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.


Bird thoughts

They weren’t as impressive as the murmurations you see passing by on Facebook in this time of the year but still it was miraculous how those starlings moved through the sky over the street in the middle of the city, forming a dense cloud, vastly changing shapes and directions, breaking up into four smaller clouds, spreading out again, diving down to take a break in a big tree that had as many leaves left as there were birds. Three hundred maybe, chatting excitedly before suddenly some of them flew up again and the rest followed. “A starling’s attempt to escape the murmuration is the murmuration” (- Bayo Akomolafe). It is still unknown exactly how and why they do this.

There is an artwork, a flying sculpture, which copies the aerial performance of starlings. Franchise Freedom, made by Studio Drift, is an autonomous flying swarm of hundreds of drones which exposes the tension between individual freedom and safety in numbers. Two artists choreographed the parameters in the algorith that is used but the behaviour of the drones can’t be predicted exactly.

“The artwork translates into a poetic illustration of how we, as humans, strive to live autonomously within societies defined by rules and conventions. Although the patterns appear random, and the impression of such a swarm may remind us of freedom, the behavior of these birds is completely orchestrated and subject to many rules and survival instincts. There is a tremendous beauty in watching these sudden decisions of thousands of individuals and their reactions to one another. If every bird were to operate on its own, complete chaos would be the result. Just like birds, people find safety in a group, while at the same time they are forced to act according to a set of rules on which society functions. One who chooses complete individual freedom above these rules is forced to operate outside of society. What is the perfect balance between the two? Is freedom an illusion?” (source: http://www.studiodrift.com/franchise-freedom/).

Earlier this week I saw a robin. An Old World flycatcher. They are one of the first species to begin singing every morning and I have heard them on some occasions, usually when I was still working or reading in the last hour of the night, long before dawn. I was never sure though, because in the 2,5 years I lived on this noisy crossroad I had never seen one. But there it was, sitting on the table outside, on the tiny balcony, staring at me through the glass door. Later on I saw it again, rummaging through my plants, looking for insects probably. I reminded myself to put water outside and bird seeds. With the risk of attracting the malicious looking sea gulls that sometimes land on my balcony unexpectedly and straight away makes me think of Hitchcock’s birds.

When I was in bed last weekend with a back injury, unable to move (I’m fine now, don’t worry) I watched a documentary about wingsuit basejumping. People jumping off cliffs just wearing a costume that gives your body wings when you spread your arms. The wish to fly is an ancient one, going back to Icarus, the first human-powered flight we know of (even if it is a myth). The most ancient references we have to Daedalus' escape from Crete by his human-powered flight are not written, but artistic illustrations. The first example appears on an Etruscan engraved wine jug in about 630 BC.
Flying with a wingsuit is (for now) probably the closest you can get to feeling like a bird.

Once you have tasted flight,
you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,
for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

― Anonymous (often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci)

I tasted flight, but only in an airplane. And in my dreams, as a child. These days I dream of walking.