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


27.1.19

Living

I missed them. Usually they are there before I arrive but today the terrace was empty. Sunday. Could it be church? I don’t recall them not being here on Sundays. Was there a special religous holiday? A historical Catalan event to be celebrated? Or were they gathered elsewhere, drinking coffee and exchanging the latest local news? Celebrating somebodies birthday? Welcoming a new child? I hope it wasn’t a funeral. It wasn’t out of the question. It never is anyway, but some of those ladies must be close to 90.

There was a young woman sitting at one of the other tables. She was skyping on her phone, talking loudly in Turkish. First to a young man, then to an old woman. She sounded as if she was crying - not the young woman, the old one - but it could also just be her voice. Every few sentences she ended with “insjallah”. The young woman answered all her questions, comforted her, laughed, held her phone up and showed her where she was sitting. They talked forever. And when the voice on the other side had gone she turned on some music. Cheerful and melancholic at the same time. The way she felt. And when the song was finished she left.

I stayed. The sun had come out. I started and finished Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It shouldn’t be read in haste and I didn’t but I read single letters so many times off and on that it was nice to float through it from beginning to end. When I checked Facebook I was reminded of the birthday of a friend. It is his 30st birthday today. But he died almost 2 years ago. His Facebook page is still active. Some of his friends left a message. “Until we meet again.”

I don’t think we will meet again. But he is keeping me company, just like all the other friends who aren’t here anymore. It is the saddest thing, that death teaches you most about life. And about love, which is just as difficult, according to Rilke: “ …. as for death, which is difficult, no explanation, no solution, has yet been discovered for love, which is difficult too: there are no directions, no path. And for these two problems that we carry around with us in a sealed packet and hand on without opening, it will always be impossible to locate a common rule, resting on consensus. But to the same extent that we begin as individuals to venture onto life, these great things will encounter us, on our own, at ever closer quarters.”

26.1.19

Dreamers


A farmer

It is not what I would have answered as a kid. To be honest I don’t have very strong memories of what I wanted to be when I was growing up. Apart from being a writer maybe, but I think as a child I didn’t really consider it a profession, I just dreamt of writing a book and even made some attempts. With my best friend I came up with a title for the book we wanted to write and we made a start but we never finished it. The title was “The land behind the horizon”. I think we were 8 or maybe 9 years old. We wrote a few chapters and then our interest went somewhere else. I’m pretty sure I kept it somewhere, probably on my mother’s attic where by now it must have been eaten by mice.

It might have been “vet” or “nurse”. And when I started to realise I was a pretty smart kid and my teachers were telling me that I could “do better” than nurse, I thought about being a doctor or a surgeon. But when I had to choose my subjects in secondary school I dropped all the classes that leaned towards science. I chose all the languages and history and added maths and economics because I thought they might come in handy somehow. Why not geography and biology? Looking back from where I am now that would have made sense. I could have become a forester if I would have followed a different path, a “boswachter” as the profession of somebody managing a forest is called in the Netherlands, “bos” is the word for “forest” and “wachter” is somebody who waits, looks over, guards. Waiting in a forest, waiting on a forest.

But I never really dreamt of being a forester. It is just one of those professions I think I would have liked. I kept dreaming of writing. And since I still didn’t consider becoming a writer an option, maybe because I was stimulated by my parents to take the opportunity to study and aim for a proper profession, I decided to become a journalist and be educated accordingly at the Academy for Journalism. But again my teachers intervened in my way of thinking. They told me that it might not be the proper profession for me since I was too shy and it would also be a shame if I wouldn’t go to university. Why not study history? It was just as good a preparation for a future as a journalist.

History it was. Six and a half years in which I completely wandered off from my original plan to study contemporary history and got hooked on Medieval history, studied Celtic languages and culture, followed as many classes as possible in other departments to learn more about philosophy and archeology and finally wrote my thesis about death and funeral rites in the late Middle Ages. Being an artist was never something I considered. Art didn’t exist for most of my childhood and only when I moved to a big city to study did it slowly seep into my life. I never became a journalist and I can officially call myself Master of History, I’ve got a document saying so. But when I became an artist I realised nobody can be a master of history. Some people try, some people seem to succeed in changing the course of history but in the end they are swallowed up by it.

