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2017              BIOGRAPHY

Born in 1970 in an industrial town in Holland, Serge van Duijnhoven came to literature via post-industrial culture, through an interest in nightlife (The Palace of Sleep, 1993) and techno (Poets Don’t Dance, 1995). Not content simply to publish his poems, he performs them live, accompanied by his literary group, against a backdrop of electronic music and video images. He loves to combine words and music, and has included CDs along with some of his works of fiction and non-fiction. He is the founder of the artistic magazine MillenniuM, a contributor to various Belgian and Dutch periodicals (e.g. de Morgen, De Groene Amsterdammer, Vrij Nederland). Van Duijnhoven worked as a war-correspondent in Sarajevo, won the “Nova Malekodonia” prize (1995) and was one of the passengers on board the “Literature Express Europe 2000”.

SvD in his Brussels street amidst the Marollen. Photographer: Bart Azare

SvD in his Brussels street amidst the Marollen. Photographer: Bart Azare

Currently the author lives and works in Brussels and Cannes as a senior cinema critic for the International Feature Agency as well as for his own company Cinema Redux. So far, the author has published sixteen books of poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction. His latest works are a book about the renowkn French cult hero Serge Gainsbourg (Bittersweet), a lyrical account of a poet redescovering the area of his youth (What I See I Cannot Be, with   photos of L.J.A.D. Creyghton), and a CITYBOOK based in Yerevan, Armenia, called Cemetery Of The Alphabet. Serge resided in Yerevan during the spring of 2012 as a writer in residence during the opening ceremonies of the Unesco event Yerevan World Book Capital. Together with his band Poets Don’t Dance and the Nairi Music Ensemble, he gave a concert (From  Chaos To Hope) in the Kommunitas Chamber Music Hall on the Armenian National Day of the Genocide April 24th.

 

fotograaf: Saskia Vanderstichele

CONTACT

sergevanduijnhoven@skynet.be

Websites:

http://www.sergevanduijnhoven.wordpress.com

http://www.nieuwamsterdam.nl/sergevanduijnhoven

http://www.facebook.com/serge.vanduijnhoven

http://www.lyrikline.org/index.php?id=162&L=1&author=sd00&show=Poems&cHash=954c076381

http://www.citybooks.eu/nl/artiest/p/serge-van-duijnhoven

http://www.cinemaredux.wordpress.com

http://www.labforculture.org/members/serge-van-duijnhoven

http://www.youtube.com/sergevanduijnhoven/videos

http://70mmvideos.com/bollywood/index.php?video_id=YUg9SSrCR3s&page=5&tag=Duijnhoven

http://www.reverbnation.com/dichtersdansenniet

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dichters-Dansen-Niet/143722905727756?ref=ts&fref=ts

http://www.myspace.com/dichtersdansenniet

Serge by Rens van Mierlo 2011

INTERNATIONAL BOOKINGS

The Dutch Foundation for Literature – Mr Thomas Moehlmann –  t.moehlmann@letterenfonds.nl

PO Box 16588
1001 RB Amsterdam
The Netherlands

t +31 20 520 73 00
f +31 20 520 73 99

All texts gathered in this blog are copyrighted by law
© Serge van Duijnhoven, 2013

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Following the initiative of Yerevan UNESCO World Book Capital City , citybooks touched down in Yerevan, Armenia, one of the oldest cities in the world. Serge van Duijnhoven travelled to this city, and lived there for a month in the spring of 2012. Read the story that he wrote from the dusty and sorrowful capital at 40 miles distance from the top of Mount Ararat:

 Cemetery of the Alphabet

1.
The dusty city of Yerevan already blazes under the morning sun. This sprawling city of 1.1 million, with its hovels, dens, flats and avenues, situated on a gently sloping plain, is set against the glistening peaks of the Little Ararat and the Big Ararat. The sunlight reflected off the ice and snow blanketing the summits – reaching 4 kilometres and 5 kilometres high, respectively – creates a diffuse haze. Though the Ararat is the heart and soul of the Armenian nation, this heart has been brutally torn from its body by the Turks, who have kept the border with Armenia hermetically sealed for more than a century. It serves as a source of emotion for the Armenian people which is sweet and bitter in equal measure: the mountain symbolising their soul and bliss can only be enjoyed from afar. (…)

to read further: http://www.citybooks.eu/en/cities/citybooks/p/detail/cemetery-of-the-alphabet

Yerevan

photographer: Pieter-Jan De Pue for the CITYBOOKS project Yerevan – http://www.citybooks.eu/en/cities/p/detail/yerevan

DISBANDING, DISMANTLING, DISOWNING

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Rub out the sleep, God does not listen.

The rumours go deep, the fear is a chutzpah.

It takes you to miss you, what you say to your regret.

Crumple up the ego, pickled sins.

Recognise your shortcomings, ease your conscience.

Insure one’s love, slow down your gallop.

Take the bosses for a ride, pupate into another shape.

Translate the mono-dialogue, keep all the rest to yourself.

Proclaim the days, leave who doesn’t deserve.

Alone is not an ending, two not quite a union.

Four is for now, three forever.

Distrust one’s passions, doubt the principles,

Ponder your expressions, retain what touches you.

No-one knows where, nor what is due to him.

No-one knows how, nor how it tastes.

Do not fear the strange, but the familiar.

Distrust the truth, guess at the riddle.

Do not fret about the present, close up in due time.

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poem for WHO TOLD YOU SO?!#2 – Truth vs. Organisation, Eindhoven Art Space

translation: Willem Groenewegen, September 2012

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Listen to the musicalised version of the poem above, by Poets Don’t Dance:

From Sept. 2012 on, this song is available on vinyl. Album: Uitgesproken, Deux Ex Machina, tien dichtersstemmen.

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fotograaf: Igor Freeke

On how I lived and what I did – in these last ten years

(since Oct. 2001)

by means of personal introduction

preliminary assignment for the round table discussions on Oct. 23rd in Jermuk

Armenia Literary Ark

I was married to my Macedonian wife Anica, lived in Brussels – a few years happily. Then mainly worrisome. With lack of confidence, of money, of prospect. And reason slipping away, gradually.

Founded ARARAT FILMS AND MUSIC, together with David Matevossian. Went to the Rotterdam Film Festival to enhance our agency, but was entrapped by the complexity of trying to develop fresh and costly new cinema from the far end of Europe, while originally being a writer with no means but his good will, his alliance of friendship and his naive kind of faith in life.

I wrote a book called Bloodtest, a book about War photography, continued to make music with my band Poets Don’t Dance.

Asked myself why I wrote…. Why do we write? Why does one happen to be or become a writer, or poet? When I had just made my debut with the poetry collection Het Paleis van de slaap, I was asked so most frequently. If you put your nose between the doors of literature, one expects some kind of justification. Poete, vos papiers! Poet, show me your papers! A plumber or a pilot or a seller you do not ask for such justifications. And even by other artists, they are most seldomly required. It can indeed be interpreted as a rude gesture. Hey, Peter, nice to see you play cello, but why do you did become a cello player? The question answers itself through the execution of the trade. I’ve become a cellist, because I … No, listen at times that suite. Why I wanted to become a baker? Man! Taste my bread, and shut up! For writers, however, it all seems to be less self-evident. Hey, author, why did you become a writer of novels? Hey, poet, why do you write poetry? Why , you know?
Sometimes I answer: to keep the child alive in me. The child is the source of all creativity, it’s the Lively, the dawn.

Henry David Thoreau, an American writer from the beginning of last century, including the novel Walden, wrote:
‘Being awake is being alive. I’ve never met someone who was really awake. How could I look into his eyes? We must learn to wake up and stay awake, not by mechanical means, but with an infinite expectation of the dawn, that we should never let down, not even during our most solid sleep. ‘ This was the motto at the beginning of my first book of poetry, published back in 1993.
All people do create when they are young. But most of us stop being or doing so, around the age of puberty. Suddenly one finds it childish, to convey one’s thoughts or emotions to paper, to express them in diverted ways. Some, however, do continue to do so. They are the ones who are most likely to become writers.
Why did the others stop to write, that is what I would like to know. From a certain moment on, I have started to throw the question back in people’s face. Since for me, in these cases, the relevant question is not: “why do I write?” But: “why, as a matter of fact, did you stop doing so?”

Learned by telephone that my good friend the poet Christian Loidl, had died on Dec.16th 2001, after having crashed from one of the windows in his appartment on the third floor. Heard the news only a month later, by word of his compagnion Eva Lavric, once the appartment had been cleared by the police and the investigation into the death of my beloved friend was closed.

Learned the very same evening, also through the phone, of the death of my second father Henny Habing.

Cried, went in a state of hypnosis to the cinema – sneaked in illegally to see Mulholland Drive.

Became the owner of a house in les Marolles, not far from Sablon, and in the meanwhile the owner of two cats – Djambas and Kyra – who immediately found their venerated place in my life circle as the two beloved, magical creatures whom I deeply worship in a heathenly way.

Spent time as writer in residence on the island of Sylt in northern Germany, in between Waddensee and Northsea. Almost got crazy there, slept my way through the month of November. Longing for some light of the sun and human company.

Got into a conflict with my publishing house. Felt deserted. Wanted to kill myself.

Started to work as a receptionist in a hotel in Brussels, in order to get out of debts. Got sacked in that hotel after eight months of work. Found the same kind of job as receptionist in another, much more expensive hotel. This meant a lot more stress, and work, during which I lost twelve kilos and aimed to hit rock bottom.

Got alienated from my wife. Decided to divorce.

Wrote a book called Klipdrift – a word I discovered during a tour with DDN in South Africa in 2003 – about the general tendency to do as the instinct tells one to do, be it destructive or not.

Was one of the main witnesses, in november 2006, to the wedding of my mother – who happily married a man she had met five years after the death of my father. On a golf course.

Met Sainkho Namtchylak during the pre-presentation of the album Klipdrift in Bremen, during Poetry On The Road 2007. Performed with her in the period to come, in Brussels and again in Bremen later that year.

Had fallen in love with a woman from Berlin, whose father was a historian who had killed himself when my girlfriend was only ten years old.

This proved to be an open wound for which there was no cure, at least not during the period my girlfriend had granted our relationship. I dreamed about her father, standing behind me in a garden full of flowers and an orchard full of ripe and already even rottening fruit. Putting his hand on my shoulder, while standing behind me, saying a line that is known to be written by Von Hofmannsthal: “And once the house is ready, death shall pay his visit.”

Published a book of stories and novellas called The Summer That Still Had To Come. A rentree towards prose. Seeking a new voice of clarity. Maturity. Wit.

Saw my fellow writer and friend Kamiel Vanhole vanish into the thin air he was so desperately gasping for, in the last year of his life during which his lung-volume shrank to the critical minimum that ultimately caused his death. Kamiel, an ardent smoker and mild anarchist with whom I had visited Armenia back in 2001, supposedly choked in a cough attack that left him too long without oxygin. Fully in armour, that is, atop his latest writings he that he was editing in the attick of his home in Kessel-Lo.

A bit later, the hounds of death appeared again at our doorstep. On my way back from the filmfestival in Cannes, where I am a regular reporter since 2008 for my own agency Cinema Redux as well as for the International Feature Agency, I Learned about the death of Nazar Honchar – the closest ally of Christian Loidl – mysterious poet from Ukraine who made a guest-performance on my album Klipdrift in Polish. And who drowned while swimming in a little lake in later May 2009. Wondered why death was so blatently present in my life. A chasing dog indeed. But always one that barked and attacked from the side, not directly from up front. So far, the hound inflicted only graze wounds. My body is still in one piece, and my soul seemingly so as well. However, the scars on my charred skin bare witness of how close it got on several occasions. With that grim event on monday Febr. 16th 1998, on the crispy countryside in Hungary, as the ultimate black hole of my existence.  Leaving my best friend dead next to me in the frontseats of our Honda Civic, during a manoeuvre of escape that went terribly wrong when a drunken farmer suddenly decided to turn left on a country roadway without giving any signal of his intention – thus unwillfully turning into a ghostrider who torpeded himself and his car straight in our direction for a few very heavy and lethal moments in time. Joris (26), my compagnion, got executed on the spot. His pericardium impaled by a piece of his rib that got shattered by the impact of the crash and subsequent salto mortale that found its stupor at the end of some pastoral ditch, amidst greenery, flowers, bushes and the trunk of a willow tree.

I was sawed out of the wreck by firemen, rushed off to a hospital. The farmer who caused the collision, did not have a scratch. The police arrested him, however, on the charge of drunken driving and unvoluntary manslaughter for which the guy eventually was sentenced to two and a half years in jail. Imre Forintos, is the name of this angel of death – showing up at the crossroads of fate on that fatal monday afternoon. He said, it was the afternoon sun that had blinded him, as we came driving straight from the south. Heading for Vienna, where alas we never arrived.

Survive, that’s the name of the game. Should I be grateful, or embittered? My life was spared, per chance, my fate had been postponed. My comrade was slain while putting himself at the gravest and most frontal position at the side where the Suzuki of another travelling couple was catapulted itself in our nostalgically round blue cabin of the Honda built in 1980.

I try not to limit life to a safe and hallowed paveway through the garden of restraint and vigilance. Even though much of its energy, indeed, seems to be spent on matters of damage control and  damage assessment. Whether one likes it or not. The challenge remains to ward off danger by means of vigilance while not succumbing to the neuroses of fear and want for control.The readiness is and may be all, as Hamlet stated. But ever-readiness is as much of a nuisance as it is a wild card for a certain emergence of illusionary trouble.

Part of my endeavour, after the crash, during the past decad,e has been to come to terms with the trauma of my fears for as well as my anger towards death. For a long time I was living in a stage of constant anger and confusion. I could not and did not want to see a reasonable cause in the awful fact that all things youth- and beautiful shall perish. I felt as if nature itself had committed some gross act of betrayal. And I felt utterly confused about the fact that it all could end in such a sudden and remorseless stroke, with a fate that apparently has nothing to do whatsoever with what we merit or deserve as human beings. Sickening, ugly and unjust, that was how I labeled the character of our existence. It took quite some time, before I could find any logic in the paradoxical relation between all opposing forces in it. Ten years, I guess. But – once this logic finally became apparent – I noticed that not only I had lost my feelings of guilt and anger. But that I even could feel comfort in the fact of death, as a necessary and inescapable process without which life itself would have never had a chance to grow from underneath the fertile bottom and the dark soil of our earth.  At a certain moment I experienced a strange kind of satisfaction, by the shere means of my reflection on the nature of it all. A feeling far from unpleasurable or gruesome. I was rewarded with a classic sense of joy that was caused by the realization – the awareness – of how intricate the pattern is that nature has woven all around us. How beautiful it is to see this pattern, to discover the maze of connecting cloth and the figures that arises from the atelier of earth’s ever transfiguring and transforming factory of life and death. I felt relief, as if a heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders. The feelings of anxiety and guilt, confusion and anger I had felt in the aftermath of the crash, disappeared and were replaced by a true and overall feeling of acceptance. Some kind of curiosity, even, for the path that lies ahead. The adventure of entering into unknown realms, starting an expedition away from our physical presence and bodily posture by means of ongoing chemical processes, and radical atomary transformations. Things lightened up, in a mental way. I endulged in the feeling, for a while, that I had achieved something on myself. That I had managed to overcome certain boundaries of my hereditary capacities. A spiritual conquest, indeed. Of a very private but also encompassing character.  Never before I thought I could find comfort in the fact that life and death are tied together as the two sides of one and the same magical stick.

Founded Cinema Redux. A resource for international cinema and arts. “Let there be a space for another approach to the world of cinema and art. One that is not so much confined to the limitations of short formats and glossy kinds of superficial exposure to the idolatry cultus of Hollywood stardom. Here at Cinema Redux, it is about something else. can be free to use whatever length of formula they want to share their thoughts on all possible counterfeits that sparked in them some flame of genuinity, vitality. Films and works with un certain gaite d´esprit, with character and wit, projects that were constituted with passion, persistance and un veritable sagesse d´instinct. (…) Contributors of Cinema Redux are kindly invited to be open and freeminded in their writing, passionate and devoted in their choice of subject, critical in their judgement, razorsharp in their bravado, but gentle in their final approach. Let us try to find out a bit more who we might be ourselves, by discovering and reflecting on who and what we truly value and esteem. All works of art appealing to our own inner needs of thought, character, wit and elevation. No matter how illusionary.”

Started to read The Inner Scriptures of Tswang Tse.

Found love through getting re-acquainted with Arlette van Laar (1973), whom I had known a decade before as the compagnion of one of my best friends. Songlines and timelines had progressed, being put in a seemingly more matching order for both of us. Became aware of an emotion that could only be described of the one physically melting into the other. Getting the satisfactory awareness of completing my nature, such as Arlette hopefully had with me.

I learned so much from her. The importance of simplitude, truthfulness, of the way the word is uttered….To speak what we feel /
not what we ought to say’

– William Shakespeare, about ‘the duty of poets’

I learned by means of experience and endeavour – together with my love Arlette – , that:

Each person is a fathomless Ocean –

Each soul is a rocket aiming for the center of our inner space –

Each body is a marvellous starship stuck on the ground

She tests me, mirrors me, enchants me, enlightens me, in a way I did not think possible before. I am glad, so glad, that we have been able to re-encounter on the strict course of our time.

Now, we must not flunk or fuck it up too soon or too easily. This time we must prevail, learn, challenge, live and grow by means of each and all of our very discomposite matters of existence. This time we must grow and proceed, overcome our structural shortcomings by means of true magic. By means of our commitment, and the willingness to overcome.

Interestingly, we say “falling” into love, and not “rising” into love. Love is an act to surrender to another person; it is total abandonment. In love you give yourself over, you let go, and you say, “I give myself to you. Take me, do anything you like with me.” To many people this seems quite mad because it means letting things get out of control. And all sensible people keep things in control. So, is it sensible to find security through vigilance, police and guards? Watch it! Actually, the course of wisdom, what is really sensible, is to let go. To commit oneself, to give oneself up. And this is considered quite mad. It is thus that we are driven to the strange conclusion that in madness lies sanity.

There is no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied. You cannot talk yourself into it or rouse it by straining at the emotions or by dedicating yourself solemnly to the service of mankind. Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self love bad names in the universe. It comes only in the awareness that one has no self to love.

Reading Shakespeare, I learned the importance of the readiness. That: Differences, borders, lines, surfaces, and boundaries do not really divide things from each other at all; they join them together. All bounderies are held in common. Once you get the clue, you see that he sense of unity is inseperable from the sense of difference.

What we are seeking is rest. Asilum in eternity./What we are is where we have been / falling: cerebral hunters and hunted prey./We are game in the woods. A hungry flock in nature’s/ hungry mouth. We are obedient and futile. Tiny / particles floating around. Our names have been assigned /and even the gift of life was not our choice.Every single good we own and everything we are/is borrowed, shareware, bonds and loans. Property/of Time alone; that vicious, greedy stockbroker/and billionaire, who having been born without a soul/ supports no other soul as company. Who has no friends /or relatives, and rules the earth /as if he were the master of the universe./We owe him all – as he insists – and everybody has to pay./His will is merciless. No exceptions, no delays./Who prays for help, will be harrassed. /Who disobeys, will disappear. He holds us hostage/Nobody is free to stay. We have to leave and /sneak out like thieves. When evening comes /we pack our bags. We cross the border /in the thick of night. Our exitpapers are called:/death.

All sensible people begin in life with two fundamental presuppositions:

You are not going to improve the world, and you are not going to improve yourself. You are just what you are, and once you have accepted that, you have an enormous amount of energy available to do things that CAN be done. But the thing is, in fact: that it can NOT be done. One very simple reason is that the part of you which is supposed to improve you is exactly the same as the part which needs to be improved. There is not any real distinction between bad “me” and good “I”, or between the higher self which is spiritual and the lower self which is animal. It is all of one piece. You are this organism, this integrated, fascinating life and energy pattern.

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. Ego is a social institution with no physical reality. The ego is simply your symbol of yourself. Just as the word “water” is a noise that symbolizes a certain liquid without being it, so too the idea of ego symbolizes the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as your living organism.If you know that “I”, in the sense of the person, the front, the ego, it really doesn’t exist. Then…it won’t go to your head too badly, if you wake up and discover that you might be the very creator of the universe you are looking for.

I renovated my house in Les Marolles, Brussels, from top to bottom. Gave a new life to the house. And meanwhile, continued my writing. Published a broad lyrical hommage in 2011, on behalf of the French singer, composer and cult figure Serge Gainsbourg, who died twenty years ago in his hotel particulier in Paris, in utter sollitude and darkness. A rich and juicy book – Bittersweet it is called – lusciously filled with quasi biographical poems plus some accounts of Lord Byron and Casanova – two of his most destinguished forerunners in time. This was my chance to finally come to terms with this ego- and erotomaniacal genius, who  some kind of shade has always been around in each and every phase of my life. In puberty, in Paris, Montreal, Amsterdam, later in Cannes at the filmfestival by means of his daughter Charlotte. And who died on my mother’s birthday, the second of march, in the year 1991.

The other book that came about this year, is the intricate collection of poems, stories, pictures and landscapes. Title: What I see I cannot be – the slightly taoist result of a very  concrete assignment to visit the Green Forest – het Groene Woud – a region in the province of Brabant, where I was born, and where a group of ardent farmers, scientists, politicians and other folks with a heart for flora and fauna, tries hard to give nature again some of its prominence, space and wildness amidst our densily populated modern landscape. Nature thrives in this area, where man is willfully setting aside a few steps in order to let the forest and its inhabitants have its way. The book is an account of the expedition I undertook last summer, with merely my Waterman fountain pen and my Moleskine notebook as the only means of luggage. Scribbled down what I saw, what I smelled, what I heard, what I felt, discovered and experienced while strolling and marching through the greenery. My mission was to unravel the “genius loci”. The ghost or soul of the area. Learned little by little, in a modest and gentle way, some strokes about the sources of nature, the road of ten thousand things leading back and forward to the soil and stream we stem from and again are heading for.

 Serge van Duijnhoven – 20th October 2011 – Khnko Aper Library – Yerevan Armenia

Photograph by L.J.A.D. Creyghton – from the book What I see I cannot be (2011)

THE COFFEE HABIT – CURE OR CURSE?
Serge van Duijnhoven

I’m not a coffee drinker, never have been, and never will be. That makes me something of a renegade in this country of coffee drinkers. Holland is at the top of the list of coffee drinking countries worldwide. Seventy million cups of coffee are guzzled down each day. A national average of four to five (plastic) cups per person per day. In my home province, North Brabant, I know hardly anyone who drinks less than ten cups a day. My mother used to drink twenty, my father just about half of it.
Coffee is not just a beverage, it is part of our national heritage, an essential part of the Dutch culture. In just a much a way, as I have understood, as this is the case in Armenia, Italy, Bosnia or Ethiopia. In the early eighteenth century, Holland began a profitable trade in coffee from the East Indies and Surinam. So for many years, to be able to pour that steaming black liquid down Dutch throats has been the hot, comforting and tangible proof of the nation’s wealth; to be collectively enjoyed as it burns its daily way past the uvala. Coffee drinkers, whether they drink silently or noisily, clearly belong to the same tribe. People who don’t drink coffee in an environment of coffee addicts, are looked upon with suspicion. Not really as being part of the crowd, a bit of an outsider.

I can say little about the the quality of Dutch coffee, I can not judge. Never has even a sip passed my lips. I know that Americans think that our coffee has the density of quicksand. When they come here for the first time they always try to make their spoon stand up straight in their cup which they have amply filled with sugar and sometimes a creamy milk-derivate in order to soften the strong taste. They often sniggeringly ask for an extra cup of water to dilute the extract. Bosnians, Italians, Turks and people from the Arabic countries, on the contrary, find Dutch coffee nothing more than a joke. Too weak, too watery, to much or little of anything, really, but coffee. They wonder disapprovingly at how a people can be so fond of this ooze from which all taste seems to have been distracted rather than added.
In a country completely addicted to caffeine it is not easy to stay “coffee-free”. One is often poured a cup without being asked, out of shere hospitality and habit, and it is up to your own inventiveness – or austerity – to get rid of the substance as inconspicuously as possible, without hurting anybody else’s feelings or losing face. Countless times I have secretly emptied my cups in the plants, toilets or sinks, or have had to blow away vapors ascending from a display before my well-meaning host would notice. The cause of my obstinate apostasy and renegade behavior lies from my youth, in the early seventies. I was very young, a few years old when, while dashing to and fro on my tricycle, I fell and hit my head on a step of marble tiles in our living room. The result was a hole in my head the size of a finger tip. My mother panicked because a torrent of blood was pouring out my scull, and ran out into the street screaming for help. Our Egyption-born neighbour Nowal knew what to do. The wound in my head had to be sealed with freshly ground coffee. No doubt it helped to stop the blood and sterilize the wound, but the O.D. on caffeine that was directly released on my brain and bloodsystem, caused me to have this lasting aversion against the smell and taste of coffee. I consider it an irony of fate to have been cut off from the enjoyment of coffee by a woman who comes from the area where coffee consumption and growth once have begun. As far as we know, the coffee plant originally only grew wild in the south of Egypt and on some steppes along the source of the Blue Nile. The name coffee stems from Kaffa, a province in Ethiopia. Several sources speak of an Abyssinian goat herder named Kaldi, who noticed around the year 500 that his goats became more energetic after eating a particular type of berries. Kaldi himself tried the berries and found that they gave energy to him.

goats as the real discoverers of coffee

Upon learning about the berries Khalid‘s wife urged him to tell the local monk about the berries. The chief monk declared the berries as Work of the Devil and flung the berries into a fire. Upon doing so, the whole room was soon filled with the aroma of roasting berries. The roasted berries were retrieved from fire and dipped in water. After drinking the brew they came to realize that Khalid was telling them the truth. After this the monk used the brew to keep themselves awake during the evening prayers. In the 9th century a certain culture of coffee had established itself already in Ethiopia and present Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. From there it spread to Egypt and Yemen, by fifteenth century coffee had reached Persia, Turkey and northern Africa.

Arabs the first people to drink coffee as a brew

Europe’s first knowledge of coffee was brought by travelers returning from the Far East and the Levant (an area of modern day Israel and Lebanon, including the Jordan Valley and a small bit of Syria). Leonhard Rauwolf recorded his famous journey into the Eastern countries in a book called Rauwolf’s Travels. He left from Marseilles in September, 1573, having left his home in Augsburg, the 18th of the preceding May. He reached Aleppo in November, 1573; and returned to Augsburg, February 12, 1576. He was the first European to mention coffee; and to him also belongs the honor of being the first to refer to the beverage in print. Rauwolf was not only a doctor of medicine and a botanist of great renown, but also official physician to the town of Augsburg. When he spoke, it was as one having authority. The first printed reference to coffee appears as “chaube” in chapter viii of his Rauwolf’s Travels, which deals with the manners and customs of the people from the city of Aleppo. From the Middle East and portal cities like Aleppo, coffee went to Europe and became popular here around 17th century. Large scale import was first done by the Dutch. As the Arabs were not allowed to export the coffee plants or unroasted seeds, the Dutch smuggled some seedlings in 1690. They used the seedlings to make coffee plantations at Java, which was a Dutch colony at that time. Arabica coffees were named after the port from which they were exported, like Mocha from Yemen and Java from Indonesia.

Rauwolf Travels to Aleppo

In Holland the beverage originally was called „Mochase caeuwe“ – the kawa from Mocha. Because not all coffee was imported from this Arabic port, the Dutch simply started to refer it as „koffie“. Mokka became one of several varieties of coffeebeans that were traded through the ports of Amsterdam, Hoorn, Dordrecht and other coastal cities with large harbours.

Qahwah – Arabic word for coffee

As a matter of fact, coffee originally wasn’t a beverage to be savoured, but medicinal all the way. Ground coffee beans were used to cleanse wounds and mouths of bacteria, as a powder against dizziness and nausea and as a medicine against constipation. It was for those purposes that the first shipments of coffee were brought to the Low Countries via the Arabic peninsula. The powdered beans were sold by apothecaries and on medicinal markets only, in small and expensive doses. Soon however, we started to brew drinks from the ground coffee-beans in experimental doses, that apart from their supposedly healing power, also offered a palatable sense of pleasure. Following other large European cities, like Vienna, coffee houses sprang up tin the Dutch provinces. The liquid that was poured in those public houses must have been vehemently strong, and soon resulted in cases of behavior that nowadays we would primarily relate to drug abuse. An establishment at the Hofsingel, in The Hague, was smashed to pieces in 1670 near closing time by a bunch of speedy citizens whose stomachs and veins were loaded with caffeine. The civil guard of the city, had to intervene and make several arrests with force in order to stop further derangements. Such cases happened more and more over the next two decades, until finally in 1699 the States of Holland attempted to have the coffee houses banned. The rulers were very much concerned with the coffee habit of the people, that was growing out of proportion by the shere fact that people were spending more times in coffee houses than they were at their work or at home. It was however not to be stopped. Only the doses of the coffee were drastically reduced in the beverage that in thoses times was spewed out lavishly by majestic coffee fountains. The popularity of coffee only augmented with the austerity measures taken by the authorities. Coffee became a favored beverage in all stratas of the population, and thus even became the ultimate symbol of Dutch classless sociability and ordinary coziness. A cup of consolation (een bakske troost), the smell of unpretentious homeliness (ne tas gezelligheid). There probably isn’t a single family that does not own, at least one, decent porcelain or silver coffee service standing ready for use in the cupboard. But in practice one usually prefers that well known egalitarian thin white plastic or cartboard paper cups spewed out by coffee machines in hallways and cantinas in every office, school or public building for a nickle and a dime.

The three hundred years of abundant coffee usage, have left their trace upon the outer and inner fitness of our society. Every morning you can see them staggering by. The endless stream of Dutch caffeine addicts. Shoulders haunched, a dazed look in their eyes, a cup in their hand. They are everywhere. On the trains, in the lecture rooms of universities, hospitals, libraries, sport facilities, schools, hotels, funeral homes; lips glued to rims of thin white or brownish coffee cups, the ever-ready coins of choice in their hands, waiting to score a new and necessary dose of their hot and steamy elixir vitae.

Holland indeed is a country of coffee junkies, most noticeably so on weekends. Millions can’t hide their weekly withdrawel symptoms as a result of sleeping in and missing the daily procession to the corporate automat, espresso machine or coffee bar. Although a renegade in my own country, I stay clean of this suffering. Thanks to my Egyptian neighbour’s potent medicinal intervention, I’ll never be addicted to Hollands most emblamatic dark and hot beverage.

COFFEE

I was four and fell with my scooter

down the stairs with the marble tiles

at home in the sitting room and I fell

hard and with my head back to front on

the tiles and I screamed and Mum saw that

blood was flowing from my head and

Mum screamed and I screamed and Mum ran

into the street to get help and it

was still hurting and our Egyptian

neighbour opposite knew how to make

the pain go away she said she knew the cure

she said that was with coffee from the

coffee package she said and she rubbed the

coffee into the dark hole on my head

and I felt the sting of the coffee

in my entire head and in my body

and it still hurt a great deal and

since then I never drink coffee

and I hardly sleep

սուրճ

Ես չորս եւ ընկավ իմ սկուտեր
աստիճաններից հետ մարմար սալիկներ
տանը նիստին սենյակում, եւ ես ընկա
կոշտ եւ իմ գլուխը վրա դեպի ճակատ
Ես բղավում, եւ տեսա, որ մայրիկ

արյուն էր հոսող իմ գլուխը եւ
Լուռ ու բղավում ես ու բղավում լուռ վազում

մեջ փողոցը այստեղ օգնության համար, եւ այն
դեռ վնասում, եւ մեր եգիպտական
հակառակ հարեւանը գիտեր, թե ինչպես կարելի է անել
ցավը հեռու գնալ, նա ասաց, որ ինքը գիտեր, որ բուժել
որ նա ասաց սուրճ – ից
սուրճ փաթեթ եւ նա ասաց, որ ինքը դնում
սուրճի մեջ մութ անցքը իմ գլխին
եւ ես զգացի, որ խայթել է սուրճի
իմ ամբողջ գլուխը եւ իմ մարմինը
եւ այն դեռեւս ցավում մեծ եւ
Այդ ժամանակից ի վեր ես երբեք չեմ խմել սուրճ
ես հազիվ քնում եւ

Serge van Duijnhoven

To David Matevossian

Hrant Matevossian Foundation

Jerevan, Armenia

14th October 2011

Dear David,

I still love Nahapet Kuchak’s hayrens, the wonderfully illustrated verses from that beautiful book (ed. by Sovetakan grogh’s Publishing House in the Armenian SSR)  you gave me back in 2001! I would certainly like to put Nahapet Kuchak to the attention of the writers present at the Ark. Furthermore, I am still trying to get hold of a copy of your father’s Autumn Sun before I leave to Yerevan. Perhaps we can also spread some of Rant’s works around, during and after the LIterary Ark 2011, for further inspiration.

As for the Round Tables and discussions and the flow of topics that keeps coming in: I really thinks we have to be creative, smart but also severe in our choices and our way of handling the event. So that we can avoid the pitfall of all too scholastic chitchat and boring academic monologues without end or reciprocity… Arlette and me thought of: 1. the fortune cookie approach 2. the roulette table. To make it all a bit lighter.  Do you grant us the right to persist in this approach? Or would you rather prefer a more classical way of rounding the tables?

Regarding the presentation (on Oct. 20th): yes, we would be very interested in showing a concise and well edited video(fragment) of the Literary Ark 2001. Preferable, we could start with it at the very beginning…. By the way, if you do have any further suggestions, pictures of your own director’s hands or other interesting works of visual art or cinema you would like to share with us by melting it in to the presentation on Oct.20th (or any other occasion of course): please do so! I read at the Golden Apricot website about the movie The Door (1999), A film of 18 min about the life and the dreams of a poet. Would this not be an apropriate film to show? Be it even a fragment of it? Or is it not so interesting…  Would love to hear your ideas about these matters.

The Door, 1999, VGIK, (based on a work by Kobo Abe), 18 min., color, silent
Prod./Prod. Manag.: K. Verdiyan, Scr./Dir./Edit.: N. Shek, Dir. of Phot.: A. Mkrtchyan, Art Dir.: L. Vagharshyan, Music by: Y. Harutyunyan, Sound: S. Ivanova.
Cast: A. Yeritsyan, L. Vagharshyan, M. Badalyan. A film about the life and the dreams of a poet.

Meanwhile, I started commenting some of Nahapet Kuchak’s hayren’s, as you can see hereunder. The old master’s work serves as an excellent anti-dote for the darkening of the mind during these wet and gloomy days in autumn. No sun, no mountains, no colors, just overcast and worrysome skies matching the grey waves of the Northsea. Longing to see Mount Massis again. To see how the white crown of that most sovereign of mountains glitters from a distance in the spectral spotlight of the sun.

You see, I am really getting prepared for take off, mon cher seigneur!

Serge

 

Nahapet Kuchak’s hayrens (popular verses consisting as a rule of either four or eight lines, each line made up of fifteen syllables; with one half line of seven, and the other half line of eight syllables) were verses meant to memorize. So that they could be chanted, in due company. The origin of them dates back to medieval times. Probably the late 13th or early 14th century. By later poets, these hayrens have been praised as works of true lyricism and great individual creativity.

Kuchak’s hayrens reflect the main feature of the Renaissance period: a sense of the fullness of life, as well as a perception of the beauty of the world. The poet’s verse is uttered in a clear voice, and is composed with an obvious sense of humour and lightheartedness. At all times, however, lures the shady presence of an omnipresent existential truth: that all things youth- and beautiful are equally vulnerable and perishable. The lesson seems to be: let us rejoice in those few qualities that we are able to perceive and to share, instead of to lament the multitude of things we will either lose or never have. The solace lies in the act of expression itself, the wit and willfullness of chanted poetry, a lyrical formula of exclamation as a means to unleash the human mind.

Listen to hayren number 88, for example, taken from the richly illustrated book with thick but slightly tainted pages, that was published anno 1979 at the height of Brezhnev’s Sovjet era by Sovetakan grogh’s Publishing House in the Armenian SSR. A farewell gift I received ten years ago from David Matevossian, at the end of the Literary Ark 2001 festivities.

“Cut up this pomegranate here

and count the pips inside it.

For every pip I want a kiss –

not one more, I’ve decided!

– Leave me alone, you foolish boy,

I thought you had more sense:

For every pip you want, a kiss?

Why, the number would be immense!”

Or hear hayren number 98, from the same edition filled with “A hundred and one hayrens” published in just as many lively ornamented colours and varieties:

“My soul left my body,

I sat down to lament:

‘My soul, if you leave me

my life is spent!’

And my sould replied:

‘Where is your wisdom, pray?

When a house is collapsing

why should its master stay?’

World map of Posidonius – 150/130 B.C.

