The Grid

“Place the bar on the moving band. Then the next client can put his groceries there!” Her voice is binding. The open space between my food and the articles of the couple behind me is at least one third of a meter. Not clear enough. I place the bar. With this act I clearly separate our future belongings. Almost before I lifted my hand from it, the couple, acting as one, puts the bar perfectly right in the middle of the moving band, perpendicular to its side. What follows is a sudden reorganization of the groceries behind me. The couple places their bread at exactly one centimetre from the bar, parallel to it. Another centimetre away: a pot of jam. Ham. Gurkins. Toilet paper. So they go, until everything lies exactly one centimetre apart from the rest. As I watch them construct this grocery grid, a discomfort creeps into my spine.

“That’ll be 12.48 please” says the cashier.

I put my pass in the machine, type 9-6-3-1 and pack my bag. Paid. Macaroni and cheese tonight.

I walk outside. The street cleaner must have just passed. I see a Dalmatian in a zebra suit, held on a line by a lady who appears to have made a separate plan for every hair on her head. I unlock my bike. My bike has a character: the frontal rim is slightly loose. When I hit the pedals its rattling noise and the shriek of my unoiled wheels find their way through the street, bouncing back and forth over the smoothened walls. A man in a black suit looks at me in intense disgust.

“So what?” I think. And as if the man has heard my thoughts, a fierce “SHAME ON YOU!” echoes behind me through the streets.

My mind wanders of to yesterday night. We were making a campfire in the woods with some friends. Our view was marvellous: a red sunset on a lake, seen from the top of a hill. Fish. Freshly caught, on the grill. The aroma of smoke and just a little salt completed a perfect day. We wished for such natural freedom to stay in our lives forever. How different is the city life?

A little disrupted, I now try to make as little noise as possible. Though the streets are as crowded as usual, there is an uncanny silence around today. As if everybody purposefully holds himself in line. It accentuates the beeps and shrieks.

I place my bike in a rack. More bikes are placed in a row. Straight up. Saddle erect.

“HEY! Put your bike up properly, like everyone!”

The woman who yells it has blond hair till her shoulders. Her face looks symmetrical, clean, with feminine as well as masculine aspects. Not extremely beautiful, but not ugly either.

“Oh, sorry”. Before I know it, I have put my bike up and straight. I notice that the cars driving by maintain equal distances from each other. Their speed is slow and constant. I dare not look at the drivers. Walking to the bookshop I silently tread the tiles, not crossing their borders. My nerves seem to get to their limit.

The bookshop is cubical. Books of different colours and sizes have been carefully laid down in piles of equal heights. There are different structures: squares, circles, triangles, a pentagon… All displayed with chirurgical precision. In the middle of the room hangs a collection of books of which the sizes and the shapes perfectly fit together to form a tetrahedron, turning loosely in the air. Despite of the people, it is the only movement in the room.

The books in the perfectly shaped piles are not ordered alphabetically or by category. When I pick one up, a sound goes off.

“SIR! Don’t touch the books! You will mess them up!” A woman with thick square glasses, a black coat and a tight black skirt looks at me with straight black eyebrows that point down towards the centre of her face. She runs at me, grabs the book from my hands, takes a frontal position to the place where it used to lie, bends over with a straight back, and lays it back with the care as you would a baby.

“Sorry”. I say.

“Sir, you should not act as recklessly as you just did, picking up books like that”

“I was looking for a book about sacred geometry”

“There is nothing sacred about geometry” says the woman. “But if you want a book, you should stand in the queue.” Her finger points at the empty space behind a straight line of patient people. I walk towards it, take my ruler out of my pocket, and measure the distance between the last person in the line and the one before him. 33. I try to do the same with the two before them.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m measuring the distance between you and him.”

“Please don’t. There is no need. It’s thirty three centimetres.”

I count twelve people in the line. The woman has returned to the desk and takes the orders. Every time a customer asks for a book, she walks to one of the shapes in a slow and even pace. She gets a book from the pile, and replaces it with a book she brought along from her desk every time. It always takes her a while to put the new book back perfectly, but when it fits, she walks back with the same pace, hands the book over to the client and asks for the payment.

“That’ll be 22,44 please.”

“Hey tall mister! You are not standing at the proper distance in the queue. The proper distance is thirty three centimetres.” When I do a step ahead, he follows. When I turn around and do a step towards him, he steps back, looking at me with an angry face.

“I said thirty three centimetres!” He says every time a customer finishes his transaction and the line moves forward as if steered by one mind. During the six last customers I manage to keep my stalker silent. I dare not breathe.

When I finally arrive at the desk of the book sales, I ask for my book about sacred geometry.

