Category Archives: Adventures in Amsterdam

Every day is beautiful. Every experience is a lesson. These are my reports of the wisdoms of life. Coloured with a wink.

A holy grail

For the first time in my life, I’m walking to my grandparents’ grave without either of them being buried today. My grandma was the second one, and she died six years ago. Haven’t given myself time to go there since. Did I become a martyr of my domineering mind?

I’ve received a fulltime job as copywriter, and am starting in a few weeks. I’m letting my thousands of little (and bigger) projects go for now, and take some time off. Walk. Visit friends. Let the losses slide of my back. Early this morning I decided to go for a walk to the north. Out of the city, into the land of my ancestors. Flatlands. A deeply manmade structure which scared me when we drove here during my childhood. Flat grass, straight, arranged ditches and many little houses packed in villages as far as the eye can see. We’re in one of the most populated countries of the world. Windmills.

I think it’s the first time that I so thoroughly enjoy it here. It may be the freedom of simply walking out of my door, into the fields. Or the cacophony of the birds, whose names I still don’t know. Their volume overrules the sounds of the roaring highway just behind us. Or perhaps it’s the red sun that is now at about 10° above the horizon, shining in my face as if to tell me to take off my new hat for it. Or maybe it’s the fact that I am sure that one day, when my grandpa felt like taking a detour, he crossed this little bridge here, in the middle of what was nowhere at the time, just for his enjoyment. Or the reflecting shadows of the water’s wrinkles on the moving straw, which combined mesmerize me into dreams. I’m amidst serene tumult.

That’s not to say that while I walk along the little path here, away from the deafening noise, my soul transcends along with the millions of glimmering dewdrops, slowly releasing themselves from the young blades of grass around. Or actually it is, now that I imagine it to. I’m liberated, even from myself. Especially from myself. Even if just for a little bit of time.

My grandpa was a kind, calm man when I knew him. His white hair surrounding his bald crown was long enough to be combed back. That looked pretty cool. So did the loose skin of his big thin hands, with thick blue veins meandering over them. I remember him sitting back on his couch, circling his thumbs around each other. He must have been furling his inner disagreements there. His lost memories. His missed chances. His incapacities. But I did not see that then. I was fascinated and he smiled gently. He always served us with chocolate, slices of sausage and other snacks. He limped a bit, when walking to the kitchen. His hip had been replaced.

Neither he nor I spoke much in company. What we would do, is hold each other’s gaze for a while. It told me I was his grandson, and that words aren’t always necessary to know you have a connection with someone. Still, I am not under the impression that I knew my grandpa that well. We lived about 400 km away from each other. Visiting them meant travelling hours and hours in the car. We slept there occasionally as kids, me and my sister, but most of what I remember from him were grownup visits where we did grownup things such as sitting at a table and eating and drinking. Though he did teach me how to play chess.

Once, he took me on a bikeride through these lands. I was a kid. Eight maybe? It was flat. And long. Kids from Luxembourg aren’t used to long bikerides. I think this one took several hours. I do remember enjoying following him on the bike, and stopping to have a chat once in a while, but there’s one memory that stands out. Somewhere near the end of the trip, he told me something about a bird around. My response? “I’m not very interested in that”. I possibly had to pee, or was tired, or was saturated with information. Maybe I was looking forward to a chocolate milk he promised me somewhere at the end of the road. I don’t remember his reaction, but today, a part of me feels guilty about it. Anyhow, years later, my grandparents were surprised to learn that I was going to study biology. And when it comes to bird species, they were right: I still don’t know that much about them.

“Grutto!” yells one of them from quite close. Hey. I can tell it’s panicking because of me. It probably has a nest. More interesting: I suddenly understand why it’s called Grutto in Dutch. I never knew, nor have I ever heard it that clearly. Was it trying to teach me his name?

When I visited my grandma after his death, I felt drawn by my grandpa’s encyclopedia. I walked there, took one of the 20 books of the shelve, opened it, and picked a random word. It was ‘dode hand’ (‘dead hand’). I had never heard of that word. It read something like this: “The dead hand is the property of the Church that is not inheritable by non-church members”. I was certain this was a message, related to him.

