Tag Archives: Adventure

Pointain

Because it (still) is World Animal Day today, I’d like to tell you a story about a meeting with a cat. It really happened.

Paris, halfway August, 2009,

This must be the third metro I’ve seen go away, from my seat at the metro station Bonne Nouvelle. It’s interesting to see them come and go, they remind me of my thoughts. Yesterday night, I did the same thing with tourists in Montmartre. Observing lives pass by, as if they were never lived.

I was at home two days ago. My friends were gone, and I had little to do, so I hitch hiked to Paris in an impulse. Beautiful drivers, crazy drivers and boring drivers. Same old freedom, still fresh. Ended up on a couch at a juggler’s festival. Went on in the morning, and arrived in the early afternoon. I love Paris.

As I see another metro go, I write in my diary that I’ll take the next one. I keep putting down words, but within a few minutes, I hear the next one come. I stand up and see it slow down as the compartments pass in front of me. It almost stands still. Inside, in front of the door in the back, stands a darkish girl with thick black dread locks, not entirely unattractive, but not extremely well taken care of either. She is surrounded by a great deal of backpack-like luggage. Yet what strikes me most, is the black and white baby cat standing on her shoulder. I follow her compartment for another ten meters, then it halts. I get in and sit down in the hallway, a bodylength away from her and her little companion.

The metro accelerates. Everybody else seems to know quite well where they’re going to. I look at the cute little creature. It’s completely relaxed, looking around, then it looks at me. The girl picks it of her shoulder and holds it in front of her. It miauws. She starts shaking it in the air, and tells it how cute it is. It miauws harder, and lifts a paw in her direction as if it wants to scratch her, but she is several armlengths away. The scene breaks my heart.

“You should not treat a cat like that.” I tell her. She looks at me, then does it again. It pisses me off.
“Give it to me.” I say.
She does not react.

The metro moves on, stations come and go, surprised passengers half ignore the situation, while I get more and more pissed off. The cat looks at me sometimes as if it wants to come towards me. I’d swear it even reaches out to me with its paw.
“Give it to me.” I repeat in the exact same tone. My own calm determination surprises me. “I’ll take it to cat paradise.”
No response. More people start to be annoyed about her behaviour.

A few more stops go by, then she turns to me.
I hate her.
“Do you want a cat?”
“If it’s that cat, yes.”
“I’m going on a long trip.” she says. “so I can’t take care of it. Here it is.”
She hands it over. The little fella steps on my hand and instantly starts licking it. The metro slows down. The girl picks up her many bags and walks to the door. The metro stops.
“What’s his name?” I ask.
“Félix des Trois Points.” (Felix of three dots).
“Ah… Félix du Pointain…”

She steps outside. Without looking back at me, she walks off and exclaims a long high pitched yell. Sounds like release. The cat is calm, still licking my hands. I lift its tale. It’s a boy. Okay, now what? For one thing, I won’t get out of the metro here. I call my housemates and ask if they mind if we have another cat. They’re surprised, but they don’t mind. Good. I send a message to a friend to ask if she minds if I stay over with a cat. Stations keep coming and going until we reach the final one. Well I won’t get out here either, so I just keep carressing this little cutie. The metro goes back. Stations go by.

Looking back, I still wonder how he knew. At some stop, I couldn’t tell you which one, Pointain – that’s how I call him from now on – gets very restless, as if he wants to leave me. All I can do leave the metro with him in my arms and walk up the stairs together. Maybe he wants to go somewhere in particular.
We meet a middle aged lady on the street.
“Awww… that’s such a cutie, why do you have it here?”
I explain the story.
“Ow, that’s very good of you,” she lets me know. “I always find abandoned cats in Paris and take them into my house. I’d welcome this one, but I have nine already. What are you going to do with it?”
I explain that because the friend doesn’t respond to the SMS, I’d hitch hike back, but with a cat that could be troublesome because I might not make it before sunset and it could walk away while I’m sleeping. Instead, we will probably go pay a visit to my mom in Luxembourg, that’s not very far. We could look for the closest railwaystation.
The lady answers that I should wait here, goes into the nearest shop and comes back with a bagfull of baby cat food. She gives me fifty euros for the train.