I became an artist. But if I ever have to choose another profession I want to be a farmer. Grow things.


A thinker

I met Konrad a few days before midsummer. I had been walking since the beginning of April and had almost reached Austria. The road I was following had two flows of travellers. There were the bikers and occassional walker on the "Radweg", the bike trail, and there were people in canoes in the Danube. They hardly ever mixed. Two seperated worlds. Different kind of people. Water people and earth people.

A man paddled up to me when I was standing on the bank. "So you are the famous walker?" He said. "They were talking about you in the village where I stayed."
I suspect people talk about me but it hardly ever catches up on me. Early today I had been talking to a man and his dog. Actually I was talking to a biker who was curious about my walk and the man with the dog walked up and joined us. The biker went on and I walked together with the dog man for a while until he had to take a left turn to get home. I suspect he was the source. I smiled. I like turning into a story. And I like it being a story about some woman who walks, somebody without a name, a story that will lead a life of its own. The main result of my walk lies in there. In bringing a new story into the world. Something I can't control. Something I won't have any documentation of.

Konrad had left from Ulm and had been planning to paddle to Vienna but he missed his wife and was thinking about returning earlier, finish at Linz. "The Danube will still be there next year" he said. He was filled with wonder about his journey. He never had the opportunity to go on a long trip on his own. Until last year he had been a farmer and a teacher, teaching about farming. "I think we create the world by moving through it," he said. He told me about the floating feeling that remained with him in the evening after he got out of his canoe. Sitting at a table eating dinner, drinking beer and still feeling the movement of the waves, the body remembering the water. I asked if it was still there in the morning but being stable in a bed or on an air mattress always removed the wonderful feeling, he said. He tried to be in the moment but he found it hard to be there, he had the feeling he was always in front of it or behind it. Maybe it is the water, I wondered. On the water you are always in movement. When you walk you can stand still. Your own body determines your speed. On the water you aren't in charge. Maybe you think you are but you aren't.
My leg injury came up, he showed me the same plant I had been using. Beinheil. Comfrey. He used it for his back.

We talked books. His one book on the road was Marquez' 100 years of solitude. Last winter it was the first winter he was without a job. Retired. He had read Tolstoy's War and Peace and Joyce's Ulysses. He had been thinking about time a lot. It seemed to pass so much quicker now he had so much of it on his hands. "How is it possible" he asked "that I leave at 8, I paddle a bit, look around me, and suddenly three hours have passed?" "What happened in that time? Where did it go?" I couldn't answer him.

In the meantime a man from another village had joined us. He was just sitting there, listening to us. Having a break in his walk. I wondered what he would tell in his village later on.

For some reason we got into talking about the big world matters. Politics. Refugees. Borders. But we were better at the small matters, the ones that were closer to us at the moment.

One thing that bothered him was how during his life he had always been striving for recognition. And still. "Maybe even in this conversation" he said. He was a very honest man.
Maybe we always do, even when we aren't aware of it. But the border between sharing something or wanting something, giving attention or taking attention, is a thin line. I am struggling with it all the time. Even in this writing. Especially in my writing. Choosing what to say and what to leave unsaid. And do I really prefer to be the nameless woman who walks through Europe with a strange outfit over being the artist in the three piece walking suit who is working on small projects on her way and talks to people about living your life in a different way?

The man from the village had walked on. We moved on too. But for a long time afterwards I thought about our small meeting. And I remembered another one, earlier in my walk.