“There is no such thing” she says. She walks away at the same pace. This time she grabs a ladder which she carefully installs below the shape of the tetrahedron. Step by step she climbs on it. She takes one of the books of the upper ridge, replacing it slowly and with a steady hand. When she is finally back, she hands it over. The cover shows a print of an oak.

“I am sorry, miss, but I asked for geometry. You give me a book about an oak”.

“Sacred geometry is nonsense. This is a Boak. Pay.”

I accept the Boak and pay 22,44. After all I like oaks. When I give her a smile, I see a tiny blade of grass coming out of the end of her pointy nose. So I exit the bookshop.

My attention is drawn by three eagles crossing the sky. I watch them till they have become too small to see, wondering where they’ve gone. A tiny white feather whirls down, followed by the leaf of a red rose. On the spotless grey street, their presence seems like an insult to all that is without life. This feather and this leaf ridicule all who have fought for this. For just a sec, I am at peace.

A scream. High pitched, coming from the bookshop. People seem suddenly tense. They have abandoned the orderly and now look around with a fear in their eyes. The silence on the street has passed. I grab my bike, unlock it and drive away. With the same noises.

I turn around the corner. The greenness of the once grey compels me. The ghostly walls from before are now entirely ivy-grown. The plants absorb my bikes calls. Instead, I hear the chirping of locusts here and there. I can not make out if I am puzzled or delighted. I continue my way home. But before I have crossed half of the street I notice that the ivy is moving gently. In fact, it is creeping up the road. By the time I reach the end of the street, the plants have almost reached my bike. If I stop now, they will catch a hold on it. Things in the next street are barely better. People are screaming; their heads are covered with grass, rooted in their skulls. Someone tries to run inside but finds that little roots have shot out of his toes. They now find their way between the tiles into the ground. The man waves with his arms, but out of his fingers grow leafed branches holding themselves back on the wind. His movements cease and before anyone knows it, there stands a broad little birch growing to the sky. A pigeon lands on its top.

I make haste, but as I go the asphalt rises and an enormous beech erupts out of the ground. I crash upon it and a squirrel falls on my head. It quickly runs back into the tree, looking back one more time before it disappears. My bike is broken now, so I run in despair. A sticky substance seeps out of the scratch the squirrel made. Birds’ songs deafen my ears while they still can. My nails are bark and I have a strong broccolic feeling where my lungs once where. Next to me, a hortensia emerges out of the depths of a poor man’s throat. People around are growing in all directions, leaving their dogs to bark at them and at the boar that just showed up. Should they hold or charge?

Tomato-hearted, I try to get towards my front door, but it is turning into rock as the cells in my veins grow their own little walls. My feet’s roots meander over the street. My testicles go nuts. I feel how my spine gets taller and woodier. Juices flow up and down to my brain which is now spawning snails out of my ears. They tell me that the city has been overrun. I believe them.

While my head bursts open and branches shoot into the air, a safety enters what is left of my mind. We are naturals. The last thing I see is a bunch of pumpkins dangling down an electricity cable. They seem to enjoy it. Drunk with force, I reach deeper into the ground and find delicious juices. I feel them entering my trunk from below and flow up into the air.

Later that day, a white moth decides take a little flight around the woods. It is silent outside. He flies to the pond and has a freshening drink of a big purple flower. It smiles at him. Behind them, somewhere deep inside the forest hidden under a pluck of moss, lies a book with a big old oak on its cover. It’s making a giggling sound.

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Cosmic particles

The room is dark except for a laser that shines on a glass box. In it, thousands of micro-sparks alternate each other. Together they shape a self-molding rainbow coloured cloud. This cloud is disturbed by fluorescent lines shooting through as were they falling stars in the distance. The consensus among the people in this room is that these lines are particles, radiated by distant galaxies. I’m not convinced, so I look for the expert.

The day has been nice so far. Together with two friends, my girlfriend Zuzana and I were at a conference about durable materials in Rotterdam. Did you know that humans have invented concrete that heals itself when it breaks? It’s a fusion of dead matter and bacteria. And did you know that by blending shrimps with bio-based oils we are now able to create a material very comparable to insect skin? Super strong, but light as a feather. It’s funny: even though we humans can think, nature does so many things so much better than we do, that all we can really do is imitate her. I think it has to do with her patience.

Whenever I am in a conversation with fellow researchers, I realise how fundamentally differently I think. I strongly believe that our attention is an energy. So if we point our attention somewhere, we create energy wrinkles. Twirls. Such wrinkles in the energy make it impossible to study anything objectively unless we keep our minds unmoved. Patient. Mind control is a prerequisite for any science, I’d say. But scarce among scientists, especially in times where all of us have been familiarized with the phrase “publish or perish”.

