20.5.19

When we had wings


Sometimes the name of things, people, animals, are exactly what you see. I was reminded of that yesterday, when being asked: What is that black bird roaming around under that tree?" by somebody who grew up in a city. I sang the first line of a Beatles song. And today, remembering it, and smiling about it, it reminded me of a friend. She was called Marybird once, I don’t know if she still uses that name but I do when I think about her. Sometimes you don’t see with your eyes. And sometimes you do with different eyes. She once took a photo of me walking through the mountains with a backpack. When I had wings. 

We lived with goats, harvested corn, watched eagles fly, recorded windmills crying, we measured things with our body and lived a story that has never taken flight but traces of it are caught by our cameras.

Remembering good things is a bit like flying.







19.5.19

On the edge of the middle of nothing


I failed. I was supposed to be at a beautiful city garden at 12.00 to watch a silent movie with a soundtrack made by a dj and drink vermut afterwards. I had reserved a ticket a long time ago.
I left in time. I skipped the first metro entrance because it involves a long walk through underground tunnels to the tracks. I wanted to take the second one but it was closed. I was redirected to the next one and I just saw the metro drive off but there would be another one in 4 minutes. It wasn’t. But it was there in 6. I would be a little bit late but with some luck not too much to be denied entrance. The metro was crowded. At the next stop more people entered. And more at the next one. Verdaguer. Verdaguer? No. That wasn’t right. I got out just in time. Wrong direction. Where was my mind? A soundtrack started in my head. The Pixies.

Up the stairs, around to the other platform. It was almost 12. I would be very late. Too late. I took the tram back to where I started. Go home? The sun was shining. Maybe there would be an empty table at the square next to the church. Coffee instead of vermut. Watching the real life movie in vivid colours instead of a silent black-and-white one.

There was an empty table. And there were books in my iPad. A good day for Christian Bobin, The Eight Day. “The eighth day is the day that follows the Jewish Sabbath when God rested from creating. It is thus beyond time.” It is a collection of essays, starting with “The eight day of the week”. It is one of his early texts and all his principal themes are already present: childhood, nature, death, time and timelessness, the role of writing in the life of the writer, and that of the writer as translator and interpreter of what he sees.

“Unable to write, and living out a penitantial time that sheds its hours as a tree sheds leaves, I read. I devour books, and not a word brings succour. It’s a common enough experience: this gulf between weighty knowledge, as embalmed in books or moral laws, and the breezy mood of life as it passes. One can be a mine of learning and spend one’s life in total ignorance of life. It is not the books that are to blame, but the meagreness of our desire, the narrow limits of our dreaming.”
I looked up, just in time to see a small boy walking over from the table next to mine to his neighbours or more specifically: to their big old golden retriever who was lying on the floor. The boy kissed the strangers’ dog on its forehead. His parents waved him back but he refused, got down on his knees and hugged the dog as if he would never let go of him again. His mother tried again in vain so his father walked over to pick him up. He didn’t want to let go of the dog and was about to start crying but when he heard the magic word, the dog was forgotten. Patatas! As yellow as his sweater. The waiter had just put them on the table. And his excitement got even bigger when he discovered that he hadn’t finished his pineapple juice. The sounds he made while drinking it became my new favorite soundtrack. After the patatas and the juice he wanted his father’s glasses and looking through them he laughed as if the whole world had turned into a carnaval. Then the empty chairs had to be dragged to the middle of the square so he could sit next to the fountain. I thought it was a splendid idea. His parents didn’t.

I continued Bobin because I suddenly remembered how it ended. I read the pages too fast to get there quickly: “To a child who asked me, ‘what is beauty?’ - and it could only be a child, for that is the only age that hankers after lightning and frets about what matters - I should answer: beauty is in all things that move away after once brushing your skin. Beauty is in the radical instability - a loss of balance and of voice - that the passing touch of a white wing provokes in us. Beauty is the sum of those things that pass through us, unaware of us, and suddenly intensifying the lightness of being …. I would tell him that a book is like a song, that it’s nothing, that it’s for saying all that can’t be said, and I would cut up an orange for him. We’d carry on walking late into the evening. In the silence we’d discover at last, he and I, the answer to his question. In the luminous vastness of a silence that words caress without disturbing it.”