A musician

Late in the afternoon, on my way to Fulda, I passed the Kabachhof in Heblos, a farm just outside a small village. I had been accompanied by St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius in the past days. The Ice Saints had done their name justice. The nights had been cold and the days rainy.
I had been searching the Internet shortly before, to see if I could find a warm place for the night. The Kabachhof was on my route, they were renting out rooms that were out of my financial reach but they also offered sleeping places in the hay.
The farmer was a man in his late thirties or early forties. He introduced himself with a firm handshake. “Kurt”. He told me there was hardly any hay yet, but he was happy to find me a mattress and I would have the whole attic of the big barn to myself. He showed me around. It was a magic place. It smelled of hay and whereever I looked, I saw big balls of blue thread. In small piles, big piles, in boxes, in corners, inbetween the collection of old bikes. Kurt proudly showed me his bikes. There were a few dozens of them, dusty and immobile in the middle of the barn. He was planning to make something out of them but he didn't know what yet. So much to do, so little time. The daily labour, taking care of holiday guests, odd jobs like building a room in a corner of the attic. He pointed at the room. I asked him what it was for, expecting an answer like "tools" or "storage" but he smiled shyly and answered “I will show you".

We went inside, he turned on the light, there was something hidden under a plastic cover. He took it off and revealed a beautiful grand piano. Naked though, without the keys and no paint or lacquer. Some pieces of wood had been replaced. The woodcarving was delicate. The piano keys, with ivory top-layer were under another cover. The farm would celebrate its 50th birthday in summer, he was hoping to have the room ready by then. Nicely done, windows overlooking the field. The grand piano restaurated and covered in a new colour. He didn't want the new lacquer to be shiny, it wouldn't fit a farm. A matte dark colour. A blue-green. He was learning how to do the refinishing himself which wasn’t an easy skill to learn but he was keen on doing all the work himself.
He explained how the farm had been situated in the village until his father wanted to have more space. They moved the complete building. And now he was building a small room for his big dream in the middle of it.
Kurt had learned to play the piano young but had stopped when he was 13. When he was 18 he found a book with music by Konstantin Wecker, a well-known German singer-songwriter and composer. It got him playing again, he described how he would play firmly, almost aggresively because it fitted the texts, it was his way of dealing with his emotions as a young angry man.
He looked for the music stand. It was his favorite piece. Beautifully carved leaves. I asked him if I could take a photo of him with the stand and he agreed, but only if he could pose in front of some big hay bales. He was a farmer first.

Afterwards he built me a small room without walls in the middle of the attic. A mattress, a table and a chair, a cable so I could use electricity. He fetched me a bottle of home made apple juice. It was only 8 'o clock but I was freezing cold already. I sat at the table, ate bread with cheese and some sausage I had been gifted by a butcher the day before. I got into my sleeping bag before it was even dark. Surrounded by blue balls of thread, with the grand piano as my neighbour. I hardly slept because of the cold but I didn't mind. I was in a dream anyhow.

I got up early. Kurt refused to take any money. I told him I was hoping to come back one day and hear him play the piano. He smiled. “I am not a great piano player” he said. “But I am a decent farmer.” And then he was gone before I had even turned around myself to leave. A farmer’s life is a busy life. There’s no room to waste time on things that don’t really matter, like saying goodbye.

A reader

Frans hosted the Sideways Festival in and around his farm. We had walked all the way there from the west of Belgium, around 360 kilometers. A changing group of artists, on the road during weekdays and on site in the weekend, organising a festival in a different location and with a different content every end of the week. I was a walking librarian, “hired” by the two artists who had developed the Walking Library, a collection of books being carried around Belgium and selected according to the question: what book would you take with you on a long walk or to a deserted island if you could bring only one book? The books were catalogued according to the Dewey classification that is being used by official libraries. We had loaned books to our fellow walkers, read to random people on the road and sometimes to nature as well, reading a poem to a river or a short essay to a tree. We had invited people to donate books and add them to the library and there were writing sessions and performances.

We set up the library in an open barn that had some wooden shelves on the wall. Farmer Frans told us that he sometimes used the hidden spot behind the barn to do some quiet reading after the day’s work had been done. Frans shared our love for John Seymour who had written The New Book of Complete Self-Sufficiency which is a kind of manual but he had also written The Fat of the Land, a book we carried in the Walking Library and tells the story of how Seymour acquired all his knowledge, a story about trial and error, about a family deciding to live off the grid and how often it wasn’t them deciding how to deal with the natural world around them but how the natural world invited them to take certain decisions.