But more essentially, we differ in opinions about the meaning of the word fundamental science. For me, the fundament of existance is not a bunch of invisible particles powered by some uncomprehensible force. Those are just human’s mental projections. For me, the fundament of existance is our relationship to our surroundings. This relationship is the base on which phyisicists (and all others) create their picture of the universe. They understand the universe in the way in which they understand themselves.

As separate particles.

The Legend of the Lost Driver

“Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately we can find no driver for the train. We are currently asking permission to drive the train ourselves.” You see, this is why the Dutch people look upon the Belgians as “not that bright”. They just have odd ways. Our difference can be explained logically by the fact that back in the 16th century, the Belgians hunted the free thinkers and the rebels away towards the Netherlands.  “He who’s without sin throw the first stone”, I hear some close friends call out. You’re right, but let’s focus on the Belgians for now.

We happen to have a Belgian fellow traveller, Manuel, so I dare not mention the day we saw a car with a red and white licence plate drive in reverse over the highway’s emergency lane, to get the exit he missed. Manuel is a long haired fellow with a very tidy beard which reminds me of Edoras, the king of Rohan. He is a free lance theatre builder, enjoying his job because he gets to see the best moments of his clients. Strange though it may seem he is making his way from Amsterdam to London for a weekend trip. Good for us, because he is nice company. But I don’t mention the fact that he’d use the word “bag” to say “mug”.

“I’ve never driven a train before” says Manolo. “I am going to see if I can drive it maybe.” Like us he is slightly agitated because the delay is 30 minutes already, and it appears to become a big one. He has to catch his train to London in Brussels. “This is my chance to drive one”, he says while he walks through the door towards the driver’s wagon. I find the situation charming. It is an answer to my annoyances of late, about society’s obsessive demand for qualified experts in everything. Such demand kills creativity. Besides, how hard can it be to drive a train? The thought touches a pain in me, but that doesn’t hurt. The train starts driving. My sister and I are convinced that it’s him behind the wheel. When he comes back, mentioning he stayed away for a while because he hoped we’d believe that he was driving the train, the conversation flows. I keep my mouth shut about the life threatening highway near Verviers, for which they advertise near the road by putting up signs with the amount of lethal accidents that happened there last year. My sister congratulates Manuel with the world record Belgium recently set in ”longest parliament formation duration”. 541 days.

All of us are a little sad when we finally reach Brussels with different destinations.

Tropenmuseum

The machine says “beep”. A green light. That means I can enter the Tropenmuseum. I think I was five when I first entered here with my mom, sister, grandpa and grandma. Back then, there was no machine to tell us “beep”. There was a lady who’d rip our ticket apart with a smile, and wish us a nice time in the museum. I’m bigger now. Twenty six. Still financially dependent on my parents. With a bit more taste for art than before. Here alone.

This is one of the few places where I used to bond with my grandpa. I presume that the wide choice of interactive computer animations was not here then. I use it now to send an E-love-letter. I am very entertained. There is an exposition about death. It is called death is alive. The exposition is in a great hall, about three floors high. It is marked out by enormous black curtains. Within these curtains, objects of many cultures are laid out, all with reference to death. There are videos of people from different faiths who – when you touch the screen – tell the camera what they believe to encounter after they die. I like the Buddhist and the Islamic lady in particular. I’m very attracted to death. I dare say that it’s one of the things that inspire me most. I believe that in this life, I have traveled to death world, and that there is nothing strange or scary about that. Death has a serene intimacy about it. People’s relation to death reveals who they really are. You can not hide from death. That is why I sometimes believe that in death lies more life than in the masked theaters that casual existence can bring upon us.

“It would be a pity if all this disappeared” I hear a woman say. She refers to the choice of the government to stop subsidizing this embodied reminder of our colonial past. I picture how all these artifacts – I especially like the big, simple, earthly coloured New Guinean masks – disappear into dark cellars in Amsterdam. Or that they are sold. Maybe we should give them back to the original owners. But the lady is right. Even if it is unnatural to have so many objects from all the corners of the world gathered and exposed in one building somewhere in a rich country, this constellation gives the separate objects an added value. The collection triggers our imagination to go on a worldwide adventure for just a few hours. Without mosquito bites. Not to speak of the latent memories of so many Dutch people who have visited this place after it’s opening in the 1950′s. It’d be a pity indeed.

Paul

“What’s your name by the way?” I ask it to a homeless man. He’s not quite homeless, he has a little room somewhere, but he sells the journal of the homeless every day at the Albert Heijn in my neighbourhood. “Paul” we shake hands. Paul has blue eyes and a grey beard. He always wears a black coat, a black marine-like hat, a light blue scarf and a few silver coloured necklaces, one of which pentagram shaped.