The sun was still shining but when I got home I heard thunder in the distance, even before the sky turned grey. My plants were cheering. Then the rain started falling down. A message popped up on my Facebook saying that the other thing I had planned to go to, an outdoor music event, was cancelled. So I stayed inside. Everything seemed to be failing today. But beautifully. I made more coffee. Liquid happiness. And even more so when drank from a handcrafted ceramic cup, rough on the outside but after you’ve enjoyed your coffee you see it is smooth and shiny on the inside. Like life itself, from time to time.

While I was wondering if this last line wasn’t too tacky, my computer screen turned black. It wasn’t the first time. A few weeks ago it stopped warning me when it was running out of power and was in coma for two days, just until the moment I was about to screw it open to see if I could revive the battery. I am trying to keep it plugged in now but sometimes I forget. On days like this apparently.

It restarted, the programs reopened, I held my breath but the freshly typed words were still here. Time had moved backwards though, Thursday 1 January 2015, 01.14. It took longer than normal to reconnect to the modem and in the minute or two it lasted, I tried to remember where I had been at that time on the first day of 2015. It wasn’t hard to remember. The first hours of the day I was supposed to be in Barcelona to start a new life in a new year but had failed to leave the Netherlands. On a white plastic chair in a forest staring at the stars, drinking my father’s wodka. But that’s a whole different story and I already told that one here elsewhere. How he failed to live, one of the rare circumstances in which you can’t tell somebody that it is ok to fail and, like Samuel Beckett said, try again, fail again, fail better.

The computer switched back to Sunday May 19th, 16:04, later than I wanted it to be but lingering in  the past sometimes does that, it catapults you further into the future than you would like.

Bobin writes: “We fail our lives. We fail everything. What is strange in fact is that grace still gets to us, when we do all we can to render ourselves unreachable. What is strange is that - thanks to a wait, a look, or a laugh - we sometimes gain access to that eighth day of the week, which neither dawns nor dies in the context of time. It is in the hope of such things that I live, and it is under that light that I write, savouring the beauty of each passing day. Writing is doubtless vain, and there is no guarantee that it prevents the night from coming, none whatsoever, but, after all, it can seem just as vain to love, sing or pick the first periwinkles - pale and tender as though emerging from a long illness - to bring them into the empty room.”

I often have the feeling I am wasting my time writing. But sometimes I don’t know what else to do and then I just write. Today, or actually yesterday or last week, but latest today, I was supposed to finally write a text for my new blog, to explain about “The Middle of Nothing” which is the title I chose for the project I will start next weekend. I can’t get my fingers around it. Which in a way makes sense:

The middle of nothing
Doesn’t exist
Unless you know where the borders are
But you don’t
When you are in the middle of it

Maybe today I have been writing from there. Maybe I failed well.




18.5.19

wor(l)ds


writing inkless words here but painting memories with the natural inks we made at Estudio Nomada yesterday at the same time

(colour samples by Nadine Rauterberg)



23.3.19

Mercury



The day you decide to drag your big camera to the sea at 6.50 a.m. to be there in time for the sunrise is always a cloudy day. But it doesn’t matter. The appearance of the sun is something to watch, the red and orange and pink that come with it on a cloudless day are too much (too beautiful? too romantic? too cliché?) to catch. I still do it though, I don’t know why. And then erase the images when I come home so they don’t clutter my computer. And I remember my photography teacher who taught us that you might think you can just take as many photos as you want with your digital camera without paying a price for it but in fact every time you push that button your camera dies a little bit. Gets closer to the moment, one day, when it won’t work anymore. It is true. But still I push that button when I see something I know I should only look at.

There was no sun today - well, it was there of course, otherwise it would be dark - but without the drama of the sunrise, the filtered light on the waves has a different quality. More silent, even when the waves are violent. The greyness makes the sea you catch look as if it is made out of fluid metal. Mercury.

In the Miró Museum in Barcelona there is a mercury fountain. You can easily miss it and even when you look at it, you might not notice that the fluid you think is water flows too slowly and the drops around the fountain are slightly odd. We often see what we think is there. It is hard to be attentive, to look first, observe, and then think. Not the other way around.
The fountain was made by Alexander Calder. It is one of the deadliest works of art in existence today, mercury is highly toxic. The first emperor of China, Qín Shǐ Huáng Dì, died as a result of drinking a mixture of mercury and pulverised jade because he believed it would give him eternal life. An Egyptian ruler reportedly built a basin filled with mercury, on which he would lie on top of air-filled cushions and be rocked to sleep. In the 19th century it was used in the manufacturing of hats and the expression “as mad as a hatter” is derived from the odd behaviour that was displayed by men working in that industry.
Calder was commissioned by the Spanish Government to make a new work for the Paris World Fair, the Exposition Internationale in 1937. The story behind the fountain is less known than the one behind the other work that was commissioned for the same exposition: Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Both works are inspired by the same horrible episode in Spanish history, a bloody civil war that started in 1936. Picasso painted what happened on a market day in a city in the Basque Country, the first carpet bombing to be performed during that war. Calder was asked to create a monument for Almadén, where at that time 60% of the world’s mercury came from. Franco’s troops attacked the town and besieged the mercury mine, depriving the Spanish government not only of important financial resources but also of access to a metal which was used in the production of firearms.
Calder’s mercury fountain is now kept behind glass walls. The employee who cleans it occasionally wears something that looks like an astronaut suit. But in 1937 it was unknown that mercury was deadly and in the Spanish pavilion in Paris the fountain was displayed prominently.