Zutendaal, the village where Frans’ farm was located, was the end of our journey. Most people were travelling back to other countries, some to other corners of Belgium. I stayed around two more days after everybody had left and on the last day I walked with Frans around the farm. It was a warm September day. Today, many years after, I don’t remember what he exactly looked like. But I remember what he said. “I envy you”, he said. “I hardly ever have the opportunity to leave the farm and see what is happening in the outside world. When you are walking there are so many new things happening, every day is different, around every corner there is something new waiting for you.” I didn’t know then that I would spend the next years walking. But I had been leading a pretty nomadic life in the years leading up to that first long walk. I sometimes longed for a place I would feel so much at home that it would make me stay. I didn’t tell Frans I envied him. I told him  that in a way there wasn’t a big difference between his life and mine. In his garden the plants looked different every day. He never knew what he would see exactly when walking around the corner of his house on the way to do his daily routine. There is a repetition in the walking as well. Not only in the steps but also in the things you encounter, the things that happen, the things you have to do every day. “Every day you walk around your farm it is a different walk” I told him. And I thought about that when years later I wrote that all my walks are in fact part of the same walk and that in every new walk all the old walks are present.

-------------

(Thanks for reading! That is what supports me most. If you'd be interested in supporting me in a different way as well though, take a look at my Patreon Page: https://www.patreon.com/moniquebesten. Even $1 a month is highly appreciated.)

24.1.19

to bumble

 
“I love a little bumble in the morning” I had planned to write and post, thinking about bumble bees bumbling around. You have to be careful about what you write though. What does it really mean, to bumble and was that really what I was doing? When I came home after my morning meeting with the sea I googled “bumble” and my screen filled up with links to a dating app I didn’t know about. The logo matched what I had found on the sidewalk. Bumble, unlike other dating apps, is focused on shifting power to the women, who are required to send the first message in the case of matching with the opposite sex. A feminist Tinder. I hadn’t really meant that kind of bumbling when I  read the word.
I continued my search. To bumble. “Move or act in an awkward or confused manner.” Maybe not either. “There is something terrible about seeing others go about life with rational deliberateness while we continue to bumble around.” That was more what I was thinking of, although I am not sure if how I read it is how it is meant. “Electrons bumble down the wire, about the speed of spreading honey, they say.” That one is lovely.

So how about my own bumbling? Although with some deliberateness - I walk the same route most mornings and always leave half an hour before sunrise - it often has the speed of spreading honey, I stop when there is something that asks for attention and there are always many things. And once at the beach there are so many reasons to linger and observe and move around slowly.
It is a date. A date with the sea. Masculine here, el mar. And I am not sure if I am in power. Yes, I choose when I meet and I choose how long I stay and I choose when I leave but I always come back, no matter if she’s rough or distant or cold.

20.1.19

the woman without baggage

she did nothing
and she did it with care


On the nature of daylight


The light was on when I woke up at 7 and I turned it off to enjoy the darkness before going outside and see the start of the day. When I got up half an hour later it was still dark and when I walked through the house I heard the rain outside. It hadn’t rained like that in maybe more than a month. Not a good day to walk to the sea. I stepped outside on the balcony instead and watched the neon lights of the 24 hour corner shop changing colour every ten seconds or so. Its noisy display of light is the opposite of the Turrell installation that is on my regular route, a dark corridor bathing in a deep shade of blue with a red circle resembling the sun and golden light surrounding the closed entrance. The beach would be empty today and the sun would be invisible.
The street lights flickered, a police car drove by, the flowers of the Cosmos moved gently in the wind. From the far end of the still silent street an enormous vehicle drove up and halted in front of the red traffic light. A  yellow truck on big wheels with an extendable metal construction on a heavy platform. I read the letters printed across the metal arm. “El Rayo Amarillo”, the Yellow Ray, entering the city in the last minutes of dawn, the yellow ray still in folded state.