“I am looking for a job”. I say. In this new year I have got a bit nervous about my employment situation. I always believed I’d find one instantly because I speak some languages, have two master diplomas and did a lot on the side. Alas! It turns out that I have done so many different things that employers fail to see the coherence in my CV in the same way as I do. There is no single job I was made for, but it seems like they can choose the specialists they need. A battle that I, as a nature conservationist, am bound to lose in these times. “Just do something”. Says Paul. “I don’t ask people if they please allow me to stand here so that I can play my harmonica. I just do it.” There is a spark in his eyes while he smiles. “You don’t need people to judge you and ask for their permission to do something. If you want you just sit over there with a pallet and start drawing. And if someone passes by who thinks it’s good, you sell him the picture. You are old enough to know what you’re good at, just go and do it. Mother Theresa didn’t ask anyone if she could squat a house. She just thought : here’s a house, and these people need a house. And she gave the people the house.”

An awkward silence. This isn’t the answer I expected. I just wanted to show him some sympathy. Yet as it turns out, he didn’t need any. Now I feel accused of not doing what I want to do. I want to contest, but I can’t. Instead I look at him with a questioning half-smile. He caught me in the truth.

“Ok, well, I gotta go, I’m going to cook for a friend” I say. On the way out of the shop I give him a leaf of fresh basel. He loves the smell.

A happy new year

I’m looking at the typical Amsterdam rooftops. They are at our height. We are standing on a balcony at a friends place in the Jordaan. It’s dark. Even though 2012 is still half an hour away, colourful fireworks are exploding right between two of the triangular shapes pointing at the sky. There would be no better place for me to be than here.

Behind me, one of my best and oldest friends, Alex explains to his old Capoeira teacher how knowing he has MS has made him feel in the last few months. Tears in my eyes reshape the sparks of light in the air, but I don’t allow myself to burst. Alex seems to deal with it better than I do. Or maybe that’s appearance. We heaven’t really discussed the theme yet. Guess I was afraid. “Why do they shoot the fireworks already before 12?” Asks an Italian artist I was talking with earlier. “They can not hold themselves.” I say.

At twelve, the company climbs on the roof. What were just a few arrows before has turned into an ongoing “ka-ta-ba-ka-ra-ka-ka-ta-ra-ka-ta”. We happy-new-year, hug and drink Champaign. I think about my decision of earlier today to write a weekly blog. It seems like I have finally accepted that next to all those things I can and want to become, a writer is what I am. It’s a therapy. Whether I do it as a job or for myself, I just need to write. “This is even worse than in Napoli” yells the Italian. I laugh inside. After we go down from the roof, the Champaign transforms my awareness into a collection of blurry shortcuts in my brain. I will soon turn into a problem.

Whenever I’ve been too drunk, people explain me afterwards that I got trapped in my own world. They describe the symptoms of a psychosis. I seem to think I know everything without being understood, but in fact I project my own thoughts and feelings upon others. A clash within my own character and with anyone who comes too close. Tonight, I’ll put Alex to the test. Say nasty things to him. Cry. Annoy the hosts. And I will have to hear it from him over the phone: my memory does not allow me back.

I have known a darker part of me, and I have feared it’s power for long. In this blog, I will take you along on a journey to the depths of me. I’ll try to be transparent. As I don’t always dare to see the truth in things, I will not always be able to. Yet I promise to give it my best shot.

Welcome here,

Gilles

Sailing on Dreams

When you’re sailing on dreams, there are no rules. No laws. Just dreams to obey. There is no time. Everything joint. But that does not mean you can always join the breeze. There are puzzles to be solved, to wander the untold.

But watch out! Nothing is what it seems, when you’re sailing on dreams. To live in danger may be safer than was taught. There are no lessons. No fathers or sons or brothers, nor a girl or a boy. No leaders or crowd, but the sailors of dreams. Dreams are not easy to sail. When you think you do, you are far from it. And when you do sail a dream, you are closer to the black abyss than believed is healthy for you. Hold on to a dream and you crash. If you let go, you drown. There is no good way to sail on a dream. Drowning is common for sailors of dreams. And burning. Being shot in the face. Poisoned. Crushed under rocks. We lose everything all the time.

Imagine how big your children’s children’s children are now. Little gates to an enormous world. We need a telescope to see that from here. Fireworks of inflated worries burst a sailor’s dream. Trees’ roots grow into it’s skull and become a pulsing brain. Up, up, up.

Catch a dream and it catches you. Zins you in your sleep. Kins you in your creep. Watch out! Or it bins you in your deep. Know where you go, when you’re sailing on dreams, or the slow of the flow will take all that you know.

Playing mind games with Soul