The sea here is deadly as well, as it is everywhere, even when it looks beautiful and calm. The Meter of Shame on the boulevard has been stable on the number 223. It isn’t just a number though, as the metal sculpture clearly states, it is 223 people who drowned this year in the Mediterranean, trying to escape similar situations like the Spanish Civil War, risking their lives in small boats. I suspect the Meter only counts the dead and not the unaccounted for or maybe it can’t keep up with the numbers. The meter on the Facebook page of Open Arms, a non-governmental, non-profit organization whose main mission is to rescue people who try to reach Europe over sea, fleeing from war, persecution or poverty, says 361. From 2015 until 2018 they have saved almost 60.000 lives but since the beginning of this year, their rescue boat Open Arms hasn’t been allowed to leave Barcelona’s port because Proactiva Open Arms has become a controversial player in the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. And innocent people die because of that.

I walk the same route every morning. I look at the same things every morning. I like the way the same looks different every day. And how I am being looked at differently. The men, not always the same, but always a combination of some of the regular early morning visitors of the bar at a corner of the Carrer dels Pescadors, the road of the fishing men, once shouted “Americano!” behind my back after I had walked by. They don’t do that anymore. But neither do we greet each other. Sometimes I hear the cat and when I hear it, I know it has noticed me and will try to push its small body as far as possible through the metal bars covering the groundfloor window to be petted. Every time I see it I expect him to wriggle himself all the way through the narrow space between stone and metal and jump in the street but he never does.
The people at the beach are different every day although the new ones always behave the same. They are either noisy, drinking beer, chilling after a long party night or they are daring, young tourists taking off their clothes to go for a quick swim, daring twofold because they leave their things on the beach and sometimes, when I am close to where they are, I keep an eye on their belongings without them knowing it, they don’t know how quick and smart the thieves here are. Some are in love, they have come to watch the sunrise on their first holiday together, sleepy eyes because they made love all night and now sit close to each other under a blanket.
The young father is new. It is the fourth time I see him. The first time I noticed him here he tried to show his young son or daughter the sea. I wonder what a two month old thinks, if anything at all, seeing this vast blue surface. Today his baby is asleep and he keeps him or her carefully covered in his warm bodywarmer. When he walks along the water I read the words printed in white letters on his back. “Special”.
There is usually a treasure hunter, sometimes a woman, sometimes a man. Maybe I am a treasure hunter here as well, but where they use a special device to find things hidden under the sand, I use my eyes to find what is valuable. And there are the dog owners. The man with the two Weimaraners. The woman with the annoying untrained herd of dogs. The woman with the cocker spaniel, always reminding me of the dog we had when I was a child. On the corner, where in summer the old women from Barceloneta sunbathe unashamed with beautiful bare saggy breasts, the dragon man washes himself and does his exercises. He lives in a tent on the sand - or maybe two tents, I am not sure if he recently expanded his home or if he got a neighbour - and watches over his dragon while his dragon watches over him. The mythic animal is his livestock, every day he repairs it, sometimes he constructs it anew when the night was stormy, either because of the weather or because of violent nighttime beach wanderers. The sand creature spits fire now and then but gently. The flames come from a candle he puts in its open mouth.

The Roman god Mercury guided souls to the underworld. He was the god of travelers, eloquence, communication, bounderies, luck, trickery, thieves. Ovid wrote that Mercury carried Morpheus' dreams from the valley of Somnus to sleeping humans. His day is Wednesday, miercoles, Mercury’s day. Which is today.
A planet was named after him. The smallest one, the one closest to the sun, the fastest one, moving around its orbit in 116 days. Small but heavy, scientists think that the planet is composed of about 70% of metallic iron (by weight) and 30% of rocky material. One day on Mercury lasts 59 Earth days. Imagine that. A day lasting 1.416 hours. Almost two months.