Moving to the Netherlands, and particularly Amsterdam was a personal declaration to look for my roots. My ancestor’s history. Figure out my family’s lives. In the meanwhile I have learned a bit about life in the city, before the war, during and afterwards. Things have changed quite radically. The past is gone, yet with a little bit of conversation and imagination, you can summon a vivid reconstruction of how life used to be. Walking in these wetlands is a similar attempt to reconstruct a forgotten past. Untangle a life of people who mattered little, yet stream forward in history through the very blood that rushes by my pen. Even if just for this moment, they are my entire world.

My grandpa grew up as a farmer, but through hard work became a manager in a company. He was the last one in my family lines to make that choice. Independence from the land. There were stories around him. Dreams. Meetings with deceased spirits. Predictions. At some point he developed automatic writing. He explained he would just lay down his hand with a pen in it, and then letters would shape themselves. Words, sentences, and new meaning would arrive without his conscious interference. He thought it was the input of a spirit, or a higher power. He once wrote something like: “Hendrik”, that was his name, “watch out what you do with your life”. He had a moterbike accident the next day.

Much has changed. Biodiversity dropped over here, electricity poles were built, the land is slowly being invaded by the ever growing civilization. Landprizes here have skyrocketed, and the farmers are slowly being replaced by rich people with big cars who spend the final decades of their life in retreat. Most I meet jog. They catch up with the sweat they failed to let to the land. I picture ghosts, hovering ahead of them, drawing them forward towards… what? What is it I am looking for? Which ghost precedes my steps? The tiny asphalt road bounces up and down when joggers come by. It is laid out over what used to be swamp. Utterly unreachable to man. But the Dutch built dykes. We showed them.

People would visit him to receive messages, until it suddenly stopped for ever. His explanation for the loss of his gift was that his ego started interfering. But by then he had already written what has always interested me most: a few pages in Latin. He did not know Latin. In an attempt to translate it, he discovered the text was about the evolution of the soul. That we all make steps forward, and then go back, and that we are all part of a slowly evolving collective consiousness, floating among us in the aether. That what we think of as our own awareness is merely a part of that bigger whole. A befriended priest offered to translate the manuscript for him. My grandpa gave him the papers, but never got them back.

After the incident with the encyclopedia, I’ve enjoyed imagining that those handwritings of my grandpa are still hidden in an occult library of some church in these lands. That they were in fact breathed into this world by some divinity or local spirit. That there is a holy grail somewhere, linking me back to something bigger and more meaningful. A unique message that would consolidate my spiritual quest and reveal the limits of the mechanistic paradigm. A proof. That the church was always aware that there’s more going on there, but that they shield us from it, because they want to remain in power.

The truth is that this fantasy inside me is slowly being overgrown by a sense that spirits in the west are dead, the document has disappeared and I’m perfectly fine without both. The transmission of lore is now all around us with the internet, and the format of film and imagery has made it more effective than ever. Oculus rift and hololenses are already catching up with our dreams. We are slowly immersing ourselves in representations that seem so real that it will be harder and harder to tell the difference. As opposed to believing in ghosts of the ancestors, which people all over the world have done for as long as they existed.

But what of reality? What is reality? Was the text of the manuscript really written in meaningful Latin? Or was my grandpa’s mind playing creative tricks on him? Did he, without knowing, gather some of his little knowledge on the language to create a sloppy text, imagining it was given to him? Did the priest simply forget it, given its insignificance? If so, what of the striking double, even triple meaning of the word ‘dead hand’? Was it a remnant spirit of the past, guiding me there, or was it just a lucky hit, short circuiting my sense of what is real? If it was true, am I making his same mistake by publically writing about it?

The grave has no answers. It is static, grey and silent. Both names are on it. There are freshly cut tulips here as well. White with red ones. Who put them here? A distant cousin? My uncle or aunt? Great unlce? I haven’t been in touch. And these grape hyacinths in the pot? How long have they been around? Did my grandma choose them? I vaguely remember them having these in the garden. I wipe some of the dead blossom of the smooth stone and have another look. A drawing of a hawk. Our name.