What to do if I wasn’t going on a walk? I decided to start the day by watching Mary Oliver again, reading “Wild Geese”. I am not as huge a fan as many people are, but I do admire her and when I read about her death last Wednesday I remembered the poem and listening to her inbetween studying for my Spanish exam I realised what I knew already, how the soft animal had missed the early sunrise walks because the obedient human being had walked to school every morning to learn new grammar rules. The same distance but in a different direction. The same intention: to embrace something new. But to be at the edge of the day in a state of wonder is better for the soul than to be on the edge of B1 level wondering whether the form for to be (for which there are two words in Spanish) in “to be dead” should be the one for a temporary or a permanent state.

Speaking is the hardest part. For me. Not for most people. That is why most people tell me I should  speak more. And that is why I sometimes wonder if I am trying hard enough. If I care enough.

What is the best way to get somewhere? Is there only one way to show that you care? How do you learn? What is the role time plays in all of this? Are detours distractions from reaching a goal or do they help to understand what it really is you want so when you reach your goal you are not lost, you know where you are, where you need to be?

My goal isn’t to speak Spanish. My goal is to know the language. And speaking is only a part of it. I go about it slowly. With care. Con cuidado. I sometimes try to do it in the way I am told I should. But I am at loss if I have to remember words I can’t connect with. I have to get familiar with them. Be able to move around in them. Allow them to make them mine. With some it is easy. Miedo. Mano. Cielo. Andar. Izquierda. Amorar. Possibilidad. Morir. Vivir. Trasladar. Others need to be unstuck from words I know in a different language. Even though I have been asked hundreds of times if I want the milk in my coffee “caliente”, I still haven’t managed to automatically think “warm” - simply because the english “cold” is closer to the spanish word for warm than “warm” is - but I need 2 seconds to realise what my mind is doing before I answer “sí”.

I wish I could speak more in depth with people who don’t speak any of the languages I master. Sometimes we apologise in each other’s language of choise at the same time but I do think it is my responsibility to learn the language that is spoken here, not theirs to learn English. It will come. Bear with me. I am getting there slowly. Because I love learning this language. But I need to do it in my own way and in my own speed.

Going to school again teaches me many things apart from grammar and gives me an insight into other things apart from this new language. Some things I knew already but are good to be reminded of. That you should never make your students feel ignorant and small and get angry when they ask a question you think they should know the answer to. They wouldn’t ask it if they knew the answer. That is why they ask you. You should be glad they ask.
When you study a language you get points for using the past tense in the right way. You don’t get points for trying to inform yourself about the political and social situation or getting more knowledge about history and culture. I’ll never forget how one of the students asked “Who is this Franko guy that keeps popping up?”
There are better ways to teach than how it is done traditionally. I thought it was quite ironical that during the exam we had to read a text about researchers explaining how exercises and homework have a much better result when it stimulates the students’ creativity when I had a hard time some weekends trying to write down the recipy for tortilla, my dream holiday or my hobbies. I was quite eager to write but not about those subjects.

One of the things I struggled with was dealing with the labels. Having to label things and being labeled. “Who do you think has the most interesting life?” The musician who tours around in Europe and dreams of being on tv, the head of a language school who spends his evenings reading books and writes for the local newspaper, the mother of 3 kids who tries to find more time for her yoga practise or the digital nomad who just spent three months in Thailand and is about to fly to America? I know I get myself into trouble if I say (again) “I don’t know. It is all equally interesting, all in a different way.” So I try to just choose one. Because it makes things easier. And learning Spanish is already hard enough. Or being asked (again): “How is that in your country?” Or being told I make a mistake when I say “my boyfriend” because I’m married. Or having to read examples about couples that are always a man and a woman. With a son playing football and a daughter in a beautiful dress.

Still, it is a good school. And I don’t rule out I’m a bit peculiar in how I approach things. I’d recommend it to anyone. I learned a lot. And there is still a lot to learn. But I might skip a semester and read Spanish books and newspapers and respond my friends who write me in Spanish without using Google Translate. And spend time in remote villages where there is only the choice between Spanish and hand & feet and I won’t feel sad when I can’t express my opinions about “important matters” because the important matter will be to be there and talk about small daily events.