The word planet comes from the Greek term planetes, meaning wanderer. Ancient astronomers noticed how certain celestial lights moved in relation to other lights and started to make a differentation between stars and planets.

What would you rather be, a star or a wanderer?

I like stars who are wanderers at the same time. Who stick to their trade but sell it or communicate it in a different shape and with a different appearance always. I remember how long ago, before the Internet was a world I moved around in daily and I still listened to the radio to discover new things, I heard a song I fell for straight away. I got on my bike, cycled to my favorite record shop, listened to the album and bought it. Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens. It came out in 2004, so 15 years ago. The music and the approach on the album Planetarium he made with Nico Muhly a few years ago is completely different. My favorite song is titled Mercury. It is the last song of the album, the most intimate one. In an interview Stevens said: “Life is so abundant here, and yet we’re so obsessed with the exterior of here. That’s what’s so interesting, there’s a sort of beautiful, perfect order to life on earth that’s so mysterious and so profound. And yet, as people, we really fuck it up. We’re so dysfunctional. And we seek guidance from the exterior world — from the heavens — to help us understand our purpose here, and to sort of create a sense of order.”

Mercury is a love long. It is about somebody who has been abandoned by a loved one. It starts like this:

And all that I've known to be of life
And I am gentle
You ran off with it all
And I am faithful

The lover who ran away also took “all I’ve said to get it right”, “all that I thought to be precise”, “all that I’ve known to be at peace”, “all that I’ve known to be of love”. The singer stays behind speechless, desperate, restless, faithless, messed up. There is sorrow, deep sadness but there is no blame. It ends like this:

Carrier, friend
Where do you run?

Mercury, the messenger, carrier, traveller. Carrying what is right, what is precise, what is at peace, what is of love.
It is one of the hardest things to be left behind by somebody you love without being bitter about it. To realise that the love that was there when you were together isn’t lost but can be carried on. And that we are all carriers, messengers and even when we are empty handed for a while, at loss, faithless, somebody else will bring the things we felt were lost forever.

Mercury, the planet, is notoriously difficult to see with the naked eye. It stays close to the sun, it never wanders out of the twilight sky. You can only see it shortly after sunset or before sunrise, these inbetween moments when it is neither day nor night. It is said that when Mercury is in retrograde, when it appears to be moving backwards, it is better not to do business, take important decisions or start something new. Mercury retrograde periods are said to cause computers to crash and machines, appliances, and other electronic devices to break down and show signs of wear, requiring urgent repair. I don’t know if that is true or if proper research has shown that that is in fact the case. Things always break down. And get repaired again. Or replaced, when they are beyond repair. And not only things. People, relationships, ideas.
There is a spaceship on its way to Mercury, it was launched last year and will cross 8.5 billion kilometres of space. If all goes well, it will reach its destination in 2025. 8.5 billion kilometres of space. I try to imagine that in the 5 x 4 meters of space I’m sitting in now while writing this. It is too much. I can’t imagine it. But it is still easier to imagine than the space of my thoughts. That other endless universe.

If robots would cry, their tears could only be mercury tears.

18.3.19

Random acts of kindness versus random acts of violence

It was the first day that was longer than the night. Yesterday it counted 11 hours, 59 minutes and 12 seconds. Today the sun rose at 6.58 and set at 19.00. I watched it appear. Then read Rebecca Solnit. “I am, we each are, the inmost of an endless series of Russian dolls; you who read are now encased within a layer I built for you, or perhaps my stories are now inside you. We live as literally as that inside other’s thoughts and work, in this world that is being made all the time, by all of us, out of beliefs and acts, information and materials. Even in the wilderness your ideas of what is beautiful, what matters, and what constitutes pleasure shape your journey there as much as do your shoes and map also made by others.” Then I went for coffee.

A young man asked me if he could join me at my table. All the other tables were occupied by couples and families. Apart from that, my table got more sun than the others so it was the best spot. Of course, I said, si claro. I was deep in my book and he was distracted by his phone so we didn’t exchange more than a few words. When the old man who asks for money for a coffee every morning did his usual round, he gave him some coins. I ordered a second coffee and he finished his, said goodbye and left. When I walked into the bar later to pay my bill, it was payed for already. A small act of kindness that made my morning.

