsteps of another writer and walker, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

We talked, we walked. We were slow. We discovered where our stories touched. We listened to each other and to the people in the audience. At the end somebody asked if he could recite a poem. He waited a few seconds and then spoke the words I know by heart, just like he did. He spoke them in Spanish first and then in English. Machado's testament, Machado's words. "Caminante, son tus huellas, el camino y nada más; caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar." "Walker, your steps are the path and nothing more; walker, there is no road, the road is made by walking."
And afterwards, when everybody had wandered off, I watched the people across the path in the People's Circle learning about Rewilding yourself. They moved and laughed and while they were doing that three kids joined me and collected charcoal from yesterday's fire, mixed it with water and drew war stripes, camouflage stripes on each other's faces, rewilding themselves without even thinking about what they were doing. As always the children are the greatest teachers.

Many things happened after that, every day here has felt like seven days and it is good to be in the dark now, to be alone, to listen to the wind and look at the flames and feel the words coming. Feel them wanting to be written down. Knowing that if I write down now that I will stay here with the fire until the daylight comes back, it will happen. Or that it has already happened in another moment, another day, in another place.

The last thing we did yesterday as a group was drawing maps. We drew all the things on them we heard, saw and learned this weekend. We put down the knowledge we need to be able to navigate our way into the future. The Children's map had a big sun on it but also scary things. It is important to know what we are afraid of to be able to deal with it. We try to hide that when we get older but children know. The map I was "in charge of", the Map made by Walking and Singing had turned into a landscape itself, forming a mountain range where somebody had shaped the paper with her feet, there were traces of songs, animals and plants, gestures that had turned into words.
The Map of the Future had the most important navigation information on it. Words we all had heard earlier on in the weekend and if we hadn't heard them we had experienced them. We had been navigating all weekend by sticking to these words. This simple message: Be kind. But we also know that that isn't enough to get where we want to be. So therefore:

Be kind.
Be kind.
Be kind.
And protest.

My camera that was gone most of the weekend because I forgot it somewhere just after I arrived and lost it again first thing after it was returned on the second night, is back in my possession. I am hesitant to take a photo now but if there is any image I want to take away from this weekend, it is the image of this fire. This is how we survived. This is what our ancestors did. We have to keep the fire going.
When the other fire died, when the emerging daylight gave everything shape again, I walked around the site of Embercombe, my hands in my pockets, touching the four beans that had been there from the start of the weekend when Charlotte du Cann had introduced them as a symbol for growth, for potential, and had asked us to put some in our pockets. Four beans, the same number as people I had found in the middle of the night when I was looking for company before I was ready to enjoy my solitude.
I passed the lake, the Linhey cafe, memories of amazing food. I heard the first birds, the sheep, the chicken, the cows. I walked through the medicine garden where Mark had introduced me to some plants I didn't know, the west yurt village, the mount. I walked up to the top and saw the fog lifting, the clouds passing, the sky turning from grey to pink. I walked on and passed the Centre Fire where the big gatherings had taken place and where I had heard Martin Shaw tell a story about a prince who had fooled himself and had to be tied to a piece of wood in the middle of a river for 40 days to be able to let go of his old life and move into a new one, a story that had sent shivers down my spine and after which I could only think about my first long solo walk that had lasted 40 days.
I passed the campsite, the stone circle, the compost toilet, I walked from one end of the east yurt village to the other end and I found myself where I had woken up.

The day had started.