They are dead and I’m alive. There’s a world of difference between us. A world the nature of which I have never been certain of. Perhaps I’m here to remind myself that even if I do not know, I can still surrender to the stories. Accept them, like I would accept a film. I can dream a new truth. Revive the dead by recounting them. Let them live through me. How could I forget? How did I forget? Did I forget?

Am I here to accept that my own spiritual connection with nature was harmed with my grandpa’s choice to abandon the land? That in reality, I was always more interested in comfort, computer games and films, and that this was already written in the stars when I was born? That I am here to let go of these roots, and set the next step forward, into a virtual world of engineered redemption? Am I here to accept that humans will keep conquering these lands until even the tiniest patch is rid of its diversity, then recreate it in a different, imaginary world? Will there be life in that world?

No. This is not an end. There is no conclusion here. We can always go back. We can still go back. Nature can teach us. Nature will teach us. This is merely a meeting of life with death. Mysterious.

I don’t stay long, why would I? To find peace? I have more to do today. I’m a city boy now, living a civilized life in the great metropole that watched over us for generations. They are dead now, their memories gone. There is no reconciliation. The bird has flown.

There’s only one bus here per hour. Turns out I don’t have to wait long. No chance to go back. What would I expect to see anyway? In the shimmer of death, it’s still life that matters most. I’ll be back one day.

Laurierstraat

Murmuring. The sounds, the loud laughter. It probably is nonsense escaping the mouths of these people, but it fills what otherwise would be a silent space with a mass of noise that conducts my inner turbulence into scale that matches it better.

I sat down in the bar closest to our new house. It’s brown because of the wooden furniture, and the colouring of the wallpaper, bearing witness of the time when a cloud of smoke was one of its defining characteristics. People here play chess, probably far better than me. I didn’t follow their moves yet, but I counted seven boards. There’s Go as well. It appears that even if only for a little bit, I’m settling my trials and tribulations in my favourite neighbourhood in Amsterdam, de Jordaan. We moved here a week ago.

A lot has happened since I last wrote for this blog. In random order: been homeless, organized a street festival, started two jobs at two universities, lost my last grandma, ended another job, moved three times, dropped an amount of baggage I cannot quite define and bought my most expensive coat yet. Oh and fall has entered. Yes.

I don’t think that’s all, but to me it seems like quite a lot to handle in a period of two months. The handling seems to be going fine, I’m just wondering when the days come in which I’ll digest it all. Could it be that if so much happens to you at once, the experience of it disappears into the void? Or will it catch up one day, when I’ve stopped running and forgot watching my emotional back?

They say that if you don’t chew your food well, it just passes through, meaninglessly and ends up in the sewage with half of its energy still inside. Because you didn’t mingle with it. Could it be that way with life as well? Is that how people sometimes discover who they’ve been all along?

It’s messy here. In the way a classic Dutch bar is messy. The ceiling bladders here and there. Pringles cyclinders behind the bar. Brown books on the shelves; piled up games. A baby shoe is hanging from the bar, next to it to ice skates you can bind under your shoe. Old and new are blent. My lower back hurts. It’s not my position. It’s my structural lack of self-support.

Six globe-shaped lamps are pending in a half circle held by iron bars. On the seventh position, a double spotlight from IKEA, stuck to the ceiling as two big frogs, looking in opposite directions. The murmuring goes on. So does the turbulence. Guess this is home for now.

Neighbrophilia

Well I guess I came out of the closet by inventing that word… Woudn’t be the first.

This post was just to upload some of the pictures of the finale of great time. I’ll miss them.

You can click to enlarge.

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The climber and the dancer

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We have to move tomorrow. But where to?

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Batjanstraat

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The builder

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Moving out, addressing load.

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Never saw these shades on the front door before, Will never see them again.

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Selfie with Zuzana.