Wow.

On day one back in the Netherlands, Pointain explores the entire house.
On day two, he climbs a tree, but doesn’t dare to get out, so I pick him.
On day three, he climbs the tree again. This time I wait with picking and he clims out himself. Step by step, face down, from three meters height (Cats usually descend tale down because their claws piont inwards. It’s a control thing).
On day four, he drinks French wine from the ground. I notice he has three dots on one side. Aha.
On day five, he learns to climb a ladder, the steps of which are as far away as he can reach. He never falls.
On day six, he still jumps on the face of our other cat Willem, even though he has many significant bashes by now and will again.
On day seven, he walks on a 2,5 meters high ridge, looks me into the eyes, wondering, I say “try it”, and he jumps down. A one time stunt I’ll never forget.

I’ve lived with Pointain for a year. People ask me why I didn’t take him with me when I left. I think he belongs to the place. He steals food from the neighbours, goes on strides in the region, takes on the local dogs… He gets love from the students around him. It’s rural there. I couldn’t bring him back to the city and see him locked in a house or poisoned by a neighbour for his unstoppable attitude. He is not my property, he’s my friend.

I saw him again last week. It was same old. Carressed him a little, he climbed on my shoulder, we had a nice chat about our lives. Then he left to play in the garden. He’s fierce sometimes, but very sensitive to those he loves. Great tiny being. Today, my love goes out to him.

 

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Dark Memories

How often have I heard the stories about the second world war in the Netherlands? I have told people that I’ve seen enough films and read enough books on the theme. How many two-minute silences for the victims have passed? Plenty. Yet once in a while throughout the years, the topic kept triggering my interest . As I grow older, the impacts of the stories get more intense.

I’m visiting my grandma, Jacoba, at her dusk. She is a little lady with short white hair and clear blue eyes with tiny pupils, through which she looks with fiery calm. She sits on her own spot, in the middle of a yellow leather three people couch. She smokes a cigarette that has not run out for as long as I’ve known her.We had a coffee, walked a round and now we talk. She unexpectedly brings up the war.
“How was it for you?” I ask loudly. Her hearing is not that good anymore.
“They were just people…”

In the first years after the Nazis had conquered the Netherlands, they had been quite likeable. With their trustworthy attitudes, they had managed to convince Dutch Jews to register their family trees and wear the infamous yellow star of David. After two years of occupation, they began to systematically rob the Jewish of their rights and freedoms. They then  moved the families out of the city. Many seemed to believe that they’d simply been sent off to work somewhere else.  Jacoba, sixteen at the time, lived very close to the Dutch Theater, where Jews were gathered and most deportations were done.

“Half of my class were Jewish” she says, in a tone that does not seem emotional at all. “The thought of Jews being different from the others had never occurred to me before. But one by one, they came to my door to announce that they received the letter. They came to say goodbye and some left precious belongings for me to keep for the day when they’d come back. One boy gave me a guitar. I still have it upstairs.”

“One day I biked by the Weteringschans and I saw how people were being executed by gunfire. I stopped, but a soldier commanded me to move forward. Of course I did that, I was afraid of what would happen otherwise.”

The winter of ’45 was deadly to many. My grandma still feels guilty about selling a box of one of her Jewish friends because she needed the money for food. When the liberation came and people could eat again, some people died of burst stomachs. Jacoba and her sister reminded each other of that when her new Canadian boyfriend took them to a party where little breads were all around. She laughs about that adventure.

“One day during the deportings,” she concludes “I was walking home, and suddenly saw a man look at me, out of the truck. I will never forget the expression on his face. We both knew that he’d never come back.” Under the disgust in her expression, I can taste their shared despair.