During the exam I got distracted. The video we were shown and had to answer detailed questions about had a soundtrack. It was Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight”. Often when I listen to his music I think that it is too beautiful to be good. Too easy to be drawn into. This particular song has been extensively used in cinema and is probably best known from the movie “The Arrival” but it is already 15 years old and last year, when The Blue Notebooks - a protest of the Iraq War - was re-released, he made his own visual interpretation for the song that made its debut on this album, in a video starring Elisabeth Moss.
I am always suspicious when something is very beautiful and seemingly easy to fill your head or heart or both but the only test to know its value is to see if you return to it. Which I did. And still do. When I listen to it I get lost in it. I listen to it when I need to disappear for a few minutes. Which isn’t wise during an exam. “Fuck this exam” I thought, probably in English, because the only time Spanish has popped up unconsciously so far has been in my dreams the week before the exam and when I have to speak French - because it is the other language in which my words don’t flow fluently. I then got distracted by this thought for a bit but I knew the value of the exam was that it had made me study so I returned my attention to the video and got lost in the music again. I don’t know how much I missed, maybe not even 10 seconds. Maybe the answer to one question. Maybe I’ll think about it more if I’ll fail the exam by 1 point. Or maybe not.

There is another video that accompanies this song. It is in black in white, it shows the man who composed the song and the musicians who make it. I know the correct way to say it is “play the song” but what I see is how they make it. With their hands and with their eyes. Out of nothing. There is no mystery about how it is being made. You see the musicians and their instruments. The instrument cases. The composer behind the glass window. The studio equipment. I know they will play it perfectly but every time I watch it I feel the concentration and I get slightly nervous, afraid they will make a mistake. Even though I know they won’t. It is a video. I’ve watched it at least 10 times before.
You see how their eyes make contact, you see the trust in Richter’s face, the turmoil hidden in his fingertips.

In the video a word is added to the title of the song. Entropy. Entropy refers to the idea that everything in the universe eventually moves from order to disorder and entropy is the measurement of that change. It comes from the Greek “entropia”, transformation or a turning toward. For Richter the song is a reflection on his own childhood, it is about the fantasy space that children sometimes retreat into. “An alternate reality of safety, quiet and sanity. I never imagined that the piece would have a life outside this context. It was so personal.”

A lot of personal things are universal but you still have to be a master to transform them in a way that turns it into a piece of art.

Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_YHE4Sx-08&list=RDb_YHE4Sx-08&start_radio=1&t=0

And Mary Oliver reading Wild Geese: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv_4xmh_WtE

12.1.19

Art and nature

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before. Or maybe I had but I had failed to recognise it. My first thought was that is was new, although I couldn’t imagine it was. And the bronze placque in the street told me it had been here even before I visited the city for the first time, more than two decades ago. Deuce Coop, 1992. James Turrell. I remember my first Turrell experience. It was in a room that seemed to be completely dark when I entered from the brightly lit exhibition hall but when my eyes got used to the dark, slowly the space started to come together, revealing a triangular, wedgeshaped room, or more like a big alcove, bathing in soft blue light. The light source was nowhere to be seen. Time slowed down. It was like being in a dream.
I had seen his installations before, but only on photos. They hadn’t made a very big impression but being in that room I understood why. Without the experience, without actually seeing the light, there is merely theory and esthetics. You can understand its meaning and imagine its impact but you don’t really see.
On my wishlist is a work of his that is permanently accesible in the dunes in the Netherlands. Celestial Vault is a place to gaze at the sky. A bowl in the shape of an ellipse, an artificial crater, made out of sand. The slopes on the inside are covered with grass and in the middle two people can lie on a natural stone bench. In this position, looking up, the sky seems to be a vault. Light and space themselves become the objects and the act of observing makes the observer experience his act.

It was the yellow light creeping under the door that had drawn my attention here, at dawn, walking through Barcelona. As if there was a secret inside. And because the doors had long narrow openings in them I could look inside and see the blue light in there, the red round shape high up in the space, symbolising an oculus (a circular window or opening, which is often said to symbolize light itself, or the life-giving sun), the analogue for the pupil of an eye. Turrell uses the oculus a lot in his work.