*

HOMEWARD BOUND

*

All strangers once were born as children of their families

All strangers have played in houses they called home

On est tous des étrangers. Travellers coming round

wandering through a space that everybody has to confisquate

Stubborness is what drives us all and drives us crazy

To live from our land. The soil in which the seeds

are spread with the hand. The hair on our heads

is as the cane on our roofs. Our cracked skin looks like

the eroded walls of old shags. Transparency is the scare

of our bones. Our voice cries at best for help. What we are

seeking at best is our rest. Asilum in eternity. What we are

is where we have been falling: cerebral hunters and hunted prey

we are like game in the woods. A hungry flock in nature’s hungry

mouth. We are obedient and futile. Tiny particles floating around

our names have been assigned and even the gift of life was not our choice

every single good we own and everything we are is borrowed, shareware

bonds and loans. Property of Time alone; that vicious, greedy stockbroker

and billionaire, who having been born without a soul supports no other

soul as company. Who has no friends or relatives, and rules the earth

as if he were the master of the universe. We owe him all – as he insists –

and everybody has to pay. His will is merciless. No exceptions, no delays

who prays for help, will be harrassed. Who disobeys, will disappear

he holds us hostage. Nobody is free to stay. Sooner or later

we all have to leave. Sneak out like thieves. When evening comes

we pack our bags. We cross the border in the thick of night

our exitpapers are called: death.

*

from: The Golden Wings; an anthology of world poetry (India 2002)

Roses for Christian Loidl on the place of his death in Vienna, Vereinsgasse. Picture by Eva Lavric 2010

Christian Loidl
1957 (Linz) – 2001 (Vienna)

I The
Open Door
The Opens
Door Me

Christian Loidl
1957 (Linz) – 2001 (Vienna)

I The
Open Door
The Opens
Door Me

‘Mortu tombu miyi’, the title of the following poem = a vernacular saying in Haiti, meaning: all things burried and gone. It was the title of a specific cycle of poems from Falsche Prophezeiungen, a magnificent book written by the Austrian poet Christian Loidl, who died in December 2001 at the age of 44 after tragically falling out of a window in his Viennese appartment – a death similar to the one of Bohumil Hrabal, the Czech writer he highly respected. Hrabal seemingly fell down while trying to spot a blackbird that was singing underneath his hospital window. Chris – just before tumbling towards his death – also must have been enchanted by the luring song of some dark bird that waited to get out of its cage and ‘melt with the air’.

In some way, it feels as if Chris fulfilled the crystal-clear imperative uttered by the enlightened voice that enchantedly rises up at the end of his last book of poetry: Kleinstkompetenzen; Erinnerungen aus einer geheimen Kindheit: ‘Luft musst mann sein… Luft musst mann sein (…)’ – in English: ‘Air is what we should be… Air is what we should be’. The day before the accident, Chris had sent me a message that he had changed his email address into ‘airpoet@.gmx.at’. The symbolic meaning of this I only understood weeks later, when I visited Vienna to take part in the memorial-night organised by his close friends and allies. After having climbed up the sandstone stairs of the building in the Vereinsgasse (II Bezirk) where Christian lived, my eyes fell on a little blue metal plate that was attached to the frontdoor of the deserted apartment that I knew quite well, saying: ‘airpoet’. It was a souvenir Chris had taken home from one of his travels in Lithuania, where this magical word simply means ‘airport’. Suddenly, it all clicked and became clear, and I realised that my friend indeed must have melted with the air he aspired so wisely and breathed so deeply.

*

MORTU TOMBU MIYI

*

The laserbeam in front of the nightclub
touches the sky in search of God
all air blows away
the moon stands high
as a tiny fingerprint
in the stained window
of heaven

We see more
talk less
thunder in the far land
of our memory
water, drops, mudd
rain is still more clear
than blood

To live is to retreat
a ritual of goodbyes
a wounding in slomotion
the ailment of addiction
our dreams fade away
like fog in the morning
our beloved ones depart
what we cherish, perishes
what we leave behind is the pain
to go beyond is to be healed

To bear the chain, you said
one has to sing – because
air is the important thing
the air is always young
the air wears no grey hair
the air never ends up in a wheelchair
Luft müsst mann sein
Luft müsst mann sein
Nicht mehr so mühd
Nicht mehr so mühd

Wach müsst mann sein

*

from: Bloedtest (De Bezige Bij, album + cd coming up in 2003)

Ah-Pook Aztek and Maya God of Destruction

Remembering a discussion I had
some time ago with sister Swantje Lichtenstein in Duesseldorf

Am listening again – by shere accident I thought – to one of my old magnetic tapes from the nineties. Sticking my ear and mind into that magnificent piece of literary audio-junk called Dead City Radio by/with William S. Burroughs. One of my favorite albums ever. My dear friend and poet Christian Loidl – today is his Todestag, so I now realize this fact is not so accidental after all – introduced me to this wizzard for the first time in 1995 in his flat in Vienna, Vereinsgasse. Where he – today seven years ago – flew out of the window after having taken an overdose of a rare Siberian mushroom.

“Dead City Radio” is a true gem of cut up poetry put to music in a most sensitive and workable way.
Question: “What are we here for?”
Answer: “We’re all here to go…”
The old magician gives readings from a variety of sources including “Naked Lunch”, “Interzone”, and “The Western Lands”. He invokes his vision in the name of Pan, god of panic; Ah Pook, the destroyer; and even Jesu the Christ. “Invoke” is the proper word, for this is a work of magic – be it black or white. Burroughs is weaving a vision. He wants us to peek through the chinks and see the monsters that lie behind the machinery of control – behind the great shining lies and the bounds of the Prometheus called Homo Sapiens. His objective is no less than a basic disruption of reality itself.
Please try to see the video belonging to the Ah Pook The Destroyer prayer – about (cosmic?) control – you will love it I am sure:
http://digitalphilosophy.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/burroughs%E2%80%99-death-needs-time/

“Question: Who really gave their order?”
“Answer: Control. The ugly American. The instrument of control.”
“Question: If control’s control is absolute, why does Control need to control?”
“Answer: control needs time.”
“Question: is control controlled by our need to control?”
“Answer: Yes.”
“Why does control need humans, as you call them?”
“Wait… wait! Time, or landing. Death needs Time, like a junky needs junk.”
“And what does Death need Time for?”
“The answer is so simple. Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in. For Ah Pook’s sake.”
“Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in. For Ah Pook’s sweet sake? You stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker!”

Zjivili to brother Chris out there in the realm of Ah Pook’s universe of Time.

Serge

Please try to see the video belonging to the Ah Pook The Destroyer prayer – about vain human longings for cosmic control in the reigning Realm of Ah Pook the Destroyer:
http://digitalphilosophy.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/burroughs%E2%80%99-death-needs-time/

The old magician with the incomparable creeky voice, gives and sometimes sings his ultimately grim and bitter spiritual readings from a variety of sources including “Naked Lunch”, “Interzone”, and “The Western Lands”. He invokes his vision in the name of Pan, god of panic; Ah Pook, the destroyer; and even Jesu the Christ. “Invoke” is the proper word, for this is a work of magic – be it black or white. Burroughs is weaving a vision. He wants us to peek through the chinks and see the monsters that lie behind the machinery of control – behind the great shining lies and the bounds of the Prometheus called Homo Sapiens. His objective is no less than a basic disruption of reality itself. If – somehow – humans would be prepared to rid themselves of their condition humaine for the benefit of a cosmic one, this would not necessarily make our universe a warmer and more pleasant place to find our destiny. Which is? To perish, and melt back into the pot that is permanently boiling on the stove of Ah-Pooks kitchen. What else to do but to cling on to the planetary lifeboats that were assigned to us by some cruel captain who likes to have it rough amidst the violent torrents of Time. If we want to get rid of the many biological boundaries and burdens of our human condition, we shall have to prepare for completely new ways of travelling. We shall have to be prepared to embark on a trans-dimensional voyage through unknown psysical realms, with the velocity of a gravitationless soul. What are we here for? We are here to go! We are here to go on a trip – peeking through tiny holes in the fence that marks the limit of our universe. We have to dive and dig deep, travel far and persist in our uncompromising destiny. So that finally we can find a way of opening up the protecting clamshell in which – at its very origin – our relentlessly self-sufficient galaxy was laid to grow. Like an oyster or a mussle, feeding upon the weak and salty glaze of its atomic fluidum.

THE VOICE WITHIN – THE VOICE WITHOUT

Leichnam Christian

Brave companion,

Fall has softly sneaked into its descendant

Today I took your voice with me

When I went for my December walk

“Pay attention!” you said

When anyone asked what to do

With their lives

So I looked around and made note of everything

Along the border of the frozen canal

In matrix abandon

Trying to see what people saw

As they walked. So many dead sights!

What are the rosebeds for in winter?

Who’s there to give your apple to?

Who is there to accept your gift?

When you were little, chere confrater,

Wind tailed you all over Linz.

In Vienna wind looked for you

In first one courtyard

Then another

It overturned fountains, it made your hair

Stand on end. It polished your head

smooth as Harry Smith’s Eastern Eggs

How can we ever go back

To that other life

We cannot. I am sorry

We cannot

Surely, we have strengthened

Not diminished one another

Thou Leichnam Christians

Blessed be all those

Who can warm themselves

Upon the vigour of your memory

I don’t understand the first thing about radio waves

But I think they travel better

When it snows and when it’s cold

Anyway, I can reach out now

And pick up programs of the Dead

And far away – interesting stations

For us here beneath – surrounded

By TVshows and Weihnachtsmaerkte

When I came out here I was trying

To get away from everything

Especially literature

Pump and circumstance

And what comes after

There is in the soul a desire

For not thinking

For being still, Coupled with this

A desire to be strict, yes

And rigorous. But the soul is

As you said Chris, also

A smooth son of bitch

Not always trustworthy like

A best friend should be

And I tend to forget that

I tend to forget

I listened when it said

Better to sing that which is gone

And will not return than that which is still

With us and will be with us tomorrow

Or not. And if not, that’s all right too

It didn’t much matter, it said,

If a man sang at all

One may live one may die

Both are good…

That’s the voice I listened to

Can you imagine somebody thinking like this?

That it’s really all one and the same?

What nonsense!

But I’d think these stupid thoughts

At night, as I sit on my desk

And listen to Burrough’s Dead City Radio

And did you get, Chris, what

You wanted from this life, even so

It ended all too soon?

I bet you did. Didn’t you?

Not all of us can call themselves beloved

like the ones who suddenly departed

From this earth as by mistake

Life: is it a pointless joke

Or lethal plot?

The things that matter

Will always be substracted by

The things that matter not

And isn’t our fate inevitable

Now that we call the little

We remember of it

“the past’’?

Our whole life’s in switchbacks

Still ahead of us

Apart from all those things

That slipped away

Once you wrote to me, you watched a Rose

Breathe in the Prater Park

And this was not meant as a metaphore

It was after you offered a bright green Granny Smith apple

To a young woman sitting on top of her boyfriend

‘Thank you’, the lady said in plain disgust

‘We have eaten already’. You threw the apple

Over their heads into the splash

And walked on. Wondering why

The roses looked boring

And not what you would want to see

It is so easy, you wrote, to pick a rose

In a public park. You ripped off

A handful – heads of roses

And they still looked

Like yesterday’s leftovers

You ripped them up.

That’s when you saw the rose breathe.

Next time I would come

You would play me the record of Ustad Salamath Khan:

Breath of the Rose. But you never did.

You never did.

I open the door = The door opens me

The voice is silent = The voice is loud

The voice within = The voice without

Shall we look and meet – oh yes!

The line – YOUR line – of song:

Excess, restraint

Clarity and cunningness

The palace of wisdom

From the palm of William Blake

The poignant texture of your voice

The complex radiance of light

The mysterious nature of a Schluckauf

The ravish depth of open eyes

Dear magic friend

Dear gentle wizzard

Lysergic pathfinder

Lyrical lieutenant

The gentle friend you were

The bright star is still shining

Inside = outside

= somewhere

Let us remain just who we were

And worship our kinship

Our togetherness

Let us be brave, let us be bright

Let us be neither out

of heart nor out of sight

But join again where thin air

Meets the thick of night

Let us go on – dear finder

Let us quietly continue

To erase and rewrite the letters

On the chalkboard of our lifes

Give me some of your good company

Throughout this earthly cold adventure

Shine on, bright friendly star

Guide on, dear gentle knight

Let us all hereunder be

Just a somewhat more

Like thee:

Gentle, tender and polite

The very last words you wrote to me:

“May synchronicity always bless thee”

Young Buddha met Georg Trakl

In a Viennese courtyard

The inquisitive spirit

Of a shaman

And the temper of a

Wondrous child

Vereinsgasse 11

Ein Gast im mitten der Vergaser

Death, mosquito like,

Hovered and supped at the periphery

Time, like the light in our brown eyes

Is running out as we climb

Up the mountain

Out of sight

Each person is a fathomless Ocean – Each body a komet in universe – Each soul a stary in the sky

Brussels, 21.06.2010

Dearest Eva,

thank you so much for the precious gift  Lies Dich(t) by Nazar Hončar that you were kind enough to send me.

It provides me with such a joy reading his multi-layered, playful and witty witchcraft poetry. Sometimes I have to laugh so hard I have to gasp for air, and somewhere in this air there always seems to be from very nearby a warm and resonating echo of Christian’s voice, spirit and hickup. The book is full of wondrous  findings, lyrical Zaubersprueche, and grapholigcal forms from an aextra-gravital origin, versatile spirits melted into playfulness and laughter.

Christian came to me and Arlette in a very strong vision last December, managed to amuse us with the teachings of slapping one hand clap, roaring laughter, and many many wisdoms that descended upon us in a way we could not understand or know ourselves. In this vision he taught us – quite in a similar way in which Chris refound his kepple-hat in Vienna by going back in time and dimension in a shamanistic procedure – where and how I could retreive my lost cat Djambas. After having investigated several possibilities or scenario’s it was as if Chris enriched our company and lead us the way to a quite different possibility – all the time standing on the threshold of the door between the sleeping room and the hallway in Arlet’s appartment. Standing on that threshold he pointed to the upside and advised me to experience the advantages of “falling thruogh the roof of one’s own consciousness” – and after having made that clear responded to my opening question of the session (where and how can I find Djambas back? Is she still alive? Is she in need of my help?) by guiding me to the backdoor of Arlet’s groundfloor flat – that borders on a courtyard for several houses in a way quite similar to the courtyard in the Vereinsgasse. No problem, the message was. If you really want to know where Djambas is, you have to go into the courtyard. I was willing and curious to find out and opened the door, but Arlette struggled to keep me inside – because I was naked and it was freezing outside and there was snow and she started to cry and even though I was already with my feet in the snow I felt a great calm coming over me and followed Arlette back inside where once again we were halted at the threshold of the (back)door – and somehow the lesson came to us that we as individuals on a metaphorical level do find ourselves at any given moment during our earthly existence on a crossroad of songlines and timelines – standing on a threshold so to speak – from which we can choose to go either way. Forward, backward, up, down. The important thing though, is that we must feel free making our choise, and that there is no NECESSITY to follow either way cause all options are possible. I did not HAVE to go into the courtyard, although I perfectly COULD if I wanted to. This insight, very profoundly, that came to Arlette and myself simultaniously, felt as if a great burden had fallen off of my and her shoulders. Somehow we were both stuck in our conviction – each in our own and different way – that in order to achieve greater wisdom and (in my case) possibly also get closer again to the company of deceased friends such as Chris and Joris or Nazar or at least join them or understand what happened – there would be no other possibiilty than to join them in a time past this one through passing on and (as Arlette felt it in a more buddhist or taoist way of levitation and “onthechting” disattachment) leave this world with all its burdens and bounds behind us. In my case these thoughts had been explored in depth in my album Klipdrift and writings in the essay called No More Chains. Since the consequence of this conviction was the feeling that this life already had lead me to the maximum I could achieve conc. knowledge, wisdom and experience,  and that all truly new discoveries and achievements lay beyond, I probably had made myself believe that life in se had grown old and weary. And that my existence would in any case be pretty much reduced to a biding of time – not much different from the ways in which prisoners are counting days in jail. Hence – I think – my excessive tendencies to escapadic substances like alcohol. To make the passage of time seemingly to go faster and to ease the pain and dread of this ongoing incarceration through oblivion and numbing of the senses. At this very instance however, at the height of our session, somehow the grim dark force of Ah-Pook that was pulling me so strongly towards a long and bitter wounding in slomotion and destruction of the self, seemed to have lost its magnetism for my soul and mind. The catagorical way in which I had been directing myself towards a switching off of the light, lost its inescapable attraction. A huge and fresh lust for life filled my lungs and brain in a way that fresh air fills the blood when one steps out of a hot cellar crammed with people – where it had become impossible to breath from lack of air and oxygene. The choice to go into that courtyard of reshuffling cosmic chemistry – by always wanting to push the ctrl alt delete and reset buttons – became one of possibility instead of necessity. Suddenly the meaning of “no more chains” became much broader. A profound feeling came to me that there still were very precious and important things to dicsover and achieve in this life. And that the future of my life could be perhaps as much of a fullfilling adventure as the path into the darkness or – if you wish – that courtyard covered in December snow where the spirits were dancing their whirly shuffles in the dark.

This insight and feeling of relief and refound hunger for existence, instantly provided me with a sense of sincere gratitude. I thanked Chris by writing some personal note in my Moleskine – to find out – on top of all this – that my handwriting had changed quite substantially. And that my way of writing had become much more clear and easily legible, less puzzled and messy and small.

Two days later, I left Amsterdam in order to be present at the funeral of the father of Joris de Bolle – another Joris indeed who, ever since our first encounter in the fall of 2004,  happens to be my dearest friend in Brussels (and beyond). I had written a poem for Joris’ father, that I was going to read in the church of Tervuren where Lode de Bolle’s funeral mess would be held. I arrived on Tuesday evening in my house in the Kandelaarsstraat dans les marolles, and went to bed early in order to be fresh and get up early for the funeral on Wednesday morning. It was that night, from 29th of December leading into 30th of December, that I woke up in the middle of my dreams by the repetitive meawing of (I immediately recognized her) my cat Djambas for whose survival – after ten cold days and no sign of life during any search quest I had held in the entire neighboorhood – I did not dare to prey anymore. Of course I thought I was dreaming, when I heard her scream, but instead of continuing my dream I woke up and rushed downstairs, opened the door, and indeed: there she was. Djambas. Bemeagred but alife and well, no wounds or limping legs etc.. She quickly tippled up the stairs to the kitchen and ate three bags of catfood as proof of her exhaustion. Then, she satisfyingly installed herself on my bed, curled up on top of my belly and covered me warmly with her buzzing company.

Djambas had spent her ten days sabbatical in the confinement of the empty house across my front door – a house that ever since I installed myself in the Kandelaarsstraat in 2003 has never been lived in. I do not know why. It looks as if it is not completely finished construction wise. Behind the house lies a little courtyard or empty space that is filled with rubble and wood and junk, and that is covered out of sight by a n improvised metal screen on which quite a sympathetic portrait is painted in green of the Tigra Lady – the astout Belgian sixties-model with the tiger cap that can be found on every Tigra cigaret flipbox and that has regained popularity in circles of vintage lovers. From my bedroom window, I can overlook the metal screen, and look into the courtyard. It was there that Djambas had been having multiple and almost non stop rendez-vous with most of the male cats of the neighboorhood that are roaming the streets freely during day or night.  I saw some of the male cats waiting for her in the courtyard. After ten days of catfornication, Djambas had obviously reached her point of sexual saturation and had met the limits of her physical possibilities. Normally, she cannot do for more than a few hours without fresh food. She is very demanding, talks a lot in catlanguage in order to send you her commands that demand gratification. She knows how to open doors by jumping on top of the leverage and pusing it down with her weight. I always presumed her to be a bit backward because of her utter solipsistic and somewhat autistic behavior. But since her escapade last December and her recurrence both during the vision in which Chris helped me finding her back and in the reality of my life, I look at her quite differently. And, as Arlette would remark rightly so after Djambas’ magical resurrection, the princess herself really behaved differently than she did before. She had gained confidence, acted much less stressfull (no more biting of the tail), and seemed in all ways possible to have become a much wiser and mature catlady than the permanently scared nervous little durak she had been before. She had become a different cat in the same catskin.

Even though I expected her to be pregnant after the sexual orgy of ten days, Djambas has not become so. She is not sterilized, so I presume she is infertile. However, her sexual and hormonic drives are (and have remained) huge to the point of a bewildering excess.

I still look at the courtyard from my bedroom window quite a lot, to ponder on the metaphorical meanings that the story of refinding lost Djambas and Chris showing me the way to the courtyard certainly have. It is fascinating. And I do have to tell you – I hope you will not scorn me for this – that the shamanic session of Arlette and me that December evening, had been invoked with the help of some little seeds that I found in the appartment of Chris on the day that I spent writing and reading and listening to his music in his flat in the Vereinsgasse. Woodrose is the name of these seeds. Hawaiian woodrose.

Remember the story that I recalled for Chris’ Todestag Memorial, last time in Kafka, taken from a letter in 1999 Chris had written me, in which he – in anticipation of my book We call them Roses that was due to come out that fall and for which presentation Chris would come to Amsterdam with Helmut the musician – accounted of his experience that he once saw a rose breathe in the Praterpark? I gave you a copy of the letter, didn’t I? It all seems so magnificently meaningful and beautifully connected in a spiritual way. Perhaps I have a tendency to overinterpret this a bit by the shere force of my enthusiasm. Arlette warns for this tendency sometimes. But without wanting to pretend an understanding of all these connections, the sensibility for noticing them provides me with a much broader and deeper aptness for spiritual growth that I seemed to lack before. What do we know of it all? Not much. Nothing for sure. And true as this may be, it really seemed as if Chris – in a purvasive way – wanted to make something clear to me. Something important, meaningful, even useful. And that he was crafting, in his peculiar ways, repetitive efforts to shed a bit of his light into the darker corners of my mind.

I remember that after having returned, you and i, from the memorial in Kafka (after midnight Wednesday night) I watched a bit of television from the bed in the living room you and your mother had spread out for me. In order to ease out the excitement of the night, to help me reach the calmth and numbness that I needed before being delivered into the arms of Morpheus. It happened that there was only one interesting movie that struck my attention at that late hour: The Name of the Rose – with Sean Connery – based on the book of Umberto Eco. I had to smile and thought about Chris’ letter and the poem I read a few hours earlier in his memory. Could not help but to see it as some kind of wink or witty greeting from – yeah from who knows where. All the more so, because it was only the day thereafter that I stumbled on those tiny seeds in Chris’ appartment. Somehow all these hints seemed to point into the same direction (roses) and radiated the word as a symbol of significance. And even though it may sound pompous, it is indeniable that by following the hints all the way to the content of the cupboard in the Vereinsgasse, I have in some ways been able to find and see, and eventually even break open, the door that leads towards a deeper, truer and, eventually, a better  self. A passage that, for some reason or other, was blocked for many years.

The list of things that I have gained already, simply by having access to this door, is impressive: An appetite for life as such, a clearer vision, a sharp sense of direction, a deepened love for  Arlette with whom I shared this whole experience. And, luckily, the insight of the vision did not bleaken or disappear in the days that followed our session. All relevant scenes and images of our experience still comes to us, both to Arlette and me, in a christal clear way. Some of these insights could and should, in my case, hopefully result in a more profound and personal way of writing. A style of expression that is much more precise, more simple, sharper, concise and above all: closer to my (current) soul.

With the lust for life has also come a new sense of devotion and ability to concentrate. I finished my novel that I had been working on for such a long time. I am full of plans and good spirit, and have not felt as fit in many years. Ready to proceed in a refreshed and vital mood, curious to find out what’s still to come along the path of our earthly presence – whatever may become of it and wherever the coordinates may lay of our destiny. Nothing is final. “Auch die Vollendung kennt kein Ende”, I scribbled in my Moleskine during our session. It is all part of an ongoing process. Incessant. Sans issue.

Also very remarkable is that I have stopped dreaming incessantly of scenes in which I fall endlessly  from great heights, rocks, mountaintops, ski-slopes into the water or on the land etc. Nightmares I could not get rid of and that kept chasing me for many years ever since the car accident I had with Joris Abeling on February 16th 1998. The session of the woodrose, to which I was directed by the gently guiding hand of Chris and you (I had never heard of the seeds before), must have cured me also in this peculiar case. Perhaps that with my regained Lust for Life, and the eased out option of “to be or not to be”, some ghastly ammunition has been made inactive in the powderkeg of my mind. It feels as if some kind of mist, that clouded my brain, has cleared the runway. As if the swamp from which so many chimaeres originated that kept harassing me for years in my recurring dream of a free fall towards death, has effectively been drained.

I would like to write a story about the experience I described above, but do not know yet in which form to  put it. I would like to call the account “Curiosity kills the cat”. As a working title.

Please light a sandle wood stick for Chris, the next time you are in his appartment. I would be very grateful if you did. I hope in December I can come again, with Arlette perhaps, to do such thing commonly and to look out of the window through which Chris decided to break through towards the realm beyond. In a way, for Chis to have ended down there – in the thin blanket of snow covering the frozen ground from which he passed on – seems to be quite a suitable or at least understandable way for our dear dear friend to proceed, precisely because it was a consequence of his immanent curiosity that was so much his characterological trademark and in which he was so much different from most other people who are afraid to discover strange, new, other things or people than the one they know already. Curiosity kills the cat – indeed. But it is much more subtle than the blunt Ah-Pook-like tendency to give up or destruct that I felt close to be a prey of for quite a few years. Wizzards are they, who are able and wanting to bear the consequence of their adventurous and limitless mind to the very end. I never believed in such things as an afterlife, or of guiding spirits such as Giacomo Casanova tended to believe in (when the opportunity made it profitable to do so), but the many clear visions and healing insights that have been purveyed to me in recent times, provide me with wisdoms that until recently I mentally held myself unfit for. Not mature or open enough, too sceptical and saturated. In any way I cannot deny that I feel very happy to have been granted a chance to open up the door within myself that was locked up for so long – and that finds itself quite opposite to the one I focused on as the one and only realistic way out of the misery. I am grateful for Chris that he helped me open that inner door by breaking the lock,  and providing me gently with a light so that I could begin to give my life a new start and to proceed with fresh energy on a journey that will – even with the many hardships that lie certainly ahead as in any perishable life –  at least make it possible to add value to it all. To go on with regained fervour and finish the game in style.  On a different level. Ripened. With a higher sense of self-esteem and a better understanding of the fact, why it is that in this universe, in the beginning as well as in the end, life in general  deserves respect instead of loathing. “The readiness is all”, Hamlet stated at the end of his last act. And now I see it was quite pretentious and poor, to think I deemed myself experienced and saturated enough to have reached such readiness in any way.

Here lies a task.

Warm embrace and thankful hug from,

Serge

Brussels Belgium A.D. 2010

The parable of the bear and the gardener.

Once there was a bear, an ugly and discarded creature who was hiding for the world and lived all alone in the forest. After a while he became melancholy and crazy.
So he left from his solitary spot and while on the move, he met a gardener who was also leading a solitary life and longing for company. The bear started to live in the little house of the gardener. The gardener had become a solitary man because he could not stand stupid people, but because the bear knew less than three words and spoke even less during a day, he could continue the work he wanted to do without being disturbed. The bear was hunting and brought back game for both the gardener and himself. When the gardener fell asleep, the bear sat next to him, full of dedication and hunted the flies away that would sit on his face. One day a very big and ugly fly sat down on the tip of the gardeners nose, a fly that not would let himself being chased away. The bear got terribly mad and enraged, and could not stand the brutality of the little stupid fly and took up a huge rock and smashed the insect to death. with that act he unfortunately also crushed the skull of his beloved gardener.

excerpt from‘Highway 83’, last of four novellas published together as De overkant en het geluk (Prometheus 1995). The ‘fabula’ about friendship and love, is originally ascribed to Aesopus, a poet and slave from ancient Greece of whom little or nothing is actually known – not even whether he really existed.

THE AXES OF YOUR MIND
For Gesine Last

And with the axes of your mind your life cuts in reverse.
Now you can see exactly what you did
wrong yesterday and wrong the day before
and each mistake leads back to something worse.

And every nuance of your hypocrisy
towards yourself, and every excuse
stands solidly on the perspective lines
and there is perfect visibility.

What an enlighenment. The colonnade
rolls pass on either side. You needn’t move.
The statues of your errors brush your sleeve.
You watch the tale turn back – and you’re dismayed.

And the dismay at this, this big mistake
is made worse by the sight of all those who
knew all along where these mistakes would lead –
those frozen friends who watched the crisis break.

Why didn’t they say? Oh, but they did indeed –
said with a murmur when the time was wrong
or by a mild refusal to assent
or told you plainly but you would not heed.

Yes, you can hear them now. It hurts. It’s worse
than any sneer from any enemy.
Take this dismay. Lay claim to this mistake.
Look straight along the lines of this reverse:

the axes of your mind. And break!

April/November 2008
Brussels/Berlin

Winter Insomnia

The mind can’t sleep tonight, can only lie awake and

gorge, listening to the snow gather as

for some final assault.

It wishes Tolstoy were around to minister

the bits and cracks of life

and put them together as one whole.

The mind would like to get out of here

onto the ice. It would like to skate

with a pack of shaggy Amsterdammers

skinny and all teeth, like animals

under the moon, across the snow

leaving no prints or spoor, nothing behind.

The mind is wicked tonight

and full of joy of past tomorrows.

Solaris solitaris

there is no reason for illusions
but still we want to believe

that life is worthy. We demand more
than we can find. All the rest

remains ideal – even for
whoever lives in wilderniss

only seldom she is found
and always she is lost

in brightness. The place
of individuals remains their

solitude, solaris
solitaris

head bursting out of its skull
brain bursting out of its hulster
my ego has again departed
I is no longer the other
but a multitude of me

unriddle the structures of time
externalise your fears
befriend your neurosis

make sure heaven will lose
its utter sanctity

from: Bloedtest (De Bezige Bij, 2003)

Psychopathia Sexualis

Thus he imagines that he
steps into her dream; the house
of an acquaintance, a patient
a knock on the door, a small
tap on her head, a smile

he puts his leather bag
next to her bed, smells her
parfume (Bardot, or Givenchy)
the breath of eveningcoffee, but
not the slightest shade of fear

while he looks in his bag she asks
whether he’d like the window to be
opened, air and light to enter, but
he says he’d prefer not. He says
the room will anyway remain too small

she asks politely whether she
should undress. He nods and
takes on her clothes. He folds them
and puts them on the blanket; he helps her nice-
and orderly, because no passion must arise

he puts some drops of fluid in her
inflamed eyes, sprays haze
into her nose, cleans thoroughly
both lungs, puts his stethos
at her shoulderblades

and imagines how he opens up her
bottom with his nails, skins
her back and caresses her spine
(he thinks of laketrout, truite
à la meunière) and with his hands

he grabs at her veins that
curl around his fingers
he grasps at her heart that,
before he multiplies and cuts it
is being smothered by a kiss

a kiss! that age-old art
of self-restraint

from: Copycat (Prometheus, 1996)

Ace Driver (Senna, † 1-5-1994)

I read about a man
who shot at his screen
when he learnt of your death
now you live here
in this gambling machine
your body turned into
a restless lead ball
a flickering name
A notice has been tacked to the wall
with drawing pins:

SVP: LIMITED PLAYING TIME
REF. OTHER PLAYERS

apt, don’t you agree

Do you know, I wonder
what actually went through
that helmeted head of yours
when you took off
did you see magnificent fish
(rock-bass and bream)
gasping for air
or birds (minstrels, leadbeaks,
finches or linnets) with
crippled wings or naked,
pugilistic women?
Did you hear Beethoven blare
in your ear? An oratorio choir,
a last note, a deep bell
or precisely as here
the senseless soundtrack
of hell? It makes me wonder,
now that I can see your lights
flash amply again in front of me
now that I can hear the screeching
of your car in the last turn, no
the one before…

from: Copycat (Prometheus, 1999)

Pinkfingered roses

feel with your fingers
the tender, night-buttoned bodies
taste with your tongue the anchovis
filled with little grains of heroine
fix out your wrinkles
before it gets crawling under your skin

rehydrate the music, the concertos
of feeble vibrations
undo with the idols
of current generations
wrap up all the leftovers
of lost inspiration

have an eye on the rest
and take care of the dangers
beware of all hazzards, of pity
and scorn, insurancy agents
of women and strangers

suck out the fat in all levels
of your mind, undress yourself
from the notion of time
cut the cables of emotions
intertwine all recurrent wires
connect longtime with shorttime
devotions,doubt about yourself
hand over your earnings, pour down
mixtures of poison (do this as an early routine)
and get drunk of dawn, before daytime
when only the angry still can

from: Copycat (Prometheus 1996)

In the laboratory of love

estranged by the abbreviation
(`please do not forget that funny, little thing’)
I looked at her: mademoiselle mosquito
a bite on her vanilla coloured skin
before I did surrender to the changes of appearence
the boiling of the blood,the shiverings of our mood
and later listening to the sounds of two deterrent bodies
in cold and foamless water. Steam became dew, heat
became ice, and flesh became stone
bewildered, stirred, confused
we cut the barbed wire around our hearts
and waited for the days that followed
we felt as during chemistry lessons
curious to see what would be left
of what’s left

from: Obiit in orbit (De Bezige Bij, 1999)

The crash

everything you knew
has vanished now

one push on a button
Delete/SysRq

you who thought it would be
nothing but a torn page

a blind spot in your memorie
mors

something that would perish with age
or that would come by night

pale as the moon, as the scary face
of a screaming baboon

as a bony-white segment
an old wrinkled serpent

or as a night that would be
without end

but clearly it came on a blue
and bright day. Without delay

but directly in the sun
with a bang, blood and shredder

while asked around you were the only one
who knew the right word for the top

of a coffin: eternal look-out
wisecrack! In the wreckage

you proved that you could do without
while firemen were burning holes

in the roof-top you kept your eyes straight
at the sun

I do remember now, in fact
how death was called that day:

a cataract

from: Obiit in orbit (De Bezige Bij, 1999)

Night in Hotel Orbit

`What you will find here in this resort
is a good and pleasant atmosphere’
the manager says. `That’s why we’ve called it
Hotel Orbit. It’s English and easy for the ear
and good as such for customs sake’

in the rooms upstairs you find frayed nettings
a tv with sixteen channels mostly showing noise
a central VCR down at the reception desk
is playing movies filled with fragments
out of children’s lives; the porno
is preferably consumed with paper cans
filled with icy pop or fresh, hot popcorn
coming out of the machines that are restlessly
zooming in the blue-carpeted hallways

on the toilet of the lobby one can find left-overs
grains of hash, a slogan that is burnt by smoker’s ash
into the stained and orange colored doors:
`please don’t let me die in this century’
and other words of poetry

you always wanted to be kidnapped
you always wanted to crawl on a floor
where your blood could not go
you were willing to take scourges
not knowing how they usually feel
you were willing to take pain
assuming that your body would heel

wounds always reminded you of flowers
desire of the things that are gone
and the things that you’re still yearning for
are you longing to return to yourself?
are you willing to give up your soul?
are you longing for a room in this hotel?
where the walls are feeding on the fumes of visitors
where each body catches rheuma, where each head
is going low, where each heart is being emptied
and each life is going slow

in this hotel nobody knows at breakfast time
what date it is, and what the number is
of the room that was assigned
in the afternoon one hears the shootings
outside, the echoes of the drums
soldiers’ marching songs, the army
of our fate approaching at close range

cold-blooded, cool-headed, determined
these men of arms have plotted their attack
no settlement can be arranged
one sees our waiters carrying guns
serving on the very few remaining guests
outside who still enjoy the sun

checking out of this forgotten place
is not a matter hereof privacy
or one’s own will; no one is free
to go back home. what as a little
summertrip began is destined to go on
how long ago since you arrived in this hotel
how many of your loved ones have already
died; do you feel sorrow or remorse
for the persons you have loved the most?
are you happy with the atmosphere?

can you tell lucidity from fear?
no panic, be secure, be calm
the oxygen is almost gone
fresh air is running thin

was it cancer or old age your parents
perished by, who drove the car
that killed your dearest friend
and in whose hands would you prefer
to put your trust mistakingly
in here your one and only company
is solitude, in here one says
you should be grateful you’re alone

nobody is allowed to receive visitors
nobody likes to be disturbed
this is – of course –
‘to your greater security’
and the comfort of us all
thus are the rules set by the personnel
and such is the nature of this weary crew

this is the place where very soon
you will be one of those persons
missing, this is the place where
very soon you will be one of those
reported dead or disappeared

the world outside will never understand
what happened in fact nobody
will ever know
nor will they care

whether you still exist (or not)
or ever were alive
you realize that what you are
was merely in your blood

and now quite sharply things appear
and everything seems clear

from: Obiit in orbit (De Bezige Bij, 1999)

Nyctalope

Your face is never bright
You always seek the dark
Part of your face has disappeared
You say that you are through
with this world, Christ –
you could die like a deer
here in this room
antlers drilled into a cortex
a hole in the skull
ice behind the eyes –
but no one
wanted it like that
Is this another new disease
or a symptom of love
in a sick room?
the alarm clock says it for you:
tomorrow you will wake up
newly born

from: The Palace of Sleep (Prometheus, 1993)

The Vorticist Manifesto

Hallo dear Du!