I walked home smiling and still was when I opened my computer and read the newspaper. Breaking news. A man in Utrecht had opened fire in a tram and fled. I tried to get more information but it had just happened and as always the word “terrorism” was doing the rounds already. I checked in with a friend whom I knew was working in Utrecht today. He hadn’t heard the news yet. It is amazing how three countries away or even at the other side of the world you can know what people who are in the middle of something aren’t aware of yet.

I kept an eye on the news. Three people had been killed. Nine were seriously injured, later this number got corrected to five. The mayor of Utrecht said they assumed it was a terroristic attack. I had my doubts. The political meetings and public debate that had been planned because of the upcoming elections were cancelled. Only the Forum for Democracy decided to stick to their public campagne meeting and declared that the immigration policy of the other political parties was to blame. Their leader, Thierry Baudet, said that if in the upcoming elections, this Wednesday, people wouldn’t take this into consideration, these kind of attacks would happen more regularly in the Netherlands. The media showed an interview with a former colleague of the shooter who was still on the run but identified as a 37 year old Turkish man. He said that he used to be a normal guy but the last time he saw him he had a long beard and talked about religion. A journalist on site tried to get a shot of a hearse and this image popped up again and again in the news afterwards. I didn’t understand why that was necessary. At the same time facts about the shooters history were made public. Since 2012 he was a suspect in 9 different cases. He was convicted in 2013 for an attempt to kill his sister in law. Two weeks ago he had to go to court for 3 different cases: bike theft, burglary and rape. He was a heavy drinker and drug user although off and on he would live like a devout moslim. He had a hard time after he got divorced 2 years ago. Still the politicians and officials put the focus on it most probably being a terrorist act. They created an enemy that created fear. And that is the real enemy. Mahatma Gandhi said it wisely: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Hate comes from fear.

I was glued to my screen most of the day. Unconcentrated. Worried in the beginning, irritated later. People were advised to stay inside and public buildings were closed off because the shooter (or shooters?) was still on the run. The authorities raised the terror threat to 5, the highest level. Around 17.00 people were told they could go back outside again.

Only in the evening did I remember the kind man in the morning and how I had been planning to write a story about kindness and the importance of small acts when I was walking home with the smile he gave me, my own smile. It wasn’t the other man who had ruined it, the violent man. It were the politicians and the media. And I had allowed them to.

I am not sure if I can fix it by writing that in a way there is just as much power in a random act of kindness as there is in a random act of violence. I am not sure if it is true. But I think it can be.

17.3.19

Foresight

 
I had a dinner date. I picked him some flowers. He cancelled. I went home and ate the flowers. Pink malva, blue borage, yellow fennel and rapeseed flowers.

4.3.19

polaroid spring


Woman's prayer

Woman's prayer

Ashen sky. On the seashore - a memory.
Birds. Threads. Trust. Souvenirs.
What arms are these for you!
Maria.
Regina.
Barbara.

(the poetry in the titles of my Spotify Discover weekly song list)

2.3.19

A storyteller about storytelling

"What's your story? It's all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself into their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.
Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller´s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the person you've only read about, or the one next to you in bed?
We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment. Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we´ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop. Not a few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when lifeboats are bobbing all around us.
........
We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and to become the storyteller."


- Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

28.2.19

Fishing



My mind wandered off. I was reading how carnival is being celebrated here and was intrigued by "the funeral of the sardine on Ash Wednesday". "Maybe I should go fishing this weekend," I thought but the chances of catching a sardine are small unless you know what you are doing. My fishing experience is limited to building nets out of old lace curtain or improvised fishing rods using branches, fishing thread and a bended piece of metal. Didn't W.G. Sebald write about sardines and their luminous quality after dying in "The Rings of Saturn"? No, not sardines, it was herring. And I found this nice article he wrote about fishing: Gazing into Eternity

Garden feelings

Woke up with garden feelings. Walked to the sea to shake them off. Couldn't. Bought some more.

19.2.19

Alice in Wonderland

It is very possible in this city that you walk home hungry in the light of a supermoon and you pass a tray with small chocolate croissants leaning on a garbage bin asking to be eaten. And you try one and although it isn't as fresh as it was this morning when they were baked, it still tastes like magic.

watching

yes, the sunrise at 7.40 was beautiful but not as beautiful as the attempt of a young father to show his 3 month old daughter the sea 10 minutes afterwards

14.2.19

The heart of a city

(I wrote this last year on the 14th of February, still here, still in love ..... )


I wasn’t raised to live in a city. I was educated by trees and birds and mud and the scent of wet leaves. I hung out at hidden corners in the forest on my own, I knew what berries to eat and what mushrooms to leave alone. In my mind there was a map of the locations of all the chestnut trees in places where no regular walking trail was leading.
I learned not to be afraid of the big grasshoppers jumping around in the fava bean field when I was cutting off the tops of the plants that were almost as tall as I was small. I developed the soft touch necessary to hold last year’s old wrinkled potatoes in my hand without damaging the new young roots and putting them in the small holes my grandfather had dug in the garden. I made ink out of aok galls before I learned to write and I made soup from rainwater and insects and rosebuds before I learned to cook.
I still get a sense of belonging when I see a cornfield. And when I spend time in nature a hole fills up in my heart that I had forgotten was there all the time.