I couldn’t linger long. The sunrise wouldn’t wait. I continued walking in the blue morning light and I arrived at the beach just before it appeared. I had seen this before. But never before twice in a day.







11.1.19

roots

how long?
it might have been three years
or three weeks
time didn’t matter that much
but at the end of them she made a decision
she crafted it out of wood
with a knife she once bought from a red haired female blacksmith
it looked like a table
small enough to fit on her back, just in case
big enough to seat two people, just in case
but it was really a table for one
she bought a table cloth
and embroidered the edges
they almost reached the floor

time had passed
it might have been three years
or three weeks
it didn’t matter that much
she sat at her table
and made a new decision





















(from: the woman without baggage, part 2)

8.1.19

Wildlife


After the sumptuous holidays the rats you find close to the overloaded garbage containers are enormous.

6.1.19

Kings and queens


The homeless were still asleep. In the hollow between the tall buildings where the fundaments of the old city wall are still visible two persons were huddled up in a red and a blue sleepingbag. Next to the entrance of one of the buildings a tent occupied the porch. It was 8 ‘o clock. 17 minutes before sunrise.

I crossed the big road and followed a sea gull. He was a resident here and I guess in a way I am as well. I chose the right side of the street. The left side. The side that said “RESIDENTS”.
A big black dog was waiting outside the corner bar for his boss to finish his drink. An old woman had just finished scrubbing the sidewalk in front of her home and emptied the bucket in the gutter. The water ran in my direction, away from the sea.

The golden light flooded the buildings. I was too late. But it didn’t matter. As long as the sea would still be there. I tried to imagine arriving one morning and see nothing but a muddy basin with half dead fishing gasping for air in big pools of leftover seawater but I couldn’t really.

And there it was. Wild today. A big cruise ship balancing on the thin line.

There was a new addition to the sand sculptures. Tres Reyes Majoos. The faulty extra “o” didn’t matter. The kings looked splendid, carrying their gifts and holding plastic bottles that kept the wind away from the candles inside. In the center, Homer Simpson had passed out on a comfortable sofa, an empty beer bottle in his hand, one of his feet leaning on a dog. Next to his head there was a phone and on the other side of the sofa, a small table with a vase on it. The flower in the vase was real. All the rest was made out of sand. The belt that held up the trousers, the dial phone, the folds in the sofa, Homer’s open mouth, the dog’s tail standing upright because the heavy shoe crushed his body, the curls in the beards of the Kings.

The Meter of Shame had been reset. 2019: 0. No mentioning of the 2242 drowned refugees in 2018 or the 3116 in 2017.
It smelled like fire on the beach. And it was hazier then normal. When I walked down the steps back into Barceloneta I saw the dark clouds. An apartment on the top floor of a building was covered in smoke. The street was blocked. Three fire trucks tried to get everything under control.

Around the corner it smelled like freshly baked bread again. All over the city people were starting to line up in front of the bakeries now to get their 3 Kings Cake. They arrived yesterday, the Kings. I hadn’t seen them but I accidentally had tried to cross the central part of the city when the parade was about to start and I only realised my mistake when I saw more and more people walking in the same direction I was walking in, carrying step ladders. When the Kings arrive the sidewalks are so cramped that the only way to see something is to be there an hour in advance or bring your own stairs.
Like in other years there had been some discussion beforehand about Melchior, the black King. He is often played by a white person using black make up which of course doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the Netherlands there is a similar discussion happening before Saint Nicholas which is more serious though. Saint Nicholas assistants, the Black Peters, have also been played for decades by fair skinned people wearing black make-up but what is worse is that they are his servants and they are portrayed as unintelligent, silly characters, punishing children who haven’t behaved well enough during the year. At least Melchior is a King, the King of Arabia and equal to the other two, Balthazar who according to the legend ruled Tarse and Egypt and Caspar, King of Sheba.

The terrace at the market square was still quiet. The old women were already there, they always arrive when the doors open at 9. The waiter greeted them. “Buenes dias reinas!” The Queens of Barceloneta. They indeed looked like they deserved that title.