Mirror A la Rue
And how it was made (the climber brought it out).

Some say that a picture says more than a thousand words. I disagree. But pictures do speak.

Ölstrïïï wants love

Can’t find my credit card. It must be somewhere between these books or in one of the boxes here on my desk-wall-closet called Ölstrïïï (in case you wonder: that’s a triple diaeresis). I take everything out of my working space: no credit card. I put it all back. I ask Saint Anthony. Nothing.  I move the rest of the stuff in the piece of furniture around. Still nothing. I move the closet. Crack. Its base gives way. Holy shit.

A good friend told me recently that somewhere in the twenties, product producers had growing concerns that their customers would soon have everything they needed, and would thus no longer buy things. They decided to create material that would not last for very long, and hence avoided running out of business. Today, you notice that printers stop printing, cars stop driving, and closets fall apart.

I can’t complain. I bought this thing second-hand for 10 euros, and it’s been holding up about half a ton of stuff for three years since. Yet I promised myself a chill evening where I’d sit back and read a book instead of running back and forth to relieve the from its books, computery and sound devices. While I do, I notice the main construction flaw: a big part of the weight presses on two 1 cm thick planks, standing on their sides, parallel to each other. They simply tipped over when I moved the thing. And so I use my well-deserved night off to deconstruct Ölstrïïï. You have to give it to its makers: their self-tightening screw system is ingenious.

The next morning, I buy a beam with the right thickness and rebuild the whole thing with a solid base. A great opportunity to dust everything off and rearrange the items for spring. Throw away. Sometimes, we have to be grateful to IKEA for letting us down. Maybe those twenties’ dudes foresaw the upcoming affluence, and wanted to grant us a service. Shake up the rug under our feet. Teach us some gratefulness. Well thanks, fellas.

But I still haven’t found that damn credit card!

Dark Light

A little hole in the clouds opens up. I see the sun and the moon. I yell: ‘wohoo!’. The eclipse is not complete, and the hole is there for just five seconds, but it’s enough to propel me back to a field in Luxembourg on August 11th, 1999. It’s the vivid darkness of the moon’s shade.

As kid I was very much drawn to the stars. I used to look up at night. Walking, in the car… Still do, in fact. Especially during the end of my teenage years, I knew a lot about the stars and the planets, and how they all align. The universe. Whatever explanation you wield for their existence, there’s something magical about the way they flicker in that eternal, deep darkness. There’s something mesmerizing about the fact that they float in a space that seems so infinitely big. Those bright lights in that vast darkness are just beautiful.

It must have been March that year when I picked up the phone and heard the voice of my uncle. He didn’t ask for my mom, but presented the news to me. Something spectacular was going to happen, and he and his friends would like to come over to our little farmers’ village in Luxembourg to check it out. I was instantly convinced. In the months that followed, I looked for all the information I could find about eclipses. How they occur, how they look and how exceptional they are. In books and papers, we didn’t have internet back then. I looked so much forward to seeing the sun’s corona.

When the day finally came, we drove out to some fields slightly further south, to have a longer view on the dark totality. Cars were parked alongside all farmers’ roads. For the only time history, it was hard to find a spot. But we did, and got out. My uncle yelled ‘follow the leader’ and up we went, a group of ten, fifteen, in the middle of crowded Luxembourgish nowhere.

Though I wouldn’t be able to find it back, the spot is still here in my memory. There were quite some trees on the north side, growing around a long fence, reaching over the fields. We had a good view over some meadow hills to the south.  It wasn’t that special, really, but it would be fun to return there once. The sun was already quite blinded when we arrived, but we had some time to go, in which we looked at each other in expectancy. After some twenty minutes, gloom approached us over the hills. Birds stopped singing, as we saw the moon silently move in front of the sun.

That deep darkness, surrounded by bright light. The quiet. It seemed so tangibly close. Not the surrounding light, but the darkness itself spoke up that day. Spoke out. Speaks out. It was with me when I ‘wohood’ last week.