Parsimony

One of the basic rules of today’s science is the law of parsimony. It states that when there are two possible explanations for a given observation, the one that requires the smallest amount of assumptions should be selected as the true one. In other words: a good scientist always strives for the most conservative and simple explanations of the facts.

It makes a lot of sense to avoid needless complexity.  Not only does that make it easier to understand things, it also helps in the communication with other scientists, journalists or your grandma. Overcomplicating things is as exhausting as it is boring and it makes it harder to judge where illusion ends and truth starts. But by sticking too closely to this law, scientists become a self-assuring collective that drift away into a meaningless void, possibly leading exactly to the opposite of what a scientist strives for.

The law of parsimony obliges the trained scientific mind to focus on a problem and avoid looking at its surroundings for as long as possible. If, for example, one wants to study the effects of a medicine on lung cancer, one will not include father-son-relationships or religious beliefs in an experimental design, because they are unlikely to be of influence. Fifty years ago, eating habits, air quality and smoking habits would possibly also not have been included in such research. They are very important factors now.

Parsimony goes hand in hand with the reductionist vision of cause and effect. It has resulted in the rising of different disciplines such as economy, medicine or ecology, where they were once one thing. Even within those fields, there are endless specializations. They distinguish from each other not only by the aspect of life they study, but also by the assumptions they take for granted. The ones they no longer see. What seems obvious to a person from discipline A, may be very far-fetched to a person from discipline B. The result here, is that communication between disciplines becomes harder and harder.

By always looking for the fewest amounts of assumptions, the parsimonious scientist creates a mental island for himself. Our society as a whole is stuck in a construct of assumptions that, by the fact that they are repeated in the classroom, feed the part of our minds in which they seem so clear and logical that they are no longer understood as assumptions. In economy for example: growth is the base. Wouldn’t it help the world if we assumed that dispersal and equality are important, even if we seldom observe them? In medicine: diseases have a physical cause. How about the complex role of the mind? In ecology: plant and animal communities behave according to mathematical models. Isn’t that a disrespectful view?

Parsimony invites us to keep building our understanding on the world we know already. I think science could serve life better if it allowed itself to dive into the unknown.

Drop

Robin was about to jump out of his nest, when his mother stepped on his tail.
“Did you smooth your feathers, Robin?”
“Yes, mom.”
“And will you promise to look after your sisters?”
“Moommm…” he moaned, while giving her a sad look.
“Robin and Robin hatched half a day later than you, so you have to act as the most responsible one.”
“But just I want to be with my friends!”
“Take them with you, I need to tidy up the nest and I have to gather worms for tonight, so they can’t stay here with me.”
Robin expressed a few more noises of disagreement, but was forced to accept his fate. What he really wanted was to be alone with his young palls, the brothers Robin and Robin. They would go fly audacious circles around the head of Mr. Vulpes, the fox. Robin, the younger of the two brothers almost got eaten yesterday when he flapped with his wrong wing at the wrong moment. He flew right between the jaws of the business-like killer, who was just too late with his snap. That was far more sensational than those boring games of search the caterpillar that his sisters always wanted to play. Still, he was glad he had the chance to stretch his wings after a long, cold night.

The trio flew towards the river, where Robin and Robin had their nest. Robin was slightly jealous of them. Their view over the river banks was far more interesting than the view out of his place. All day long the Robins could watch the motion of the water, or they could see the Otter family gather pieces of wood and place them carefully on their new dam. Sometimes they saw impressive ducks who crossed the river with their young ones, quacking about whatever is was they quacked about. Visitors thought that very entertaining.