I dream of moving to the countryside. And I could. Easily. There is nothing really that keeps me tied to this city to which I’ve been coming back to in the last three years and I now call my home. Where I no longer lie awake at night because the street noise invades the silence of my room. Where my garden is a square meter slab of concrete with plants hanging from the metal railing and crowding the area around the tiny table and chair I sit on every day around 17.30 to catch the only 10 minutes of straight sunshine filtered by the big plane trees planted all along the busy road.

There is little here of some of the things I always thought would be indispensible for me to feel at ease. But because of that, the little there is is something I cherish immensely and enjoy deeply. The avocado plant that unexpectedly grew out of a seed I threw in some old plant material. The lonely broccoli plant that was part of a group of 10, overcrowding the balcony and not producing anything but leaves so they were discarded apart from one that now, a year after I planted the seedlings, is producing flowers that will seed and might give me more than the 10 plants I started out with. The sound of the birds at night attracted by the street lights. The changing patterns of the tree trunks. The sky that is blue every day even on days when it is grey. The word for blue in a language so different from my mother tongue. Azul. A word like a magic spell.

So why am I still here? It is simple. It is the same old story we walk into again and again.
I fell in love. Head over heels. Love at first sight. A love that grew stronger through time and I still don’t completely understand. A love that was tested, I wasn’t always faithful. I always returned though. But this winter, my third winter here, I seriously started thinking about whether I shouldn’t make a move. Find more green under the blue, find more silence, find more room to grow things. Replant myself. Leave her.

Her.

I am not sure if this city is feminin. My favorite blue here is masculin by language but in other tongues the sea is feminin or neutral. Das Meer. La mer. El mar. I stubbornly adress it as “her” as well.

Barcelona. I learned to pronounce it in the right way, even though saying ‘th” when reading “c” still doesn’t come naturally. I understand more and more of what the locals are saying but my speaking skills are not what I was hoping they would be after having been around for a quarter of a decade. In my conversations with this city it doesn’t matter though. We understand each other somehow. I read her from my balcony daily. I leave my footsteps in her streets in the morning when I walk to the sea. When I need something I find it. Warm winter sweaters folded up in a bag next to the garbage containers. Abandoned plants about to bloom left on the sidewalk. Wine glasses. Books.
We fit each other. We feel comfortable in each other’s company. We get tired of each other now and then. When we aren’t attentive. When we’re caught up in our individual drama’s. Histories. Future planning.

“Maybe I should leave” I thought this morning when I walked through narrow streets on Valentine’s day. But then she put her oddly shaped heart at my feet, like a shooting star. And I fell for it again.

I guess I am learning about my true nature. It isn’t carved in stone. Only sometimes for a moment. For my eyes only. I wasn't raised to live in a city. But I wasn't raised to not live in a city either. I was educated by nature and now I am learning from a place that happens to be a city. And I know it is foolish to start a love affair with a place made out of stone when you really want to be surrounded by fields and forests and mountains. But the longing for the countryside is a vacant plot in my body that is a good nurturing place for sprouting words. So for now I stick to growing small stories. And she is a generous supplier of seeds.

(14-2-2018, Barcelona)

11.2.19

A thought can change in a second

First thought: so sad that somebody buys a tree and discards it. Second thought: how wonderful somebody kept it for so long.

6.2.19

Anticipation


It is the moment before the sun rises that is the most precious one. The clarity and the silence, the world in anticipation of the spectacle that is about to begin. "The most ordinary thing in the whole cosmos." It is the moment when I miss the dog that will appear in the sky tomorrow.

