Tag Archives: Child

Unicorns aren’t dead

If you met a unicorn, would you take a picture of it, or would watch it for as long as it stayed, then let it leave you with nothing but a memory? Would you close your eyes?

The first specimen of the unicorn was spotted in India, millennia before Christ. It has reappeared many times since, as described by numerous religions. Unicorns are white, four-legged, large mammals who supposedly dwell in dense forests, where they are accompanied by a sprinkly melody. They look like white horses with a single horn pointing out of their forehead, which serves for non-violent communication only. A unicorn can be caught solely by virgins and North Korean emperors. Throughout the years, it has embodied purity, innocence, enchantment, and all their opposites. A bit like the colour pink, in fact.

When Nietzsche said “God is dead”, he did not mention unicorns, who supposedly remain alive untill further notice. This is visible in the three Western subcultures which are currently most concerned with the unicorn.

The first and most prominent unicorn-concerned subculture is that of the little and not-so-little unicorn girls. They revere a kind of unicorn that looks like a new version of My Little Pony,  This unicorn commonly dances on a rainbow, bathes in it or takes a bite out of it. Oh, don’t worry, it’ll grow back. Girls in this group regularly post unicorn related content on Facebook, along with some fairy dust. This way, they reveal how magical their lives are.

Then there is the equally notable subculture of the proud unicorn spotters. These are the people (or the state in the case of North Korea) that announce they have captured a unicorn in the wild, and post their proof online. It could be a shaky YouTube video, a blurry picture or, in the case of North Korea, archaeological evidence. They usually fuel an online debate on whether the interpretation of their proof is accurate or not. This group is generally not concerned with unicorns alone: they’d capture multiple kinds of mythological creatures and a UFO or two if they get the chance. Behaviour or ecology of these creatures do not matter much to them, nor the types of rainbows they come along with. All they need is the documentation.

Thirdly, there is the group of atheists who say they believe in the unicorn (sometimes pink…) as a metaphor to rhetorically prove to religious people that God doesn’t exist. That could sound like this: “Hey religious guy! Do you think unicorns exist?” “No, dear atheist man” “Why, not?” “Because nobody ever saw one.” “Well, religious guy, that’s why I don’t think God exists.” The internet examples where the unicorn is brought forward as the terminator of God are endless.

What does the prevalence of the unicorn in an otherwise secularising global society mean? For one thing, I think it is an indication that the appreciation of the supernatural is still alive among us. It even gives atheists a smile on their face. Are we guarding our mental state of the child’s fantasy, perhaps? Silently protecting the thought that there may yet be something more? Luckily that hasn’t died.

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.

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.