When the young birds landed on the Robins’ nest, they each received a worm in their beak.
“They’re freshly caught” said Robin, the nest mother.
This worm had a fresher taste than the ones their mother fed them. Robin swallowed it at once.
“Let’s go” he said, visibly annoyed by the fact that he always had to wait for his sisters. They weren’t even halfway yet.
“Be patient, Robin,” said their mother “the girls are still eating. Didn’t your mom tell you to watch over them?”
“She did!” said Robin, her beak still full with squeezed worm making its final attempt to escape.
“Why did you bring your sisters?” whispered Robin.
“I had to, otherwise I couldn’t come.” answered Robin while he watched a toad take a plunge in the distance.
“Now we can’t play with Mr. Vulpes…”
“No. Maybe we can go for a swim…”
“Yes, that’s fun too.”
The boys waited a few more instants for the girls and got ready to take off.
“And don’t swim in the river, kids, the water is too high today.”
“Aww, mom, please…?” said her two sons at once.
“No, boys, it’s too dangerous. Why don’t you try to fetch some berries from the bushes?” Robin and Robin smiled at the thought of it.
“That’s boring…” said Robin.
“No it’s not, it’s very educative and you’ll practice several flight skills. Besides, you’re safer in the bushes. Now go. The Robins smoothed their feathers and went.

“Where shall we go?” asked Robin to one of the brothers while they left Robin and Robin at a distance. “I think we have to go look for a bush…” answered Robin sadly. “But I’d like to fly a little first” he added with a cheer “we’ve been sitting there all morning.” Down, they saw the Bunnies hop cautiously along a newly emerged pool, where they drank a sip.
“Wait”, yelled Robin, and he landed on a branch. “Let’s fly back and scare them with our shadows!”
“Then we should climb a little more so that we look bigger.” postulated Robin, who really liked the idea. They flapped up towards the sun. “The first one to make them run is the winner!” cried Robin as he steeply battled his way up against a southern zephyr. Below him, Robin made a swift turn to the left and projected a tiny shadow right besides the face of one of the rabbits. They stopped moving.

“Can we go on please?” asked one of Robins sisters from a lower branch. “I need to go to the bathroom.”
Robin could not answer because Robin was catching up with him, and he could not let that happen. He flapped him in the face and pushed him down, but dramatically changed his own direction in the process. He spiralled down sharply then found a thermal column and climbed a few branches higher, where he met Robin’s brother.

Robin and Robin felt abandoned.
“I really need to go” said Robin, who was using most of her lower muscles to keep her excrements in.
“Why didn’t you go when we were at the Robins’?” asked her sister desperately.
“I don’t know. I was okay there…”

Higher up, Robin and the Robin brothers learned to their disappointment that their shadows were too weak to truly scare the rabbits on the forest floor.
“Maybe we should try to synchronize our flights so that we seem a bigger bird?” suggested Robin. His brother always respected him for his clever ideas.
“Sounds good” he answered, and he landed on a branch, followed by the other boys.
“Don’t sit so close to me!” snapped Robin to his brother, and he flew to the other side of the branch.
“No clue what that’s about…” whispered Robin to Robin. “Maybe his egg was too small”. Robin cheeped a jolly laughter.
“What?” asked Robin, irritated.
“Forget it.” Answered Robin.
“Okay, let’s make a plan. We should time it well, all fly at the same time, exactly over the Bunny family and our shadow should be as big as it can. One should fly higher, one in the middle and the final one low. The lower one should always look for the higher one, so the top one leads, but we should stay close. Who wants to go where?”
They agreed that Robin would take the higher course, Robin the middle one and Robin the lower. They would fly along the crossing of the Beech branches, where they expected a perfect cast of shadow upon the Bunnies’ faces, causing the anticipated shock.
“Okay, everybody know their course? Let’s fly at zero.”
“Three , two, one…”

A white spot appeared on the face of one of the Bunnies. The family hurried into a bush.
“Did you see that?” asked Robin, who forgot to give the starting signal.
“Yes”
“Wow…” said Robin. “Was that one of your sisters?”
“I think it was Robin” Robin answered.
“WOO-HOOO! That was AMAZING!”
Robin jumped of the branch and dove down to the girls, cheeping and screaming with enthusiasm. His brother and Robin followed his lead.
“That was soooo cool!” he exclaimed, in a final swoop towards the branch. “Who did that?” He hurt his claw when he landed, but ignored it.
Robins face was red.
“It was an accident…” explained her sister.
“It was brilliant!” answered Robin. “Right in its face! We couldn’t have aimed better!” The other two now also landed on the branch and backed up his enthusiasm. The girls found it hard to reason with them, but enjoyed the sudden wave of attention.
“You just invented a perfect game, girls!” exclaimed their brother. “Who else has to go? Let’s look for Mr. Vulpes.”
“Yes! Let’s find him where he was yesterday!”
The boys agreed and flew off, the girls followed. Robin slowed down to wait for Robin, with whom he now had more to discuss. Her brother was not sure if he enjoyed suddenly sharing his palls with his sisters, but when he remembered the look on the rabbit’s face he smiled internally.

Mr Vulpes was not there. The five landed on a branch.
“I didn’t know you were such an exiting girl, Robin” said Robin, who was still full of enthusiasm. “You’re baaaad… I’ll call you badass Robin.” She began to cry. “Stop teasing her!” Said her sister. “I wasn’t teasing, I mean it!”
“Please don’t tell my mom…” said Robin.
“I’d never tell her.” answered Robin. Nor would the others, right?”
“No. Promise” said Robin. “Brothers are here to protect their sisters.” added Robin. That calmed her down.
“Let’s go look for berries” said their sister. “Then you’ll all be able to poop more.” Now that she was in on the secret, she might as well use it against them.
“She’s right”. Said Robin, thinking he could use a bite after all that flapping. They flew towards a bush and disappeared from sight.

“How was your day?” asked Robin when the youngsters landed on the nest later that day.
“It was okay…” said the boys.
“It wasn’t too bad” said the girls.
But downstream, the snake, the badger, the fox, a rabbit and a colony of ants were of a different opinion.

Left

I’m walking with my bike in the hands, about to cross the De Cleqstraat. A young man nears on foot from the left.

He has pitch black hair, neatly combed and worked to the right with gel. His thick black glasses, dark eyebrows, dark eyes and half shaven black beard give him a typical contemporary “Amsterdam intellectual” look. He’s tallish. On his chest, a nonchalant bright bleech-yellow blouse. His pants are turquoise, equally light-hearted and very adequately adapted to this summer’s morning. On his feet, not-quite-flip-flops, appearing as if they cost him a couple of hundreds of euros. I’d classify him as a semi post-hipsterist or the like. One thing I know for sure: I hate this man.

Traffic law in Amsterdam belongs not so much to the strongest as to the one with the best ability to combine what’s spatially possible with what’s socially acceptable and -when cops are around- what’s allowed. In other words: because it’s common knowledge that if you spend half of your day biking around, you want to get home as soon as you possibly can, you can bend the rules as long as you keep smiling. Fellow road users can therefore count on courtesy beyond the written rules, especially when that is assumed to benefit both. It’s giving and taking so to speak. A game with ethics, really. And of course, one gives a beautiful young lady more than a cranky old bastard.

So this semi post-hipsterist, let’s call him Lord Adolph, is heading towards me from the left, say on a meter. We are in a dubious traffic situation. He’s determined to cut me off. Gentleman as I am, I shortly stop to let him pass. No thanks, no smile, not even a glance… nothing. Slightly frustrated, of the opinion that one second was more than enough and eager to forget him as soon as possible, I take my next step. My bike scrapes his heel.

I turn my face towards Lord Adolph and watch him turn his. His dark eyebrows point downward. “O sorry, man!” I say with an innocent tone “that was not my intention”. As his face contracts further, I feel relief for not having to hear his voice.

A myope at a hundred meters would have perceived the grin on my face by the time I crossed the street. Of all the accidents I caused, I don’t believe any has left me feeling this satisfied.