Weather forecast
 
Tomorrow we will see unsettled and unusual weather.
Instead of the sun rising at 05:24, a dog will rise,
a fiery red dog that will climb up through the sky,
wearing an iron chain round its neck,
and it will growl at the clouds
that will hastily make room for him.
At 13:37 he will be at the zenith and bark,
he’ll bend forward and chase everyone inside
                                                           with his furious scowl.
‘The dog is shining! The dog is shining!’ everyone will whisper,
but the dog won’t shine, the dog will yank at his chain
and bare his teeth.
Late in the afternoon he will descend to the horizon and howl.
Everyone will emerge again,
sit down on their benches outside their houses and say:
‘O dog, why are you howling . . . ’
People will want to pat him and console him
or give him something to eat.
But no one will be able to reach him
and everyone will close their eyes and let the howling
wash over them.
At 21:51 the dog will go down and never return.
The day after tomorrow the sun will shine again,
that big, round, dazzling thing that everyone knows,
the most ordinary thing in the whole cosmos,
that had already existed for billions of years before there was any mention
of a sky or a firmament,
and that does nothing but rise, set and shine.
It will be a pleasant day.
But should you wonder, the day after tomorrow, why you’re so sad,
it will be because you miss the dog,
the dog that will appear in the sky tomorrow.

- Toon Tellegen, translation: Judith Wilkinson

Original in Dutch & video of Toon Tellegen reading it here: https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/…/item/…/poem_english

3.2.19

Poetry


On my way to the beach I found a collection of poems for children, left next to a garbage container. Most of them written by well-known Catalan poets, some originally French or German and some very old ones without a known author. The poems describe the world, the seasons, different flowers, professions, animals, the sun and the moon, the village and the city, places in Barcelona, home, humanity, the mountains, games, holidays, the universe, sometimes zooming out, then zooming in again. The idea behind it was to teach children through poetry, “creació humana per excellència”.

Aixecau-vos de matí
i veureu el sol sortir
vermell com una magrana

Get up in the morning
and you will see he sun rise
red as a pommegranate

- Llorenc Riber

I watched it happen. And walked back through Barceloneta, no longer - as my new old book described - smelling of fish, of folded sails, of mildewed boards, but still a mix of colours, green, blue, yellow, red and clothes hanging from washing lines in the narrow streets.

Fortor de peix, de veles plegades, de taulons
amb verdet i la mescla de les colors més fortes
-el verd, el blau, el groc, el vermell- en les portes
i en les robes que pengen posades a assecar.
En colors i en olors la llum tota es desfà.

- Alexandre Plana

You can read the temperature here in a different way. The ladies who lived here when Barceloneta was the home of fishermen were inside. It was a cold morning. I seated myself at the corner table, where I always sit. The waiter brought me a cafe con leche without asking. My internet wasn’t functioning. I asked him for the password. “Poeta bosca 2” he answered. It worked. But I was puzzled. Did that mean wood poet? I looked at the trees on the other side of the square, wondered if the owner of the cafe had a poetic nature himself but since I was online I googled it. “Plaça del Poeta Boscà” popped up. It was the first time I read the name of the square I’ve been spending regular time on and usually refer to as Barceloneta market square, even though there is rarely a market. It didn’t solve the mystery so I googled Boscà and found Joan Boscà, a Catalan poet. His exact date of birth is unclear but he died exactly 430 years before I was born, 21 September 1542. Boscà is most famous for the incorporation of hendecasyllable verses (a hendecasyllable is a line of eleven syllables, used in Greek and Latin poetry), sometimes referred to as “Italian style”, into Spanish. His main subject was love.

Still I didn’t know if he was the Boscà in the password and in the name of the square. I explored the internet once more. He was born in Barcelona but was he born here, in Barceloneta? I don’t remember ever having seen a plaque with his name anywhere. I found a page with the location of literary monuments in the city. Number 6 was situated at the square I was looking out on, dedicated to Joan Boscà. I recognised the image straight away and turned around. I felt foolish. It was too far away to read from my table but there was a text chiseled on the side of the monument, surely his name and details.



I took a closer look. The top layer with his poetry had disappeared almost completely. A combination of erosion and having been used as a giant bench.

It made me wonder how many things there are on my daily walk I have overlooked so far.

On my way home I passed the busstop with the poster of the movie Aqua Man. I smiled. At the Boscà - I am tempted to keep calling it Wood Poet - Square I had just read the last chapter of Grayson Perry’s “The Descent of Man”, a brilliant, funny and wise book about the need to question masculinity and the role of education and conditioning in gender roles. The train station a bit further down was filled with people. I walked inside and checked out the stalls. There were tiny trains everywhere, train tracks, tiny houses and streets. It was a model train fair, completely packed with mainly elderly men.