In the early 19th century, Johan Wolfgang Goethe experimented with light and dark. He is known as a poet, but Goethe himself was of the opinion that his poetry was average. What really counted to him, were his studies of colours, where he disagreed with the already deceased Isaac Newton on some points. In his view, black light and white light were the two basic forces. All colours were a result of the interplay between the two. Yellow, he saw as white light weakened by dark light. He learned this from staring into a flame in a dark room. Blue, on the opposite end, was black light weakened by white, as occurs in the sunlit blue sky, reducing the vast darkness of the universe. His approach largely reflected the dualistic christian worldview of the opposites ‘good’ as light and ‘bad’ as darkness.

The dominating scientific belief of today teaches that Goethe was wrong. Based on earlier ideas by Newton, darkness is the absence of light, and the colours with their wavelengths together compose white light. Goethe’s response to this idea was that perception is an essential aspect of colour which can not be excluded from the equation. Adding a prism to the experiment means interacting with light, and can thus not be seen as an objective experiment. Goethe’s work still has influence in art. His intention was not to provide explanations, in fact he was against them, his intention was to describe his observations. For him, the psychological impact of light, the question how it moves us, how it triggers our imagination, was an important part of the study.

The room where I grew up could be blinded to total darkness. Most of my friends had night lights, I didn’t. I couldn’t sleep with them. I liked it dark. But I do remember feeling presences. Sometimes I turned the lights back on to check if something was lingering under the bed. That act changed the atmosphere entirely. The feeling of a presence was gone as soon as I turned on the light. As I grew older, I learned that it was my imagination playing tricks on me. Since the eclipse of March 20th, I’m suspecting the darkness itself.

Doesn’t the darkness feel closer than light? More intimate? Or inward focussed at least. For me it has always been a presence, not an absence. Closer than my carotid. It compelled me in 1999, and I saw that again last week. The memory of a beam of black light.

I wonder what the world would have looked like, had Goethe´s ideas been followed in the same way as Newton´s. Would children still fear the dark?

‘Pop!’

There’s a jar on the Sunday morning breakfast table. What’s inside, we do not know, but it must be some kind of jam. I’d like to put some of it on my bread. I seize the jar and get my fingers around the lid. I try to twist it once, but it doesn’t move. My girlfriend asks me to give her the pot, so she can show me how to open it. I don’t. One of our guests also makes a move on it, while I make more attempts with the kitchen towel. The tension rises as I buy some time by explaining them how ridiculously they behave. I would probably do the same.

What makes jars so fascinating that everyone wants to open them? Why do people feel the need to grab it out of another’s hands when they not instantly succeed? Where does this unlikely increased helpfulness come from?

The first thing that comes to my mind is proving yourself. By smoothly opening a jar you can show your strength, or, if you use one of the myriad jar-opening-tricks, your wit. Then again, do we really believe that there are grown up people out there who are incapable of opening a jar? Or is it collective youth trauma? Perhaps we were all so eager to open jars when our hands were smaller than the lid, that the desire has grown out of our control?

An important factor here may be that any jar can only truly be opened once. Opening it makes you the one and only breakfast table overlord. The satisfaction there is comparable to being the first to tread virgin snow, calling upon our animal desire to irreversibly devour beauty.

The opening also causes an irreversible obligation. Not only can we eat, we have to. We have a limited amount of time until its content goes bad. A deliberate reducion of our reserves. Quite a big choice for a jar opener to make, is it not? It showcases the abundance of resources in our domain: what a wealthy collective we are to be able to open a jar.

Finally, there is another kind of satisfaction you can experience there. The jar was stuck and now it’s not. Only the opener will know the secret of how tight it was. ‘Pop!’. It feels funny. And the point in between stuck and released reminds you hands of some inner stuckness, equally looking to be released. There is a sense of infinity there: once the lid turns, it could keep turning forever. You feel a void. The void of your own unhalted force which just opened the jar. As if a little piece of yourself gets launched into freedom.

It turns out that opening a little jar, in our world, can be quite a big thing. Aid should be offered quickly and with stress, else its holder may succeed. Perhaps my friends were not so ridiculous after all.

Psychoindustry

On february 13th, a group of students decided to occupy the Bungehuis. That building was just sold by the University of Amsterdam, who no longer wished to use it for education of arts and languages. Students did not agree with a debate night, they wanted commitments by the board. At the time the building was still being used by the UvA, and many people, including the press thought the occupation went too far. But the Faculty of Humanities supported them.

After several attempts to talk to the occupants, the municipality of Amsterdam ordered the riot police to evict the occupants at dawn of the 24th. They were taken to jail, where they were held for some days.

That afternoon, a different group of students hit the streets for a protest march against the eviction. 300 of them went towards the Maagdenhuis, the board office, and occupied that instead. They were visited by the Mayor, but did not leave. They presented their demands the nex morning: resignation of the board and democratization of the decision-making.

In the years after the crisis, there have been enormous government cuts on university subsidies. Students are no longer funded, research budgets have reduced and teachers no longer have time to attend the enormous amounts of students, a problem that has worsened throughout the years. Instead of being places for dialogue and reciprocal teaching, Universities are turning into psychoindustries where minds are bred and force-fed information without being able to digest it in a social or ethical context. This is what the students protest, and they are finding support.

The students are still there. Over 400 teachers and employees have already signed their loss of confidence in the board. There have been protests on similar topics all over the country. More are scheduled. Nationwide newspapers acknowledge the issue. Just now, as I write this the UvA has offered a plan to increase democratization, and pressurize the government.

It is no isolated movement, but it’s part of a global trend. It’s not just the universities that are being industrialized, it’s all of us, and all nature that surrounds us. We are letting it happen, and it’s going too far. It is for that reason that this simple impulse has triggered something so much bigger. The movement has not stopped, and will not until we liberate our psyches. Let this be a motivation for all of us.

The mental chains are cracking and with our effort they will break.

Winter Ramblings

Over the years, I have accumulated some subconscious rules as a blogger. Customs, so to speak. Most of them for the benefit of clarity. One is to treat one topic at the time. Another is to write the article in pen first. There are phases when I have to do effort to find a topic to write about. This week, I have gathered so many impressions and frustrations, that I’d like to break my rules and fire an incoherent set of thoughts back onto the internet. My lunch consists of a piece of precut raw brocolli of which I take bites only when I manage to lift my fingers of the keyboard.

Charlie Hebdo and his clan got killed. What a surprise. We all saw that coming for years. Is this an attack on freedom of expression? No it is not. It is an attack on insults to a religion. An over the top reaction, I agree, but a reaction nonetheless. We in the West are lucky to be able to get killed while doing the thing we love. Thousands of journalists are killed world wide every year (just a passionate guess, I admit), For saying far less bad things.

Yesterday, the ECB announced that the deflation in Germany is worse than expected. Bad news, we would say, but the European stockmarkets went up. Huh? Because investors have learned by now, that when this happens, the ECB pumps in some new artificial money to prevent a crash. Therefore, they invested their own money, just to be able to fish more out of the market later. I sincerely hope the ECB takes a wiser decision this time.

My new favourite word is Wiggle. Wiggle is a great word. Not only is that because of the sound it makes when you say it and the smile you put your face in when you do, or the feeling you get when you wiggle your toes, but also because I discovered that wiggle is also an emotion, and I’m looking forward to write an article about that one day and I know this sentence is way to long but I don’t care.

O yes, I posted a new video with my friend Michael Kailis, yesterday. If you want to kill me for it, come visit me. By the way, I just noticed I have outsling. I hate rain. Don’t expect me to reread this, just going to look for a picture now, and post it right away, breaking another rule as I go. Deal with it.

A different hat

Magicians are fascinating people. As a kid I was always stunned by what some of them manage to pull off. Learned some small tricks myself. Chris Bordet, earns his living with sleight of hand. We meet for an interview at the Central Station of Amsterdam and find a bench near the water. While we watch birds and boats pass by, we talk about the ins and outs of his work.

Chris lets me know that the English word magician is deceiving because it raises the impression that the tricks are real. He prefers the Dutch word ´goochelaar´, etymologically linked to ´joke´, and the French word ´prestidigitateur´, literally meaning finger artist. He also likes the German ‘Tasche Künstler’, ´pocket artist´.”I am not a magician” he says “I play the role of one”. The difficult part is to believe what you do and trying to project that to the audience. Body language is very important.

A microcosmos
The common 52 card deck can be seen as a model of our world. The two colours, red and black, represent the principle of duality. There are the four seasons for clubs, diamonds, spades and hearts; the 52 cards represent the 52 weeks; there are thirteen cards in each suit, representing the 13 moons in the year; if you add up the numbers of all cards, you get 364 and if you add the joker, you have 365. “It´s a story magicians use to mystify their act, to get people in the mood and distract them from the technique. First you create a frame, then you can play with it.”

Magic works in the same way as humour in the sense that it aims to surprise the audience. He explains: “it´s playing with the unexpected.” as he grabs a match from behind my ear. “You start with something very easy and then you go further.” He´s now holding three matches. “And maybe at the moment, because it´s surprising, it can be a little mind-blowing. That´s a big word, but it´s the goal of the magician”. The matches disappear behind his lifted hand.

“Let me show you a trick to illustrate how it works” He gives me a deck. “Pick your favourite card”. I check his deck and take the Ace of Spades. I return the deck, and give him my card. He puts it somewhere in the middle and shuffles. He takes out some cards and counts them, showing them one by one from the back. Four cards. He passes me the deck back, I keep it in my hands. Then asks me if my favourite card might be among the cards in his hand. I say I´m not going to tell him.
“Okay … I’m the magician, Let´s check if it was among them”. He turns around a Ten of Diamonds, ponders a little and says: “It was not the Ten of Diamonds.” He takes a look at the second card and says “No, it wasn’t the Eight of Diamonds either. He shows me the card. He takes a look at the third card and says: okay, maybe it´s the Ace of Spades. He puts it back, reveals all cards in his hand and says: “well the Ace of Spades always has the weird habit to fly back into the deck.” There are three cards there, no Ace of Spades.

I check the deck in my hands. The Ace of Spades is in the middle, up side down, smiling at me. Damn… It flew back into my hand, and I missed it.

He explains the trick this time. First, he showed me four cards from the back, but one was counted twice. He gave me the deck back and asked if my card was among his cards. The question served as a reminder that there were four. By making me think of that number, he made me strengthen my own belief that indeed, there are four cards in his hands. The Ace of Spades was already back in rest of the deck that I was holding in my hands. “Not a big deal” explains the prestidigitateur. There were in fact three remaining cards. He first revealed  the Ten of Diamonds saying”Ten of Diamonds”. Of course I didn’t notice, because he was pretending to be figuring out if that was the one. The second time he looked at it first, then said “Eight of Diamonds”, and showed it to me as a confirmation that he was speaking the truth. The third time, he just said “Ace of Spades”, causing me to create the image of the Ace of Spades in my mind which was enough to believe it was there in his hand. “It´s all about images.” Chris says. “It´s conditioning. I have manipulated you to believe that I really had this card in my hand, but it was in your hands all the time.”

“Film and magic are a very similar arts. Just like with comedy, it is often the visual effect that makes people laugh, not what you say. People miss out on the point where they should look, they´re always a few steps behind. That´s how it works . An important principle of magic is that we shouldn´t do things that seem too impossible, because otherwise people will see the solution. For example, if you are working with a secret companion and the things you do are too big, they´ll know that this person was your companion.”

The dark side of magic
Chris knows magicians who pretend to be the real thing. One of them always has a crow with him. He wears his magician clothes in the street. He plays the role non-stop.

Have you figured out any of his tricks?
“Yes, yes of course. He attended the Uri Geller show in Germany once and he won, because a lot of people just believed him. They want to believe in something like that. He´s a spooky person. He told me once that when he was a child, he took his church robe on a skateboard to scare the old people into the belief that he was hovering over the street. It´s funny that people like that exist. Once when I was visiting him he made his crow fly in a circle around me, touching me very gently, and then it sat in front of me. I don´t know if it was a trick, but for a moment I thought: “this is pretty impressive”. I think he uses his tricks in conjunction with some gift he has or something. But it´s about demonstrating power, it´s not the kind of magic I like. He is playing with people’s fear.”

Most magicians tend to distantiate themselves from the tricks others take too far. Magic clubs debunk people such as Uri Geller. It also happens in politics and religion. “You could say: wow, the twin towers are destroyed, now we have to go to war, but nobody knows what exactly happened. It could be a frame, made by somebody who has interest in propagating those ideas. The ancient Greeks moved their temples with the use of hydraulics to make people believe that their preachers had more power than they actually had.  Mass hypnosis.”

Can you as a magician steer other people?
I think every human can do that, yes. I think we are all one, and if we put a little bit of love in what we do, and pay some respect to each other, we automatically guide each other to the goal that is the right one. It has nothing to do with magic in that sense.

A miraculous paradox
How do you feel when you do magic?
“I feel good, because people are sometimes really happy. They feel so surprised at that moment, that they become like a child again, like the first time you see snow for example. Then I have achieved my goal, because they had this feeling for just three seconds, and I gave them a bit of happiness. There can be really loud laughter. Once or twice, I´ve seen a girl scream. I think they were too open for this kind of thing. One of the reasons why I do it is  to show people that not everything is like they think it is. Be carefull with what people make you believe.

Do you know tarot?
I ask the question because Chris reminds me of the fool card.
“Well, I´m always interested in mystical things, but more with the view of a magician, a goochelaar. I´m curious to see what´s the trick, because I don´t really believe it is real. In a sense I believe it is real, because by asking the question, you already have the answer more or less. It doesn´t really matter which card comes out, because either way it will give you a perspective on your question. The question is the important thing.” Chris enjoys watching tv shows where people call clairvoyants, who shake some nuts and an answer comes out. “It´s really entertaining, but it´s really sad for the people who believe it is real. The performers listen carefully to what a person says, then use psychoanalytical tricks to satisfy them. It´s pure coincidence which card comes up. You could use how the bird flies, or how the bird shits, or whatever.”

Does it make you feel better to know how these things work?
“No. It makes me feel more stupid, actually. We know nothing. It´s games. We try to find the truth, maybe, but we´re never going to find it. It´s not important to know everything. But of course we want to know. That´s why we have scientists. We want to know. But we don´t. Or at least, we don´t know the whole thing. Maybe it would be easier if we just lived.”

Wouldn´t it be nice to forget all of it from time to time?
“That´s the gift we magicians have, actually. We are able to perform as if we would be doing it for the first time. When another magician shows me a trick, and I think: WOW, then I want to transmit this initial feeling I had to other people. When I perform, I always look for the experience I had when I saw the trick for the first time, otherwise it doesn´t work that well. And that´s a perspective only magicians must have. I realised this when I worked with theater makers. Some directors forget about the impact something can have the first time when people see it. It´s something magicians are really good at. I know how I felt when I saw the trick, and I know how I should behave in a way that others have the same feeling. I believe it myself while I perform.”

With your knowledge about the tricks of life, do you believe in miracles?
Well of course I believe in miracles. The fact that we are sitting here the sun is here, it´s warm and next to the water, that already is a cool thing. I can be in control of myself, that is a real miracle. Sometimes things happen that put you back on a path of life. I have had it a few times that I wanted to do something big, but it was not possible, because I had an accident for example. Those events are like guides in your life. In that sense I do believe in miracles.

As I bike home, I digest the curious paradox Chris revealed today. His skill is that he is able to believe things that are not true, and he uses it to show others that they shouldn’t believe things that aren’t true. In fact, he doesn’t want others to believe him. By manipulating his own mind, he conveys the ease with which that can be done. By always approaching illusions, he takes a distance from them. Magicians are fascinating people.