“Old Possums Katzenbuch”, sent to me as a white and chlorine free birthday package floating on the surface of that green and lustrous mountain-river that cuts right through Scuol, provides me with tremendous joy. Very English, civilized, witty, with a tender balance of psychocatty wisdom and lyrical virtuosity. But it remains the eye of an observer at distance. The consecutive portraits of our feline goddesses make me smile or sometimes even roar with laughter, but after all the manieristic bravoura I start to yearn for a less distant and more spiritual, specific and in depth approach. Anyway, many thanks for this enchanting present, oh sister high up in the Alps.
High up at this very instant also are my cats Kyra and Djambas, looking down on the terrace from the roof where (during the day) they are watching the birds on top of the buildings nearby. The place where I usually write, is at the front end of my first floor – in a bright space with glass ceiling bordering on the wooden construction of my library (with rails and moveable staircase) – which is at the back of my house bordering on a tiny interior terrace with a Persian fresco of painted tiles picturing Simurgh – the mythical “thousand-bird” that eats elifants and has the size of thirty birds – Persians call it the king of birds.
As a devoted cat-soul, I cannot help but cherishing a fascination for those age-old species with feathers and wings and beaks that inhibit the trees and skies. Simurgh is a bit like the Egyptian Phoenix – a symbol of the devouring force of (limitless) Time. It is a very colourful artwork made by an artist called Said, in which reassuring presence I tend to find comfort and inspiration while writing. For long, my favorite bird was an owl. L’hibou de la nuit. But the experience of the storks in Rumania flying over the freshly harvested fields just outside Suceava, that Saturday Aug.16th around noon, with their sharply preying eyes looking down on us humans lost in the agricultural landscape at the bronze monument of a Bucovinan war-hero and writer, sent also shivers through my bones. These birds were looking our little group of humans straight in the eye, and while circling calmly above us, I was forced to meditate on the silent but relentless meaning of their dark and icecold, sharply focused gaze. Who are we, clothed primates, loud and arrogant parvenus, compared to these feathered heirs of the Jurassic age? Their species was circling the earth and its skies hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years, before us troglodytes dared to crawl out of our caves.
In The Human Stain by Philip Roth, a book I read this week with intense fascination, there is this tamed crow named Prince. Everything that is touched by human beings is marked for life. Prince cannot return to his bird`s world, the likes of him would kill him, because he carries the Human Stain. He smells human. In the Nordic mythology the crow symbolizes wisdom. Odin always carried two crows on this shoulder that told him what was going on in the world. In Alessandro Baricco`s Silk the protagonist Hervé Joncour discovers mighty aviaries that lodge a wide variety of beautiful, precious birds. Wonderful crazy things. He remembers to have read that Asian men rewarded their lovers by giving them selected birds instead of jewellery or flowers.
If some day you experience something overwhelming, if you discover beauty, you open the doors and watch them fly. One day Hervé Joncour watches a spectacular scene:
„So he finally watched, unexpectedly, how the sky above the house was
patterned by the flight of hunderds of birds, birds that were hurled off
the earth, astonished birds of every kind, singing and clamouring,
firework of wings and cloud of colours and tones that flew into the sky.”

While leading since four weeks quite a rigorous life of disciplin and sobriety, awkwardly enough I feel much more detached from the earthly grid than I am used to. The sharpness and clarity of mind are somehow counterbalanced by a strange dizziness that sets in during the day. My early morning routine of swimming-sessions in the art nouveau swimmingpool around the corner at the Vossenplein in the Marolles, unfortunately left me with an infection of the Eustachius-tube. At the cause of my allergia lies the excessive usage of chloride as a means of disinfectant – a habit the Belgians are stubbornly sticking to regarding sanity in their public pools. The space between ears and nose has been filling up with thick green slime – until I reach the point of disturbed equilibrium, nausea and partial deafness. I was treated for this allergia for the first time already when I was ten years old, in a hospital in Nijmegen. Now it is a matter of putting things to the test. I hope that I can stay tough and swim through the ordeal until a point of resistance is being reached. If not, it will bereave me of a huge pleasure and stimulating morning habit.
The infection has practically left me without any sense of smell or taste – and this for three weeks already. I find it quite ironic, just now that I have converted myself to the Spartan way of life of health and sports, the deprivation of my primary senses is so drastic that it sometimes feels as if I have drifted away into a bufferzone. With one foot standing on the shore of life, it feels as if my other foot is placed in a shady, static realm of perception without feeling. The fresh, raw and sobered out Serge is feeling muted and sedated. Is this a revenge for something I have done wrong in the past? And is it perhaps more than just a case of coincidence and irony? Could it be symbolic or a symptom of a very basic form of condition humaine: the inability to master all the forces that determine our (well)being and shape our fate? Or is it nothing more than a cosmic balancing act. Just another example of the rule that all sweet things remind us of the bitter ones too. The principle of love and strive, as Empedocles called it. It is on the kozmic drums of all contesting forces, according to Empedocles, that the rhythmus of existence finds its origin. .
Tweespalt, we call this phenomenon in Dutch. A word that cuts right through language itself. (Zweispalt – does this word exist in German?) Empedocles: “At one time they [the elements] grew to be alone from being many, and at another they grew apart again to be many from being one. Double is the generation of mortal things, double their passing away: one is born and destroyed by the congregation of everything, the other is nurtured and flies apart as they grow apart again. And these never cease their continual change, now coming by Love all into one, now again all being carried apart by the hatred of Strife. Thus insofar as they have learned to become one from many and again become many as the one grows apart, to that extent they come into being and have no lasting life; but insofar as they never cease their continual change, to that extent they exist forever, unmoving in a circle. […]” (Simplicius, Commentary on Physics, 31.30)

After my work in the music-studio of Dichters Dansen Niet yesterday, Vahur and I went into the city for some fresh air & energy. We found the early autumn freshness we were looking for on the wet streets of Brussels, and after midnite in a sleazy bar for Arab people called `Oriental’, a sort of dungeon of Alibaba where very strange looking, bizarre and busy but friendly Arab people were drinking, doing business and dancing. Boy, did they dance, rattle and roll! The best dancer in the ring was remarkably enough the fattest guy present, around thirty years of age, about hundred thirty kilo’s, and wile dancing he knew how to make every inch of meat in his body move and look elegant, like a sublime heavy weight accrobat who was losing weight while flying lightly, gently above the floor. Every move he made, was symmetrical to the one made by his female counterpart that invited him to dance. In the bar, two huge and quite disgusting insects (cockroaches) were observing us close to the mirror where we sat, and neither Vahur nor me took the effort to splash and kill them… A man with a split-face (long and narrow, a bit like a horse) invited us to dance. We felt like vikings among an indian ritual.
When we got outside, a star was shining in the south-western sky, as bright and colourful as I have ever seen. In fact, the star even reminded me a bit of a Rosetta in a French cathedral – however tinier its scale of course – cut out in the stained glass of a dark and crimson night. Excited, we reached our home on the hill near Sablon. From here, we observed the star more thoroughly with powerful Zeiss-binoculars. The mystery remained. Was this Venus, the famous morning star? Another planet upon which some uncommonly strong moon- or solar rays reflected? Was this a super-nova, or perhaps even one or more (a cluster) of exploding stars before sucking themselves into nothingness? It was surely not a trip, no hallucination, no lysergic vision that caused the occurance of it. When I look out of the window at this very moment, she is still there. Guarding. Shining. Burning. Disappearing? Who knows…
This is where I will call it a day (as late as it is already). Longing to have a thorough rest upstairs. Passing on to the peaceful panorama on the inside of my mind.
From Brussels, instead of chocolates, I send you my most kindred brotherly regards.

Serge

—– Original Message —–
From: swantje lichtenstein
To: ‘Serge van Duijnhoven’
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2008 10:13 PM
Subject: AW: Of cats birds insects and Empedocles

dear serge,

thanks for your nightly after-arabian-dancefloor-email.
I am writing an vortex cycle right now.
and thanks for your thoughts. very inspiring.
hope your inner ears are getting better.
BUT (the contesting signal !! ACHTUNG!!)
only two senses are missing. or three.
but isn’t it all about seeing and touching?
most of the time.
I don’t believe in revenge.

BUT in manifestos, one of ezra pound and his friends.
you started with the copy-paste-thing, therefore:

The Vorticist Manifesto

1. Beyond Action and Reaction we would establish ourselves.
2. We start from opposite statements of a chosen world. Set up violent structure of adolescent clearness between two extremes.
3. We discharge ourselves on both sides.
4. We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours.
5. Mercenaries were always the best troops.
6. We are primitive Mercenaries in the Modern World.
7. Our Cause is NO-MAN’S.
8. We set Humour at Humour’s throat. Stir up Civil War among peaceful apes.
9. We only want Humour if it has fought like Tragedy.
10. We only want Tragedy if it can clench its side-muscles like hands on its belly, and bring to the surface a laugh like a bomb.

are we vorticists then. maybe? !
did your cats caught the birds?
or the dragons? or your demons?
missing mine (my cat! I took the demons with me!!)
it is getting cold in nairs. the snow is close by.
I am afraid to go back to reality in two weeks
and stiched a poem.

good night. but maybe you are just awake.
all the best from the marmots here
and me,
sw*

LIVING ON THE FAULT LINE OF LANGUAGE

by Serge van Duijnhoven

Diametrically across the Belgian territory runs the yawning fault line of language. In the northern half of the country (“Flanders”) Dutch is spoken. In the southern half (“Wallonia”) French. In the east, there is a small but steady autonomous community of about 75,000 German speaking Belgians. Brussels, officially “bilingual”, is predominantly French-speaking, but in essence a multicultural enclave within the Dutch-speaking sector. The division of a Dutch speaking north, and French speaking south, correspond quite closely to an ancient line dividing communities that fell respectively under Roman or Germanic rule. It is a line where Gallo-Roman and Frankish influence kept each other entangled in a delicate balancing act between northern and southern habits, languages and trademarks.

ORIGINS

Even though we speak about the regions of Flanders and Wallonia, its inhabitants do not speak Flemish or Walloon. What they do speak is Dutch and French. Both of them do this in a variety of dialects. My experience is that almost every village and sometimes even every borrough or street, has its own peculiar brogue and tongue. The origins of French are believed to lay far away, in Occitaine. Language historians and scholars of medieval Dutch culture have many reasons to claim that the origins of the Dutch language can be traced back to closer range: the area around Kortrijk – that is in the West of Flanders. It is there, only a few miles away of the current French border, that the first written sources of medieval Dutch have been found, cryptic scribblings found in monasteries from around the year 1000, preserved in between the pages of meticulously decorated bibles.
The nation of Belgium as we know it today, has been, ever since its declaration of independence in 1830, a multilingual melting pot that finds it very difficult to forge a clear and mutually shared identity. The French speaking community is strongly connected with and geared towards Paris. The Flemish Community looks often in northern direction. Franco Belgian writers with a certain ambition prefer to be published in Paris, their Flemish colleages prefer to sign their contracts with one of the major publishing houses in Amsterdam. Francophone Belgium is part of the French language commonwealth, Flemings are very keen on their membership of the Taalunie, a Dutch Language Union of shared cultural partnership with the Netherlands and Surinam. Membership of this Union is seen as a tactical advantage in the ongoing battle against the self-declared superiority of the French language that has dominated society for such a long time. This very clear and strong attachment to the Dutch language as a tool for Flemish emancipation, is probably the main reason that English is still not – and probably never shall be – the first language of communication on Flemish universities.

SOCIAL LANGUAGE BOUNDARY

Apart from the geographical language boundary that cuts through Belgian fields, there is another language boundary which has been determining the course of its history. Brussels born writer and sociologist Geert van Istendael calls it the ‘social language boundary’. In Belgium, the upper class was always separated from the lower classes, not only by money, not only by education, but also by language. The upper class spoke French in otherwise completely Flemish places like Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent and even in tiny villages the lords spoke French and the farmers spoke some kind of Dutch dialect. The French speaking upper class in Flanders despised the popular Dutch language. They used to say: “On parle flamand aux animaux et aux domestiques.” A language for animals and servants. The emancipation of Dutch language in Belgium is a cultural aspect of a class struggle. On the other hand, linguistic and social oppression also provided many empoverished illiterate Flemings with a key to Enlightenment, and a broader horizon than their own parochial little world’s outlook.
The origins of the “language battle” or “language war”, as the sharp division between Flemings and Francophones is being referred to, are fairly recent. French, the court language of the Habsburg monarchy, became the language of the administrative and cultural elite of Flanders and Wallonia during Austrian rule in the eighteenth century. This process was reinforced by the French revolutionary occupants and their Napoleonic heirs. Meanwhile the peasants of Flanders continued to speak a range of local Flemish dialects. Domination by French speakers was reinforced by early-nineteenth-century industrialisation; impoverished Flemish peasants flocked to Wallonia, the heartland of Belgium’s wealth in coal and steel. It is not by chance that many French-speaking Walloons today have Flemish names.
In current Belgium, there are more Dutch speakers than French speakers – by a proportion of three to two – who also produce and earn more per capita. This process, whereby the Belgian north has overtaken the south as the privileged, dominant and more prosperous region, has been gathering speed since the late fifties of the twentieth century, accompanied by a crescendo of demands from the Flemish for political gains to match their newfound economic dominance. Flemish nationalism and Francophone contempt for “ceux qui aboyent le flamand” (those barking Flemish) are very real antagonistic forces in Belgian politics and society, that are setting free quite atavistic impulses and sentiments we associate more with a century gone by than with a desirable future. A firmly rooted political tradition of serenity, negotiations and consensus among the democratical parties (as well as the avoidance of a “majority dictatorship”), is probably the reason why violence, bloodshed and terrorism have been absent from
Belgium’s history so far. Its mere existence for over 178 years can be seen as a miraculouos result of compromise-politics.

UNSTOPPABLE MOMENTUM

Alas, this political tradition of consensus does not seem effective as far as linguistic division is concerned. As a result of the waning of the old national elite and the economic rochades taking place in both parts of the country – Belgium has started a long process of constitutional reform from 1970 onwards in order to overcome the conflicts between Flemings and Francophones. Every new phase claims to be the last but devolution nevertheless keeps dragging on, as if every new step brings about the need for a further deepening of federalism. A compromise in the end is never enough. It seems impossible to settle the matter once and for all. The decomposition of the country into an ever more regionally inspired de-centralization has gained an instoppable momentum. Belgium is melting away in a steady pace, like an Alpine glacier in our period of global warming. The nation is held together by little more than the King, the public debt, plus a mutual mistrust towards authorities in general and the other language community in particular. Culturally the seperation advocated by nationalist politicians on both sides of the spectre is already a fact, as Dutch and French citizens no longer share any significant common medium of communication. They do not read each other’s papers, do not watch each other’s television programmes, do not share the same public debate nor the same icons. Nor do they have any common political parties or national politicians for which the entire country can vote.
In his book The Age of Extremes, published in 1995, the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, wrote that he would not be surprised if Belgium would cease to exist “within the next ten or fifteen years”. Hobsbawm forecasted its collapse somewhere between 2004 and 2009. If he is right, Belgium is already living in the shadowy phase of extra time. Therefore I would like to kindly urge all scholars of European languages: please come over before it is too late, and take a careful look at all the refined constitutional, cultural and political armory designed and procuced to overcome the gap between the different language communities. And if you manage to come over and make a stroll along the fault line I discussed above, please tell me then whether you can feel it too: that ominous trembling of the earth at the very place where north and south since ancient times collide.

Serge van Duijnhoven (1970), is a Dutch-born writer and historian who moved to Belgium in 1996 as a journalist and scriptwriter for Belgian theatre groups. He was the winner of the Nova Makedonia Poetry Award at the Poetry Festival of Struga 1995, and the Initiator of MillenniuM; the bordercrossing periodical of the “Art Group of the Lowlands”. Van Duijnhoven is frontman of the band “Poets Don’t Dance” – a Belgian based group that is stageing poetry and music performances throughout Europe. Van Duijnhoven’s last publications: De zomer die nog komen moest (prose) and Klipdrift (poetry + music). Already for over a decade, Van Duijnhoven lives in the very folkish heart of Belgium’s bilingual capital: the “Marolles”.

• Geert van Istendael, Het Belgisch Labyrinth – wakker worden in een ander land, (Arbeiderspers Amsterdam, 2001, original version 1989)
• Eric Habsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914 – 1991, (London Vintage Press, 1997)

Redshift

SERGE VAN DUIJNHOVEN

The Society of Researchers in Theoretical Mathematics, Physics and Astrophysics, meeting by the banks of the Baltic Sea for a European Union conference on space travel, hobbled along the roads of the seaside resort, scattered and struggling, with great ceremony and noise. To left and to right lay ruined villas, once hurriedly abandoned by rich East-Prussian families as the Red Army arrived. These stately homes had then been packed with six, seven or eight families brought here from distant regions by the Father of the People to prevent the return of the Krauts. This had a drastic effect. A friend of mine, who lives comfortably in Moscow, still eats every day with silver cutlery his wife’s parents found in the accommodation assigned to them by the Soviet authorities.
When I got back to the hotel I discovered a note slipped under the door of my room. It was from Levon Zarubian, the famous astronomer, asking me to come and see him at his institute in Armenia to discuss something in complete confidentiality. He assured me that it was a most important matter, and that he was unsure, he who had spent his entire life establishing missing factors of space and time, how much time remained before certain parties would take advantage of the situation in which he found hi mself, in his entirely decrepit institute. “I hope you can excuse yourself to your colleagues for your unforeseen departure without necessarily giving them any precise explanation. You will find a train ticket in the envelope, which will enable you to get here quickly. For various reasons, it is better to avoid airports and major transport centres of this type where you may come into contact with people from the wider world. Have a good trip, my dear friend, and try to be well rested when you arrive in Yerevan. In any case, I look forward to seeing you, and I am counting on your discretion.”
Levon Zarubian was a space specialist whose eminence was matched only by his eccentricity. He had made a name for himself in the 1960s and ’70s through his research into the UV-rays and X-rays from the sun, and on the appearance of sunspots. He had reached the pinnacle of his career with the launch, on board Soyuz 13, of the space observatories Orion 1 and 2, which he had equipped with a Cassegrain meniscus wide-angle telescope, built by his own hands. He was thus able to locate on the map, with great precision and up to magnitude 13, the ghosts of stars which had once been completely invisible, and he had surprised everyone with the findings of his work on the level of ultraviolet rays in planetary nebula and on the influence of black holes and white dwarves on their surrounding environment. By way of comparison, the observational strength of the American space telescope installed in the Skylab during the same period was only magnitude 7. As early as the 1960s, Zarubian was announcing the presence of magnetic fields in space nebula, something which would only be proved forty years later through observations made by the Hubble telescope (which he helped to design). Zarubian was an authority in the area of interstellar matter, binary stars, white dwarves, common chromospheres (still known as “roundchromes”) and binary globular clusters. In an academic capacity, he had lectured on theoretical astrophysics and astromechanics at the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute and at Princeton University. He was also renowned as a painter, philosopher, essayist and enthusiast of artistic science methodology. When my book Cosmic Catastrophes was published, we had exchanged intensive correspondence on the subject of the inexistence, as then supposed, of a black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.

***

The train made numerous unexplained halts en route, and we often found ourselves at a standstill in the middle of nowhere. At other moments, we were able to just about make out our location on the panels of unoccupied or burnt-out signal boxes where the place names were written in Cyrillic lettering. The wait during these stops (in the course of which we were unable to leave the train) also gave us the impression to some extent of taking a trip back in time. Journeys across eastern Europe are certainly also journeys across time. Going forwards also means going backwards. You go forwards but the clocks are turned back drastically. In Kaliningrad it is Russian time, an hour later than in Poland. Further east, in Lithuania, you suddenly have to turn your watch back an hour, since this country no longer wants anything to do with Russian time. A little further along, at the border between Estonia and Belarus, the attitude changes. From there onwards, the time everywhere is that of Moscow, the city of a thousand and one bell-towers. Many a western despot has lost his way trying to capture the bell-towers of that city. At the border between Russia and Georgia, rigorous, silent customs officers checked the travellers with Geiger counters to prevent the smuggling of radioactive materials. A wit muttered between his teeth that the only thing being smuggled in were “a few paradigms”. Most of the passengers seemed to have nothing to declare. The customs officers quietly completed their inspections. The needle of the Geiger counter remained at rest.
Smugglers of paradigms. A clever expression for the battalion of babblers on board this Caucasian Express as it jolted along, making slow progress.

***

In the corridor of the Erebuni Hotel in Yerevan, guests off the train are reunited with their luggage which the porters have lined up on the floor, in long rows, like body bags. At the bar, taxi drivers sit on stools passing the time playing cards. The steps of the reception room are of fake marble, and the place is unheated. Even the enormous chandeliers fill the room with a cold light. The atmosphere is slightly warmer on the upper floors, where a red carpet stretches along the endlessly long corridors and where chambermaids watch sphinx-like over the premises from their walnut-panelled offices. They give guests keys in exchange for slips of paper, or give them slips of paper in exchange for keys. Halfway along the corridors are the “buffets”, little bars where you can order something to eat and where, hidden behind huge ceramic vases full of sansevieria in full bloom, sitting around like bored cats, young, and even very young, female companions await a sign from the chambermaids to go off to one of the hotel rooms.
“The Hotel offers comfortable rooms for one or two persons as well as triples and suites, corresponding to all the modern requirements,” I read in the hotel brochure left out for me, along with a red semi-liquid sweet, on the pillow of my single bed. Exhausted by the journey, still in my clothes, I allow myself to fall asleep.
Shortly after I lay down on my bed to rest, the telephone began to ring. I woke up with a start, at first not knowing where I was. It was two o’clock in the morning, I was still exhausted by the journey in the dusty carriage of the antique diesel train which had brought me there at a snail’s pace, from Moscow to this dried-out Caucasian plateau. This volcano-shaped wilderness. This kingdom of crying stones, as Ossip Mandelstam called Armenia.
“Intimat Servis,” a woman announced, in a cold, impersonal voice. “Would you like some company in your room?”
“Call back tomorrow,” I answered, amazed as much as angry, before violently hanging up. In the morning, I felt as if I had dreamt the whole thing, until at breakfast I heard other male guests telling how they too had been dragged from their slumbers by intimidating calls.

***

Road 34 leading to the observatory did not appear particularly crowded with traffic. The minibus driver, who was taking me there with two other passengers, started the vehicle with a roar and, passing the cable car station in the centre of Yerevan, took a steep path which bent off into the mountains. The landscape on all sides could be described as lush, with apricot orchards and lapping irrigation canals. But what stood out most were the soulless high-rise blocks of a Soviet housing scheme and the bus-shelters in the shape of hollow fish. Opposite the plateau overlooking the capital, beyond the dusty heights of Arak, rose the four cooling towers of Metsamor nuclear power station. The plant, equipped with the same kind of double reactor as Chernobyl, had withstood earthquakes measuring 7.6 on the MSK scale, but the Austrian Institute of Applied Ecology unequivocally rates it as one of the most dangerous power stations on the continent. Its status has gone from “exceptionally worrying” to “unquestionably disastrous” in terms of safety, location, state of dilapidation, maintenance, and levels of corruption among management and staff.
After the power station, we passed through a dazzling village full of brightly lit casinos and brothels on both sides of the road: Stardust, Cameo, Monte Carlo, Fortuna, Gloria, Casa Blanca. Their permanently lit front windows were filled with pole-dancing girls, palm-tree beaches and Formula 1 cars. In front of the gaming rooms, gangsters’ Humvee vehicles were parked along the footpaths, waiting like armoured cars.
Further along, I saw many bare, treeless areas among the mountains. “It’s because of the cold winters we’ve had recently,” the minibus driver explained. “Now that we’re free of the Soviet Union, we’re also cut off from their supplies of fuel. People have to get it where they can.”
The mountains of Armenia stretch as far as the eye can see. A dry land of volcanic origin, purified by soda. Shining between the rocks I could see obsidian, a black crystal formed when lava comes into contact with water. These flakes are known as the devil’s fingernails. Between the few trees still standing on the bends below, the glimmering lake Sevan seems to be slowly emptying, like the country itself. Apparently the water of the lake has been pumped out in great quantities to produce electricity since Armenia broke away from the Soviet Union and the latter switched off, one by one, the supplies of money, gas and petrol to its outlying republics. Underground channels connect the lake to a hydro-electric power station which supplies the current required for the strict maintenance under any circumstances of electrical power to hospitals, factories and laboratories, including the space observatory for which we were bound, perched high in the mountains of Gerhard (pronounced “Geckhard”), famous for the medieval stone monastery where apostolic monks keep the spearhead with which a Roman guard is said to have pierced the side of Jesus Christ on the cross to see if the Messiah was still alive.

I was horrified to think that the astrophysics institute of the Garni fault, once so renowned, and which Levon still headed despite his eighty-seven years, was to be found here. The office buildings had been abandoned one after the other, and were now missing windows and door frames. It seemed as if either a fire had ravaged the premises or an earthquake had shaken the interiors of the buildings. All around, there were papers blowing in the wind, cabinets lying on their sides, upturned tables and chairs.
A sickly secretary led me to the first floor where the master was ensconced in his office. There, behind a pile of books as tall as a tower, I found him in his chair: Levon Zurabian, the scholar, astrophysicist, painter and honorary member of the Armenian Writers’ Union. A very old man, half deaf, with a speckled white beard, residing here like a king abandoned to his solitude in a ruined palace, open to the elements, riddled with damp, invaded by nature and decay, like something out of Sleeping Beauty. On seeing me, the old man jumped up clumsily from his chair, made his way slowly towards me, and greeted me with enthusiasm.
“Ah! Perfect timing! I’ve been waiting for you. I’m glad to meet you at last.”.
I asked him why his institute was in such a state of dilapidation.
“Lack of money. Since the Russians left, we’ve had to fend for ourselves.”
With great enthusiasm, he showed me the latest photographs received from Hubble, the telescope he had helped to develop. There were images of Pluto, the furthest planet in our solar system. “I was right all along: Pluto appears to be a double planet. And, at the same time, it appears not to be a planet at all. But it’s odd to see photos which prove it…”
Zarubian walked before me up the spiral staircase leading to the domed observatory directly above his office. He proudly showed me the operation of the Mercator telescope he had assembled himself and which captured cosmic radiation using a whole arsenal of interconnected devices. The light could be analysed in its entirety on a perforated aluminium plate on which each hole corresponded very precisely to the place of the stars, solar systems, and quasars. The aluminium plate could be copied simultaneously, via 640 different light sources running through an impressive heap of fibre-optic cables, to two separate spectrographs.
It was scarcely believable that, from this makeshift castle tower, the most ambitious astronomical research ever undertaken was being conducted: the Mercator Zarubian project, which sought to determine the position, size, radiation and colour of more than a million stars situated in one quarter of the celestial vault, and to calculate the distance separating more than a million solar systems and quasars – the flickering beacons which appear where black holes have swallowed up the surrounding stars and gas. When the work was complete, it would be possible to create the first standardised atlas of the universe using pentachrome images of the northern region of the firmament.
“Now, my friend, I’m going to tell you the real reason for my invitation. Come over here. Do you see this capsule?” Levon pointed to a glass booth, located in the middle of the observatory, to which were connected a great number of cables. “In this capsule I keep the spectrogram, which I can say with certainty deserves your very close attention, but which has also given me no end of problems. Because the ultraviolet rays and gamma rays, captured at the exact centre of the Milky Way, have jointly produced, for some inexplicable reason, certainly optical and ultimately chemical reactions in the aluminium cover of the lens of the Binocular Telescope, which has a radius of 8.4 metres.”
“What do you mean exactly?”
“Goodness, I can’t put it any other way. At a given moment, God knows why, the spectrogram started to react. As if the aerial passage we were able to take from the occluded star in our Milky Way had come to life in some limited form. The radio radiation coming from the area around the black hole, as we observed it, resulted in the formation of a closed eye.”
“That’s incredible.”
“You can say that again. But wait, that’s not all. This closed eye moves as well.”
I looked at the scientist in stupefaction.
“It’s not me you should be looking at, you should be looking at that eye, there,” he told me, wide-eyed. “I have placed the eye in a transparent container maintained at a constant temperature of 7° Kelvin, which should keep the Cosmic Ocular Organism, or whatever other name might be given to the thing, in perfect condition.”
“That must use an awful lot of energy. Where do you get it from, in this ruined institute?”
“I have had a direct link set up with Lake Sevan hydroelectric power plant, which supplies a continuous and entirely secure current, so that the basic conditions in the capsule are kept constant. For the rest, I supply the organism with all possible light waves and all possible forms of radiation which come to us from the universe.”
I studied the elliptical material very closely, which appeared to be gently quivering in the incubator.
“Take another look at it, at your leisure. And now have a look at what happens if I release the gamma radiation energy field or the radiographic spectrum of a background noise over the capsule! Look!”
I watched, open-mouthed, as the blob in the chamber quivered for a brief instant, then unquestionably drew back to reveal the translucid surface of the internal organ, before covering it over once again.
“See? The eye winks…”
“Towards us? Do you think it’s winking at us?”
“I think, dear chap, that it’s winking at the universe.”
Directly below the observatory, unsteady pyramids of rubble mounted up against the rocks, reorganising themselves with a frightening roar several times per day, as soon as another pebble came loose. At times, the sound of these mini-avalanches was amplified and drowned out that of the icy river which murmured its way from the mountains to the valley and which grew calmer as it reached the level of the institute, where it divided into two small irrigation canals.
“The obvious question is: what does it all mean?”
“And what do you think?”
“I think, to be entirely frank, that it represents further evidence in support of my thesis that everything in this universe is subject to a principle of self-organisation. The universe is its own mother. And it is constantly giving birth to more children.”
“But what power does a child have which emerges from the complex reflection of a black hole?”
“That’s a good question. How about sleeping on it? Perhaps we can continue our discussion tomorrow.” Levon remarked, without batting an eyelid, and with a friendly pat on the shoulder: “I think we’re finally breaking into the mystery of the universe. I think the existence of this eye represents a significant breakthrough. See you tomorrow, my friend. Give yourself some time to digest all this.”

***

Before leaving the institute, I felt the urge to take a walk through the rooms and offices of the ramshackle building, invaded by rodents and weeds. The atmosphere of desolation and abandonment was reminiscent of the Tarkovsky film Stalker. I called out to hear my voice echo around an abandoned assembly room, empty and suffocating, where shafts of light beamed through holes in the roof. There was rubble on the ground, and I could hear low noises. Passing the assembly room, which had partly collapsed, where the Salyut capsules were once designed and assembled piece by piece, I climbed up a cinder path to gain a view over the whole site, and ascended the steps of a pylon above which swung the loose cables of a crane. Then I went and sat on the grass, in a shaded spot. I watched the butterflies frolicking, rocked by the breeze, and the domes of the observatory shining in the sun. Around noon, I stood up, brushed off my trousers, which were yellow with volcanic dust, and quickly went back down.

*

lysexcision by
Lysexcision by Colposcope
colposcope

I look out over the canal in Van Hall Street. Joggers with hats on, people walking their dogs. Also wearing hats. Cyclists across the street (has anything changed since I was born, didn’t the city look just the same thirty years ago?) Life silently passes by – cycling, jogging. People trying to keep fit. Sad people, nauseating health freaks, lost in their own bodies.
The neighbour unleashes his dog, setting him on the pigeons. It’s the only time I enjoy watching the dog go by.
The flying rats take off.

As a surprise, Norioco sent me a Princess of Darkness (Hot Milk Mangerotica Comix) album, a Manga comic about school girl Kurohara, who has small, flat breasts. She suffers bloody penetrations from wild, virile demons and sharp stones hammered into her pussy. Her breasts are pinned down with small rivets.
Is she, Norioco, trying to tell me something?

When we first met, she gave me her business card, a laminated black and white photograph of two female torsos, one urinating on the other. ‘The other one was my girlfriend,’ she explained. ‘She’s also an artist’.
Is she trying to tell me something?

People can never really know what role they play in another person’s life. They either hope for too much or assume too little.
Does Norioco understand me when I tell her she’s the ground beneath my feet, my food and drink, apple and worm? The highest attainable, fruit of fruits?
We made love. Afterwards, after we’d both come several times, she said, ‘One thing is certain, men will never outlive us women.’

I scanned some sixties volumes of Vogue and Playboy for our Web gallery. Am I doing enough? Less than I used to. I notice I’m beginning to feel weaker. Could it be someone is draining me, sucking the very fibre of my being?
Brother has an idea for our office, he wants to take the glutton Holle Bolle Gijs to Egypt. Holle Bolle Gijs in pyramid land – he thinks it’ll be great. I gave him a blue/batik pack of vacuum packed Bolletje toast for his birthday.
He doesn’t understand the reference, the sucker! And you’re pretending to be a conceptual artist, I mock. It’s as if I hear Norioco’s voice sneer in my ear. Is she my sister, my dear, the one who died?
It is all a matter of concepts, of ideas.

Still to be made: an Italian photo novel, a serial, a radio play scenario for the Web.
Time is running out.
I’m typing up my ideas, my heart on my sleeve.
Honesty and sober-mindedness.
It itches, it burns and for several days I’ve been bleeding between my legs.

I’ve been bleeding for a week.

Conversation with the gynaecologist:
– ‘What do you do, Madam, what’s your profession?’
– I produce rubbish, I’m the Bitch of the Bits and the Bytes, a Web Mistress, pardon me, Art Archivist, an Image Manipulator. (‘I’m not sure, doctor,’ and I didn’t lie when I told him that.)

The news from the lab, a week later:
– ‘There’s some tissue there which shouldn’t be there.’
– (Where should tissue be? I wondered, but luckily didn’t ask.)

At home I let the news sink in, staring out the window at the water by the quayside. I saw a duck diving, surfacing with a dark fish struggling in its mouth.
Everything seemed to have been pre-ordained. According to those who should know, there’d be box office hits. The year of the breakthrough, hooray! The gallery world was buzzing. The invitations were ready. Sometimes I wanted to let it all go up in smoke – fire (and film it, of course), or throw our studio key in the canal and just go away for a long time, to find a completely different office on my return three years later, when no-one here would know me.
Three years or so.
And now this.

Travelled to Brabant for maternal farewell tour. Consecutive ceremonies. I learned a lot about myself, about where the hell I come from, from which ashes I have risen. Me, the ultra mega light blonde, Polycoloured girl. Me, the super plastic sphinx. Hopeful! What I missed all those years is my mama (she doesn’t like me to call her mother – got an age complex, that mother of mine. Not surprising really, if you’ve been working as head of the geriatric department of a nursing home for two decades).
Do they celebrate anything other than departure in such a home? It’s a farewell home, that’s what it is. It’s a full day’s work for the old people. Visitors who come and go, friends, spouses who die. Getting old is a full-time course with your own tomb stone as diploma. Everyone who signs up, graduates – no problem. The Powers vouch for you.
Hundreds of pensioners, wrinkled old people have come to say goodbye to Mama, handing her envelopes filled with coins, tears in their eyes (oh dear!). Tears trickling from old, cataract-covered eyes. Eyes which may have come to know her better than I have – I’m thinking of the little old lady who told me in a broken voice, ‘She’s a little bit our mother too, you know! Hee, hee, hee…’ She used to be called the Loudspeaker Voice. ‘This is Sister Van Beijnum speaking.’ Her voice was everywhere…
This may explain my Internet ambitions, I thought.
Now my mama can start getting old herself. Later on, she can listen to loudspeaker announcements herself, take a course in bidding farewell.
The rest of the weekend I spent trying to come to terms with this inescapable fate, which became clear to me in Brabant. Sunday morning I sat behind the computer, when I looked up it was dark. She watches. Over me. (The moon.)

I lie here, bleeding and dripping. Some tissue has been scraped out, cauterised. The clamp opened up so they could work. Local anaesthetic. Speculum. Brother held my hand, took pictures, filmed with a video camera. (‘We’re going to make something beautiful of this,’ he said.) It must have something to do with the universal mother feeling, the womb thing, with me taking contraceptive pills when I was still going out with men, with my career-mindedness, with my baby-hating self. And the gaps in between.

Still a bit groggy from the operation. Not that it involved very much, oh no. I closed my eyes, so as not to see what was happening. (Typical of our generation, we want to record horrors and use them for artistic purposes, but we can’t even watch what we recorded, can’t look at what we’re experiencing.) Medical science, however, wanted me to undergo the ordeal, reporting every step, and announcing cruelties like:

vaginal injections
epidural anaesthesia (injection in the back)
bloody excisions
electrical extirpations (cauterisations)
swelling blood vessels

What came out of me (surgical waste, call it the ore mined from my inside, the scrapings from my body) is minimal. Strange, isn’t it. The moment it’s left your body, it’s no longer yours. We’d rather not look at our own excrement, at least I wouldn’t. It’s an instinctive loathing, the smell of rot (but I personally wouldn’t want to see a man’s stiff penis, a boy’s swollen satyr vein either).
It’s the same with that scraping of cauterised tissue, that piece of stuff (bluish red, black) from the womb. What remains of the operation: a scratch in the holiest of holies, that which in Herodotus is so aptly described as, ‘that which can never be seen by men’.
Dominia.

After fifteen minutes of stressful relaxation, nervously relaxing on the operating table and some rest, I stood up and walked out of the operating theatre, relieved. ‘Everything’s fine,’ I thought, ‘everything’s fine’.
But I fainted on my way to the toilet.
Brother came to help me.
And the only thing he could think of was whether he should take pictures of how I was lying there, collapsed, totally senseless. (Business as usual – does he claim this as overtime?)
‘That’s what I look like when I’m drunk,’ he said when I came to in the hospital bed nursing staff had laid me in after a brief inspection. He leaned against the doorpost, peering into my eyes. He too considers this a sacrifice. I know how great is his aversion of female intimate parts. It makes him physically sick. But he was prepared, for me. For you, my honey, my sweetheart, my little moon girl. For you, my dearest and only friend.

The operation was followed by a hazy period – vacant. At the same time, however, I was emotionally hyper, tense to the tenth degree. A grenade ready to explode. I cried easily and over such silly things as an article about Barbie having to be remodelled according to current human proportions.
I felt as if I’d just returned from Asia.
The office was too white, too clean, too large. Daily work, my commissions seemed all but urgent.

I occupied myself with the accounts, my email of the last few days. No-one seemed to know about the operation. As our accountant says, ‘Artists have no friends beside their business associates.’ That while he enters all our party invoices/bills under the heading ‘Representation’.
No friends, just associates.
Welcome to the world of enemies and Nobodies.

Why do I dream about my mother so often? About my father peeking round the door, about my brother flinging open the bathroom door and laughing at my pubic hair, my brother jerking off in front of the television downstairs?
I still live in a girls’ den.
I still dream like a girl, I still live that way. Still the same fears, the same nightmares.
I’ve always had my own little universe. I decorated my girls’ room with posters from Grease, a record player, a mirror ball, a light organ, a black ceiling. My own little space capsule.
I was convinced that I didn’t belong to the family I grew up in, whose members called themselves my parents, my brother. I really thought I was from somewhere else, from another galaxy, let down from space as an experiment. That’s how I felt when I was a girl, that my parents were not my parents, that my mind didn’t belong to them. I mistrusted them. I was convinced that I was being watched from far, far away.
To be honest, I still feel that way.

It’s amazing how strong Norioco is, compared to me. I’m always uncertain. She never is. She never doubts herself. I once asked her whether she’d thought of having an operation. She said she’d thought about it, but having an operation would only be exchanging one sex for another. She wanted to be both, man and woman. ‘My penis is in my head,’ she said.
My penis is in my head…
Last year Norioco gave me a travel book for my birthday called Tatarstan, Land of Doubts on the Volga by a Flemish writer. She dedicated it:

to my beautiful, immaterial
doubting girl
who is always busy
travelling
to the moon and back

Underneath she drew three boxes for me to tick:

 cosmopolitan
 egopolitan
 duopolitan

I never ticked the boxes. I prefer to keep things open as long as possible. When I enter a corridor, I always think I chose the wrong one.

At some point I suggested to Norioco that we make a film about our periods. I proposed collecting our menstrual blood, as much of it as possible, and mixing it with water and honey. Next I’d pour it into a plastic ice-lolly container – for making those semi-circular ones that look like halved oranges. Norioco said, ‘That’s so you. But I hardly bleed when I have my period. I’ll never have enough blood for an ice lolly.’

I did it on my own. Now’s the time, my womb’s still a wet, red monsoon.
I recorded it all on camera, including eating the ice lollies. It felt as if I was at my own Mass, as if I were treating myself to a last meal. Everything fake. It didn’t taste good. Blood clots stuck to my palate.
I kept two lollies for Norioco, but she didn’t show up, the bitch.

Glad to find that people didn’t get my last few email messages – they were written by a bleeding, weakened mind – typical chthonic personality. (Things are working out all right then for this girl who thought she’d never be a woman? …a woman with the characteristic urge – chthonia eterna. About time too, for a girl named after the moon.) Apparently, there’s no escape. Even though I hate kids and all that comes with them.
Norio, mail me, please:
luna.luscious.vixen@xs4l.nl

It’s as if I have no friends left except for Norio, who isn’t pregnant. These are the years when distinctions become apparent. All my meetings concern visits to new mums. They’re no longer my dearest ladies, now there’s always a little wretch sucking at their nipples. ‘Ha!,’ I think, ‘So that’s what you really want! An infant who’s all adoration, a weak little wretch that you’ve absolute power over, whose fate is in your hands, who lives thanks to your breasts.’
Today I went to see Marilyn, who was cleaning the windows when I came in. She lives in a mansion in the woods, owned by rich friends who, without a hint of irony, call themselves Art Sponsors.
A competent housewife, Marilyn.
She wasn’t well, she said, cleaning. She climbed onto the window sill and dried the open window. ‘Don’t fall out!’ I said. Her little fairy was asleep. ‘This is the time to do it,’ she said, ‘When she’s asleep.’
Good. So I didn’t have to see the little witch. Luckily, she didn’t ask me to take a look at her baby in the crib.
I asked her whether things were still painful after the delivery. She said yes. ‘Muscle pain.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Everywhere. My body’s still recovering.’ ‘Uh-huh,’ I nodded without sympathy.
‘Only our sex life is a little difficult,’ said Marilyn. ‘We’ve got to be really careful, my vagina has been traumatised.’
My vagina has been traumatised.
I bit my tongue. Marilyn put the sponge and chamois in the bucket with hot water. She wrung them out. ‘These windows haven’t been cleaned for years,’ she said.
‘Traumatised?’ I asked, coming back to Marilyn’s sex life, the friend who’s been a mother for some weeks. My own sex life is pretty low too at the moment, virtually non-existent even. But I’m as horny as I’m sore inside.
‘There’s been a little too much going on down below with me,’ Marilyn said. ‘They cut me open and sewed me up. During sex everything contracts, like a shock reaction.’
I feigned sympathy after all.
Soapy water.
‘Sounds horrible, the pain you must’ve had when you gave birth.’
‘I was lucky, it lasted for only two hours. Besides, I was stoned when it happened. Your body produces morphine, and endorphins.’
Shall I tell her about my mother, about her first baby she carried around for two weeks after term, the baby who didn’t want to come out and had to be extracted with a vacuum pump, about how she cried out in pain, about the baby dying after three days, about how she was in pain for months on end, unable to sit, about how she, when talking about it, seemed to blame me for the loss of her first born?
I didn’t mention it.
As I said goodbye, I talked about something else. At the third kiss I told her about the tissue.
Marilyn didn’t seem to hear.
‘Good luck,’ she wished me at the door.
Good luck.

The rest of the girls also have their mama stories. I remain the infertile, emptied rubbish bin. Lysexcision by colposcope. They’ll probably dismiss my lack of interest in children as envy, as jealousy for the rest (a little at least?) of my life.

Norioco is suffering from ‘vaginal hay fever,’ she casually remarked in an email recently. Spring eczema in her pussy (and that at the end of February!). Meanwhile she keeps sending me these masochist Manga books. Am I imagining things? Am I too focused on everything down below?
The womb thing…
Norioco talks about ‘the ultimate disembodiment’ in order to achieve ‘the ultimate corporeality’.
Easy for her to say, smooth-skinned Buddha girl with the internal eczema.
I tap the words into my electronic diary: My Siamese cat has been miaowing for weeks. She groans with pain and pity. For me.

We’ve reached our maximum brain capacity. It says so in this month’s New Scientist. My brother cut out the article and put it on the light box. ‘We’ve got to do something with this,’ he said, ‘I feel it in my bones.’
I kicked him. ‘Watch what you’re saying,’ I said. Still, he is probably right. Our brain can’t process any more information. More pressure would upset the balance between the number and size of the neurons (brain cells) and blood vessels that feed them. The long extensions of these neurons would have to broaden too, in order transmit more information. That would be practically impossible, because the available space is too small. We’ve hit the roof of our heads. Two possibilities: either we explode, our skulls shattering, we overheat, mad with all the worry, we boil over – or we manage to escape, into the fibre, into space, released, free.
I choose the latter.

Brother sees something in a series of computer-manipulated scans of tumour patients. We could blow up all those little spots in the brain to the most bizarre proportions. Mind blowing. A symbol of the unbearable pressure on our cranium.
Brother, the evil doctor, tells me about astrocytomes, cancer cells in the shape of a star. The pointy bits of the stars break off and multiply, star after star, until there’s a web of stars in your head, until your head’s become too small.
Are we astrocytomes, cancer cells?

‘Pity,’ says Brother, ‘that the hospital pictures are of your pussy, not your nut. ‘’Cause we could’ve done something with this. I know ten galleries offhand who’d run away with it.’
‘Let them run, Brother,’ I say.

Sunday is family day, my diary says. I ironed for my brother. ‘You call that ironing?’ he says. ‘May as well have done it myself.’
Had a phone-call. Mother. She misses her work, her husband. She asks if I’ll come home soon. My brother will come soon too, he promised.
I tell her about it, casually.
My mother cries softly.
‘Take care,’ I say to her at the end of our conversation.
That’s what she used to say to her pensioners.

Had a conversation with Joep (contemporary artist with whom I went to the Rietveld academy for a year. He calls me his ‘colleague’).
‘So how’s business?’
‘Hey, what can I say?’
Joep: ‘I get my inspiration mostly from the dead these days. The dead are the coolest. Definitely eternally cool, you know… Hey, you never smile?’
Definitely eternally never.
‘What I mean is that I get my inspiration from history. The artists of the past are the artists of the future. Take Hieronymus Bosch, for example, a sampler avant-la-lettre. He made collages of visions, dreams and images of the world around him. I bet he spent his time chewing mushrooms… heaps of hallucinogenic mushrooms. His work is super surreal. He didn’t bother with proportion, that’s why it’s still so modern. Proportion changes with the times, but Bosch’s paintings contain a mixture of different dimensions. His paintings are still relevant.’
Question: is what is cool, modern, or is it the other way around?
Question: but what is it you’re actually making, Joep?
‘I take stills of synthetic landscapes with old toy cameras. And you?’
‘Oh, me and my brother create weird story boards. Web shows, you know? Real Audio on the Net.’
‘What about?’
‘Anything and everything, as long as it’s not too earthly. Aliens meeting two space agents on their search for an extra-terrestrial civilisation which made contact with planet Earth; cyber magicians; sex with extra-terrestrial beings; gnomes from outer space.’
‘Apparently women are sexually aroused by gnomes.’
‘More by giants,’ I say.
Joep turns scarlet when I say it. He’s two metres tall.
Got drunk afterwards, Joep and I.
It’s been ages since I was drunk. Perhaps I never really was.

Was I born in a different time?
God, what was my childhood like again? No computers, PCs, fax. We didn’t even have an answer phone at home! A telephone with one of these hopelessly slow dials… I can’t remember… My childhood must’ve been a bad dream, a chilling memory – a Lada, a brick house, the taste of burnt toasties, my hands covered in ink, a poster of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.
Grease Lightning.

The sound of screeching rubber on the quayside. We look up from our computers, Brother and I. Someone apparently stood on their brakes for a tram. The entire bonnet wrecked. Moaning from the person in the front passenger seat, trapped in the wreck.
‘That sound, that sound,’ my brother says, delighted, ‘we’ve got to sample that sound!’

I dream of interactive television with five hundred channels.
Well, not really, but I pretend to. (Every visitor to our Web site will know what my brother and I dream. Ask me my dream, and I’ll tell you my lies.)
Who stole my dreams?
I haven’t dreamt in years. Is there someone else dreaming my dreams for me? To make sure I check Freud’s Traumdeuting on the Net. Tack, tack, I click on some boxes about dreams.alt.nl, dreaming away at my blue screen. I give up after three hours, none the wiser. No more dreams.

Got some hair treatment – not a soul will notice. Me, the ultra mega light blonde, Polycoloured girl.
– Slightly lighter colour (Polycolour, ultra mega light blonde 32995tsd. Checked it out in the sample catalogue at the chemist’s.)
– Extra full (large) spoon of liquid/hydrogene peroxide.
– A silver shampoo to get rid of the yellow/yellowish shine.
– Lots of wax and liquid foam.
– Drying, not too long – half wet, half dry for the best result.
I do not even ask myself whether it is still of any use, because of possible chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Oh well, I could always buy one of these ultra mega light blonde, Polycoloured wigs.
Not a soul will notice.

The studio is full of wood and cardboard models. I’ve started to design things to see if I can render space through sound/colour/music, whether smells can be spread through pixels, bytes, keys.
At some point all we’ll be is sound, Brother says.
That’s the solution.
Sound.
Something which was once called music.

I’ll probably never reach the age I had in mind for myself. Neither the age recorded in my passport. (Is that me? That picture, that name, that date of birth, that number. Are we the age we really are?)
This is how far I’ve made it.
Thirty, nearly.

Norioco will stay with me, she said. She’s got it into her head to comfort me.
‘I don’t want comfort,’ I tell her.
‘You will,’ she says.
She sighed one of her clichés, which I want to forget right away. She puts cream in her pussy, I in mine. Two horny patients struggling with their femininity.
‘Death is probably no worse than life,’ Norioco says, caressing me. (I’m thinking, ‘Does she know?’)
She holds my hand. Comfort – after all then.
I ask whether she was ever unfaithful to me, without my knowing it.
She says, ‘You don’t have to know.’
I ask whether it’s full moon (the words taste bitter in my dry mouth).
Norioco shakes her head. ‘Almost,’ she says without looking out of the window.
I’m thinking, ‘Why is she always right, the cool bitch? Why does she always know better?’
She keeps caressing me.
Comfort. After all then.
If she says so, it must be true. Death is probably no worse than life.

* * *

* this story features as the final chapter in the author’s most recent book of prose:
The Summer Still To Come (Nieuw Amsterdam 2007)

© Serge van Duijnhoven, Brussels
translation: Susan Ridder, London

Lunch at l’Hôtel de Crillon

‘Germans are barbarians, really’, says the Italian author who is walking next to me in the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. I agree that Germans perhaps have less politesse than people from the mediterranean. My Italian colleague corrects me firmly. ‘It is not at all a matter of more or less politesse. Germans have none.’ The smile that usually peints his clownesk Sardegnan face, has disappeared, suggesting that for once he is serious. ‘Yesterday I wrote an article in L’Unita – the Italian daily newspaper – titled: Hostaged by the Germans. We southerners have a different rythm, a different approach to life and to travelling. I cannot keep up this fast, cold pace anymore, with every minute being sharply organised, full of action. If this will go on for another four weeks, I will soon be an undead corpse, a zombie, with the board of this Literature Express clutching eggs for me and giving me citron pressée in a desparate attempt to save me from succumbing to utter depression and fatigue.’
We are heading for Place de la Concorde, where according to many people the best restaurant of Paris is situated: Les Ambassadeurs, in the Hôtel de Crillon. With the impressive pinnacle of the obalisk in sight, the Italians mood is clearing up. Niccola is smiling again, a full grin that hangs in his Umberto Eco-like barbed face. ‘Ah, those germans, they are so strange to understand, so strange!’
He recounts of the reception, two days ago, in the Hôtel de Ville of Bordeaux, where little Atlantic shrimps were being served, as a supplement to the Château Corps de Loup grand vin rouge de Bordeaux, and Les Hauts de Smith Laffitte grand vin blanc de graves. A German organiser of the Literatur Express shouted at him: ‘yakkie! Do you really eat those shrimps including heads and eyes?’ On which the young Italian epicurean answered, looking the German lady straight into her perturbing blue eyes: ‘I know that you Germans like to cut of the heads of little creatures as these. But as to my personal taste, I always like the eyes the best.’ Niccola paused, glansed aside, and said: ‘And then I told the German woman: perhaps, meine liebe Fraulein, do you prefer these shrimps only when they are gassed, so that they will taste even more soft and tender? The woman did not like my joke. Not at all. No humour those Germans. Perhaps the best proof of their brutality.’
During three days Niccola tried to convince his colleagues that a visit to Restaurant Les Ambassadeurs was something not to be missed, while being in Paris – the capital of good taste, enlightenment and perfectionism. All authors of the Literatur Express agreed, but none of them was willing to stand up to the expected bill. Curiosity and admiration for the wonderful Scott Fitzgerald stories set in the expensive restaurants of Paris, led me to the decision to accompany this young Italian ambassador of snobbism – a term in which Niccola himself sees nothing pejorative. A synonime for distinction and good taste, that is all.
We elaborate on the subject of German behaviour and intentions during this trip. ‘What are they doing to us’, Niccola says, ‘what do they want – you know the traject of the Literatur Express is mainly the same as for that of the jews who in the second World War who were being transported from Lissabon to Auschwitz.’
We enter the Hôtel de Crillon, and are being welcomed by more than ten long-sleeved waiters in jacquets, who buzz like bees around the tables of their customers. ‘Absolutely beautiful’, says Niccola, looking at the richly decorated ceilings and the mirroring walls in style d’empire. ‘Oh, in here my depression disappears on the instant, as snow before the sun. You know, although my body might sit next to you on this table, my soul is still in Bordaux. It usually takes three days for a soul to catch up with the body. I wish the organization of this Express would realize that. It is the highest time, my dear friend, for our souls to get back to us. And no better way to asure it will, than by lunching in Le Crillon. Our soul simply does not want to miss out on this experience.’
During the spring vegetables with summer truffles, olive oil and pure sea salt, and the red mullet slightly cooked on slow simmered vegetables and price of taggiasches, together with the twelve year old Chablis Monterion Blanc, we have time to discuss some literary matters. Slightly dazzled by the beauty of the dining room, and the people who surround us (like Jane Birkin, the former wife of the late singer Gainsbourgh) we make a toast of bravoure to the days to come – stating that ‘the future should never die without us’.
We discuss the quality of the translations of our texts, something we can hardly judge about – albeit we speak the language. I recount the statement of my Flemish colleague, who said that ‘translating a text is like caressing a women with gloves on.’ On which a translater replied: ‘yes, but not translating a text is like not touching a woman at all.’ Niccola laughed, took a sip of the twenty year old Van Niepoort Porto that accompanied the selection of seasonal cheeses, and said: ‘si si, but you know, there are gloves, and gloves… You have iron gloves, and velvet gloves…’ Meanwhile, Niccola showed me a full-colour book he wrote on the best restaurants in Europa. The translation is in English. ‘I ate in all of these’, Niccola states. Also Le Crillon is represented in the book, with Les Ambassadeurs. ‘Is it true’, Niccola asks me, ‘that the minister of culture in Germany will include condoms in our welcoming packages when we will arrive in Dortmund? You live closeby, so perhaps you know whether it is true, or merely gossip?’ ‘It certainly is not an abnormal thing to do in northern countries during manifestations’, I reply. Niccola makes the sound of a peacock, and throws his eyes to heaven, crying: ‘mama mia, those Germans, those Germans! They want to make hipopothamuses of us all, don’t they?’
At the meringue avec fruits, and the thin chocolate tart and cocoa ice cream Niccola experiences what he calls a ‘dessert-orgasm’. I witness shiverings of pleasure, joy, the highest degree of satisfaction. The delighted author pricks at me with his golden fork. ‘Do you think this one German attendant will sleep with me, when I will ask her politely? Or do you think I should wait with my proposition until we’ve reached the country of the barbarians, and have received the welcoming package with condoms from the German minister of culture?’
* * *
* this story was originally published in the German newspaper Die Welt, in the summer of the year 2000.

Kaliningrad
(zum Sterben geboren)

In the regional historical museum of Kaliningrad – formerly known as the Ost-Preussische city of Königsberg – it seems to what extent the city is some sort of current Troje (Illion) with layer over layer of remnants from vanished streets and extinguished squares and buildings. On the ground floor archeological objects are being shown which origin goes back to eight centuries before Christ. On the floors above, things are exposed that were saved out of the fosforic fires of the Allied Air Forces and the mortar attacks of the Red Army. Silent witnesses of a world that is forever lost. I see a black pianola from the end of the 19th century, silverware out of a house in the summerresort of Rauschen (Svetlogorsk), pictures of the first world war with devastated churches, a booklet with the title Humor aus Ost-Preussen, a declaration by some Herrn Oskar Krause – Landswirtschalt – stating that the requested 1.119 kgs Reinstickstoff have been transported to their destination (signed: Heil Hitler). On the same floor one can admire pompous paintings of the Prussian battles by Napoleon, some rusted helmets, swords and harnasses out of the period of the Teutonic knights, and a maquette of the old Kneiphoff, the citycenter of castles and towers, theatres and cathedrals, of which only the grave of Emmanuel Kant has remained. The second floor is reserved for Mother Russia, and those who died in her lap or who fought in her honour. Statues of Lenin, Stalin and soldiers with flame-throwers stand there astranged and stiff, like dusty and stuffed animals in a zoological museum. Hope is kept alive on the top-floor, where the drawings and broideries of the children of Kaliningrad is hanging on the walls.
It is on this top-floor that a small group of writers of the Literature Express is invited for a meeting with colleagues from the Kaliningrad region. The Russian writers would like to know whether it is true that writers in the west are actually still being paid for publishing their books. They express their concern about the fact that in the Sovjet period books of them were being distributed by the hundredthousands, whereas nowadays in the transition period a writer can barely sell eighty copies of his work. A man comes up to me, presenting me one of his books, stating that he was emprisoned by the Germans near Munchen in the Second World War, and asking whether I could perhaps try to translate his novel into Dutch. When the debate is finished, a chamber trio plays an elegy ‘for those who are not with us anymore’. The cello-player of the trio asks whether some of us could act as impressario’s for them abroad. Before I leave the museum, the organiser comes up to me, lies his hands on my shoulder, and says: ‘Sergej, at first I was afraid of you, but then I saw that the fire in your eyes was not dangerous, and that Kaliningrad has to love you! We do!’
Astranged, I walk out of the museum. Outside, we are facing a cubic colossus of concrete, eighty meters high, hundred meters wide, and with only open holes as windows. Built for eternity. People here call it ‘The Monster’. It was an architectural offshoot of Brezjnev, who wanted some memorable public building on the place of the old Teutonic Castle. The Monster has never been inhabited or used, for mysterious reasons.
David Matevossian from Armenia remarks that Kaliningrad is probably the ugliest city in Russia. He says he has the impression he is walking around in a city of the undead. ‘The people are still living in the past, and they cannot say farewell to it. It is sad. Kaliningrad is a city, where one is born to die.’
A special train is being arranged for the writers, heading for the sea resort of Svetlogorsk (former Rauschen). In the resort, with its sad and run-down villas now inhabited by sometimes seven families, the authors are being granted a heroes welcome, with orchestras playing, trumpets, maidens singin and handing out bread with salt. Along the boulevards: thousands of people, cheering and clapping. ‘Kaliningrad was closed of from the rest of the world until 1991’, knows David. ‘Even Sovjet citizens were not allowed to travel to this city, because of its top-secret naval base with nuclear submarines. The people here have lots to make up for. They are hungry for contact. The way to welcome people, however, has remained the same for them as in the Soviet times. Ceremonies, ceremonies, ceremonies, and then the feasts, and the drinks.’ Some of the people we meet, say they have been looking forward to the Literature Express for two years already. Can this be really true?
Guennadij Polischshuk, an actor that has invited me to drink vodka with him on the folkfestival terrain, where Russians are barbecueing meat on coalfires, dancing, singing, and drinking in the name of ‘Pionersk Consumer Society’, teaches me what it is to have a Russian soul. ‘The Russian soul is big and generous, but hard to carry. We do not have money, our average wage if forty dollars a month, but we share everything we have. With our soul, we can grow old in grace, and, having almost nothing, still be happy.’
Indeed, almost all people around us are singing, dancing and especially drinking. Guennadij makes a toast with me: ‘za nas s vami, i za huj s nimi’ For you and me the best, and all the others go to hell… He asks me whether I know where this hell is situated. ‘I know’, Guennadij says firmly. ‘I know very well…’ ‘You mean, the hell of Kaliningrad?’ I ask. Guennadij shakes his head, looks me in the eyes, dead-serious, and says: ‘No, foreigner. Hell is where the bottles have two holes, and the women none.’ He bursts out in laughing, and so do the other people on the table. The men engage in further drinking.
A young lady asks me to accompany her to the beach. She does not like to drink, at least not as much as the men around. ‘In Russia we have a saying’, she tells me, ‘that goes like this: Russian men are doing everything. And the women do the rest.’
If Russia will survive, I am sure, it is because of their women.
The young lady and me descend the stairway from the high dunes, following larixes and Tannenbaume, and we arrive on the boulevard, that is looking quite primitive. ‘This is the place I love most!’ says Valerija, while she is pointing at a plateau with a sun-clock, and the twelve astrological Chinese animal-signs around it. A little bit further, in the shiny sand, lies a German woman who is waiting for her husband to step out of the freezingly cold Baltic Sea water. Three elder Russian women are dancing with their hips, singing, and running off into the sea. The German, who is standing only to his knees up into the water, is getting wet because of splashing water. When he returns to his wife, it seems that he has hurt his feet at something sharp. ‘Scheisse! Die verdammten Sau-Russen!’
In the morning, when the Literature Express is leaving Kaliningrad, the station is the decorum for dramatic scenes. Hundreds of inhabitants,writers and musicians have come to say farewell. They have brought little presents, fruits out of their gardens, poems they wrote during the night, little dolls of happiness, literary magazines with their stories and poems and autographs. Many people wave with their address books, knowing this is their last chance for getting acquainted with the foreigners. When the train starts moving, the girl that is keeping my hand, does not want to let loose. She keeps on running, next to my window, our hands still intertwined. When she has to let go, I see she is crying. In my freed hand I now hold a cassette with Russian music. Her present for me. We both wave until we can see each other no more.
* this story was originally published in the German newspaper Die Welt, in the summer of the year 2000.

What kind of beer is that Erdbeer?

In the 19th century national cultures were constructed with help of the imagination of writers, scientists and historians. In the 21st century, we see each other in front of the challenge to construct a new Europe from top to bottom. Hopefully this construction will not only take place on an administrative and political level.
In most articles and economic supplements in the weekly magazines and daily newspapers that have ritually been pusblished on the occasion of the Eurotop-meetings in Goteborg, Genova, Ghent, lots of aspects were being discussed in the various fields of economics, politics, safety and military strategy. About culture however, not a word was uttered. A painful omission of the various journalists, or a clear sign of the times? When talking about the process of European Unification mercantilistic, economical and safety issues are on top of all the agendas. Culture, usually the basis for any cohesion among people(s), seems not te be an issue at all. ‘Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral,’ Bertold Brecht once wrote quite sharply. However, in the long history of Europe this has not always been the case.
György Konrad, president of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin, some years ago (July 16th 2000) held a speech in the German capitol, in front of onehundred European writers from 43 countries that are being based on the European heritage, from Armenia till Spain and from Estonia till the Ukraine. ‘If the EU means something more than an economical flirt’, Konrad pronounced, ‘you also have to show some willingness to look into the soul of other, fellow Europeans. By means of reading literary books e.g., written in other European countries.’
Konrad said so in a white tent placed on the Bebelplatz, in front of the Von Humboldtuniversiteit, the very place where the Nazi’s organized their public burning of books, on 10th of May 1933, of jewish writers and other ‘entartete’ (deranged) intellectuals. It also is the place where the Israelian sculptor Misha Ullman built a bookdepot underground, with white empty bookshelves that are visible from the streetlevel through a transparent plaque under which the gloomey prophecy of Heinrich Heine from 1810 is written: the burning of books will inevitable result in the burning of human beings (Wo mann Bucher verbrennt, werden einmal auch Menschen verbrennt werden…).
In the 19th century national cultures were constructed with help of the imagination of writers, scientists and historians. In the 21st century, we see each other in front of the challenge to construct a new Europe from top to bottom. Hopefully this construction will not only take place on an administrative and political level. The foundation of a European culture will be a task for the younger and coming generation of European citizens. Not only politicians and businessmen, but also artists, writers, moviemakers must ask themselves the question what Europe means to them, and what their thoughts are about the groundbase for a common culture on the continent. ‘For me personally it means,’ Konrad told in Berlin, ‘that nobody can rule uniquely over Europe. Many have tried, but all of them failed. None of them could beat the strength of European individuals and their humanistic values…’
The strength and prosperity of Europe is closely intertwined with its pluralism. The bouquet blossoms when the flowers open, without the whole falling apart. European humanism, that sees human existence as a struggle for freedom, can function as a binding force within this pluralism. The binding role of the EU still happens to be so superficial, that not more than 0,1% of the budget is being spent on culture (that is twinty times as little as in the field of defence). Europe should stimulate the translating and co-finance the publication of books throughout all of the European countries. This should become something natural, because exactly books can enhance the understanding among nations and people. The EU should make it one of its principles to also spread around the production of relevant artistic films and music from other European countries, through mutual funding that can be available and the organization of specific festivals where Europeans can get a glance into one another’s souls. A European literature already existed a long time before the idea of a European Coal and Steel Community came about. The mere existence of a European litearature and culture fortunately are not depending on the EU, but when the reverse is going to be the case (when the EU remains ignorant of the specific culture and literature of its member states) there will be a growing indifference between fellow citizens that will definitely harm the cohesion of the EU in the end. In that case, the current goal of unification will proof to be nothing but an empty case, and the slightest crisis could break the whole project into pieces.
‘What kind of beer is that Erdbeer?,’ the Armenian cinematographer David Matevossian, asked me last year on the terrace of an icecream store in the heart of Dortmund. The Babelonia among the huge variety of Europeans is not something that is likely to disappear in a Europe that is taking a chance in getting closer. Unifying the languages and cultures should not be a goal of the EU; getting to know – and respect – each other better, however, should be. True sympathy and respect are possible, if we do not stand with our backs to each other and also dare to look look each other in the face, to hear each other talk & sing, to read what’s on each other’s mind. The current balance is not very hopeful. Dutch people, e.g., prefer to eagerly reach out for the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than being interested in the books, records or films from the Baltic, the Balcans, or the Iberic peninsula. In Belgium, the situation is even more awkward. Even openminded writers from the frenchspeaking part of the country admit never having read their compatriot nobelprize candidate Hugo Claus (Flemish writer, of the same generation and grandeur as Harry Mulisch or Cees Nooteboom). And on the other side of the spectre the situation is not much better, it seems. Many of my Flemish friends can only mention dead French writing compatriots (Michaud, De Coster, De Maeterlinck). Gifted and successful authors like Amelie Nothomb and the poet William Cliff were being easily mistaken by some as being either French or English writers.
‘Europe is a continent of words,’ György Konrad stated at the Bebelplatz. And he told the anecdote of the Buddhist monk from Japan who returned to his country after a visit to Europe. ‘And, please tell us, how are they, those Europeans?’ his colleagues wanted to know. His answer was: ‘nice people. But they talk too much…’ The unity within Europe is still very far away. But perhaps that is not a very bad thing. Diversity forms the power and glory of our continent. Cultural unity means immobility, standstill, dominance, monopoly, and ultimately monotony. The view from high up in the tower of Babel is much more breathtaking than the view from ground floor. But in order not to let the diversity perish in mercantile unification, European citizens will actively have to show their willingness to get better acquainted with their fellow Europeans. An exchange of translations of literary works from all European countries, is not a luxury but a necessity.

* this article was originally published in De Morgen, October 2001

The Brussels Curtain
‘Down with America, down with stupidity, praise to us, long live us Europeans! Marinetti, Mayakovski, Blair, Joschka! Bums-fallera, the Social Europe – the Europe of all citizens within Society – never became true. …
– Karl Martin Sinijaerv in: ‘Ein gemaechlicher Selbstmord?’

1. Myth or reality
Ovidius writes about the kidnapping of Europe in Books II and III of his Metamorphoses. The prying omnipotent eye of Zeus the womaniser, fell on the beautiful young daughter of a Fenician king, named Europe. While she was picking flowers in a meadow, Zeus appeared to her as a white bull. Enchanted by the overwhelming beauty and power of the animal, Europe approached the quiet bull and offered flowers to his snowy white lips. The bull licks her hand with his tongue. The princess is tempted to mount his back and Zeus rushes away with Europe on his back. To complete his act of kidnapping he jumped into the waves and swam across the Mediterrenean sea to Crete – the invisible island -, where Zeus made his naïve princess his love-girl and even his kin; one of the ladies in his ever expending Olympic harem. The offspring that resulted of this not so elegant act of seduction, consisted of three strong sons – heroes in the true sense of the word; half man/half god. Europe’s natural past was brutally taken away and her identity reshaped according to the hands of her master. She lost her family and motherland, but was bestowed with divine grace instead. Her name was even given to the continent that adopted her.
Of course, for us modern day Europeans ‘Europe’ is much more than a myth. It is also more than a name. It is our very real historically grown environment, our biosphere in which and on which we’ve all grown physically and mentally. At this time the task is upon us to ‘kidnap’ the future of our continent ourselves, without help from Zeus – and bring it to a new destiny. Be it the destiny of decline and self-destruction, as the Estonian poet Karl Martin Sinijärv only half ironically warned in his article ‘Ein gemaechlicher Selbstmord’ as published in the anthology Europaexpress; ein literarisches Reisebuch – or the destiny of a newly born and nobler Europe that can finally surmount our savage inclination to rage war as well as the humiliating fate of unjustly distributed wealth and large scale poverty. To die or to be born again – is that the question? Or is there no choice but to sail on as best we can on the winds of chance, and to see – as the old Dutch sailors-saying goes – where finally the ship will end up. In which harbour, on which shore, at some cliffs or on a sunny beach…
2. Bright future or sweet suicide?
‘Does Europe have an ideology?’, is the question that Karl Martin asks himself in ‘Ein gemaechlicher Selbstmord’. The poet answers it by saying: ‘I hope not. And if yes, then please an Estonian ideology…’
If our destiny is to rot away anyway, KMS seems to suggest in his characteristic cheerful way, than better to rot away at home surrounded by the intimacy of our loved ones. We did not raise from tragic era’s of obedience and totalitarianism, only to end up being kidnapped towards an uncertain future by a bureaucratic political elite in Brussels that does not know the difference of ruling over or serving the citizens by whom they were elected. Instead of servants, the bureaucrats act like corporate executive bosses. The arrogant way in which Brussels neglected the decision of the sovereign people of the Republic of Ireland to not ratify the treaty of Nice. A highly undemocratic act of usurpation, that puts back the clock with many years – instead of putting it forward, as intended by the communal adventure.
Please do not get me wrong. I consider myself to be a europhile, not a eurohater. I live in the heart of Brussels, and some echo of the stupor and trembling that Zeus must have felt in his heart – or his heart and soul together: the ‘thumos’ as the Greeks called it – while glancing at the beautiful fresh maiden picking flowers in the meadow, I clearly do feel too when I look at our continent. But love should be a mutual thing. Whoever loves, respects. And listens to the other’s voice. Brussels acts as a spouse who is married to his wife for such a long period already, that he has forgotten why he actually did so. He can’t remember. The time she was worshipped as a noble treasure is long, long gone…
To give Europe the attention and care it deserves, Brussels should be more involved with the European citizens. But the citizens in their turn should be much more involved with the rest of their continent too. July the 16th of the year 2000 György Konrad, president of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin, held a speech in the German capitol in front of onehundred European writers from 43 countries that share a common European heritage. ‘If the EU means something more than an economical flirt,’ Konrad pronounced, ‘you also have to show some willingness to look into the soul of other, fellow Europeans. By means of reading literary books e.g., written in other European countries.’ Konrad held his speech on the Bebelplatz in front of the Von Humboldtuniversiteit, the very place where the Nazi’s organized their public burning of books on 10th of May 1933. This is also the place where the Israelian sculptor Misha Ullman built a bookdepot underground, with white empty bookshelves that are visible from the streetlevel through a transparent plaque under which the gloomey prophecy of Heinrich Heine from 1810 is written: ‘Wo mann Buecher verbrennt, werden einmal auch Menschen verbrennt werden…’
In the 19th century national cultures were constructed with help of the imagination of writers, scientists and historians. In the 21st century, we see each other in front of the challenge to construct a new Europe and hopefully this construction will not only take place on an administrative and political level. The foundation of a European culture will be a task for the younger and coming generation: not only politicians and businessmen, but also artists, writers, moviemakers.
‘For me personally it means,’ Konrad told in Berlin, ‘that nobody can rule uniquely over Europe. Many have tried, but all of them failed. None of them could beat the strength of European individuals and their humanistic values…’
The strength and prosperity of Europe is closely intertwined with its pluralism. The bouquet blossoms when the flowers open, without the entire bundle falling apart. The binding role of the EU still happens to be so superficial, that not more than 0,1% of the budget is being spent on culture (that is twenty times as little as in the field of defence). Europe should stimulate the translation and co-finance the publication of books throughout all of the European countries. This should become something natural, because exactly books can enhance the understanding among nations and people. The EU should make it one of its principles to also spread around the production of relevant artistic films and music from other European countries. A European literature already existed a long time before the idea of a European Coal and Steel Community came about. The mere existence of a European literary and cultural awareness fortunately are not depending on the EU, but when the reverse is going to be the case (when the EU remains ignorant of the specific culture and literature of its member states) there will be a growing indifference between fellow citizens that will definitely harm the cohesion of the Union in the end.
3. ‘What kind of beer is that Erdbeer?’
‘What kind of beer is that Erdbeer?,’ the Armenian cinematographer David Matevossian, asked me last year on the terrace of an icecream store in the heart of Dortmund. The Babelonia among the huge variety of Europeans is not something that is likely to disappear in a Europe that is taking a chance in getting closer. Unifying the languages and cultures should not be a goal of the EU; getting to know – and respect – each other better, however, should be. The current balance is not very hopeful. Dutch people, e.g., prefer to eagerly reach out for the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than being interested in the books, records or films from the Baltic, the Balcans, or the Iberic peninsula. In Belgium, the situation is even more awkward. Even openminded writers from the frenchspeaking part of the country admit never having read their compatriot nobelprize candidate Hugo Claus. And on the other side of the spectre the situation is not much better, it seems. In order not to let the diversity perish in mercantile unification, European citizens will actively have to show their willingness to get better acquainted with their fellow Europeans. An exchange of translations of literary works from all European countries, is not a luxury but a necessity, and the founding of a European Literary Translation & Production Fund could be a first essential step in the engagement of all member- and candidate-memberstates.
Apart from the mutual cultural heritage that Europe should share among all of its nations and citizens, establishing a common military force is one of the most important and urgent tasks of a United Europe. The existence o a European army is essential for the monitoring of conflict situations and the defence of peace and stability on the continent. In the full embrace of a EU with common borders, shared economic interests and an efficient highly equipped transnational army, people who were or perhaps still feel like enemies, will grow ever closer as citizens of the same entity. The alternative for a continent that was and is ethnically so diverse, is the grim reality of continuing strife – as we have seen happening in the last decade just outside the borders of the current EU.
I lived for a few months in Sarajevo during 1995, and I spoke to many people from UNPROFOR, the military protection force of the UN, as well as to Bosnian soldiers of the ‘armija’; both, remarkably, were absolutely convinced that the existence of a European Union Security Force could and would have prevented the horrendous carnage that took place on the Balcans in the last decennium. While Western Europe was hedonistically consuming the peace dividend that was the result of ‘winning’ the cold war – threehundredthousand southern slavs, perished in Inferno- or Medieval-like combinations of ice and fire, hunger and cruelty, in beleaguered and ethnically cleansed cities or villages. Ljepo selo ljepo gore. However gruesome and atavistic the recent history of massacres and cruelty on the Balcans may seem, it is good to remember that such horrors are not limited to ‘the backside’ of our continent. In fact, the history of Europe is a story of recurrent and ongoing wars; peace on the continent unfortunately has been a very rare thing. A matter of short breaks between long and lasting periods of terror on the European stage. Western and Eastern countries alike have committed cruel and barbaric acts on the battlefields and in the trenches of the continent, and even more so in regular civil areas; to think that the horrors of the Balcans are ‘un-European’ is quite arrogant and misleading. Since her kidnapping by Zeus the Fenician flowerpowerprincess has been forced to witness – from her Olympic balcony – the butchering of at least one hundred million of her offspring. Hundred million bodies to cry over, hundred million souls to mourn – each and every one of them her children – cut in pieces, burned, shot, bombed. Etrusks and Romans, Vandals and Vissigots, Slavs and Illyrians, Francs and Celts, Vikings and Saxons, Spanish and Dutch, Dutch and Flemish, Polish and Russians, Serbs and Albanians, and then the civil wars and bloody conflicts that have split apart Russia, Spain, Yugoslavia. In West-Flandres, the poppy’s grow exactly as big and red in springtime as on the sacred fields of Kosovo Polje. The ghastly monuments and remains of dead soldiers and slaughtered people mark the soil all over the continent. From the Fenician princess’ point of view, on her Olympic balcony, all wars on the continent in fact are civil wars. The heads of state of the different nations, and the fanatics in the several armies and press-bataljons, could only proclaim superiority over one’s neighbours, by radically ignoring the mutual heritage that European monks, scientists and artists built up in the course of more than three millennia. An awareness of being – apart from national – last but not least also a European citizen, could form a powerful antidotum against the dangerous virus of nationalism and the pitiful effects of dementia precox.
The EU grew out of a free trade zone with background thought to avoid new European wars but several nations still do not trust each other militarily. The English shall never forget Covent Garden and the attempts of Hitler to destroy capitol of Britain with V-2’s. Had Hitler already had nuclear missiles, he would have certainly used them. The French generals in their turn shall never forget the massive devestation two world wars brought on their territory: the humiliation of the defeat in 1871 and the millions of victims that were caused by German nationalist rhetoric and fascist ideology about ‘Lebensraum’, ‘arian supremacy’ or ‘das Neue Europa’. Andre Malraux once said he loved Germany so much that he could only be glad there were two of them (BRD and DDR). And General De Gaulle, in France a sacred man, learned both the officers in the army and the parliamentarians in Paris that it is an illusion to think that the big European nations really can be friends. ‘Nations have no friends, only interests.’
But perhaps the nations have more to gain with each other than to fear of each other. ‘Sure, I would be delighted to talk with Europe, but then they will first have to give me a telephone number,’ was the wisecrack of Henry Kissinger in the beginning of the seventies, about cooperation with the European Union. Lieutenant-general Briquemont, the sad hero of Sarajevo, uttered that ‘if the future European army will count as many chiefs of staff as there are nationstates, I’d rather choose for Nato. There, at least, everybody speaks English…’ The negative and even disastrous side-effects of Eurobabylon culminated during the tragedy of Srebrenica in July 1995. Because of serious miscommunications between Dutch, French and other European military responsibles, the necessary airstrikes that could stop the Serb offensive were postponed until it was too late. The failure to act swiftly, ended in the extermination and disappearing of seventhousand Bosnian muslims.
Notwithstanding this tragic example, something indeed has changed since the days of Kissinger. Europe does have a telephone number to dial in case of emergencies (the number of Javier Solana Madariaga; high commissioner for European security matters), and in 2004 a EU-army will be made effective; a protection force of 60.000 professional and well equipped soldiers. For the first time since the end of the cold war, American generals are expressing concerns over a trans-Atlantic military force. The Americans are absolutely convinced that the world order of Bush sr. should last. The geostrategical interests of America are supposed to be served by the flowerpicking maiden called Europe. ‘You are either with us, or you’re with the terrorists,’ is the warning through which Washington tries to blackmail its western allies and ensure its singular power.
But: who wants to die for Europe? So far, the citizens of the EU and other European candidates, have not shown much enthusiasm towards a common military policy. Even a purely peacekeeping mission like in Macedonia in the summer of 2000 was only supported by fifteen percent of the whole community. While dying for one’s fatherland may not be such an attractive ideal anymore for youngsters among all European nations, very few would be willing to die for the continent. For Americans the ‘star spangled banner’ and the ‘stars and stripes’ are holy regalia which evoke the strongest emotions of pride. For the European blue banner with its circle of yellow stars leaves most Europeans show either contempt, scepticism or indifference.
During the last European elections, only 29 percent of the Dutch electorate took the effort to cast its vote. The Dutch aren’t ‘anti-Europe’, they just don’t care. The other Europeans are ‘business partners’, certainly not candidates one could share something like an emotional bond with. The business of business is business, not love or brotherhood… Instead of with Europe, the Dutch flirt with America. Their pretty faces turned towards the Atlantic, they are showing the continent most of the time their ass. Concerning all important issues (be it the coming expansion, the power of the Commission, or the European defence policy), the Dutch are closing the line. Now that even the English government is starting to launch serious plans for a European ground law (see the proposals of Jack Straws in February 2002) his Dutch colleague Jozias van Aartsen has been persistent in looking away from the future with an unsatisfied grim, saying: ‘I really don’t care about far away perspectives and illusionary castles built from European clouds…’
A Unified Europe could offer a very welcome alternative to a monopolary world of growing globalisation and Pax Americana. Europe should be a key element to the restoration of a multipolar world and form a counterbalance and serious challenge to the hegemony of the United States and the culture of globalisation. A divided Europe is not strong enough to do this. The weakness of Europe – its huge diversity that in the past has lead to endless wars and destruction – could under the respectful guidance of the Union, eventually become its strength. Because of the dialogue between different nations and cultures, the openness towards the others, the endless diversity of all ethnic groups and their preferences Europe is the best protected freemarket model in the world. Exactly this makes Europe an ideal katalysor between e.g. the Islamic world and the US, Israel and Palestine where lasting solutions can only be achieved through a constructive dialogue, and not through bombardments… For now, in this unfinished symphony of our partly united Europe, Brussels still has to find its right tone and its trust, so that it can speak with a louder voice.
4. The Brussels Curtain
“eens zal ik zo bedreven zijn in het patience-spel van Europa/ dat ik met lege handen overblijf.” (Eugenijus Ališanka)
It is quite obvious to see and realize that it would be much to our advantage to move ahead with the complex process of unification. However, in a different way than the ambivalent halfhearted measures to let so many near-candidates wait for years and years in the tutorial dug out. And also in a different way as to count half of the continent out of the Europe that has confisquated its name. The EU cannot longer afford to linger all along; the heads of state have to commit themselves to broaden the Union in the coming years. When they do not succeed in embracing the member states of Central, Baltic and Eastern Europe, the stability of Europe is at stake. A unified and wealthy ‘first-degree’ Europe is created, and a divided and poor, unstable ‘second-degree’ Europe is left behind. Networks of big criminal organisations will jump into the vacuum that is growing between the two Europes. Criminal organisations who were in former days only dealing drugs, are now concentrating largely on smuggling humans and cheap eastern European prostitutes into the west. The workingmethod, means of transportation, and deliverylines are almost similar to those of the drugbusiness.
One serious problem is becoming the wide, uncontrolleable green border area’s in the countries that are already or will become the bufferzone between the two Europe’s. Nature area’s with hills and forests that are to wide to search behind every tree and in every ditch, or to close them off from the outside world. Furthermore, there is the problem of corruption at the local borderpolice. The chief inspector of Interpol Jurgen Storbeck found out that those who want to emigrate to the West, simply can buy a one way ticket in Estonia to Great Britain for 11.000 Euro. For Sweden the price is 6.000 Euro, Greece 8.8000 Euro. In Sweden, it seems that whole shiploads of girls from Estonia are getting off the boat to disappear into prostitution…
A century ago it was the iron chancellor who found it difficult to make concessions to a banker, Josef Nagelmacker, from Brussels who dreamed of a continent on which one could travel without too many disturbances and delays in luxury wagons from East to West and from Nort to South. Bismarck was afraid that that train of the banker one day could be used by the ageold rival France for ‘wrong and anti-German purposes’. Now that the bloodfeud between Berlin and Paris is broken and the dagger has been burried for over fifty years already, it are precisely those governments of the EU nations who are fighting hard to block people from travelling to the West for ‘wrong’ or ‘unjust’ (read: economic) purposes. The Iron Curtain has been replaced by the Brussels Curtain, that is almost as well guarded and even more deadly in effect.
Even though the Cold War is over, the great divide on our continent remains. Jerzy Lugowoy, the forest inspector of the Polish national park of Bialowieza, discovered in july 2000 by accident a tunnel that people had dug underneath the Belorussian border. An anachronism, one would say, from the era of the Warsaw Pact, that anyhow shows us the reality of a new frontline within Europe. The borderfences between Poland and Belorus, consist of wooden towers with gunners, electronic wires and strokes with shoveled yellow sand to reveal footprints. The people who try to flee through the tunnel to the West, are being arrested. Not only Belorussians, Russians, Polish smugglers, but even Kaukasians, Afghans and Vietnamese have tried to crawl their way to freedom. To hate refugees for trying to flee and settle down here makes about just as much sense as those rocklovers on Woodstock who started shout and sing at the darkening clouds or a roaring thunderstorm: ‘no rain, no rain, no rain!’ It is ridiculous that ministers of the EU-members are focussing on the aim of making the image of their very own countries less attractive towards asylum seekers and other (economical) refugees. Probably the only good way to do this, would be to lower the monthly wage in the West to the lever of the countries outside the European Union.
We can dig no trenches deep- or walls high enough to keep people from fleeing to where they are not being chased or where there’s food and a toilet that works. In the six weeks that me and Karl Martin and hundred other writers were roaming in luxury wagons through Europe, thousands of people tried to sneak their way into the castlewalls of fortress Europe. How many women, men and children did succeed we will never know precisely. The statistics only speak on behalf of those who failed. The ones that were caught along the highways, parkinglots and the containerharbours on their way towards the source of the bright white light- and laserbeams of the patroltowers all along the coasts and borders of Europe. Like salamanders they are attracted by a flame that they would eventually even perish by. The cynical score of the fourtytwo days:
 the bodies of fiftyeight Chinese refugees discovered in a Dutch truck arriving in Dover between little bottles of Yakult bioyoghurt, cardboard stacks of Kellogs cornflakes, en boxes full of taco-chips. The victims were suffocated in their own breath.
 around eighthundred Africans, Kurds, Afghans and Kosovars found dead, drifting in the water or laying at the rocks and beaches of the Street of Gibraltar and the coastline of the Adriatic Sea. Their shaky patera-boats went down in the waves, or the smugglers threw them overboard because they prefer to do that than to be caught by the coastguard.
 tens of mutilated, discarded and run over bodies of refugees, found on the middle or the side of the hightways and roads in Italy and France, presumably after they’ve been kicked or pushed out of the truck by fellow passengers. Dead, or still alive?
 three Russians who were found smashed and frozen to death between the landing gear of the airplane, nonetheless their thick double wintercoats, sweaters, shawls, and gloves. They hoped to reach Schiphol. Two of them reached the destination, the third one almost: he came down as a human icecube in the field near Oudekerk a/d Amstel, about three kilometres away from the airport.
5. On est tous des étrangers…
Herself being originally abducted from Northern Africa, the Fenician princess who is looking down from the Olympus at her continent, probably shows a lot more mercy for the refugees that are trying to reach Europe, than her inhabitans. Imagine how it must have been for this young and pretty girl, to be kidnapped on the back of a white bull towards an island where she ended up being a total stranger. A mortal among immortals, a mistress among jealous spouses, a foreigner who had nothing in common with the clan of her lover, who so arrogantly was convinced of the fact that they were the protagonists in the cosmological drama of the earth and the whole universe. Imagine how the clique around Zeus must have looked down upon this girl! The only reason Europe was granted asylum, was because of the fact that Zeus adopted her into his extended family. In return for this privilige, Zeus could fuck her whenever he wanted. She had no choice but to obey by the will of her kidnapper, not unlike many of the Eastern European girls who are being brought to the West by the Albanian or Bulgarian mafia, who after initial investments (buying, shipping them to the EU) have to pay back the mob – money and in natura.
Anti-immigration measures always are easy gain for conservative politicians during national elections. Many Europeans may forget however, that not so long ago Dutch, Belgian, Irish, Italian, Spanish, Portugese fortune seekers massively left their homecountry, driven by exactly the same ‘wrong’ or ‘unjustified’ motive of poverty and the dream of a better existence in some foreign land like Canada, Argentina or Australia. The European fugitives had to work till they burst, and life in their new habitat sure was tough, but at least they were never put for months or years in centers guarded by policeforces, fenced-off with barbed wire like in prisons or concentration camps.
In Europe’s opinion, those righteous people of ‘honest’ or ‘true’ European ethnoi who want immigrants out of ‘their’ country, should not be too sure about the basis for their claims and demands. Where does one have to draw the line in determining who were or are the original inhabitants of the land? The people whose ancestors lived here one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand years ago? Not one human tribe refrained from travelling and migrating in the struggle to survive. Before settling down in agricultural communities, we were all hunters and nomads. ‘Here on the Balcans nobody lives in his own house,’ I heard people say in Bosnia during the war. ‘Everybody lives in the house of some other family that was forced to sell their property, or that was kicked out in a more intimidating way.’ Just like they themselves had to flee when the soldiers came.

Met behoud van huis
Wie vreemdeling is hier was elders kind aan huis.
On est tous des étrangers. Reizigers met retourbewijs
op dooltocht door een ruimte die een ieder zich
moet eigenmaken. Eigenwijs is wilskracht die ons drijft.
Ons leven als het nieuwe land. De grond waarin het graan
nog met de hand wordt uitgezaaid. Ons vel schuurt
over opgejaagde botten. Onze stem roept
op zijn mooist om hulp. Wat we zoeken is rust
asiel in eeuwigheid. Wat we zijn is waar we zijn
gevallen: gewervelde dieren en waaraan ten prooi
als wild in het vizier. Een kudde in de muil van de natuur.
We zijn horig en futiel, stofdeeltjes die opgedreven
krijgen een naam toegewezen. Ook dat wij leven
was niet ónze keus. Alles wat wij zijn is bruikleen
toebehoren aan Tijd alleen; die malicieuze makelaar
en miljardair. Die onze lijven willens en wetens
laat verkrotten. Over onze hoofden speculeert.
Die ons plukt en uitperst als olijven, uitspuugt
als de pit. Met avondval vertrekken we
sluipen ervandoor. Ons uitreisvisum is de dood.

The permanent flood of economic refugees is the price the West has to pay for her own successtory or for her arrogance and pretentiousness. The EU simply confisquated the name of the continent for the sake of her political Union and the new currency, the euro. The EU in fact DID kidnap Europe – withouth caring about the fellow Europeans who are not accepting it that they have to sit and watch the train go bye without them. And if the train won’t come to them, they will come to the train. As simple as that. That so many refugees try to hop on that train, risk their lives while trying to climb over twenty feet high walls of electric barbed wire, crawl and run towards and through the tunnel, is not surprising now that the fifteen Western members of the EU are seriously thinking of postponing any further expansion of the Union for the time to come.

6. ‘Evropa; the Europe that DOES care about you!’
The East-European countries waiting in line to be rewarded with a standing place in the antichambre of the EU, are being explicitly humiliated, time and time again. They have a book with 80.000 pages full of rules thrown at them, rules and criteria that they have to adopt before the passing of the deadline of 2004. Even after this deadline, the citizens of e.g. Poland will not be allowed to travel freely within the EU (unlike their fellow EU-citizens), because Germany is afraid for the influx of cheap Polish labour. The Europeans who do not want to wait until the mercy of Brussels is given to them, will continue to have to squeeze and smuggle their way through to the West.
The usurpation of Europe is already so complete, and EU-citizens identify themselves so drastically with their continent, they can hardly imagine that there are still Europeans living outside the Schengen countries. Many times, even aboard the multinational Literature Express, I heard people cast their coubts whether Russia, the Oekraine, Belorus, Georgia, Armenia, Macedonia were in fact still Europe… In any case one agreed that these countries were part of a ‘different Europe’. Which one exactly? Eastern Europe, South Eastern Europe, Eur-Asia perhaps, or simply a secondclass Europe? Neither Brussels nor the citizens of the EU seem to care a whole lot about the area’s that were lying behind the former Iron Curtain. ‘Streetwalks and flatbuildings’, was the minimal characterization that a quite famous Dutch modern artist gave of the vast spaces of Eastern Europe. And she made a face as if she had just stepped into some dogshit.
How people at the other end of the Brussels Curtain feel about the EU’s arrogance and usurpation of the continent, is perhaps best demonstrated by the advertising slogan of a Serbian insurance company called Evropa, saying: ‘We are the Europe that DOES care about you’.
Europe has reached the point, where the many roads of a divided continent could either merge or lead into abyss. Both sides have to decide – to jump now over the ridge and construct a bridge, or to let the gap between them grow ever bigger – with all the social consequences this will have? Does the Union have the guts to make a big leap, now that it stands on the edge? The risk is very real that a further proceeding will put much more pressure on the financial reserves in Frankfurt than foreseen. But what then is the maximum amount of euro’s we are willing to spend on bringing the Unification process started by Monnet, to a good ending? What will be the profit of reducing the risk of a new large scale European war, and increasing free-trade among a huge variety of European countries? How much is it worth? And how much do we care? And do we rather choose to be prudent and keep a low profile for some period to come, so that we do not have to put our privileged and carefully constructed welfare states at risk? And in that last case, what are we going to say to our voters when they are complaining about ever rising numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants travelling through and from the poorer countries of the continent? Are we going to proceed with the construction not of bridges but of ever higher walls around the edges of our territory?
7. Conclusion
Europe finds itself partially in a somewhat similar choise or situation Germany was in, right after the Berlin wall came down. The question that Europe should ask herself, is of huge historical importance: are West and East going to reunite, and if so – what will be the consequences? And what is likely to happen if a (re)unification is being postponed to a much later date? Helmut Kohl made a clear choise. Michael Gorbachev did not like it, but the events were too overwhelming from stopping them. The West of Germany has sacrificed a lot for the East part of the country. The divide is still there, in many ways. But in other ways the country is cut open again, the political centre is back in Berlin (much more east than Bonn), and there is a free flow of persons, goods, ideas, culture. Berlin is one of the most interesting cities to live in, and it is not always easy to know whether you are in East of West…
Concerning Europe, it is my personal opinion that – now that we have reached this point of Divide – it is better to reach out and start building that bridge, than to linger on separately as Brussels is inclined to do.
Let us be at least the directors of our own destiny, instead of playing minor roles in that very simplistic all-American sequal called ‘New World Order Part II’. Let us proceed in our own spirit, in accordance with the myth of Zeus who took Europe on his back, and swam towards ‘the invisible island’. That sunendowed destination from where the sparkle of Europe soon enlightened the whole continent.

The shiver of truth
Photographers in Wartime

’If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re just not close enough’
– Robert Capa

War photographers are sometimes dubbed ‘war pornographers’ because of their resolute approach to the most gruesome of tableaux. yet somebody has to do this work. somebody has to provoke ordinary people into waking up from the everyday trivia of their lives.

War is horrific to the great majority of us. We raise monuments to commemorate the dead and announce each year ‘never again!’ But there are those among us who simply cannot get enough of it. For the majority of reporters on conflict, for example, a war is both a sublime mission and an addiction. Once they have savoured conflict, it is no easy task to keep them away from it in the future. An Albanian proverb has it thus: ‘For one man war is war, for the other it is his best friend’.
The motivation felt by war reporters may sound noble and altruistic – the world must know what is happening, politicians must be driven to action, etc. – but their true motives are often extremely idiosyncratic. A French female reporter for TF1 confessed to Marcel Ophüls, director of the four-hour documentary The Troubles We’ve Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime, that she decided to go to Sarajevo in an attempt to forget her marital problems. Similarly, the Belgian biologist and war reporter Dirk Draulans, describes in his book Welkom in de hel how he is released temporarily from his painful feelings of love for the Scandinavian Anne Brit as he journeys along the Bosnian frontlines.
The Hungarian photographer Endre Friedmann, better known as Robert Capa, gave his reasons for landing with the very first American soldiers on the Normandy beaches on D-Day as follows: ‘I know that the war photographer gets more alcohol, more girls, more money and more freedom than the soldier does. At each stage, he can choose his own position in the bloody game and he can be a coward without being executed for it. That is his torment. The war correspondent holds his own input – his life – in his own hands and can stake his bets on different horses. I am a gambler. That’s why I decided to go along with the first wave.’
Capa was 23 when he took his first war photographs in Spain and 41 when, while taking his last, he was fatally blown into the air by a landmine at Thai-Bin, to the south of Hanoi. The Hungarian bears great responsibility for the stereotypical image of the war reporter as the tough, irrepressible trouble-seeker. The photographic agency Magnum, which Capa set up in 1948 together with others including Cartier-Bresson, and the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award for Outstanding Photography have turned the war photographer into an iconic figure: a sort of patron saint of the guild of professional reporters. Capa’s rule of thumb ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough’ still applies today as the creed for the better kind of reportage photography.

Robert Capa has as many imitators as he does admirers, but few true claimants to his throne. One exception is the American war photographer James Nachtwey (52), subject of a documentary by Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei. The latter spent two years making War Photographer, a monumental portrait lasting more than one and a half hours, that was given its premiere at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam in November 2001 and that won the first prize at the Viewpoint Documentary Festival 2002 in Ghent. The film reveals that, in terms of lifestyle and temperament, the phlegmatic, tender Nachtwey and his robust Hungarian predecessor differ from one another like day and night. The American does not drink, smoke or gamble, and he has more the abstinence and reserve of a Tibetan Buddhist monk than the air of an exuberant womaniser. Even their photographic styles differ radically. Capa’s work is raw and shadowy; Nachtwey’s photographs are so precisely styled that they could be artistic compositions. Nonetheless, the Magnum photographic agency has already awarded Nachtwey the Robert Capa Gold Medal five times, more often than any other person. The common link between them is in their preparedness to go to the very limits for a handful of good photographs. ‘When it gets up close and personal, that’s Jim’, says a colleague from Reuters in complimentary fashion about the reserved American. In the documentary, it can be seen how Nachtwey approaches war more closely than we, as viewers, might wish. His determination, as ‘a witness to the history of ordinary people’, to be face to face with their horror has something uncomfortably voyeuristic about it. The documentary shows us Nachtwey running alongside paramedics who are carrying away a wounded person on a stretcher. We see him taking photographs at a funeral in Kosovo where he pushes his camera into the despairing face of a woman trying to bury her son. In Indonesia, Nachtwey landed in the middle of a furious crowd hunting down and baying for the blood of four South Moluccans. Three of them were cut into pieces; the fourth was able to break free from his assailants. Nachtwey ran with the terrified man and begged the people to spare the Moluccan’s life but his pleas were ignored. He then went on taking pictures. On one of the photographs, we can see an Indonesian with a machete staring with astonishment into Nachtwey’s camera lens. It must have been taken a second before the victim had his throat cut. This is history caught in flagrante delicto. As a viewer, you can understand why Nachtwey carries off so many awards. However, you can also understand something of what the critics mean when they label him not a war photographer but a ‘war pornographer’.
How far must a reporter go in his mission to get ‘up close’? The Vietnam photographer Tim Page experimented in South Vietnam with a mini-camera that he mounted on to the barrel of a GI’s rifle to be able to capture the moment of death. Did Page do this to document death itself or for his own satisfaction? Does the public really want to see such shocking pictures and, if it does, does the public really have to see them? However truthful can those photographs be? The dilemmas posed in the documentary are universal. Should a photographer take photographs of a massacre or should he try to save the life of the person bleeding to death before his eyes? Should the Reuters journalists who were present at the end of November at the fortress of Qala-I-Jangi in Afghanistan have tried to prevent the torture and execution of chained prisoners? Were they in a position to do so?
By and large, journalists will tell you that it is their job to report the facts when dealing with news stories and not to interfere. That, at least, was the famous response from Horst Faas when he captured, with a 21-mm camera for AP, how Bengali armed personnel tortured and finished off suspected traitors. Faas and his colleague Michel Laurent won the Pulitzer Prize. The suspected traitors died. In Frei’s documentary, Des Wright, Reuters’ cameraman in Jakarta, relates how competitive the business of the war reporter is. ‘Only the most dramatic images make the grade.’ That explains why most professionals adopt such a brutal work ethic. They approach horror as closely as possible but persuade themselves that they have no part in it. ‘It’s a sick profession’, sighs Wright. ‘In action we are definitely not a pretty sight.’
‘It’s important to realise that photographers are not performers’, argues Nachtwey defensively. ‘Nor are we dancers, actors or athletes. Our physical demeanour isn’t important. Our expression lies in our photographs.’ And reacting to those members who accuse him of pornography he says: ‘Selecting images for their presentability is reprehensible. On the contrary, it is precisely those people who every day lead normal, contented lives and who worry about trivial things who should be shaken awake by us, shocked and confronted with what is happening all around them. They are perhaps responsible for these things themselves. They choose governments, they pay taxes.’

Frei’s documentary presents us with a unique perspective on the profession of the war photographer thanks to the miniature film camera that he fixed to Nachtwey’s Canon. The viewer is thus able to watch and consider the moment of the click along with Nachtwey, while hearing Nachtwey’s intake of breath. The viewer becomes the camera lens. Through this device we are able to see clearly just how invisibly and discreetly Nachtwey takes up his position in relation to his subject. Nachtwey moves through the scenery of conflict like a cat through a living room, or like Ghost Dog (the black samurai from the eponymous film by Jim Jarmusch) through the streets of New York. He is inconspicuous, virtually invisible, but has far greater involvement than Cartier-Bresson had with his fly-on-the-wall principle: the photographer ‘catching’ his subject without making contact. While it is true that Nachtwey looks for solid interaction, he does this in the subtlest possible manner. He shows people respect and they give him their trust. This explains how he is able to go as he pleases unimpeded and fix his camera, sucker-like, to their scrawny throats. It explains how he is able to push his Canon into the face of a dying African and how, without embarrassment, he is able to lie down on railway sleepers to capture the image of an invalid Indonesian man’s leg stumps. None of them feels that their privacy is being invaded.
Nachtwey pauses for thought on an important point that is also dealt with by Mort Rosenblum in his book Who Stole the News? (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993): how do you get people to give relevant events the necessary attention in a society increasingly obsessed with fashion and lifestyle, entertainment and stardom? How do you prevent people from avoiding the big international issues, which are usually not appealing subjects, but, instead, get them ‘to be involved more deeply in their reality’? Companies prefer not to spend their money on magazines in which images of people’s suffering cast a freakish shadow over the wrinkle-free and clear-blue-sky advertising world of Peter Stuyvesant. Nachtwey: ‘They have the feeling that our photographs damage the marketability and image of their products. However, I think that publishers underestimate their readership: people wanting to know about current affairs and concerned about what happens elsewhere in the world.’
As far as that is concerned, 11 September caused enormous change. Not only Time and Stern, but virtually all magazines and newspapers, gave full space to photographs and photographic reports made by Nachtwey and his colleagues. It was as if reportage journalism had suddenly rediscovered its roots, with the masses finding themselves in the 1970s again with no way back. Two million people a day visited Nachtwey’s photographs at http://www.time.com. For the first time in Internet history there were more people looking at news photography than at pornography.
The premise in journalism today is that something has not truly happened unless it has also been shown on television. Yet relying merely on television to gather news is like lighting the darkness with a stroboscope. We get to see flashes of reality on the screen but no more than that. The considered gaze requires a more precise approach. Television imagery brings a situation to our attention but the image that ultimately stays in our minds almost always comes from a photograph; it sets a news event in a tableau that locks itself in our consciousness and, perhaps later, becomes part of a collective memory. This is why Nachtwey believes that reportage photography always remains essential to complete news coverage. ‘We photographers illuminate the blind spots of television journalism. We record what the tv-cameras don’t zoom in on.’
Nevertheless, there is still much that can escape the attention of even the most hawk-eyed photographer. ‘There is so much that we don’t see’, admits Nachtwey. Srebrenica, the greatest massacre in Europe since the Second World War, happened under the noses of the entire world press which, by that time, had been billeted in Bosnia for four years. The ladies and gentlemen of photographic journalism were right by the scene, yet not close enough. So it was that in the first days and weeks after the disaster, it appeared as if the tragedy had not taken place. The reporters did not believe the bloodcurdling stories told by the many hysterical women in the refugee camps. The blood that stood ankle-deep in the ditches; the barns filled to the rafters with corpses; the people who, out of desperation, had hanged themselves before Mladic came to get them; the thousands of men who had fled into the hills and had been fired upon by artillery and anti-aircraft guns. When it really came to it, the photojournalists – the eyes of the war – were as blind as anyone else.

You can’t get in focus with tears in your eyes, said Philip Jones Griffiths many years ago. Anyone allowing free reign to their emotions in a war zone would not last long and would either miss out at important moments or else put themselves and others in danger because of not reacting quickly enough to events. A clear-headed, cool spirit is more vital than a bulletproof vest. In Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees, the American colonel, in Venice after the Second World War, says: ‘It’s all as disheartening as you can imagine. But you’re not expected to have a heart in this job.’ Yet James Nachtwey is certainly not a photographer devoid of conscience. In War Photographer, he muses extensively on the moral dilemmas attached to his profession: do I earn my money from other people’s suffering? Is their misery the source of my success? Am I a parasite, a bloodsucker, the vampire with the camera? ‘The worst thing is the feeling that I, as a photographer, am exploiting another man’s suffering. This accusation keeps haunting my mind. It torments me, because I know that if I ever allow genuine compassion to be overshadowed by my personal ambition, I will have sold my soul to the devil.’
Nachtwey is too well aware of the delicate nature of his profession to pose as some unscrupulous associate of evil. Don McCullin, the British war photographer, one of the trendsetting members of his profession in the 1960s and ’70s, once said: ‘You can’t just skim the surface of hunger, misery and death… You have to wade through them in order to capture them.’ Nachtwey has been wounded several times as a result of flying shrapnel, he has brought debilitating illnesses home with him and, perhaps most significantly, there has never been room in his existence for long-term relationships or a family life. It is made clear in Frei’s documentary that Nachtwey’s work increasingly isolates him socially. ‘I have lost that sense of coming back home. I am sometimes quickly moved to anger when I hear the things that some people around me say. Their problems are so small compared with the injustices in the wars, so painless, so meaningless. When you talk about the things that you’ve seen, their eyes glaze over, and you lose contact. That’s why I don’t even answer their questions any more.’

At the end of the documentary, it becomes apparent how Nachtwey, through his work, not only brings the fate of people in war and disasters to our attention but is also attempting to defuse something within him. How do you magically create something positive out of the mud of war, compassion out of the hatred of an armed conflict, humanity and self-esteem out of degrading situations? ‘The only way in which I can justify my role in this’, says Nachtwey, ‘is by having respect for the fate of the others, in such a way that those other people accept me, so that I, in turn, am able to respect myself again.’ He brushes aside the question of whether he is troubled by fears of death. ‘That’s like asking a marathon runner whether he feels pain while he’s running. It’s about how you deal with the fear.’ A healthy fear of one’s own mortality belongs among war reporters’ standard equipment, together with their notebook and their bag full of camera film. In fact, agencies absolutely detest fearless heroes. As Starbuck says in Moby Dick: ‘I’ll have no man in my boat who is not afraid of the whale.’ Wars can be just as fatal to reporters as they are to soldiers and civilians. This, too, appears to confirm the proposition that journalists are not neutral observers but a part of the events. ‘You are playing on the same stage’, concedes Nachtwey. ‘We are a part of the story, of the war. We cannot behave as though we were outside it.’
Since 1995, more than 770 war reporters have been killed around the world. The number of dead in Afghanistan is approaching ten (at time of writing). Taking risks is unavoidable but the only concrete thing that a dead reporter can still deliver to his agency and the home front is his body. After years of warfare, many journalists develop a thick layer of skin over their souls that simply cannot be filed down. The sensible ones decide to take a break from it for a while. The photographic editor of Stern (Hans-Hermann Klare) feels that Nachtwey, the apple of his eye, is in a danger zone because he has been soldiering on for so long already and yet still continues to do so. ‘Most of the victims in journalism are either newcomers or else the bruisers with the most experience, the old hands in the profession who think that they have become bulletproof.’ Is this true? From the long list of journalists who have recently come to grief in the hotspots of today, it is noticeable that the majority of them were in the first stage of middle age (between 30 and 40) and were known for being extremely experienced. These were certainly not reckless greenhorns or rusty old hands, and they were in most cases simply the victims of bad luck. Timing is of vital importance to all journalism, but in war the profession truly becomes a dance with the Fates. As I once heard someone say: ‘You can have as much experience as you like, but you can’t head back a bullet.’
Are there stories or photos worth risking your life for? Or that are actually worth dying for? As far as Don McCullin is concerned the answer is no. ‘War is a drug’, he said during an interview for the French newspaper Libération. ‘Anyone returning from war finds themselves back in everyday life again and that’s what kills you. But you can’t go on for long like that. You shouldn’t continually be under the impression that you’re living in an action adventure, at the expense of the misery of others. Anyone who says that they need war to be able to “really” live is actually saying that they need other people to die for them.’

Arnold Karskens, the extremely experienced, ever-flexible “smoke jumper” of the weekly magazine Nieuwe Revu, has been saying for years that what war journalists need is a reliable manual. Now, he has written one himself, Reizen langs de frontlijn (‘Travelling along the frontline’, also suitable for diplomats and relief workers). Karskens feels that a book like this can save lives. While that may well be so, defying danger is still the conditional sine qua non of good war journalism. The Dutch television reporters Peter d’Hamecourt and Wouter Kurpershoek told interviewer Sonja Barend in the B & W tv-programme about their experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two reporters said that it was clear to them just how far you could go in a conflict situation. Their fellow French and British journalists, who had attempted to infiltrate the Taliban-held areas and who had been taken prisoner as a result, were ‘reckless amateurs’ in their eyes who had exchanged their proper business for ‘playing soldiers’. The tone of voice implied that it was their own fault: sooner or later, their foolhardiness had to be paid for. But what, then, about the young American reporter, David Rohde, who broke into the fallen enclave of Srebrenica and went into the woods there with a spade to dig for bodies from the mass graves about which everyone had been speculating but which nobody had yet seen? If patrols had seen the young man, they would have certainly executed him since the Serbs were by then on the losing side following NATO’s bombardments. It turned out well. The reporter was able to creep his way back through the minefields unhurt and made a report of his findings from Belgrade. A few months later he received the Pulitzer Prize. If the American had attempted something of the sort in Afghanistan, D’Hamecourt and Kurpershoek would have certainly had him ranked among the amateurs. The fact is that a degree of bravura is required for good war reporting. Sadly, following the experiences of Vietnam, war reporters no longer enjoy the freedom to go where they please. If a journalist does not want to be forever dependent on pre-chewed, censored or second-rate hearsay news, he will have to climb over the fences every now and then and creep through the dust. It has nothing to do with amateurism. It is all about ‘the shiver of truth’, as Nabokov once described it. And you either feel it or you don’t. The arbitrariness of the two Dutch reporters’ opinion was, in fact, revealed only a few weeks after the broadcast when Kurpershoek and his crew very nearly became the victims of a lynching party on the road to Jalalabad. The leading vehicle in their convoy was ambushed and the Taliban executed four of the most experienced war journalists. Kurpershoek had a lucky escape by making a U-turn when the driver in front of him drove off down the hill in panic. The death of those four journalists had nothing to do with amateurism or impetuosity. If Kurpershoek or d’Hamecourt had been sitting in the first vehicle, then these Dutch ‘professionals’ would have fallen victim to the same fate. In Afghanistan, it was made painfully clear that journalists in a war zone, however able and well prepared, should not count on the goodwill of soldiers or the population. And absolutely not at all on providence.
In May last year, the 32-year-old Spaniard Miguel Gil de Moreno, cameraman for Associated Press Television News, was shot dead in Sierra Leone by armed rebels from the Revolutionary United Front. In the last of de Moreno’s television images, a captain in camouflage fatigues is captured on film springing up out of the waist-high grass and emptying his machine gun at random into the jungle. The enemy is invisible and the only sound is from the whistling of bullets that seem to be coming from all sides. In Spain, a book was published at the end of November entitled The Eyes of the War and was dedicated to de Moreno. One of the authors, Julio Fuentes (47), a reporter for El Mundo, was in the leading Land Rover in Kurpershoek’s convoy. He died while the pages were rolling off the press. Together with three colleagues, he was executed close to the Tangi Abrishum bridge. The memoriam that Fuentes had written for de Moreno and two other fallen colleagues at AP Television News could now also be placed in his own newspaper: ‘They were not heroes, nor were they soldiers. As far as being famous was concerned, it left them only with a bad taste in the mouth. In the end, they did it out of a sense of calling, while risking their lives far from home. Their average net salary was no more than $3,500. Thanks to these kinds of professionals, millions of people could watch, from the comfort of their armchairs, the hell of Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone or Afghanistan, the hell in which they lost their lives for a few minutes of video footage or a few lines of text.’

Photographers and cameramen make up the hard core of the robust guild of war journalists. They are the piétaille or foot soldiers who, of necessity, have to squeeze into the firing line while their writer colleagues sometimes limit themselves to dishing up juicy stories in the hotel lobby or press briefings in military barracks. Photographers find themselves in the danger zone more often than their writer colleagues, but are paid less. The dedication that they give to their work has to be far greater as a consequence. They need to have stomachs of iron and nerves of steel. Things from which a normal person would turn and flee, they instead race towards: disembowelled bodies, severed limbs, burning homes, the faces of starving children plastered with flies.
‘We must bear witness. That is the purpose of our presence here’, says French photographer Patrick Chauvel in the documentary The Troubles We’ve Seen. Chauvel has been covering wars for 30 years. He describes reporters as legionnaires and their task as a vocation. ‘We must bear witness. So that people can never say afterwards, as the Germans once did: we didn’t know what was going on.’

It says much about Nachtwey that the 20 years of his life spent on the rim of the volcano have not made him cynical. ‘If war is an attempt to ignore humanity’, says Nachtwey in his vindicating final conclusion, ‘then photography can be seen as the opposite of war. If it is used well, it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to warfare. I believe that if everyone could experience a war for themselves just once, that people would understand without explanation that there is nothing that makes it worth this being inflicted on a person, never mind on thousands of people. But not everyone can go to a war and that is why photographers go there: to show what is going on and to ensure that someone puts it to an end. How? By making photographs that are powerful enough to break through the concealment and diversions of the mass media and to shake people awake from their indifference. ‘To protest and by the strength of that protest, to make others protest.’

* this essay was published in Photographers in Wartime (2002), a book with stirring photos from reknown ‘eyes of the war’ like Nachtwey, Tim Page a.o., within the Ludion-Beaux Arts collection in cooperation with the Flanders Fields World War I Museum in Ieper, Belgium.

• ‘To speak what we feel /
not what we ought to say’
– William Shakespeare, about ‘the duty of poets’

The Sound and theFury

about poetry & music, bards & poets, elitism & the art of entertainment

essay by Serge van Duijnhoven

In the last decades many literary artists experimented with new combinations of music, electronic equipment and spoken word. Examples are Laurie Anderson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the musicians and rappers who participated with William S. Burroughs, Christian Loidl in Austria and French poets such as Martin Heidsieck and a singer like Léo Ferré.
The Afro-American culture has the richest tradition in this field. Grandmaster Flash, Paul Beatty, Ice-T, Peter Hammill, Carl Hyde from Underworld and many others have given a new vitality to the spoken word through virtuozo, powerful rhythms ’n rhimes. In Holland it are rhyme-freaks like the Osdorp Posse, the Spookrijders, MC Sranang who have given new impulses to the literary landscape. In Flanders (Belgium) it are rapgroups like Hof van Commerce and ABN who are doing the same thing. Streetwise and without much further ado they fit in to an oral tradition that has also brought about performers like Jules Deelder, Diano Ozon, the Poets from Epibreren, Jaap Blonk and Didi de Paris. Entry to the holy books of Literature, they have so far not been able to gain. While in New York the group of The Last Poets opens their housedoor every sunday for their younger brothers, the order in the Netherlands is more strictly defined. The literary guard has withdrawn itself into an orthodox sanctuary where the evangelium is spread through severe manners and services. `No idleness! No choir, no drama!’, are the rules of the community. Music and poetry are `sisters in arts who better remain seperated in order to not dilute themselves too much’, a Dutch literary critic stated in the daily newspaper NRC-Handelsblad (Guus Middag, june ’96). Complacently these poeple show time and again that they do not know what is going on outside their own gardens. Only to start complaining when they realise how small and futile the editions and sales have become of their poetry-books that are sold in bookshops, and how few people remain interested in literary lyricism.
Attention for the latest exposures of literature indeed does exist, also among young people, but it comes about in other places and on other occasions than in the concrete Stalin-temples of literature where literary events usually are organised. The famous Crossing Border Festival in The Hague, where since years now an interesting cocktail of fresh literature and music is being served, has become by far the most popular and best visited literary event in the Netherlands. The same can be said for Belgiums annually similar festival `De Nachten’ in Antwerp.
The literary critics do not know, as yet, how to evaluate and judge these events. There seems to be a gap between what the critics define as being `real literature’, and the work that’s being produced and performed by writers and poets who do attract such large (younger) audiences. The gap can be resolved, I think, when the boundaries of literature are being broadened and when spoken word is being approached in a more tolerant way.

* * *

Whether the footpads and daredevils of rap and hiphop will be offered a membership-card for the `True Poet’s Society’, is for themselves not an issue at all. They could care less, really. The same for the question whether rap is, or is not to be considered poetry. Although in the Netherlands there are some signs that the initial aversion for rap-as-poetry is fading (the famous conservative poet and anthologist Gerrit Komrij even dared to say that `rap has saved shipwrecking traditional poetry by a way of giving it mouth-to-mouth rescue’), the times are still very far away that a rapper will be awarded the title `poet laureate’ or that a singer/songwriter like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Vladimir Vissotsky or rappers like Ice T. and KRS One will win the Nobelprize of literature. These artists themselves probably don’t give a damn, they are (or were, in the case of Vissotsky) not yearning for academic acclaim. However, what it clearly shows is how strictly seggregated the literary scenes of publication and performance are.
A proof for this conclusion was given last year in Amsterdam, during the first edition of the Double Talk festival, an event that was meant explicitly for breaking the barriers between both hemispheres. Asked for his opinion about the virtuozo word-accrobat Def P. of the Osdorp Posse, who was giving away a performance on stage, the famous seventy year old Dutch poet Remco Campert stated that not much would remain of the glamour of the text if Def P.’s `braggadocio’ would be put to the test of publication. On which Def P. replied that of Camperts poetry would’nt remain anything at all if somebody would try to perform the text as a rapper usually does.
The `new’ is a bacteria that feeds on older flesh. The `old’ has a tendency to defend itself against unknown organisms by putting up high walls around its own (formerly conquered) territory. The `old’ is not capable of embracing what’s new, because it feels threatened. It renounces what is outside the gates by stating that it has not enough quality and depth, or by tagging it with derogatory labels and adjectives like `trendy’, `gimmick’, `fashionable’, `noisy’, `trashy’ or more subtle terms that make all matter immediately `hors concours’. For example: it is not art, but `popular art’. It is not culture but `massculture’. It is not literature but `entertainment’.
That the `new’, apart from being an epidemic, dangerous parasite, can also be something original or different, is a fact that some people simply cannot accept. The young, radical poets from the 1950’s in the Netherlands (De Vijftigers), were characterized by an older collaege in that era as `an army of invading SS-soldiers’. In the 1980’s the same thing happened, when an influential newspaper-intellectual (Michael Zeeman) tried to disquallify his cerebral, younger brothers of the Maximalen (who used the slogan `too much is not enough’ as motto) as `dirty rotten fish’. (The Maximalen threw him, on the next public literary occasion in Groningen 1988, a pile of dirty rotten fish in the face.) Belgians most influential literary critic, Herman de Coninck, just before his death in 1997 gave away a testimony of intolerance, while rhetorically stating that if the house of poetry has many rooms, the rappers should be confined to `the shithouse’.
Whether the current literary scene has valid reasons for its fear of modern, popular impulses, remains doubtful. Personnally I don’t think so. Modern poetry should be very happy with some new developments that make it easier to connect to a young audience whose biotope can be situated miles away from the intellectual habitat, the scene of pulpit-performances on sunny sunday-afternoons, or the places where the craftsmanship of traditional bibliofilia is celebrated.
During performances throughout Holland and Belgium, it strikes me how bad the reputation of poetry has become. Prose is eagerly consumed, while the mere announcement that a few poems now will follow usually is enough to provoke reactions of outright disgust.
Probably it is this ill reputation that is the reason for most young literary talents of the later years in Holland and Belgium, to prefer prose above poetry as their common writing territory. While the the Dutch prose-scene has become extremely lively, varied and rich in numbers and quality, the poetic field is left behind deserted, arid and pastoral.

* * *

In the world of prose, writers and critics do not care so much about the question who is being a `true’ or `false’ author, and one does not have such fierce and bitter debates about the question: is this text really prose or not? The poetry world is, by its nature, more elitist. Poets better carry the right papers with them to idintify themselves and to legitimize their works of art. Poètes, vos papiers! The criteria that are being administered by the cultural manderins, have been worn out as clichés of manniarism. Around the field of poetry a deep canal has been dug. The house became a bastion in which tradition is guarded as a royal treasure. The servants at the gate decide who can enter, and who cannot. Out of their own interest of remaining a noble few, the acolites write about `what is allowed and what is not allowed in poetry’ (Herman de Coninck), or about `the only poetry that can be rightly called poetry’. The sacred drink these people share is fear; an amniotic fluid from which they themselves grew strong and are now getting drunk.
Anno 1997 it was still possible to read in a respected daily newspaper in the Netherlands that `what is fit for poetry is classical mythology (Homer, Dante, the theocratic psalms) and the mystic ponderings of great philosophers. There should always be a distance between the internal and external phenomena that can bring forth poetry.’ (Trouw 1997). That this orthodox evangelium is still the common faith in poetry, is proven by the nominations for the most imporant poetry prizes in the last four, five years. Really unconventional approaches to poetry are ignored, religiously inspired and pastoral poems – eventually illustrated by some traditional drawings – as well as other forms of lyricist craftsmanship, top-rank in every shortlist.
For most people poetry remains merely a matter of the mind, an intellectual game of `scrabble for the scribes’. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against intellectual matters of the mind nor against scribes, but poetry can be enjoyed in more ways than strictly through using intellect and learnedness.
The apartheid policy of seggregating the spoken and the written word, is almost similar to the old platonic and christian seperation between body and soul. In our tradition immortality has been promised since ages already by the written word. Scripta ferunt annos – that which is written will last for years. This in contrast to texts that are performed through music or on stage (such as hiphop, spoken word, theatre, in short: through `entertainment’…). Words on paper can be changed, reconsidered, turned around, deleted, but on stage other criteria have to be matched. Many authors are afraid of performing their texts `live’, as they feal vulnerable while losing part of their control (a loss of control over their texts and perhaps even more generally, over their life).
If we want to give poetry a better chance of surviving in this modern era, one has to be willing to be less narrowminded, and to widen the criteria for what poetry can be and how it can be brought about. Criteria can and should be set, but not in order to protect a certain status quo. The criteria should change, for the simple fact that the world changes. Current criteria too often are being guarded by an elitist group of critics and of poets who themselves in many cases are critics too; and how can one be an objective lawyer and judge at the same time?
Instead of looking for arguments how to perpetuate certain reputations, one should attempt to bring a much wider spectre of poetry under people’s attention. Poetry can be found in various places, not only in the silent shades of folkloric festivals, or on the fine surface of some exclusive book publication. Poetry can be found on pop- and rockstages, in discotheques, on billboards, in videoclips, in songs and cd-booklets, in comic-strips, on graffiti-walls, on the internet, in the streets… as well as in hiphop, spoken word or in theatre performances. One should finally open the gates, be tolerant and quit the apartheid and patronization that goes together with interrogations of `what should be allowed in poetry and what should not be allowed’, or with statements about the designated area to which certain forms of poetry should be confined: the shithouse, the monastery, the antique closet or the pulpit, the bookpublishing business, the internet or the academy… or to what part of our being it has to appeal to: to our soul or our brain, our heart, our developed senses, our intellect, our nostalgia, our respect and jouissance of tradition and manners… Poetry has no house, nor any exclusive designated place where it comes from or where it should be held in custody. Poetry itself is the lodging, the boundery, the territory. And it is endless; it has no bounderies. It is as free and confined as the mind.
La poésie logera la vie!

* * *

The problem of the current poetry circles is not that there is no new blood that occurs, or that there are no young people interested in literature anymore. The problem is that under current circumstances poetry has narrowed itself down too much, according to certain conventions, so that it cannot deal anymore with some essential new impulses in an effective way. That is, again, not so much a problem for those young poets and rappers or for the audiences that are not to be reached at the moment, as it is for poetry itself. Perhaps it is not a problem at all, as one could cynically suggest by raising the question since when anybody at all would be worried about the current state of poetry and the doing-about of modern poets.
One could ask oneself indeed the question whether rapsongs will or will not benefit from the fact that they are being published. One could raise as well the question whether it is an advantage or disadvantage that the circles of high and low are being seperated (long live the diversity of multitudes!, one could say). Similarly, one could ask oneself whether it is not too much of a hutzpah to bring rap and poetry closer to one another…
I personnally do think that the current world of poetry will certainly benefit from a shot of extra vitality and from a larger audience that it can appeal to. I think also that the scenes of performance, entertainment and hiphop can benefit from a `coming together’, because more quality, depth and content of texts will make the works, songs and creations last longer and give it more impact.
Notwithstanding the preferences one has to either higher forms forms of art or the more popular domains, it remains a fact that poetry does not only exist `on paper’, in published forms, or in the Canon of the Academia – whatever the clerks of literature may say. In fact, poetry is not more than an ampul that can be filled with any amunition. The armed Muse is not only laying her hands on our brains, she can as well be geared towards our soul, our spine, our ribs, our tongue, our ears, our eyes… Books of poetry are certainly not the only means she can use in her attack on our senses. Cd’s, cd-roms, rapsongs, graffiti, videoclips, readymades, modes d’emplois and all other texts that are being vehiculed by non-academic means (e.g. electronic music) she can choose as her weapons too. Every system, every form, every choice has got its advantages and disadvantages, its possibilities and limitations, its effectiveness and shortcomings. The task of poets and the literary world is to make sure that each mean is being used in the best possible way. The task surely is not to limit the means and possibilities.
Poems can be hidden in the pages and texts of a book, they can silently lay waiting in the street as lindmines, they can jump in your face from a stage, or enter your head through projection. Poetry can be spread aloud with rallantando’s of rhymes, it can go through your body with additional bass-sounds and grooves. It can show up suddenly through the `sproken’ (old, medieval Dutch for stanza’s that are spoken aloud by bards in the common language of the people) that are performed by heart. It can be sung by singer/songwriters, or told by standup actors. It can be transmitted through lines that are melodically or unmelodically sung. Through verses that are being rapped by traditional oral patterns and structures. It can reach us through images, words and slogans that are being visually shown on the screen. Poetry can cause explosions, it can scream, shout and whisper, intimately or publicly, for a large or a small audience. Poetry can conquer new horizons of consciousness and language – by means of electronic equipment like samplers and harddisc recorders and voice transformers, but without forgetting the existing possibilities of more usual patterns like design, performance or syntactic and verbal virtuosity.

* * *

The open mind of elderly poets like Gerrit Komrij (who seem to be willing to enjoy new forms of performance that can be found in the street, on stage or in any other entertainment-arena) remains an exception to the rule. Regular discourse about and ritual ceremonies of poetry show how big a gap there is between the low brow and the high brow art scene. Poetry recitals from behind the pulpit are the common rule, sometimes flavored with a sophisticated grain of musical `entr’actes’.
The e-literary arthrosis of Dutch poetry once more came to the surface when the big daily newspaper NRC-Handelsblad was calling on its readers, three years ago, to write an essay about the role of poetry in modern society. `Do you ever recite a poem?’ was the title above the text meant to stimulate participation. The phrase made clear that poetry is something which is to be read from a page of a book, in a solemn and serious manner, as one does with science or the bibletexts in church.
Donald Gardner, an English-born performing poet living in the Netherlands, told me: `sometimes I think that the Netherlands really is the last country in the world where a poet should try to settle down. If you tell folks overhere that you are a performing poet, they will stare at you as if you want to rob them of their money or their soul. As if performance is all about manipulation. Poetry in the Netherlands remains a matter of snobism and dead letters. The literary critics consider performance poetry as a non-genre, because they have no touchstone, no criteria, no open mind for judging the same matter in a different way. This prepossessed attitude, this prejudice that what is written is something more valuable than what is spoken, reminds one of the calvinistic roots of Dutch culture. Poetry, is the assumption, should stay as far away as possible from the area of the ephemeral and non-seriousness, the world of entertainment, music or theatre. However, many of the greatest poets of this century were great performers as well. Mayakovski, Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound, Garcia Lorca; they all brought poetry closer to the people. They made true efforts to make it accessible for a wide audience. The fact that poetry in these northern regions reaches so few people, is for a large part due to the poets themselves, who are presenting their work in a way that shows no respect for the audience. The people have to sit back and listen to the mumblings and stumblings of authors who are reading their texts from paper, as if it is not their own work. If they would really respect the audience, they would at least try to make something special and personal of their readings on stage.’

* * *

There’s no such thing as massculture
(there’s only the masses…)
*

While Holland on a political level generally tends towards a Social Democratic spread (compromise) of means and effects, in literature and culture the old society of the classes seems to persist. Between the culture of the `elite’ and the daily hemisphere of `the masses’ lies a huge gap – a wasteland that as yet has not been turned into fertile ground at all. The award-winning Dutch author Herman Franke recently wrote an article in a big daily newspaper, stating that further cultural democratization should be put to an end as soon as possible. He urged our cultural secretary of state (Hans van der Ploeg) to `quit building bridges between the culture of the elite and massculture’. Instead, `we should put up a dam to protect our culture for further vulgarisation, trivialisation and popularisation.’
The supermarkt culture of luxury, consumption and wealth did not have a positive effect on the common people, according to Franke. And for the not so common man (such as artists) it meant a catastrophe. Nowadays, the writer complains, even the well educated part of our country likes to watch entertainment on television and to appreciate cultural waste-products such as hiphop and electronic dance-music, the Eurovision Songfestival broadcasts, soap-opera’s, milk&honey movies, true crime bestsellers. Soon, there will be no culture left. Only massculture…
Do you remember the slogan of Margeret Thatcher from the 1983 election campaign in Great Britain: `there’s no such thing as society?’ That’s what I had to think of when I read the arguments of defense of this self-appointed advocate of the elite (read: real) art and the elite (read: real) culture that is drowning in the relentless, filthy flood of trash and entertainment (read: massculture). `There’s no such thing as massculture’, is Franke’s assumption. `There’s only the masses.’
According to the writer, all attempts to make the best more popular and the popular better, will inevitably result in `a politics of esthetic cleansing’ in which the better will be `chased away from its living ground and/or exterminated’. The author without any form of irony uses the word `cultural genocide’.
Help, the elite is being strangled and butchered!
And who is responsible for this crime against humanity? Which Beëlzebub or Leviathan is plotting the downfall of our civilization? Who are the deathsquads roaming the strongholds of our culture? Of course. The vulgus is to be blamed! The masses. The common people, who have no taste whatsoever (but are always hungry!) and who prefer the pop, snacks and fastfood meals of entertainment above the cuisine de la finesse. As examples of outright mass-cultural terror, Franke has added to his list true capital crimes such as: soccer, soapseries and talkshows, trivial literature, disco-fashion, rapmusic, darts… Our cultural secretary of state (the socialist Rick van der Ploeg) should `stand up firmly and defend all high-class beauty that will disappear unless it will be protected’. The author is begging the secretary to let loose the hound-dogs of our patrimony. They will scare-off all herds eager to tread on hollowed grounds and thus they will prevent further cultural massacres. People have to learn again to look up to the arts. The arts are there to uplift the soul and educate the mind, and not merely to entertain or quench it. Back to feudal times, seems to be Franke’s suggestion. The people litterally have to `learn how to bow again for elite art instead of zapping it away and level it down to their own level’ (the words of Franke).
Each elite is striving for a sustainment and, if possible, a strengthening of its influence and power. Goals that cannot be reached by being tolerant, of course. For artists like Franke, only those within the walls are equal. The masses outside are less equal, unless they are willing to join the nobel artistic chivalry as `pietaille’ in the hegemonial battle for all `real, true or higher forms’ of elite-art.
If one would substitute the evil trinity that, according to Franke, is threatening our culture (vulgarisation, massification, democratisation) by the term `Entartung’, suddenly the consequences of his suggestions are getting clear. Who does this Junker think he is that he can destinguish himself so outright from the masses – while he himself is not willing and/or able to make any distinction among the multitudes and variety of the latter category.
Because of the bitter tone of agony in which Franke states his debate, one can only fear what it would mean for the everyday arena if not a democratically elected secretary of state, but a sumptuous philosopher-king would set the rules. Back to the times and dreams of Plato, when serious suggestions were made for reaching a higher level of civilization by protecting the common souls from moral corruption through means of banning theatre and poetry and other forms of entertainment?
If no bridges are being built between the hemispheres of culture, the mandarins will retreat deeper and deeper into their sanctuaries. The elite will become smaller and smaller, and it will thrift more and more away from the masses that it is fiercely afraid of and unable to understand. With the plea for higher walls around the cultural altar, and for hounddogs that should guard the treasure, the elitists (like Herman Franke and Herman de Coninck) are signing up for their own death-sentence. The higher the walls are, the less people will be able to climb over it. The little kingdom that the elite is defending very soon will be exterminated not because of vulgurisation (or any other `cultural genocide’ caused by the masses), but because of inbreeding.

* * *

Apart from the `economic’ dynamics of power and influence, it remains a real question: why all this fear, this contempt against the masses, against everything that’s challenging the status quo of the cultural world? The fear felt by the elite has to be really deep, because in more than one sense it is in the interest of the elitists too, to open up the floodgates once in a while, so that a fresh stream can clear up the dirt in the canal. Behind my former apartment in Ghent Belgium, lies a river that is known by locals as the `Dooie Leie’ (the Dead Leie). The water stands still, stinks and is as black as that of the Styx. On the surface floats the garbage of the city, and above its wrinkled, tar and charcoal colored skin fumes are gathering. A regular stream of fresh water that can run through, and the Kuperskaai (the riverside) would certainly be a livelier and better place to be.

I mistrust people who want to keep the gates shut. Who think that people should `bow’ instead of participate. What is true for poetry, is also true for culture in general: it cannot be confined, it cannot be restricted, it cannot be monopolized. Poetry and culture will remain themselves, through the years and through the centuries, and they will revenge on anybody who is trying to put them behind bars, walls or barbed wire. Even if these restrictions are being put up for the sake of `self-defence’. Culture and art rise high not through rules of paternalization, they well up from the freedom of the mind. The source of all creation and of innovation.
We live in a society in which human beings – thank God – are free to choose what they consider to be relevant for their individual lifes. This is not a privilige, but a fundamental right. That this means that high brow/traditional/elite art and literature is not automatically worshipped anymore by everybody as something sacred or holy, is a prize the elite has to pay for democracy. Those who are not willing to do so, are not worthy of the system.
To those who are sincerely afraid for the vulgurizing powers of entertainment and democratisation, I would like to say: don’t panic, the masses too will find their way, and if you put away disgust, mistrust and contempt, you will soon see a range of new colours between the grey of today. New elites will crawl up. Existing strongholds will be torn down. New palaces will be built. Some of the hungry will install themselves as the new elite. Also their hunger will faint once they’ve swallowed enough of their chocolates, chips or burgers and once they’ve drunk enough of their champagne, beer or coke. They too will try to get as much influence as they can and consider themselves superior to the masses of which they themselves once were a member. They too will say that there is no such thing as society or massculture. Their eyes too will freeze with age, their hands will shake…
Everything will be as it should be
and then again, as never before
and once it is, it soon will be
no more…

© Serge van Duijnhoven, Brussels 2010

TOM CRUISE
fifteen minutes at the set of Valkyrie

by Serge van Duijnhove/ IFA

After two months of hanging around, pestering, pushing, being brushed off, and persisting, I got a call from Babelberg’s Studios in Berlin. “Tom Cruise is prepared to meet with you.” The lady from United Artists Entertainment interrupts my overjoyed stutter, “The conversation will take place after the shoot at the Columbiahaus, in the old bowling alley of the Tempelhof airport. You get fifteen minutes, after which Mister Cruise has to move on.”
A security officer in a green overall, Thomas Merz, leads me through the many above ground and underground halls of the legendary ‘Zentralflughafen’ designed by Nazi-architect Ernst Sagebiel. We pass through the neatly polished basketball field on the sixth floor, the ballroom on the seventh floor, the bar in the former officer’s mess. In the bowling alley the make-up studio of Ingrid Ernst has been set up where the actor will stop by to wash off the make-up after shoots for the Bryan Singer movie Valkyrie.

OPPOSITION

The choice of Scientology ambassador Tom Cruise to be the interpreter of the role of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the man behind the conspiracy against Hitler, who had to pay with his life for the failed assassination of 20 July 1944, was a slap in the face of the many German Scientology enemies. Stauffenberg was prepared to lay down his life in his fight against oppression and dictatorship. And now his tale will be told by of all people an actor who makes propaganda for a sect that tries to attract people with dubious methods and shape them into subservient disciples.
The CPU and SPD parties in Berlin asked minister Jung of Defence to prevent a movie shoot being made in what is known as the Bendlerblock. This is the former military head quarters of Hitler, the place where Stauffenberg was chief of staff, where operation Valkyrie was conceived and where the conspirators on the very same night of 20 July were executed. The place is marked by a memorial and tens of thousands of visitors travel here each year to honor one of the few heroes produced by the higher echelons of the Nazi regime.
But as it turned out Cruise’s membership of the Scientology Church was not enough for the Minister of Defense to uphold the ban on filming in the Bendlerblock. On 21 September the movie shoot took place in this hallowed spot. American scenario writer Christopher McQuarrie (author of the movie Usual Suspects, also directed by Singer, in 1995) had managed to woo the German authorities away from their negative stance. He described in an artful letter how the opening scene of the film will introduce the monument in the courtyard with all honors, in a shot segueing from past to present. The revered character of the location would be respected during shoots and it would be made unequivocally clear to the movie’s audience that dictatorial Germany is a thing of the past. Oscar winner Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck, director of the film Das Leben der Anderen, joined McQuarrie in his petition by declaring ‘this Hollywood movie could mean more for German PR abroad than hosting ten consecutive World Cup Football championships in a row’.

As filming started, in the courtyard with six lime trees and a statue, Tom Cruise climbed onto a platform and asked the people present on the closed set to observe a one-minute silence, to commemorate the executed heroes of the failed plot on Hitler. Cruise spoke with emotion of ‘the positive aura of this hallowed location’ and thanked authorities for in the end granting their permission to film there.

THE DEVIL INCARNATE

So, is this Scientology ambassador truly the devil incarnate? I asked an expert on the very subject: David Touretzky, a Research Professor of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at the American Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsbrugh Pennsylvania. Touretzky has published a never-ending series of books about Scientology and Tom Cruise. From his research office in the States the professor sent me this message: “I think Tom Cruise could play the part of Goebbels, but he’s not intelligent enough to be him. I can understand the controversy in Germany; it would be as if Kim Jung II, the leader of North Korea, played the leading role in a tribute to American patriarch George Washington, in an attempt to win the hearts of the American people. The Americans would not appreciate it. The same goes for the Germans. The Germans aren’t happy with Cruise portraying one of the few Nazi heroes who dared to stand up to Hitler.”
Is it valid to consider Scientology a sect?
“I think it is certainly valid. In the US we make fun of Scientology, but the Germans, due to their Nazi history, are more capable than we of recognizing truly totalitarian regimes. The US is very tolerant with regards to strange semi-criminal groups or sects, of which fortunately most are only small in size. I think the Germans are justified to be outraged that someone like Tom Cruise takes on the role of Stauffenberg. Also, in the United States, the government is following every move Scientology makes. You’ve got to remember that in the 70s Scientology was responsible for the biggest internal espionage scandal bar Watergate. Eleven Scientologists were sentenced to prison and the FBI still maintains a close watch on them. Scientology is a criminal organization that is trying to take over the world. Their words for it are ‘clearing the planet’. They have bags of money and no scruples. Luckily for us, they are completely incompetent at achieving their ambition.”

LOST TAPES

Before us stands a table with four separate mirrors arranged around a barbershop-style chair. On the table plates stand at the ready with sliced fruit and bottles of mineral water, all spread out for visitors and the great actor himself who is on his way. Security gives a second to second update over the walkie talkie on Cruise’s movements.
“He’s almost there now,” I hear crackle over the line, and indeed, less than ten seconds later an intensely swearing Cruise, accompanied by two security guards and a director’s assistant, thunders into the bowling alley. The controversial actor carries a half discarded Nazi officer uniform. Cruise’s face, which is ready to explode, is clearly showing his age (45). The shrewd eyes lie deep in the sockets, the cheekbones mark his hewn face, the contours of his hollow cheeks cast a shadow. Tom Cruise shakes my hand and a stationary smile bubbles up through the angry face. The makeup artist asks what’s wrong. A drum roll of curses ensues as the actor falls into the barber’s chair.
“”It’s un-fucking-believable! They have lost the tapes with the sho ot from the Bendlerblock. The negatives have been destroyed by some idiot in the lab! Gone! No more!”
Shock reverberates through the room.
“We moved heaven and earth to film in this godforsaken hole, and finally succeeded. Everyone was sharp as a whip and the shoot went great. Then just now Bryan [Singer -SvD] walks up to me and says: I’m so ashamed and infuriated, Tom, but we’ve lost them. Lost!? I yelled, what have we lost? The tapes, he says. Of the Bendlerblock. I said No Way! No Way! No Way!”

The thunderstruck makeup artist carefully tries to start cleaning the makeup off Cruise’s face.
The director’s assistant looks on helplessly. I ask if it could be malicious intent. Is there a connection with the campaign against Tom Cruise the Scientology ambassador? Tom looks at me crossly, as if I too am guilty of the disappearance of the tapes.
“How the hell should I know? You’d start to think so, wouldn’t you? The whole thing stinks to high heaven. I already heard someone claim Scientology itself was behind all this. I mean, how paranoid can you get?”

I ask him if this has ever happened to him before.

“Never.”

And the campaign such as is being waged against you here in Germany?
“There’s jerks in the US who’d like a piece of me too.” Cruise drinks almost the whole bottle of mineral water in one, and then apologizes to the makeup artist for his swearing. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
Maybe they’ll find a way to repair the damaged tapes, soothes the director’s assistant.
‘They’d better,” snorts Tom. He takes a deep sigh, and then is silent. I’m feeling a bit lost and ask if I should come back another time. The actor shrugs. “I don’t care. Ask Jutta…” But Jutta, the United Artists lady is not here. With a wave of his wrist Cruise shows it’s fine with him. “Shoot, if that’s what you want…”

CODE OF HONOR

I scrape up all my courage, my questions seem so irrelevant now. Stuttering and playing with my paper list of questions, I hear myself say: “Um, does it bother you that the whole world is always looking over your shoulder, also where it involves the private lives of your children?”
“I’m used to the media attention. My wife Kate and I live in the eye of the storm, the world flutters around us. It’s the people around us who get in a spin, not us. We get up in the morning, bring the children to school, put a diaper on Suri, go to work, to the set or the studio, do our shopping. Promotion gig, whatever. If we’re lucky we can get away a bit. I even have time to go fly now and then. Great. I think my life is incredibly fortunate and uncomplicated compared to, for example, my mother’s. I grew up with a single mom who had to raise four children on her own. Now that’s complicated. My children whom I raise with Nicole [Kidman] are happy, we share our time with them. They lack for nothing and it’s not difficult. Difficult is when a mother comes home at night after her work, exhausted and slumped from working hard and then has to put dinner on the table for four children. When the family has to keep treading water to not drown. That is difficult. At home we all had to chip in the housekeeping, I worked jobs from the time I was eight years old. And still our family, now matter how dysfunctional and poor, was happy in a way. I remember my mother as a woman who wasted her body away, but also as someone who stood up in the morning with a song. She never complained, she endured her fate while humming a tune.”
Is that flying a big passion of yours?
“Are you kidding? Flying is Absolutely essential for me. On the ground I always feel a little anxious, but up there, in the cockpit, I forget all anxiety at once and a meditative peace and quiet descend on me. It may have something to do with the color of the sky. That azure blue of the sky outside the cabin, it is absolutely soothing. That’s why my helicopter, which is parked here at the airport and that I use to fly to the set or to get away, is blue. In a way I exercise a certain desire to temporarily become one with the sky.”
Does your flying passion have anything to do with your involvement with Scientology?
“Founder Ron L. Hubbard was a gifted pilot. A pioneer even…Why would that have anything to do with Scientology? I don’t see any connection between flying and Scientology. Cut the crap man! Next question, please.”
According to reliable sources, your title in the church is said to be OT-VII, Operating Titan of the Seventh Echelon. What does that mysterious name mean exactly?
“You keep going and I’m quitting. There is nothing mysterious about Scientology. What you need to do, if you want to know the answer, is to buy and read What Is Scientology? By Ron Hubbard. Or: Evolution of a Science. Dianetics. Everything you want to know is in there. And now stop bothering me with those trivial questions. Please.”

There is a Scientology rule that says: ‘Don’t desire to be liked or admired’. How do you rhyme that rule with your goal to make box office hits and engage the public at large?
“I simply and only do what I am convinced is the right thing. Not what other people think I should be doing. I come from a country where slavery was practiced for a long time, with the consent of nearly all white people. Where racism and mistreatment of a certain group of people was condoned. I have never condoned that type of behavior. I only do things of which I instinctively feel they are okay and correct. Making a box office hit does not really have anything to do with wanting to be admired by the masses. The goal is to tell a good story well. To make a suspense movie very suspenseful. The point is if you succeed in doing THAT. I take my work very seriously. I’m a hard worker. I have never taken my success for granted, it’s been a hard road full of struggle. I am really grateful so many of my movies are a success. I see that as a reward for my efforts, not as a result of efforts to be admired by one and all. I don’t play, I act. I mean, look. Paramount put me out on the street last year. I always get a lot of criticism, and I’m afraid that’s never going to change. And nevertheless my films are always box office hits. It’s my way of sticking it to the critics.”
What does stardom do to your life? Has it hindered your personal development or on the contrary helped it forward?
“The way people idolize stars is just as bad as the way that stars get dumped on. Actors can never fall as deep as the press would like you to believe because, in reality, they never ascended to such towering heights to start with either. And that is why I find the Scientology church so supportive. It is all about personal development there. Working on one’s self. And helping others. I’m rich, but I’ve never cared much for money. I never made a movie for the money. Still won’t. I love my cars, my motorbikes, airplanes and my helicopter. But I am on the highest cloud simply being in my relationship with Kate, with my daughter Suri and my children, I want to be a good father, I want to be the best possible father. The *father that I never had.”
And the makeup is off, the clothes change is complete and the interview as far as Tom Cruise is concerned is over. Accompanied by his security guards Cruise disappears through the halls onto the tarmac of the Zentralflughafen Tempelhof. As per his orders his blue EC-135 helicopter with Pratt & Whitney PW206B turboshaft engines has been brought out of the shelter. It is time for a soothing flight through the blue autumn skies over Berlin.

Postscript: United Artists Entertainment lets it be known that the tapes from the original film shoot in the Bendlerblock were damaged beyond repair in the development lab, and that new scenes have now already been filmed in the same historical location where Stauffenberg was executed on 20 July. Tom Cruise flew back to Colorado after the shoot and sent each of the five thousand employees connected to the shoot, from sound technicians to extras, a personal thank-you letter with an I-Pod as a gift.

© IFA, SvD, 2009

BACK TO BLACK – Amy Winehouse

Where in the name of Urizen, Jesebel and Baquba does that miraculously layered, peeled off, cracked-up, multi-faceted, shady, volatile, unearthly but above all beautiful, beautiful voice of Amy Winehouse come from? From the throat and gutter of that frail and feeble female being that is barely moving on stage, just wibbling there half in the shade, the microphone loosely in her hand, her head in a wondering position as if she is not fully aware of the situation or her surrounding. It is as if she is just smoking a cigarette and elegantly playing with the icecubes in her glass of short. Notwithstanding the intensity of her voice, physically and psychologically Amy is never completely there on the spot. One feels a certain unease, as if she is attending the reception for courtousy reasons, and is waiting for the perfect moment to leave the building.

Of course there is a lot of romanticism and gossip that sets in because of Winehouse’s untamed character and her spectacularly destructive behavoir as a twenty something year old prima donna/soul diva, who plays her role of komet shooting loose through heaven with a bit too much zeal. Too much at least for it to be a result of radical PR management. Sometimes one thinks good old Amy of 24 already has seven lives behind her (are YOU experienced?) and a liver that has shrunk to the size of a cat’s tongue – not the popular one of dark and bitter chocolate that tenderly melts in the sunlight, but of dried and crackled example of weather proof leather. Such material as saddles for racing horses are made of. I keep wondering, sincerely, why she submits to all of this, all this hiding, running, misbehaving, derailing, all this Dionysian slender that leads miss Winehouse in all possible directions apart from the one where producers and musicians are awaiting her in a booked recording studio, or from the Music-hall where a crammed audience plus crew is surely biting its nails off while praying to all the antic gods or spirits of time and chance, that hopefully this time she WILL arrive at the music hall and preferably in a mental state that performing is still possible. How big must be her thirst, her hunger, her craving, or to put it more precisely, how strong must be her inner and instinctive thrift towards “that point from where there is no more return” – for her to be more afraid of any regularity than of a life among the ruins where the ghost of her protector and imaginary trustee Apuk the Destroyer is still beliefed to be lingering.

Allen Ginsberg once said that, as a poet, he mainly sought to “ease the pain of living. And all the rest is drunken dumbshow…” For Amy, it is precisely the drunken spectacle in a sweaty, steemy and sold out Music Hall that provides her with the ideal setting for her bewildering and slightly shamanistic act to ease the pain of living for all who let themselves be mesmerized by that undefinable voice and stunning appearance of her. It is clear that she does not take a great effort to perform her act, it’s all a sideshow. That’s the impression she gives, and I love her for that. “Tutto nel mundo e burla. L’Uome e nate burlone.” (opera Falstaff, Verdi & Boito – The whole of life is but a comedy. Man is but born a jester…)

We listen to Amy in awe, and are left behind with a strange mixture of joy and sadness. It is for sure some katharsic experience that is enhanced by the collective character of its kind, the physicality of so many people dancing, moving, and enjoying themselves, and last of all because of the way in which, by means of expression, Amy’s utterings of her quite private but also generally recognizable suffering, sorrow and regret, have been turned into a powerful and touching ceremony of physical joy and emotional satisfaction. cause living is bruising one’s arms, scarring one’s soul, hurting the other as well as oneself, of the pain of betrayal and of loosing one’s loved, the awareness of emotional failure and of having spoilt some very rare and crucial chances in one’s life: it are all variations on the same old “condition humaine”, with which every human being is familiar.

Notwithstanding all her tendencies towards Chaos and her instinctive leaning towards “Klipdrift”, I must admit that this one and truly diva of a grim and pitch-black soul-goddess, has gained my utmost respect – because she truly has enriched my life with her music, her spirit, her presence, and her geniously smooth way of singing and working – with one foot already outside the realm of gravity and sweat. This lady found the secret of how to creatively exorce her demons and turn them into painfully beautiful, powerful and attractivey music and texts as smart as poetry and solid as a rock – and all of that sung by her in a most puzzlingly mature and asonishing Ella Fitzgerald-meets-Pearl Baily-like voice that is guiltet in grace but also pockmarked by the countless darker shades and cracks that rightfully pierce through the shield of all too much perfection and the cleancut style of commercial producers. I have the awkwardly exciting as well as depressing feeling that Amy’s is a voice one can only discover once in a lifetime (on this planet, at least). If one is lucky.

My final wish for her: may she find the best of all possible guidance in these turbulent years. Without a genuinely firm, strong and above all helping hand, this diva will no doubt succomb to the forces of darkness that are calling on her to – indeed – go “back to black”.

Of Kings and Imposters

—– Original Message —–
From: swantje lichtenstein
To: ‘Serge van Duijnhoven’
Sent: Monday, December 22, 2008 2:18 PM
Subject: waves

dear serge, had a fabulous weekend in zürich, very mad dancing on a balkan-party and some artist-places, wonderful people there and snow.
what are you up to? do I get an answer of my question: “who is the king?”??
I give a quote back of one of my heros wittgenstein, about death, might be provoking for you???
“death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness,
then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.”
— ludwig wittgenstein, tractatus logico-philosophicus, 6.4311
kindest & waving,
sw*

Serge answered Dec27th:

Okay dearest and noble sister, these are some of my ponderings about your adequately teasing “Who Is The King?” -question.
Princes are the keepers of promise, Kings are imposters. This is invariably true, no matter how good or bad a King or Queen might turn out to be in the practise of their reign.
There can be many princes and princesses line-ing up for – or around – the thrown. But there need not necessarily be one and only king on top of that throne. And most of all: not all princess need to mount that throne. Pitiful are those kings and queens too seriously believing in the principle of being the one and only chosen one by heaven and lineage and blue-bloody history. In the end, all kings are mutants and experts in the style of imposture and illusion.
To prove this, one ancecdote from the history of Bernadotte, marechal sous Napoleon Bonaparte and before that a revolutionary general – who knew how to make carreer and work himself up in the rangs of the self-appointed Emperor, to the position of “king of Scandinavia”. The story goes that this king, being ill, did refuse to undress completely in front of his docters gathering around his sickbed. After having died, one found out that he had tattooed the words “Mort Au Roi” on his chest. Typical case of the social mutant and imposter, that all Kings belong to, who want to put their promise of being prince into the practise of becoming an actual King. Kings can only prevail if they do not undress and keep on their shirt or gown.
The question is: self-justification through deeds and actuality. Or by re-writing history and using make-belief.
King is creativity. King is fantasy. King is fiction.
King is power. King is delusion.
King is loneliness.

Amsterdam was a most charming, romantic Christmas experience spent in the Western part of town that was quite new to me (even though I lived eight years in the east quarter from 1989 till 1997).
This week the frost will hit the canals, and one should be able to see skaters on the canals from Tuesday or Wednesday. Might be a good reason to go there again for Reveillon Dec.31st. What are you planning on that night of passing time and added second?

When I returned from the Netherlands today, I found out that somebody or people had tried to break into my house. The door was forced yesterday during the day, while Vahur and his Estonian love were upstairs. Vahur found the door and lock scrumbled when he tried to go out for shopping. He could not leave, and spent hours finding out how to undo the damage before being able to open the door again from the inside; luckily the bastards did not get in. Wonder it is connected with the Maroccon scum that I recognized two weeks ago at the main quarter of the federal police as the one who robbed me at the trainstation in July, 6th. The guy was taking in custody Monday, released Wednesday. Had all my details, address, identity card, passport, etc. etc., and might have tried to take revenge by force of intimidation. The police is investigating this.
The rest of the neighbourhood is cleared of trouble, so this might be the case.
I have to renew the door and lock.
New chapter in an ongoing story.
Wish Kun-Tran-Quillho – God of Calm and Ease – would give me some blessings for the new year.
Bell well & a bientot,

Serge

All just vehicles for bacteries
notes from the jungle of Paraguay

Hey dear Swantje,

was in a special wildlife reserve today, with my hosts Paula and Arthur – as well as with Ulyssus and Mali – a nice and bright young couple of artists who also take care as volunteers of some animals in the Ogarenda zoo like territory around the city of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. The interesting fact is, that all the special animals in the guarded cages of the foundation, did choose their own care-keepers by “own choise”. Mila is taking care of a beautiful full grown male blue parrot, Coco is his name – who choose her – originally a guard for Pumas – to take care of him by following her all over the territory and not wanting to let loose of her shoulder. The parrot really seems to be in love with his special nurse. He is jealous and protects her heavily from the attention of other – male – humqan visitors.
I had to think of you when I witnessed this today. Also because the poem you sent me just before I left – and which I liked somuch – was eaten over the weekend by Iagua, a Rottweiler dog of my hosts. I hope he enjoyed it.
Friday was a strange day, with German Oktoberfest in a hotel for old nazis called Westfalia, where still every year the birthday of Hitler is celebrated in one of the cozy Eckes. There was lots of beer, Eisbein and schaukelmusik – I am sure you would have hated it all. And it was pitiful, but so strange that I felt like in a dark dream. The Gulasch suppe was excellent, however.
Saturday we drove out of the city to visit Jorge the shaman. I did an ayahuesca experience with Arthur. Very therapeutical but also confrontational and heavy. At a certain moment I thought I was dying, my heart went so fast and it was as if not Arthur and Jorge but my dead friends Joris and Christian Loidl were accompanying me to the Interzone. I am still digesting all the impressions that came over me, but in the end it felt as if mentally I crawled out of an old skin, like a snake.
I miss our contesting email pingpong. But I will be back thursday, and hope we can continue it henceforth.
Have you been, by any chance, contacted by Claudio Pozzani for performing in Berlin and Paris in November? I gave him your address. Claudio is a poet from Genua who is organizing poetry festivals in Europe every now and then.
Be well in Cologne.
Embrace,

Serge

hola serge,
a lot of animals out there in the jungle! who is observing whom? heard les murray recently reading poems about the inner voice of animals. he is whale by himself.
I am wondering if you thought of me because of the parrot protecting and following the woman, or the woman taking care for the parrot? and why is this reminding
you of my poem? and why did you gave it to a rottweiler? (another killing german???) to eat? the print out? how should he enjoy it? how could you like a nazi-gulasch-soup
(hungarian receipe??? are you sure your ayahuasca-expericence went fine??? (pong!) confrontation is nearly as good as contesting. sometimes. hope you are allright then.
but you seem experienced with the interzone/life/death/dark side etc. good you got a new skin. my shamanic friend visited me yesterday, but not giving me a treatment only for a visit.
thank you for the recommendation. say hi to all ghosts and the animals from me.
everything is getting yellow and red here. beside the cat.
have a good time in these fields of the wild ones,
take care, sw*

Yo Swantje,

yes plenty of animals here. Good question- who is observing whom. In the end, I think, we are all just vehicles for bacteries eating on as many species as possible to withstand time. They are observing all of us, animals and creatures. And laughing hard.

To undo a misunderstanding- I did not GIVE your poem to the Rottweiler in any way. The dog ate a plastic map filled with documents and papers that I unfortunately left on the table in the living room last week. He also ate one of my little notebooks. I hope you can some day send me the whole cycle by mail or post.

How can one enjoy a nazi gulasch suppe in the jungle at 35 degrees celsius outside- probably my senses are political nor moralistic. I went there not to support but to wonder at the strange arian colony that has been created in this far away land. Most Germans here by the way are Mennonites. Not nazi at all.

The parrot Coco reminded me of you because of our discussions about cats, birds, men and animals. Does this really sound insulting 1

Meanwhile what are you doing ‘ teaching on university ‘ something else ‘

Too bad if Claudio did not reach you. It would have been nice to perform together again in Berlin and Paris.

I will take care. You too

Serge

dear serge,
bacteries are also animals, at least creatures!
so, you think it is about “who is eating whom?” instead of “who is observing whom?”
but yes, it is about laughing, definitely.
the rottweiler, knew probably exactly, what he was eating,
the best of it: your notebook and my poem!
he even took the plastic, just to get it! what a dog!
he must have been a writer in a former life…

BUT: to compare a poet with a parrot could create a PROBLEM!!!
only if you also love flaubert, like I do, than it would be fine!!!
otherwise again:

BE AWARE DON’T COMPARE (ACHTUNG: pong!!)

“discussions about cat, birds, men and animals”
what a interesting combination!;o)

“Meanwhile what are you doing ‘ teaching on university ‘ something else ‘” <= sorry, is this a question?
if yes: I am teaching about “kitsch” (together with the professor for music) and “literary spaces/topographies” and I have a writing class.
if this was not a question, I don’t know….

yes, would be nice to perform together in paris or berlin!

I am the caretaker of my soul and I am taking care.

be aware of the inaccuracy &
be precise & laugh with the bacteries,
sw
I had to think of you when I witnessed this today. Also because the poem you sent me just before I left – and which I liked so much – was eaten overtheweekend by Iagua, a Rottweiler dog of my hosts. I hope he enjoyed it.
Friday was a strange day, with German Oktoberfest in a hotel for oldnaziscalled Westfalia, where still every year the birthday of Hitler iscelebrated inone of the cozy Eckes. There was lots of beer, Eisbein andschaukelmusik – I amsure you would have hated it all. And it was pitiful, butso strange that I feltlike in a dark dream. The Gulasch suppe was excellent,however.
Saturday we drove out of the city to visit Jorge the shaman. I didanayahuesca experience with Arthur. Very therapeutical but alsoconfrontationaland heavy. At a certain moment I thought I was dying, my heartwent so fast andit was as if not Arthur and Jorge but my dead friends Joris andChristian Loidlwere accompanying me to the Interzone. I am still digesting allthe impressionsthat came over me, but in the end it felt as if mentally Icrawled out of anold skin, like a snake.
I miss our contesting email pingpong. But I will be back thursday,andhope we can continue it henceforth.
Have you been, by any chance, contacted by Claudio Pozzani forperformingin Berlin and Paris in November? I gave him your address. Claudio isa poetfrom Genua who is organizing poetry festivals in Europe every now andthen.
Be well in Cologne.
Embrace,

Serge

Oei oei,

I don•t know how to write question marks here
sorry
that•s why
some of it
was I so general
question mark

I don•t doubt you are right
to be precise
is half of the game

laughing about it
the other
half

S

o, hello!

little hermetic this voice:
“that•s why
some of it
was I so general
question mark”

is it depending on the symbols?
all? send you some question marks:
????????????????????????????????????
just in case! best, sw

—– Original Message —–
From: Serge van Duijnhoven
To: swantje lichtenstein
Sent: Saturday, October 18, 2008 10:54 PM
Subject: Re: preciseness

Dear Sister Sw,

thank you for the question marks.
One can never get or have enough of them.

Knowing that answers are even more rare.
With the risk of possibly being punished for my frankness, I hereby will try to give you an equally accurate as elaborate account of my ceremonial Ayahuasca ritual in the jungle of last week. I hope this one will be precise enough for you:

In the vinyard of the soul

Ayahuasca is a plant and when mixed with other ingredients it is made into a tea and has healing power. Once you drink the tea, you get a sort of high. It’s more than hallucinations, you have a spiritual experience. Depending on your particular reason for drinking the tea, (some go to heal from a disease, others for personal growth) it may take a few ceremonies before you will be healed of what ails you. Anything from cancer to cocaine addiction from depression to schizophrenia has been recorded of being cured. Ayahuasca itself is not illegal, but the chacruna (leaves of another plant) contain DMT and are not allowed in Europe or the US so ayahuasca mainly used throughout the Peruvian Amazon, Paraguay, Columbia and Western Brazil. To experience the effects of the ayahuasca tea, there are organized tours where you are provided food, a place to stay, and most important a guide to help you through the process. The tea itself takes all day to make and is best if it is brewed by a trained shaman.

after 6+ hours of brewing the night before and working a short shift at work I was ready to take the purge. I started drinking the 2 cups at about 2:30 pm and finished just before 3:00. My, oh my that was some vile p1ss ( I threw up 1/2 way thru the drink ) but thats normal – and then afterwards again – and once more 10 minutes later
This really helped my breathing and made the MAO inhibitors kick in,as I felt the calming effect. So I spent about an hour in my room stretched out listening to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave. Not much there so I went outside, confident I was done puking.

After an hour or 2 of sitting on the front steps staring at things/people for what seemed like minutes at a time and catching trace visuals every so often, I felt like I hadnt slept in 10 years and laid my head down while a neighborhood cat came and laid out a few feet away. After about 10 minutes I got up and went back inside for some water and rice, since I’d been fasting all day . Even with a relatively weak batch, its effects were long lasting. I’m taking my health and abstinence more into consideration next time around and allow myself a few days of solitude for preparation.

Spirituality is at the centre of the Ayahuasca experience. Purification and cleansing of body, mind, and spirit in a shamanic ceremony can be the beginning of a process of profound personal and spiritual discovery and transformation. Ayahuasca is the jungle medicine of the upper Amazon. It is made from the ayahuasca vine ( Banisteriopsis Caapi) and the leaf of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis). The two make a potent medicine, which takes one into the visionary world. The vine is an inhibitor, which contains harmala and harmaline among other alkaloids, and the leaf contains vision-inducing alkaloids. As with all natural medicines, it is a mixture of many alkaloids that makes their unique properties. For example, Peyote, the cactus used by the North Native Americans, is said to contain 32 active alkaloids, so when one of those alkaloids, mescaline (LSD) is synthesised in a laboratory, the result is not at all the same.

The oldest known object related to the use of ayahuasca is a ceremonial cup, hewn out of stone, with engraved ornamentation, which was found in the Pastaza culture of the Ecuadorian Amazon from 500 B.C. to 50 A.D. It is deposited in the collection of the Ethnological Museum of the Central University (Quito, Ecuador). This indicates that ayahuasca potions were known and used at least 2,500 years ago. Ayahuasca is a name derived from two Quechua words: aya means spirit, ancestor, deceased person, and huasca means vine or rope, hence it is known as vine of the dead or vine of the soul. It is also known by many other local names including yaje, caapi, natema, pinde, daime, mihi, & dapa. It plays a central role in the spiritual, religious and cultural traditions of the Indigenous and Mestizo (mixed blood) peoples of the upper Amazon, Orinoco plains and the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador.

The plants are collected from the rainforest in a sacred way and it is said that a shaman can find plentiful sources of the vine by listening for the ‘drumbeat’ that emanates from them. The mixture is prepared by cutting the vines to cookable lengths, scraping and cleaning them, pounding them into a pulp. Meanwhile the Chacruna leaves and picked and cleaned. So what, perhaps, is the advantage of ayahuasca over other disciplines? In the words of Padrino Alex Polari de Alverga of the Santo Daime Community in Brazil, “Daime (ayahuasca) is basically a shortcut, it’s as if we had been travelling down the same highway as the rest of humanity, but then, in order to arrive at our destination more quickly we took a side road. When taking such a shortcut, however, we must be very careful and clear-minded. It is a shortcut that leads us to truth, but only if we follow in the footsteps of the Masters who have preceded us.”

Medicines like ayahuasca can help us along our path but we still have to do the work ourselves. My experience is that these kind of allies can help us open the doors of perception, but what we do when we get there is entirely our own challenge. To understand ayahuasca in the local context, one cannot avoid taking a look at the ecological environment, such as the forest, cultural environment and indigenous cultures. This has structured the cultural content of ayahuasca. There are many legends and myths about ayahuasca, one the more romantic is from the Shipibo people who live up the river in the heart of the jungle in the Peruvian Amazon. This tale is centered around women, more so than men, as they look after the children and their health, whilst the men are out hunting and fishing. Men are more interested in plants that aid their inner spirits whilst hunting. Women are more interested in plants that will allow their children to grow. There was one particular woman who was very interested in plants, who liked to pick the leaves of different plants. She would then crush the leaves into a pot and soak them in water over night. She would then take a bath every morning before sunrise (the way to find out about various plants and their effects is to bathe in them). She bathed in them every morning until she had a dream. In her dream a woman came and said, “why are you bathing every day?” She answered, “I am doing this as I want you to teach me.” The other woman said, “You must seek out my uncle, his name is Kamarampi. I will show you where to find him”. The woman led the other woman to her uncle. The uncle showed her how to mix the leaves of the chacruna, which was a bush she had taken leaves from to bathe in. He showed her how to prepare the brew of Ayahuasca, he told her to go and tell the people the knowledge of how to use the brew. The Indigenous people past and present have taken Ayahuasca to enable them to focus on other dimensions. One example: – To enable them to be more successful on a hunting trip they would contact the Mother spirit of certain species, through the Ayahuasca. The hunt would be more successful.

One of the many mysteries surrounding Ayahuasca is how the vine became to be used with the Chacruna leaves as although they both come from the same soil but always grow apart otherwise the ayahuasca winds around the Chacruna and kills it. No one knows this but we get a clue from how the shamans interact with the plant. Jorge Arevalo the shaman told us “ in the old days his grandfather and uncles used to sit around after taking ayahuasca and he said that ayahuasca was originally taken alone and in the visions they saw that Chacruna was missing. Ayahuasca would say I am the doctor that gives the vision. His grandfather responded, how can we find this plant? The response in the vision was, you can find it by turning two corners. So they went around two corners and found a bush which attracted them which was Chacruna i.e. the ayahuasca showed them. This is a fundamental principle, in the visions it is the spirit doctor of ayahuasca which tells them what is wrong with their patient, what medicine they need, or who has caused the illness or malaise.

Integral to the ceremony are the chants that the shaman sings. These are known as Icaros, and the chant will direct the nature of the ceremony or visionary experience for the group and for individuals as the shaman during the ceremony will chant specific Icaros for that person’s needs. The words of the chants are symbolic stories telling of the ability of nature to heal itself. For example the crystalline waters from a stream wash the unwell person, while coloured flowers attract the hummingbirds whose delicate wings fan healing energies etc. You might see such things in your visions but the essence which cures you is perhaps more likely to be the understanding of what is happening in your life, allowing inner feelings to unblock so that bitterness and anger con change to ecstasy and love. To awaken from the ‘illusion of being alive’ is to experience life itself. There are several different kinds of Icaros, at the beginning of the session. Their purpose is to provoke the mareacion or effects, and, in the words of Jorge Arevalo, ‘to render the mind susceptible for visions to penetrate, then the curtains can open for the start of the theatre’. Other Icaros call the spirit of Ayahuasca to open visions ‘as though exposing the optic nerve to light’. Alternatively, if the visions are too strong, the same spirit can be made to fly away in order to bring the person back to normality. There are Icaros for calling the ‘doctors’, or plant spirits, for healing, while other Icaros call animal spirits, which protect and rid patients of spells.
In the West there are lots of stories like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ reminding us that plants have spirit power, Alice in Wonderland explored this world too. There is a large body of knowledge of power plants even if the form has been adapted to fairy tales and ‘domesticated’, not to under rate the richness of Grimms’ tales.

When a person drinks Ayahuasca, especially with a trusted shaman, there is a chance to learn and trust the plant. You discover that it works in its own way. It is a great moment getting to this point. Then there is the question of whether the plant trusts us, because it can be abused and used for getting the wrong kind of personal power. Without intention, vision, preparation, and a shaman, it is a drug not a healing medicine. A major difficulty for Westerners is the diet and the living conditions in the rainforest. Also some people find all the vomiting that comes with it extremely unpleasant. In the Ayahuasca ceremony purgative cleansing of the physical body is an essential preparation for the new level of emerging consciousness. Vomiting and occasionally brief diarrhoea are common effects during the initial sessions.

An integral element of the preparation is to undertake a diet intended to reduce excessive sugar, salt, oils, pork, fat, and spicy food in the body in preparation to be in communion with the spirit of Ayahuasca. Reduction of these should commence as soon as one commits to the experience. Pork in particular is considered to be impure and is studiously avoided by Ayahuasca practitioners. Complete abstinence from pork and lard prior to the first ceremony is recommended to participants to reduce the impact of the purge. It is also recommended that this abstinence continue after the final ceremony. In the initiatory diet for those seeking personal cleansing and healing, chicken, fish, wild game meat, fruits, and vegetables may be eaten but with little if any salt, sugar, oils or spices. The cleansing effect and strength of the visionary experience can be greatly enriched by one’s commitment to these preparations.

I have experienced hallucinations in the past when experimenting which have been intense, but usually maintained some detatchment as observer of the strange phenomena I inflict upon myself. But with this Ayahuasca I could not easily maintain that posture for a short while. In fact the whole subject object structure was spectacularly chewed up in a psychedelic maelstrom, where the only logical action was to knuckle down and consent. Choice is not really an option.

My first impressions were quite physical, I recall some dissapointment at the lack of cerebal effect. Then I stood up and realised quite how far I had already travelled and realised it was probably time to go inside. I got cold, and managed to get myself prepared – the visuals were coming on strongly and they were so beautiful, bright and vibrant, multicoloured hues. Light was a problem, I found darkness and warmth were much better. Things were going well, then I changed gear with an unexpected shift in strength – like x10. I realised a lot of energy was going into generating body heat, so I asked for a blanket, that was wonderful, to be warm, I could feel my body relaxing into the journey. I felt nausia and managed to get to the bathroom, where I tried to puke, but really just held onto the loo. Nothing was going to come. I found water very helpful and managed to hang on to my water bottle – physical movement was very difficult to control, I kind of followed the walls totally amazed by the visuals. Movement also seemed to increase the strength, and the journey was now running away from me, or my sense of ‘I’ was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. I curled up trying to relax and remembering to breath into the journey. The strength was overwhelming, I found holding onto my notebook to be immensely comforting. I was loosing control and fear was becoming quite apparent. Interestingly it was fear of fear, I was concerned about how long this would last, I was concerned about dying, though more about dying without having said goodbye or having lived enough in the moment. I managed to relax, a few cries of “don’t be silly” pushed the sense of loss of control away, but the journey was coming in waves now, a moment of lucidity, followed by a peak, each peak seeming higher. There was considerable comfort in the troughs, as it allowed me to prepare for the next peak. Some halucinations of worms, or small snakes on the wall, but they didn’t really bother me as much as the immense power driving the journey, it was quite overwhelming. At one point I thought, I’ve had enough of this, I’m getting bored now, I want it to stop, but then I remembered to go with it, and it was much easier as each wave rolled in. The only sense of reality that I could maintain was that this “I” what ever it was was breathing, that was all there was, the breath. Any other sense of objective reality was gone. I did wonder about letting go of this breathing I, but was worried that the other side of breathing was not of this world. I wanted to come back, I like normal, precicely because I have experienced out of normal.

I noticed a gradual decline, though I didn’t beleive it at first, and laughed, I didn’t trust any thoughts like that as I might have got up, lying down was definately the only place I could manage to be. Eventually the energy reduced down to managable proportions and I realised the journey was coming to an end. I managed to sit, managed to walk and eventually I put a gentle light on, made some herbal tea and ate a few dates which were very grounding.

48 hours later I was still not really back in the sense of how things used to be. There was a feeling that I can only describe as anxiety, only it’s not, it felt more like I’d connected with a kundalini awareness, ‘coiled up’ or potential energy is a better fit. I managed to read a whole new book 24hrs after the experience, to go to the wild life reserve with Paula and Arthur to meet the blue parrot Coco etc., and my fears were unfounded, in fact I actually thoroughly enjoyed freshly my life and was totally connected.

That’s a good description about the whole journey, connectedness. I wonder if the dose was a bit on the high side, I am looking forward to going back, but would definetely use somewhat less. I realise there is an art to learning to ride these waves, you don’t learn to surf without falling off. And there is another objective reality that occured to me after, that was there was someone experiencing the journey, the same person as the breather, the I. Ayahuasca is certainly something to be respected, and this first journey has taught me that. It is completely different to acid, MUCH stronger than any trip I’ve ever taken, and far more spiritual.

– – –

Jorge performs an elaborate ceremony whenever the medicine is used. In his role of ayahuascaro, J is a master of shamanic ceremony, and he uses traditional icaros, songs that are given to him directly from the spirit of the medicine. He sings the songs during the ceremony to open the participants’ consciousness. They’re extraordinary, there’s nothing else like them in the world. He also uses different musical instruments which help the participants go deeper into the experience. His musical talent comes from riding the wave of the medicine in the ceremony, it’s quite amazing, with drumming and soul singing as well.”
J says an important benefit gained from ayahuasca is the release of a pattern of criticism and a really deeply ingrained defensive pattern coming out of what I had assumed was my critical nature. The medicine has taught me it was really a defensive posture in my psyche that allowed me to stay separate from other people, coming from a fear of intimacy. The medicine very clearly has discharged that and help me see that. Something happened in which my mind started to criticize, and then instantly the medicine showed me that that was not me, that that was the pattern that I had learned and had taken on but was not me. It showed me how close to my nature that pattern had become, and that I got an opportunity that drove me deep in my heart.
The medicine can choose to be very gentle and even blissful, or it can take you into a hellish experience. Before I had never been able to have any kind of say in that at all. Experiences with ayahuasca can sometimes be so severe that users may feel they are witnessing their own death. Every time one ingests it, one is faced with the actual death of certain aspects of the persona and beliefs about oneself.
The word ayahuasca is Quechua for vine of the dead or vine of the soul. You can have some difficult, harsh, horrendous experiences in an ayahuasca ceremony, but you always come out of them. At one point during the ceremonie I was confronted with a jaguar. In the Amazonian mythology, the jaguar is a traditional carrier of power. As this jaguar stood right in front of me, I had the experience of being very calm and receptive, knowing what it was presenting to me, knowing that I had a choice in how I wanted to relate to this jaguar. I just sat still and opened my heart and this jaguar came and licked my body all over. In that moment my heart was happy and strong and yet I did have tears of gratitude. It was quite a beautiful moment. This jaguar was just licking my body all over from head to toe. Traditionally, in shamanic terms, when a power animal comes to you and you open to it, even if it devours you, that’s a really healthy thing in terms of absorbing that energy.

The medicine took effect within 15 minutes and then to my own surprise I was not in control at all. For me it was a purifying experience. I vomited quite a bit, and what came out of my body was like black oil in the shape of an octopus, and it was alive. Then I made sounds that I have never, never done in my life. They were very primal, like repressed feelings, repressed anger – everything repressed came out for hours. I felt it was an alien, an entity that had been living in me all those years, and when a little tentacle was still left in my intestine I said “Oh no, you’re not staying there, you’ve got to come out”, so I willed it out and with a final vomiting experience.
I got very tired at that point and sat down on a tree trunk, and then the blissfulness began. I had my eyes closed and I saw the beginning of creation. The earth was being created from one little grain of sand which multiplied into many liquid and solid substances with different colours almost like a dance, and, from that, little salamander-like animals began to appear, very primary animals without eyes and I just loved watching that.

Then the shaman asked me what I was doing. I said that I was fine and then looked up to the sky and spent many hours just travelling in space among the stars. The milky way formed the shape of a goddess, with the hair and the dress and everything, who spoke to me like the mother, my mother, our mother…
We moved from that space through the forest into another space to do another exercise. And I could see in the dark, first time in my life that I could see in the dark and this is with ayahuasca, it was incredible. And then a spirit guide appeared to me, this male figure from the Amazon who had a blunt haircut and was very tall, a warrior who accompanied me for the rest of the evening. Every time I looked over my shoulder he was there, he didn’t speak to me or anything, he was just there for protection.
My ayahuasca experience last night was one of the more humbling nights of my life. Remarkably, it seems, my ego decided to take on Mother Ayahuasca in some sort of a battle. Horrified, I watched the whole thing from the sidelines, feeling very annoyed with my ego for putting up such a relentless attack. Looking back, I suppose it all started long before the ceremony began. I was feeling quite cocky about my preparation for the whole experience. I’d done a lot of research and was preparing to get my inner mindset and the physical setting just right.
The other members of the retreat all seemed very nice and were supportive. We had all bathed and been ritually doused in fine scented plant extracts and essences earlier in the evening and I had had a chance to interact with the group who had come from all over the world. Some of the incumbents had been at the retreat for some time and everyone was very complimentary about Percy (the healer) and his brews of the sacred vine. If I was going to undergo such a powerful experience anywhere, this seemed like a good location. When it came to the ceremony itself, we all had mattresses and pillows and buckets fanned out in a circle in the rotunda hut. Toilets were located to afford easy access in the dark – an essential requirement as it turned out. The ayahuasca brew itself was as thick as molten glass and as acrid as battery acid but everyone took it with due reverence and with only a hint of a grimace until the mouth had been swilled with water. Much ceremony was put into the occasion and Arthur blew smoke everywhere and so used the powerful tobacco plant in addition to the brew. Once we’d all partaken of the brew, the crew left and we all lay down to receive our respective experiences.
The science works like this: Dimethyltriptamine (DMT) is an extremely powerful visionary hallucinogen and is found in some plants and trees but it’s completely metabolised if eaten, which just renders it neutral as a psychotropic agent. However, by snorting a dried tree sap residue, the DMT can enter the bloodstream by bypassing the liver’s metabolising enzymes. But whoever thought to try snorting tree sap? Likewise, some Amazonian tribal groups have somehow discovered that mixing two otherwise foul-tasting and nutritionally deficient plants (a vine and a leaf) will also allow the compound to enter the blood stream. Amazingly, the vine inhibits the metabolizing enzymes allowing the DMT in the leaf to pass through untouched. Both methods are convoluted to say the least and it remains a mystery how tribes have discovered such involved methods of administration. Some contemporary shamans say that the plants speak to them and give them the knowledge, but most just say that their ancestors taught them. DMT is almost identical in chemical shape to serotonin and interacts with the same receptors in the brain. Beyond that no one can rightly say with any certainty what really happens. If you follow a rational view you might say that you undertake a journey of inner exploration of the subconscious. Alternatively, you might say that you actually go to a different plane of reality. There is no doubt that for many, taking ayahuasca is a religious experience. Whatever your school of thought, it is certainly one of the most profound experiences imaginable (or more correctly unimaginable as it is almost defined by its inexplicability)!
I’m quite proud of my inquisitiveness usually and I like questioning everything and not blindly believing ‘just because’. But what was interesting this time was that I was on the outskirts of my self looking in. My ego was rattling on in its usual way but this time it wasn’t making any sense. It was almost like background ‘white-noise’, just a clutter of questions for the sake of it. At first I was fascinated by this alternative view of my ego’s insatiable ability to question and disbelieve, but after an hour or so it was becoming a horrible rant. Often there was little reason in the questions. They were questions for the sake of it. For a short while, my rationality had become irrational and I could not shut myself up. Whenever I was able to let go for a second, my nausea subsided and I was presented with a myriad of spiralling colours and possible wormholes and intriguing places to explore, but as soon as my mind tried to reason with them or think about what they were, they receded to a black and white untuned-TV-signal and I would feel wretched with sickness again, often reaching for the bucket.
Such expulsions were often quite violent (and noisy) and thankfully followed by a brief respite, but watching from the sidelines as my ego battled with the plant was tough. I even drank more ayahuasca (no small undertaking in the state of my discomfort) in order to give the plant a better advantage to shut me up, but it was to no avail. Luckily I did have some moments where my voice subsided for a moment and I could explore. These were revealing as well as being a blessed relief. At one time, I met the snake that I’d encountered earlier in the day. She asked me why my initial reaction had been to kill her: “What about me?” she asked. “If you leave me alone and don’t corner me or pester my kids, I’ll leave you alone too. We can get along fine if we respect each other.”
Such excursions were rare and at one stage I felt disappointed with the whole experience, thinking that it wasn’t working for me. I had been hoping to fly though the universe, meet dead people and explore my innermost consciousness. But then it dawned on me that in actual fact my ayahuasca experience had worked perfectly well. Ayahuasca is not a recreational pastime but a medicine and a spiritual lesson. And my lesson was clear. It was: stop thinking you know better than everyone. Stop thinking of the clever riposte before the other person has even finished talking. Be in the moment and listen, yes listen to others. It’s not about being better than other people and establishing your place in some invisible hierarchy, it’s about sharing this worldly space with others. Occasional experiences are beyond rational thought. They cannot be explained. We live in difficult times and we are in danger of losing our connection to the natural world. Some answers will only come from listening and experiencing the world in its natural state.
I will never forget what it was like. The overwhelming misery. The certainty of never-ending suffering. No one to help you, no way to escape. Everywhere I looked: darkness so thick that the idea of light seemed inconceivable. Suddenly, I swirled down a tunnel of fire, wailing figures calling out to me in agony, begging me to save them. Others tried to terrorize me. “You will never leave here,” they said. “Never. Never.” I found myself laughing at them. “I’m not scared of you,” I said. But the darkness became even thicker; the emotional charge of suffering nearly unbearable. I felt as if I would burst from heartbreak—everywhere, I felt the agony of humankind, its tragedies, its hatreds, its sorrows. I reached the bottom of the tunnel and saw three thrones in a black chamber. Three shadowy figures sat in the chairs; in the middle was what I took to be the devil himself. “The darkness will never end,” he said. “It will never end. You can never escape this place.” “I can,” I replied. All at once, I willed myself to rise. I sailed up through the tunnel of fire, higher and higher until I broke through to a white light. All darkness immediately vanished. My body felt light, at peace. I floated among a beautiful spread of colors and patterns. Slowly my ayahuasca vision faded. I returned to my body, to where I lay in the hut, insects calling from the jungle. “Welcome back,” the shaman said. The next morning, giant blue butterflies flutter clumsily past our canoe. Parrots flee higher into treetops. The deeper we go into the jungle, the more I realize I can’t turn back. There is only one requirement for this work: You must be brave. You’ll be learning how to save yourself.

For centuries, Amazonian shamans have used ayahuasca as a window into the soul. The sacrament, they claim, can cure any illness. The author joins in this ancient ritual and finds the worlds within more terrifying—and enlightening—than ever imagined. I will never forget what it was like. The overwhelming misery. The certainty of never-ending suffering. No one to help you, no way to escape. Everywhere I looked: darkness so thick that the idea of light seemed inconceivable. Suddenly, I swirled down a tunnel of fire, wailing figures calling out to me in agony, begging me to save them. Others tried to terrorize me. “You will never leave here,” they said. “Never. Never.”
I found myself laughing at them. “I’m not scared of you,” I said. But the darkness became even thicker; the emotional charge of suffering nearly unbearable. I felt as if I would burst from heartbreak—everywhere, I felt the agony of humankind, its tragedies, its hatreds, its sorrows. I reached the bottom of the tunnel and saw three thrones in a black chamber. Three shadowy figures sat in the chairs; in the middle was what I took to be the devil himself. “The darkness will never end,” he said. “It will never end. You can never escape this place.” “I can,” I replied. All at once, I willed myself to rise. I sailed up through the tunnel of fire, higher and higher until I broke through to a white light. All darkness immediately vanished. My body felt light, at peace. I floated among a beautiful spread of colors and patterns. Slowly my ayahuasca vision faded. I returned to my body, to where I lay in the hut, insects calling from the jungle. “Welcome back,” the shaman said.

The jungle camp where our shamanistic treatment will take place is some 320 kilometers from Asuncion, deep in the jungle on the border of Paraguay and Brasil. Beside me are the other members of our tour. There is Arthur, Winston, the biggest person I’ve ever met. Nearly seven feet tall (two meters), surely over 400 pounds (181 kilograms), he has a powerful body that could easily rip someone apart. I expect him to be a bodyguard or a bouncer; turns out he’s a security guard. But there is something else about him. Something less tangible. It seems to rest in the black circles beneath his eyes, the face that never smiles, the glances that immediately dismiss all they survey. Winston does not seem like a happy man.

Then the others: Lisa, who has a master’s degree from Stanford and is now pursuing her doctorate in political theory at Duke University; Christy, who just quit her job counseling at-risk teens to travel around South America; and Katherine, Christy’s British friend. By all appearances, our group seems to be composed of ordinary citizens. No New Age energy healers. No pan flute makers. No hippies or Rastafarians or nouveau Druids. Christy betrays only a passing interest in becoming a yoga instructor.

And then there is me, who came here to take the “sacred spirit medicine,” ayahuasca, and get worked over by Jorge. Little suspecting that I’d emerge from it feeling as if a waterlogged wool coat had been removed from my shoulders—literally feeling the burden of gravitation lifted—and thinking that there must be something to this crazy shamanism after all.

I’ve told no one this time—especially not my family.

Our accommodations are without frills: a mosquito net covering a mattress on the floor, a sink, a toilet. Basic meals. Kerosene lamps. We can either bathe in the river or use a communal shower. It is a kind of asceticism, a shedding of life’s little sophistications in preparation for the hard work ahead. Where we’re going, all worldly goods are worthless. Where we’re going, the only way out is through fear.

The head shaman for our group is Jorge, the man behind the company that runs these journeys, Blue Morpho. He is 47, and his striking appearance quickly fades before his most obvious quality: his unconditional acceptance of everyone. You cannot make him angry. You cannot offend him (though it is extremely tempting to try). He is like a mirror, always reflecting back your own ego, showing you your attachments, your fixations, your fears. If you end up liking him, that’s great, but if you don’t, it’s unimportant.

Ayahuasca, a Quechua word meaning “vine of the soul,” is shorthand for a concoction of Amazonian plants that shamans have boiled down for centuries to use for healing purposes. Though some call the mixture a drug, indigenous peoples regard such a description as derogatory. To them it is a medicine that has been used by the tribes of the Amazon Basin for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, demanding respect and right intention. The main chemical in the brew, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), accounts for ayahuasca’s illegality in most countries of the world; DMT, though chemically distant from LSD, has hallucinogenic properties. But it is ayahuasca’s many plant ingredients cooperating ingeniously to allow DMT to circulate freely in the body that produce the unique ayahuasca experience.

To prepare the brew, apprentices spend years under the tutelage of an elder shaman getting to know the different plant ingredients, passing weeks or months at a time learning their individual healing properties and governing spirits. These beings, they claim, teach them icaros, or spirit songs, which, when sung or whistled, call forth the plants’ unique assistance during ceremonies. The training isn’t easy; those like Jorge who earn the title of “master shaman”—highly respected members of Amazonian communities—receive patients from far and wide. Based on the individual needs of their patients, shamans must know which plants are required for a ceremony (there are two primary ingredients, but any of an estimated 100 species have been used in ayahuasca brews), how much of them to harvest, and how to prepare them for ingestion. The plants’ spirits are then said to work together to produce the most successful possible healing for each person, regardless of what ails them.

The taking of ayahuasca has been associated with a long list of documented cures: the disappearance of everything from metastasized colorectal cancer to cocaine or alcoholic addiction, even after just a ceremony or two. It’s thought to be nonaddictive and safe to ingest. Yet Western scientists have all but ignored it for decades, reluctant to risk their careers by researching a substance containing the outlawed DMT. Only in the past decade, and then only by a handful of researchers, has ayahuasca begun to be studied.

At the vanguard of this research is Charles Grob, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UCLA’s School of Medicine. In 1993 Dr. Grob launched the Hoasca Project, the first in-depth study of the physical and psychological effects of ayahuasca on humans. His team went to Brazil, where the plant mixture can be taken legally, to study members of a native church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), who use ayahuasca as a sacrament, and compared them to a control group that had never ingested the substance. The studies found that all the ayahuasca-using UDV members had experienced remission without recurrence of their addictions, depression, or anxiety disorders. In addition, blood samples revealed a startling discovery: Ayahuasca seems to give users a greater sensitivity to serotonin—one of the mood-regulating chemicals produced by the body—by increasing the number of serotonin receptors on nerve cells.

Unlike most common antidepressants, which Grob says can create such high levels of serotonin that cells may actually compensate by losing many of their serotonin receptors, the Hoasca Project showed that ayahuasca strongly enhances the body’s ability to absorb the serotonin that’s naturally there.

“Ayahuasca is perhaps a far more sophisticated and effective way to treat depression than SSRIs [antidepressant drugs],” Grob concludes, adding that the use of SSRIs is “a rather crude way” of doing it. And ayahuasca, he insists, has great potential as a long-term solution.

While it’s tantalizing to wonder whether such positive physiological changes took place in me when I was in Paraguay, I’m also intrigued by the visions I had, which seemed to have an equally powerful role in alleviating my depression: It was as if I’d been shown my own self-imposed hells and taught how to free myself from them. What was really going on?

According to Grob, ayahuasca provokes a profound state of altered consciousness that can lead to temporary “ego disintegration,” as he calls it, allowing people to move beyond their defense mechanisms into the depths of their unconscious minds—a unique opportunity, he says, that cannot be duplicated by any nondrug therapy methods.

“You come back with images, messages, even communications,” he explains. “You’re learning about yourself, reconceptualizing prior experiences. Having had a profound psycho-spiritual epiphany, you’re not the same person you were before.”

But the curious should take heed: The unconscious mind holds many things you don’t want to look at. All those self-destructive beliefs, suppressed traumatic events, denied emotions. Little wonder that an ayahuasca vision can reveal itself as a kind of hell in which a person is forced—literally—to face his or her demons.

“Ayahuasca is not for everyone,” Grob warns. “It’s probably not for most people in our world today. You have to be willing to have a very powerful, long, internal experience, which can get very scary. You have to be willing to withstand that.”

(hier verdergaan:)

It’s 9 p.m.—time for the first ceremony. We all meet in the main hut. Outside, night has taken over the jungle, which resounds with piercing insect calls. One of the apprentices spreads out foam mattresses in a circle for us to lie on. Jorge and Arthur sit in front of me, in chairs, lighting their mapachos, with their apprentices seated on either side. Jorge asks Lisa, a would-be political theorist, to sit next to Arthur, but she immediately protests. “I don’t want to sit next to any aggressive male energy,” she says. “Can I change places?” Jorge glances at her forlornly. Lisa is probably the most physically attractive of the women on our tour—thin, dainty, with delicate porcelain-doll features.
Before we start, Jorge takes out a liter of the ayahuasca he’d prepared during the day. This he hands to Don Julio, who blesses it with his mapacho, blowing tobacco smoke inside the bottle and over his body. He clears his throat several times, sounding like a horse whinnying, and hands the bottle to Jorge to do the same. Jorge pays homage to the ayahuasca spirits, speaking to them in Spanish and entreating them to help us.
Everyone receives a plastic basin—known ominously as a “vomit bucket”—and a roll of toilet paper for wiping our mouths after puking; this can be expected during most ceremonies, unless, as the shamans say, people are used to suppressing their feelings. Many mistakenly think that holding back emotions is a sign of strength and control; actually, Hamilton says, it’s the opposite. Avoidance, a refusal to face painful feelings, is a weakness; unless this suppression stops, a person will never be healed of physical and psychological issues.
Perhaps the worst thing about taking ayahuasca is the taste. It is a thick brown sludge, gritty and triggering an immediate gag reflex. The closest taste comparison I can make is Baileys Irish Cream mixed with prune juice. The shamans say that the spirits tell them how much each of us needs to drink. The more healing a person needs, the more they get. I must need a lot of healing, then, as nearly a full cup is passed to me, versus the baby helpings poured for Lisa and Paula. The good news, I tell myself, is that no one to my knowledge has ever died from ayahuasca.
I drink it as if I were a contestant on Fear Factor, in two big, quick gulps. When everyone in our circle has drunk, including Jorge, the kerosene lamp is put out and darkness fills the hut. Jorge and Don Julio start shaking their chakapas, or leaf rattles, and singing their spirit songs. Nothing happens for about 20 minutes. I close my eyes and wait. Soon I start to see a pale green glow; colorful, primordial forms, resembling amoebas or bacteria, float by. Alarmed, I open my eyes. And this is uncanny: I can see the rafters of the hut, the thatch roof, the glow of the stars outside the screened windows—but the same amoeba-like things are passing over that view, as if superimposed.

“You’re seeing with your third eye,” one of the apprentices explains. Also known in Eastern spiritual traditions as the sixth chakra, the third eye supposedly allows for connection with other dimensions. And what if I am actually seeing two worlds at once? It seems too incredible, and I close my eyes to limit the confusion. Fantastical scenes glide by, composed of ever-shifting geometric forms and textures. Colors seem to be the nature of these views; a dazzling and dizzying display of every conceivable hue blending and parting in kaleidoscopic brilliance. But then the colors vanish all at once as if a curtain has been pulled down. Blackness. Everywhere.

Dark creatures sail by. Tangles of long, hissing serpents. Dragons spitting fire. Screaming humanlike forms. For a bunch of hallucinations, they seem terrifyingly real. An average ayahuasca ceremony lasts about four to five hours. But in ayahuasca space—where time, linear thought, and the rules of three-dimensional reality no longer apply—four to five hours of sheer darkness and terror can feel like a lifetime. My heartbeat soars; it’s hard to breathe. But I have felt this before while on LSD. I remind myself that what I’m experiencing now is my fear taking symbolic form through the ayahuasca. Fear that I have lived with my entire life and that needs to be released.

Jorge explains it this way: Everyone has an energetic body run by an inextinguishable life force. In Eastern traditions, this force, known as chi or prana, is manipulated through such things as acupuncture or yoga to run smoothly and prevent the buildup of the negative energies that cause bodily disease, mental illness, and even death. To Amazonian shamans, however, these negative energies are actual spirit entities that attach themselves to the body and cause mischief. In everyone, Jorge asserts, there is a loving “higher self,” but whenever unpleasant thoughts enter a person’s mind—anger, fear, sorrow—it’s because a dark spirit is hooked to the body and is temporarily commandeering the person’s mind. In some cases, he adds, particularly evil spirits from the lowest hell of the “astral realms” take over a person
permanently—known as full-blown demonic possession—creating a psychopathic mind that seeks only to harm others.

I work on controlling my breathing. But such thick darkness. Clouds of bats and demonlike faces. Black lightning. Black walls materializing before me no matter which way I turn. Closer and closer, the darkness surrounding me, trapping me. I can barely breathe.

“Jorge!” I belt out. “Help me!”

“Si si Sergio,” he says calmly. “Don’t give in to the fear.”

That’s the trick: Don’t give in to it. But it’s much easier said than done. I must tell it that I’m stronger. I must tell it that it has no effect upon me. But it does. I’m terrified. The darkness presses against me; it wants to annihilate me.

Jorge is standing over me now, rattling his chakapa, singing his spirit songs. Inexplicably, as he does this, the darkness backs off. But more of it comes in a seemingly endless stream. I see dark, raging faces. My body begins to contort; it feels as if little balls are ripping through my flesh, bursting from my skin. The pain is excruciating. I writhe on the mattress, screaming. Jorge calls over one of his helpers—a local woman named Rosa—with directions to hold me down.

“Tell the spirits to leave you with ease,” Jorge says to me.

“They won’t!” I yell out. And now they appear to be escaping en masse from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make. All the while there is me, like a kind of witness, watching and listening in horror, feeling utterly helpless to stop it. I’ve read nothing about this sort of experience happening when taking ayahuasca. And now I see an image of a mountain in France, a supposedly haunted mountain that I tried to climb years ago, despite strong warnings from the people in Chamonix. A voice tells me that whatever is now leaving my body attached itself to me in that place.

Haunted mountains. Demonic friends and ex-lovers. Who would believe this? Yet on and on it goes. The screaming, the wailing. My body shakes wildly; I see a great serpent emerging from my body, with designs on Jorge. He shakes his chakapa at it, singing loudly, and after what seems like an infinite battle of wills, the creature leaves me. I grab the vomit bucket and puke for several minutes. Though my stomach has been empty for over eight hours, a flood of solid and fluid particles comes out of me.

The visions fade. My body stops shaking. Jorge takes his seat again and Rosa releases her grip on me. I examine the vomit bucket with a flashlight: Black specks the size of dimes litter orange-colored foam. The shamans believe that what we vomit out during a ceremony is the physical manifestation of dark energy and toxins being purged from the body. The more that comes out, the better.

“Bueno bueno, Don Sergio,” Jorge says to me from across the room.

My entire body hurts. My head throbs. I can hear the others in the room, whispering to each other. I had barely been conscious of their experiences, they had seemed so quiet by comparison.

“Is Serge OK?” Paula asks Jorge.

“He just had a little exorcism,” Jorge explains with relish. “He’s fine. In fact, mucho mas better than he was before He just picked up some travelers,” Jorge says. “We had to get rid of them.”

“Bloody hell!” Arthur says. “Is this what you’d consider a normal ceremony?”

The apprentices agree that they’ve never experienced anything as intense as tonight’s ceremony. I hope it’s not true, though. It’s hardly a distinction worth celebrating.

“Once you get the upper hand over demons energetically,” Jorge lectures to me, “they leave you without any trouble. That’ll come. One thing at a time.”

There is probably no hangover that comes anywhere close to the hangover from an exorcism. It’s the next morning and I can barely walk—not that I really want to. I have zero energy. My voice is almost gone, and I must communicate in a hoarse whisper if I communicate at all. This has proven not to be an issue as the others on the tour are so freaked out by what happened last night that they can barely mumble an obligatory “good morning” to me. I want to tell them that what happened last night was completely out of my control. That, somehow, it wasn’t me.

But how to explain it when I don’t quite understand it myself? All I can say for sure is that Jorge’s role as shaman was critical in helping me. He says he drinks the brew along with us, his “clients,” so he and his army of spirit helpers can defeat our most formidable demons and guide us out of our darkness.

Shamans will tell you that during an ayahuasca cleansing they’re not working with the contents of a person’s hallucination but are actually visiting that person in whatever plane of reality his or her spirit happens to be. We are not, they insist, confined to the reality of our five senses, but can transcend it and enter a multidimensional universe.

Their perspective is not unlike that presented by quantum theorists, such as David Bohm, who describe a holographic universe with coexisting realms of reality. To Amazonian shamans, there are an infinite number of such realms, each as distinct from one another as Berlin or Brussels, each inhabited by beings with certain appearances, abilities, and customs. To become a master shaman, they contend, one must learn to negotiate these worlds, to enlist the assistance of their various denizens, to become comfortable working in places of light and darkness. For, they will tell you, there is no doubt that there is a heaven and hell—many levels and manifestations of each, in fact—which are as real as London or Paris. Yes, one finds angels and demons in such places. Hollywood got that part right.

In many Western scientists’ views, DMT-created visions are simply extraordinary reflections of the contents of the unconscious mind. And this notion of a spiritual experience marks the very juncture where Western science and analytic thought depart on the subject of ayahuasca and where indigenous culture and mysticism come in. Most ayahuasca researchers agree that, curiously, the compound appears to affect people on three different levels—the physical, psychological, and spiritual—complicating efforts to definitively catalog its effects, let alone explain specific therapeutic benefits.

We take a break for a day to recuperate. By the time the next ceremony comes along, I am enthusiastic and ready to go. We all take our seats in the main hut. With resignation, I notice that I’ve been doled out a huge dose of ayahuasca, again. We all drink. Soon, the telltale green hue covers everything, and the visions begin. Dark visions. The bats, the snakes, the demon figures. Still, my body does not quake in pain and horror as before. I have learned how fear works: It only affects me, terrorizes me, if I believe the thoughts it puts in my head.

All negative thoughts, shamans believe, are dark spirits speaking to us, trying to scare us into reacting; the spirits then feed on our reactivity, growing stronger and more formidable until they finally rule over us. This is how addictions and psychological disorders develop in people.

“Everyone hears the voices of spirits,” Jorge tells us. “They’ve just convinced themselves that they are hearing their own thoughts.” We must, he maintains, practice choosing which thoughts we pay attention to.

Now I’m traveling to a realm where I meet various incarnations from other lives. We are connected to a large wheel; whenever fear energy leaves the top of my head in puffs of dark smoke, it leaves their heads at the same time. Our lives, it seems, are interconnected and dependent. Outside of linear time, all our lifetimes, all our many incarnations, occur simultaneously. “Past life” is really a misnomer; “other life” seems a more accurate way of describing it.

With some of the individuals, I can guess their historical period from their clothing. With others, I can’t place them at all. There is a balding, overweight, monk-looking guy. The big muscular warrior with the pointed helmet (who, he says, gives me my present interest in the martial arts). The black woman who is a slave. Interestingly, there are only about five or so individuals; a spirit tells me that many people average less than 30 total Earth incarnations and that their souls commonly skip centuries, reincarnating only in spirit realms. And what of the two men who aren’t wearing historically identifiable clothing? “We are your future incarnations,” one of them explains, lovingly.

After three ceremonies, I still feel that I have something big to purge. There is something stubborn in me, refusing to be released. I walk through the jungle and wade into a narrow river, dunking myself in the water. Schools of piranha-size fish, mojaritas, nip harmlessly at my skin, unnerving me. Earlier today I was still scared to look at myself in the mirror, still scared of the self-judgment, the all-too-familiar shame.

I report to the hut for the next ceremony. The others sit or lie in hammocks, waiting silently, fretfully. Their experiences, while nowhere near as intense as mine, have been bad enough in their view. Arthur has found the darkness during his visions tedious and unrelenting. Paula actually found herself crying during the last ceremony, which is something she says she never does.

We begin the ceremony, drink the ayahuasca. I’m hoping to find myself in some heavenly realms this time, but again, as usual, the darkness. With disappointment, I find myself entering a familiar tunnel of fire, heading down to one of the hell realms. I don’t know where I’m going, or why, when I suddenly glimpse the bottom of the tunnel and leap back in shock: Me, I’m there, but as a little boy. He’s huddled, captive, in a ball of fire before the three thrones of the devil and his sidekicks. As soon as I reach him, he begins wailing, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” It’s heartbreaking.

I think this must be a part of me that I lost. Some time ago. The shamans believe that whenever a traumatic event happens to us, we lose part of our spirit, that it flees the body to survive the experience. And that unless a person undergoes a shamanistic “soul retrieval,” these parts will be forever lost. Each one, they say, contains an element of who they truly are; people may lose their sense of humor, their trust of others, their innocence. Such problems as addictions, personality disorders, and memory blackouts are all warning signs that a person may have lost key portions of themselves.

“No one will help me!” the little boy wails in my vision. And now he is me—I am feeling deserted and I’m wailing like I have never before. I know it as an expression of primordial terror from a time when, as a small child, I felt abandoned, set helpless before the universe. I have never felt such profound unease. How did this happen to me? the adult me wonders with fury. And why?

“The darkness was so heavy during your childhood,” a spirit voice says to me, “that your soul splintered beneath the weight.”

I have an awareness of having lost so much of myself. Who will I be when all the parts come home? I feel a hand on my back: Jorge’s. “I’m here to help you,” he says. Suddenly, the flames trapping the little boy disappear. Everything is covered in a freezing white frost. I shiver from the intense cold.

“I have frozen the devil,” Jorge declares. “You can pull the little boy out now.”

So that’s why everything got so cold, I think. But wait a minute—what is Jorge doing in my vision? How can this person see what I’m seeing?

“Pull him out,” Jorge says to me.

I reach down and take the boy’s hand. When he feels my touch, he stops complaining, and I pull him up, out of the tunnel of fire. The darkness departs. We reach realms of bright white light—the first such places my visions have allowed. The heavenly realms.

“Your little boy has to enter your body,” Jorge says. “Call to him.”

I do. I see him split into several boys and males, each looking like me at a different age. One at a time, they appear to enter me, my body jolting backwards for each “soul part,” as Jorge calls them, that was retrieved.

As soon as they’re done, I see a vision of them. Dazed by the brilliant light of their new world, the boys walk through green grass, under pure white clouds. Scores of butterflies land on them, smothering them. It is an unbelievably perfect place in which there is a sense that nothing could ever hurt me.

Darkness falls.
I’m made to see that what is being purged now is a deeply rooted belief that I don’t deserve to be alive, that no one – not even Gesine – can love me and I will always need to justify my existence. Slowly I gain the upper hand over the darkness and order it to leave my body. I feel a pressure in my chest that could break all my ribs. I grab my bucket, vomit out what appears to be a stream of fire. Jorge kneels down and blows tobacco smoke onto the top of my head. I cough violently and watch as demons burst out of me, roaring, only to disintegrate in white light.

As the visions fade and the ceremony closes, I find myself back in the dark hut. Arthur nods and silently smokes his mapacho. The others whisper about their experiences. We are ready to go home. I sit up with difficulty, as if waking from decades of sleep. It would be easier for me to call it all a dream, a grand hallucination. Then I could have my old world back, in which I thought I knew what was real and unreal, true and untrue. Now the problem is, I don’t know anything.

It takes almost all the energy I have left, but I feel around for my flashlight and shine it into my vomit bucket. No. I lean down closer. Steady the beam of light. I catch my breath as I examine the object: A small black snake seems to have materialized from my body. It seems that I have crawled out of my very own skin. It’s only me who knows what I have left behind.

Serge
Paraguay/Brussels
October 2008

To Eva Lavric – Vereinsgasse – Wien – Austria “Each person is a fathomless Ocean”
Brussels, 21.06.2010

Dearest Eva,

thank you so much for the precious gift Lies Dich(t) by Nazar that you were kind enough to send me.
It provides me with such a joy reading his multi-layered, playful and witty witchcraft poetry. Sometimes I have to laugh so hard I have to gasp for air, and somewhere in this air there always seems to be from very nearby a warm and resonating echo of Christian’s voice, spirit and hickup. The book is full of wondrous findings, lyrical Zaubersprueche, and grapholigcal forms from an aextra-gravital origin, versatile spirits melted into playfulness and laughter.
Christian came to me and Arlette in a very strong vision last December, managed to amuse us with the teachings of slapping one hand clap, roaring laughter, and many many wisdoms that descended upon us in a way we could not understand or know ourselves. In this vision he taught us – quite in a similar way in which Chris refound his kepple-hat in Vienna by going back in time and dimension in a shamanistic procedure – where and how I could retreive my lost cat Djambas. After having investigated several possibilities or scenario’s it was as if Chris enriched our company and lead us the way to a quite different possibility – all the time standing on the threshold of the door between the sleeping room and the hallway in Arlet’s appartment. Standing on that threshold he pointed to the upside and advised me to experience the advantages of “falling thruogh the roof of one’s own consciousness” – and after having made that clear responded to my opening question of the session (where and how can I find Djambas back? Is she still alive? Is she in need of my help?) by guiding me to the backdoor of Arlet’s groundfloor flat – that borders on a courtyard for several houses in a way quite similar to the courtyard in the Vereinsgasse. No problem, the message was. If you really want to know where Djambas is, you have to go into the courtyard. I was willing and curious to find out and opened the door, but Arlette struggled to keep me inside – because I was naked and it was freezing outside and there was snow and she started to cry and even though I was already with my feet in the snow I felt a great calm coming over me and followed Arlette back inside where once again we were halted at the threshold of the (back)door – and somehow the lesson came to us that we as individuals on a metaphorical level do find ourselves at any given moment during our earthly existence on a crossroad of songlines and timelines – standing on a threshold so to speak – from which we can choose to go either way. Forward, backward, up, down. The important thing though, is that we must feel free making our choise, and that there is no NECESSITY to follow either way cause all options are possible. I did not HAVE to go into the courtyard, although I perfectly COULD if I wanted to. This insight, very profoundly, that came to Arlette and myself simultaniously, felt as if a great burden had fallen off of my and her shoulders. Somehow we were both stuck in our conviction – each in our own and different way – that in order to achieve greater wisdom and (in my case) possibly also get closer again to the company of deceased friends such as Chris and Joris or Nazar or at least join them or understand what happened – there would be no other possibiilty than to join them in a time past this one through passing on and (as Arlette felt it in a more buddhist or taoist way of levitation and “onthechting” disattachment) leave this world with all its burdens and bounds behind us. In my case these thoughts had been explored in depth in my album Klipdrift and writings in the essay called No More Chains. Since the consequence of this conviction was the feeling that this life already had lead me to the maximum I could achieve conc. knowledge, wisdom and experience, and that all truly new discoveries and achievements lay beyond, I probably had made myself believe that life in se had grown old and weary. And that my existence would in any case be pretty much reduced to a biding of time – not much different from the ways in which prisoners are counting days in jail. Hence – I think – my excessive tendencies to escapadic substances like alcohol. To make the passage of time seemingly to go faster and to ease the pain and dread of this ongoing incarceration through oblivion and numbing of the senses. At this very instance however, at the height of our session, somehow the grim dark force of Ah-Pook that was pulling me so strongly towards a long and bitter wounding in slomotion and destruction of the self, seemed to have lost its magnetism for my soul and mind. The catagorical way in which I had been directing myself towards a switching off of the light, lost its inescapable attraction. A huge and fresh lust for life filled my lungs and brain in a way that fresh air fills the blood when one steps out of a hot cellar crammed with people – where it had become impossible to breath from lack of air and oxygene. The choice to go into that courtyard of reshuffling cosmic chemistry – by always wanting to push the ctrl alt delete and reset buttons – became one of possibility instead of necessity. Suddenly the meaning of “no more chains” became much broader. A profound feeling came to me that there still were very precious and important things to dicsover and achieve in this life. And that the future of my life could be perhaps as much of a fullfilling adventure as the path into the darkness or – if you wish – that courtyard covered in December snow where the spirits were dancing their whirly shuffles in the dark.
This insight and feeling of relief and refound hunger for existence, instantly provided me with a sense of sincere gratitude. I thanked Chris by writing some personal note in my Moleskine – to find out – on top of all this – that my handwriting had changed quite substantially. And that my way of writing had become much more clear and easily legible, less puzzled and messy and small.

Two days later, I left Amsterdam in order to be present at the funeral of the father of Joris de Bolle – another Joris indeed who, ever since our first encounter in the fall of 2004, happens to be my dearest friend in Brussels (and beyond). I had written a poem for Joris’ father, that I was going to read in the church of Tervuren where Lode de Bolle’s funeral mess would be held. I arrived on Tuesday evening in my house in the Kandelaarsstraat dans les marolles, and went to bed early in order to be fresh and get up early for the funeral on Wednesday morning. It was that night, from 29th of December leading into 30th of December, that I woke up in the middle of my dreams by the repetitive meawing of (I immediately recognized her) my cat Djambas for whose survival – after ten cold days and no sign of life during any search quest I had held in the entire neighboorhood – I did not dare to prey anymore. Of course I thought I was dreaming, when I heard her scream, but instead of continuing my dream I woke up and rushed downstairs, opened the door, and indeed: there she was. Djambas. Bemeagred but alife and well, no wounds or limping legs etc.. She quickly tippled up the stairs to the kitchen and ate three bags of catfood as proof of her exhaustion. Then, she satisfyingly installed herself on my bed, curled up on top of my belly and covered me warmly with her buzzing company.
Djambas had spent her ten days sabbatical in the confinement of the empty house across my front door – a house that ever since I installed myself in the Kandelaarsstraat in 2003 has never been lived in. I do not know why. It looks as if it is not completely finished construction wise. Behind the house lies a little courtyard or empty space that is filled with rubble and wood and junk, and that is covered out of sight by a n improvised metal screen on which quite a sympathetic portrait is painted in green of the Tigra Lady – the astout Belgian sixties-model with the tiger cap that can be found on every Tigra cigaret flipbox and that has regained popularity in circles of vintage lovers. From my bedroom window, I can overlook the metal screen, and look into the courtyard. It was there that Djambas had been having multiple and almost non stop rendez-vous with most of the male cats of the neighboorhood that are roaming the streets freely during day or night. I saw some of the male cats waiting for her in the courtyard. After ten days of catfornication, Djambas had obviously reached her point of sexual saturation and had met the limits of her physical possibilities. Normally, she cannot do for more than a few hours without fresh food. She is very demanding, talks a lot in catlanguage in order to send you her commands that demand gratification. She knows how to open doors by jumping on top of the leverage and pusing it down with her weight. I always presumed her to be a bit backward because of her utter solipsistic and somewhat autistic behavior. But since her escapade last December and her recurrence both during the vision in which Chris helped me finding her back and in the reality of my life, I look at her quite differently. And, as Arlette would remark rightly so after Djambas’ magical resurrection, the princess herself really behaved differently than she did before. She had gained confidence, acted much less stressfull (no more biting of the tail), and seemed in all ways possible to have become a much wiser and mature catlady than the permanently scared nervous little durak she had been before. She had become a different cat in the same catskin.
Even though I expected her to be pregnant after the sexual orgy of ten days, Djambas has not become so. She is not sterilized, so I presume she is infertile. However, her sexual and hormonic drives are (and have remained) huge to the point of a bewildering excess.
I still look at the courtyard from my bedroom window quite a lot, to ponder on the metaphorical meanings that the story of refinding lost Djambas and Chris showing me the way to the courtyard certainly have. It is fascinating. And I do have to tell you – I hope you will not scorn me for this – that the shamanic session of Arlette and me that December evening, had been invoked with the help of some little seeds that I found in the appartment of Chris on the day that I spent writing and reading and listening to his music in his flat in the Vereinsgasse. Woodrose is the name of these seeds. Hawaiian woodrose.
Remember the story that I recalled for Chris’ Todestag Memorial, last time in Kafka, taken from a letter in 1999 Chris had written me, in which he – in anticipation of my book We call them Roses that was due to come out that fall and for which presentation Chris would come to Amsterdam with Helmut the musician – accounted of his experience that he once saw a rose breathe in the Praterpark? I gave you a copy of the letter, didn’t I? It all seems so magnificently meaningful and beautifully connected in a spiritual way. Perhaps I have a tendency to overinterpret this a bit by the shere force of my enthusiasm. Arlette warns for this tendency sometimes. But without wanting to pretend an understanding of all these connections, the sensibility for noticing them provides me with a much broader and deeper aptness for spiritual growth that I seemed to lack before. What do we know of it all? Not much. Nothing for sure. And true as this may be, it really seemed as if Chris – in a purvasive way – wanted to make something clear to me. Something important, meaningful, even useful. And that he was crafting, in his peculiar ways, repetitive efforts to shed a bit of his light into the darker corners of my mind.
I remember that after having returned, you and i, from the memorial in Kafka (after midnight Wednesday night) I watched a bit of television from the bed in the living room you and your mother had spread out for me. In order to ease out the excitement of the night, to help me reach the calmth and numbness that I needed before being delivered into the arms of Morpheus. It happened that there was only one interesting movie that struck my attention at that late hour: The Name of the Rose – with Sean Connery – based on the book of Umberto Eco. I had to smile and thought about Chris’ letter and the poem I read a few hours earlier in his memory. Could not help but to see it as some kind of wink or witty greeting from – yeah from who knows where. All the more so, because it was only the day thereafter that I stumbled on those tiny seeds in Chris’ appartment. Somehow all these hints seemed to point into the same direction (roses) and radiated the word as a symbol of significance. And even though it may sound pompous, it is indeniable that by following the hints all the way to the content of the cupboard in the Vereinsgasse, I have in some ways been able to find and see, and eventually even break open, the door that leads towards a deeper, truer and, eventually, a better self. A passage that, for some reason or other, was blocked for many years.
The list of things that I have gained already, simply by having access to this door, is impressive: An appetite for life as such, a clearer vision, a sharp sense of direction, a deepened love for Arlette with whom I shared this whole experience. And, luckily, the insight of the vision did not bleaken or disappear in the days that followed our session. All relevant scenes and images of our experience still comes to us, both to Arlette and me, in a christal clear way. Some of these insights could and should, in my case, hopefully result in a more profound and personal way of writing. A style of expression that is much more precise, more simple, sharper, concise and above all: closer to my (current) soul.
With the lust for life has also come a new sense of devotion and ability to concentrate. I finished my novel that I had been working on for such a long time. I am full of plans and good spirit, and have not felt as fit in many years. Ready to proceed in a refreshed and vital mood, curious to find out what’s still to come along the path of our earthly presence – whatever may become of it and wherever the coordinates may lay of our destiny. Nothing is final. “Auch die Vollendung kennt kein Ende”, I scribbled in my Moleskine during our session. It is all part of an ongoing process. Incessant. Sans issue.
Also very remarkable is that I have stopped dreaming incessantly of scenes in which I fall endlessly from great heights, rocks, mountaintops, ski-slopes into the water or on the land etc. Nightmares I could not get rid of and that kept chasing me for many years ever since the car accident I had with Joris Abeling on February 16th 1998. The session of the woodrose, to which I was directed by the gently guiding hand of Chris and you (I had never heard of the seeds before), must have cured me also in this peculiar case. Perhaps that with my regained Lust for Life, and the eased out option of “to be or not to be”, some ghastly ammunition has been made inactive in the powderkeg of my mind. It feels as if some kind of mist, that clouded my brain, has cleared the runway. As if the swamp from which so many chimaeres originated that kept harassing me for years in my recurring dream of a free fall towards death, has effectively been drained.
I would like to write a story about the experience I described above, but do not know yet in which form to put it. I would like to call the account “Curiosity kills the cat”. As a working title.

Please light a sandle wood stick for Chris, the next time you are in his appartment. I would be very grateful if you did. I hope in December I can come again, with Arlette perhaps, to do such thing commonly and to look out of the window through which Chris decided to break through towards the realm beyond. In a way, for Chis to have ended down there – in the thin blanket of snow covering the frozen ground from which he passed on – seems to be quite a suitable or at least understandable way for our dear dear friend to proceed, precisely because it was a consequence of his immanent curiosity that was so much his characterological trademark and in which he was so much different from most other people who are afraid to discover strange, new, other things or people than the one they know already. Curiosity kills the cat – indeed. But it is much more subtle than the blunt Ah-Pook-like tendency to give up or destruct that I felt close to be a prey of for quite a few years. Wizzards are they, who are able and wanting to bear the consequence of their adventurous and limitless mind to the very end. I never believed in such things as an afterlife, or of guiding spirits such as Giacomo Casanova tended to believe in (when the opportunity made it profitable to do so), but the many clear visions and healing insights that have been purveyed to me in recent times, provide me with wisdoms that until recently I mentally held myself unfit for. Not mature or open enough, too sceptical and saturated. In any way I cannot deny that I feel very happy to have been granted a chance to open up the door within myself that was locked up for so long – and that finds itself quite opposite to the one I focused on as the one and only realistic way out of the misery. I am grateful for Chris that he helped me open that inner door by breaking the lock, and providing me gently with a light so that I could begin to give my life a new start and to proceed with fresh energy on a journey that will – even with the many hardships that lie certainly ahead as in any perishable life – at least make it possible to add value to it all. To go on with regained fervour and finish the game in style. On a different level. Ripened. With a higher sense of self-esteem and a better understanding of the fact, why it is that in this universe, in the beginning as well as in the end, life in general deserves respect instead of loathing. “The readiness is all”, Hamlet stated at the end of his last act. And now I see it was quite pretentious and poor, to think I deemed myself experienced and saturated enough to have reached such readiness in any way.

Here lies a task.

Warm embrace and thankful hug from,

Serge

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