Next steps (a walk to the COP 26, 2020)

“Some people would rather have wings but we don’t, we have feet. We were born to walk. Scientists say that walking gave us our brain capacity, walking turned us into the human beings we are. Walking made it possible for us to have the desire to fly and to come up with ways to turn our dreams into reality.

Walking made us fly. We can go anywhere. Still the easier it becomes to move through this world, the more disconnected we seem to get from it. We have to land again. Get close to the things. Be part of the world. Walking teaches us where we are, who we are. A slow speed makes our brain work fast. Makes us see more. Be more. And best of all: walking makes time disappear.”


People sometimes ask me if I have a next walk planned. I hadn’t so far. The last long solo walk resulted in a neck hernia I am still recovering from and spine problems my manual therapist thought were caused by a car crash. I don’t regret the price I payed for doing my extreme walking projects, and not being able to walk intensely and carry my house on my back gave me the opportunity to write more, teach more, be at home in one place and think about next steps slowely. 
My feet have been itching though. And my mind as well.

After my first long walk from Amsterdam to the Nomadic Village in the south of France (2013) and shortly before going on the second one, a 1346 km. walk through Europe during which I had wonderful encounters and conversations with all sorts of people, I wrote an article for the Dark Mountain Project. The quote I started with is from that article. It finished with these words:

“Here I am. Sometimes I don’t see the sky all day because my city apartment is on the ground floor. Sometimes I don’t see my friends for weeks because they have to earn money. Because I have to earn money. Sometimes it feels as if the only way I add meaning to the world is because I pay taxes. Sometimes I follow the rules and feel unhappy, I go through the motions and feel like I wasted my time. People tell me that this is how the world works. Some of my good friends even tell me that. And if that makes sense, then walking the world in a three-piece walking suit might make even more sense.

I’ll get my things together.”


Some things have changed in the meantime. I can see the sky from my desk and I live in walking distance from the sea. I mean “normal” walking distance. Half an hour. I go there most mornings before sunrise to be able to survive the rest of the day in the middle of the noisy city.
Some things haven’t changed.

In 2015 I walked from Barcelona to the COP21, the big Climate Conference in Paris. In a business suit, without planning ahead, surviving on the road, sleeping outside, talking to people I met by chance. There was an excited atmosphere when I reached my goal. Everybody in the city had the same focus. In a different way though. The politicians pretended they were making change, doing something about the ecological crisis we’re dealing with. The activists were working hard to do something about the same problem, calling to attention that all the politicions do is make fake promises and no real action is being taken.

I still don’t know if my participation in all of that made any difference and if I did it for the right reasons. When I arrived in Paris I had the feeling that being on the road slowly to make connections and put my trust in the world was more important than my direct protest in the streets of Paris. It was important to walk towards a goal though. That particular goal.

The COP26 in 2020 is likely to be a critical summit, marking both the full adoption of the Paris Treaty and the date by which countries are expected to come forward with strengthened national action plans. It will also come just weeks after the next US election.
I’ve got the feeling that since the COP21 there has been a heightened awareness of the serious problem we find ourselves in because people are starting to realise the world as we know it will come to an end if nothing will be done. Most people don’t really know what to do though. And it isn’t that simple, especially not when the people in power don’t really work on it and every day more news is being published about pollution, species disappearing, ice melting, forests being cut down. There is “climate change depression” and “environmental melancholia” but there are also a lot of people who don’t worry too much, believing there will be a solution even though it is probably already too late for that. What is promising though is that the new generation seems to be more willing to take action. Promising and sad as well, because they aren’t responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. I know that I will probably die before the shit really hits the fan and I had a pretty carefree childhood but when you are growing up today, your future looks quite bleak.

Maybe it is time to get myself ready again. To see what the state of the world (or at least a part of it) is from a closer view. To hear what people have to say.

November 2020 I will be in the city where the COP 26 is being held. Somewhere in Europe. I’ll walk from my hometown. I’ll report from the road. This time I’ll have more time to prepare myself, but I’ll walk as unplanned and vulnerable as always. I’ll keep you posted.


(1 December 2015, Barcelona - Cop21 Paris, Fontainebleau Forest)

Man


"masculinity needs to be questioned"

- Grayson Perry, The Descent of Man




28.1.19

Then approach nature

"Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest regions of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night's quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if it is given to you to respond to this serious question with a loud and simple "I must", then construct your life according to this necessity; your life right into its most inconsequential and slightest hour must become a sign and witness of this urge. Then approach nature. Then try, like the first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose."

- R.M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet