Walk with me!

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Yes we camp!

somebody called me a cowboy nomad

Day 55 (3). Almost home, always home.

et voila
paris. last 5 km through the heart of it to join my comrades
a lot of trash on the road today to fold into boats
strange treasures
an ultrasound photo, a small house, a cheque for €400
people are taking photos of me
i got so used to my second skin that i forgot what i look like

Day 55 (2). The things that kept me safe.

I am about to start my last walking day, another 20+ kilometers to Paris. For 55 days I was accompanied by things that kept me safe and sound: souvenirs for the road, tokens, given to me by friends. They worked well.
Thank you all, also the people who sent me poems, texts, music, money, warm wishes, thought of me while wallking and all the kind people on the road who received me with open arms.

Day 55 (1). The walk is never over.

It is 5 ´o clock, I open my window to get some fresh air. The parking lot is dark, the lights of the playing hall have gone. Clouds, but some stars are visible. The Great Hunter is out of sight.
I laugh out loud. Not so loud the sound will reach the stars but loud enough for the first birds to hear it.
There is nobody out there, only the giant woman on the billboard in her black and white summer dress, advocating "unexpected shopping", whatever that is.
A thought crosses my mind. The thought that I should be sad that my walking is almost over. But I don´t feel sad. I feel like laughing. The walk is never over.
A first early car drives by. Then two more. I close my window and sit on my bed. I am still fully dressed, I fell asleep in my suit on top of the covers. In my Soft Armour.
It kept me save all the way and it will keep me save during the fight in Paris. A peaceful fight for a cleaner world with more attention for people, nature. A world where we take more time for things. 
I don´t think we will win in the long run but it doesn´t matter. As long as we can, we have to fight.


Day 54 (2). Magic stockings.

The new socks I bought the day before for €2,- served a different cause than I had planned them for. It wasn´t too cold but I put them on anyway, the three pairs I had with me all had a hole in the same spot, left foot, big toe. I had planned to repair them, just like I had planned to repair my suit, but I hadn´t found the time to do it. I mainly bought them to keep my legs from freezing though.

I walked along some highways, through a small city, took a break at a busstop and was quite keen on walking through the last forest before I would enter the cities spread around and stuck onto Paris.

Just before I entered the forest a man on a bike stopped me. I had seen him before when I was taking a break on the bench at the busstop and he had asked if I needed directions. Now he told me to be very careful because part of the forest wasn´t safe, not even during daytime. "Do you see how people only drive in that direction in their cars and nobody walks there? Not even on a Sunday afternoon?" It had indeed struck me and my last host had also warned me for this forest but he had only talked about not sleeping on its edges at night. "There are junkies and prostitutes out there," the man said, "and you wouldn´t be the first one that got robbed." He told me that although he lived at the other side of the forest and there was a straight road running through it, he always took the detour around it.

There was no way I could make a detour but I didn´t feel comfortable entering the forest. There was a lot of trash and indeed a big amount of empty condom wrappers. People passed me in cars, probably to drive to a safe parking area and stroll around from there.

I had already packed my solar panel and taken off my headphones and thought about the things that would really mess up my walk if they would get stolen. I imagined somebody robing me would take my small bag with all my valuable items and possibly check my pockets.

Then I remembered my warm winter stockings, reaching up all the way to my knees. I put my small wallet with my creditcard, bankcard and the biggest part of my money in the left one, leaving some money and the bankcard for the account I never use and has little money on it in my pocket to convince a possible bad guy that there was nothing more to search for. My passport and the few jewellery items I am always wearing - a necklace with a round glass ball and two rings, a silver one that has been there for over 30 years and a golden one that has been on somebody else´s finger for more than 60 years - in the right one. I took the SD card from my camera and stuck it in one of the stockings as well.

It wasn´t too uncomfortable and even when I reached the part of the forest where happy families and single women with small dogs were comfortably wandering around, I left things the way they were.

There was no possibility to sleep outside anymore this close to Paris. I had sent out some couch surfing requests but hadn´t received any answers.

The man behind the counter in the Lemon Hotel didn´t blink his eyes when I reached under my trouser legs to find my passport and money.

Day 54. Laughing out loud.

It is the small things that make me smile. 
And I shouldn't write now, I should walk, the day is short and there are many kilometers to go but sometimes it is important to share here, to take the time, grab it. 
I am in a busstop, I always aim for a bench to take a small break, to rest my tired shoulders, to eat. Three kids ran by on the other side, talking, playing. They came back on my side of the street, they walked over to me and the smallest one, maybe 6 or 7, told me that there would be no busses today. A simple act of kindness. I smiled and told them it was ok, that I was walking anyway. They ran on, enjoying each others company and I found myself laughing out loud. It happens now and then and I should do that more, we should do that more.
Shortly after a man on a bike stopped because he thought I was lost and he wanted to help me. 
Most people on the road are kind. Not always. The man I talked to earlier - an official guard at a barred entrance - when I had to walk through a holiday park to get to the small track just outside the park, denied me access, even when I told him it would mean a big detour along the highway, because there was no other way to cross. I told him I had been walking for more than 50 days, that my bag was heavy, that I was doing it for a good cause. He didn't care so I walked the same way back I had walked yesterday in the dark when at 6 I decided it was too cold and I was too tired to enter the forest and look for a place to put up my tent. That meant a detour already but also the promiss of a shower and a soft bed.
Those highway hotels are strange places, but they are a good choice when you try to live with little money. Here, closer to Paris, it is more expensive though but I've been so careful with my money and I had so many gifts from people, that it was ok for one night. Ibis or Campanille? It was tempting to choose the Campanille hotel which was a little more expensive but offered more and had water cookers in the rooms so I could make tea and coffee and noodle soup. Normally I ask for a discount when I check into a hotel but this time I didn't. It didn't feel right and it is difficult anyway with big hotel chains.
The lady behind the counter had a smile as if she enjoyed her life. I smiled as well, being happy to sleep in a room. And when she gave me the key, when I had told her I was looking forward to be warm and clean after another tough day, she asked me if I had eaten and she brought me tea and apple juice and a sandwich. She was curious about my walk, about my cause, she asked what was the biggest environmental issue and I told her that at the COP21 they focus on global warming and CO2 emission but that the real problem lies deeper, is about people in power, people with money, but also a lot of people on the street, not caring about each other, not caring about the world.
The room was great, I tried to watch some news on tv but the commercials were everywhere and I had a lot of administration to do. It is also because of that, that I pay for accomodation now and then. In the cold dark nights outside I can do nothing but hide in my sleeping bag.
When I checked out the woman with the smile was there again. Tricia Robinson. She gave me a special discount on the room and asked the cook to make me a sandwich for the road. A big one.


Day 51. Another good day

I smoked a cigarette in the small frosty field in the middle of the forest before I left. My fingers in the fingerless gloves were too cold to tipp of the ashes. I changed to proper gloves when I finished it. My bed was packed. I took a last look at my shelter under a big pine tree that had kept me warm at night. I tried to post from there earlier when I woke up in the dark, but my internet was too weak. I'll attach it under this report.
I proceed slower than I want, Paris is calling but I also want to spend time in the world I am walking through, with the people I meet. The Fontainebleau forest was beautiful and asked for some proper attention. Old trees, massive rocks. I spend some time with a big group of hikers who shared their tea and cookies with me. Hot tea! 
Yesterday I walked around in the gardens around the enormous chateau in Fontainebleau. It took me a while to find an entrance that wasn't locked. Extra security measures, I guess because of the Paris attacks. A guard came after me to ask if he could check my bag. I smiled and said yes. It contains food, plastic garbage bags to pack my things in at night and lots of dirty paper McDonalds bags and empty cigarette packs I will use to fold into paper boats.
Today I walked through Barbizon, where many painters lived and worked, Millet among others. Apparently Robert Louis Stevenson was there as well. A fancy hotel in the entrance of the village had his name painted on its wall, saying he had stayed there to make his forest notes. Two years ago I walked in Stevenson´s footsteps on the road he walked and wrote about at the end of the 19th century in his "Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes". I walked in to ask if I could drink a coffee there and I could but the waiter, who had taken a careful look at me, warned me that it was €5,-. I laughed and told him it was a pity that somebody who travels on foot like Stevenson had couldn´t afford drinking a coffee in the place where he had stayed. I asked for traces of Stevenson or books, but they didn´t have anything, just a small photo of him on the wall. They apparently didn´t really care for Stevenson, just for his name to attract the attention of tourists.
The coffee was expensive everywhere in Barbizon so I drank a small one. To be able to sit down in a warm place and write this. Before I get back on the road on this beautiful autumn day. Cold but beautiful.
(same day, 7 a.m.)
I am writing this under the morning moon in the Fontainebleau forest. I slept under a big pine tree on a soft needle bed. It is too cold for my hands to type in the morning air so I use my sleepingbag as a cave, pulling it over my head, typing inside. Paris is getting closer, only 4 or 5 walking days left. Just in time, my body is getting tired of the walking, my back doesn't like all the paper boats and dozens of stones I added to my already heavy bagpack. My arms don't function well and my knees are protesting but I will rest them once I arrived. People write me they worry about me but they shouldn't, worrying is a waist of energy. I am safe and warm and tired and happy.
I will wait for the light to pack and thank the forest for keeping me safe. I will eat the fruits a kind host gave me yesterday after she made me lunch, a couchsurfing host who invited me the night before to sleep at her place, but since I had already found a bed - I slept well and ate a wonderful pasta and talked until late with my other host - I had to decline her offer. She was still on my route though so she invited me for lunch. She told me I could come back any time, also at night if I wouldn't find a place to sleep in Paris.
My wonderful Paris accomodation in a bookshop in the centre fell through, but I will join the activists in the tent village not too far from the centre. A straw bed in a cold tent, warm showers, a heated communal space, warm meals in the evening. That is luxury already. And there will be many people to talk with, walk with, act with, fight for awareness and change with.
But first I have to get up and walk through the forest. It looks like it is going to be another good day.


Day 49. Goosebumps. (A meeting with Albert Camus).

I bumped into Camus when I walked out of the cafe in Villeblevin. I wondered what he was doing there. It was a tiny village where nothing happened and I couldn´t image people would even read Camus there. There should be a good reason why he was there.

There wasn´t enough time to think about a translation for the sentence on the monument since I had decided to catch a train in the next village and I was late already. I wouldn´t be able to cover the more than 38 kilometers to my couchsurfing host today and my tired body needed a proper bed for the night.

I took some quick photos, rushed along the road with my heavy backpack, fast cars passing me. A man driving into the other direction stopped to ask me if he could take me somewhere. I thanked him and told him I was travelling on foot.

I was in time to buy a trainticket and catch the train but I forgot to stamp the ticket. Nobody was checking tickets in the train though and when I got out at Saint Mammès to walk along the Seine for the last stretch, the ticket was still unused in my pocket, valid for another week. I wondered if I could give it to anybody but I didn´t find anybody who wanted it.

I walked, the Seine was comforting, big boats, old houses. I crossed the bridge to Champagne-sur-Seine, walked along the water again, entered the industrial town, metal industry, old factory buildings, and sat down in the cafe where the workers were gathered. I had almost forgotten about Albert Camus already.

My couchserving host wouldn´t be home until seven so I did some writing and then Camus came back to my mind and I googled him. This is what I read:

"Camus died on January 4, 1960 at the age of 46, in a car accident near Sens, in Le Grand Fossard in the small town of Villeblevin. In his coat pocket was an unused train ticket. He had planned to travel by train with his wife and children, but at the last minute he accepted his publisher's proposal to travel with him."

The text on the monument is a quote from his hand. I read it carefully now and checked if my translation was right. It was.

"La lutte elle même vers le sommets suffit à remplir un coeur d´homme."

"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a human heart."



Day 48. Music.

.... and at the end of the day, when it had turned dark outside, when I got tired of standing on my soapbox here and watching the news, when I was inside a warm room but missed sleeping under the open sky, I opened my window. The stars were there again and I reminded myself that they are always there, even when I don´t see them and that what I see when the sky is clear, isn´t there anymore, is only a memory of how it was when it started sending out its light in my direction. I saw the Great Hunter and smiled. He is always there, keeping an eye on me, from long ago.
I listened to music, because if it isn´t people it is music giving me the power to continue walking. Music created by people. Ah, we are capable of so many things. The most terrible ones but also the most beautiful ones.
I listened to this: https://www.thisismyjam.com/song/john-taylor-piano-with-peter-erskine-palle-danielsson/esperanca. And afterwards I will listen to Nils Frahm´s Wintermusic. To hear the beauty in the cold. So I will be able to see the beauty in the cold tomorrow. Even when my favorite star, the sun, won´t be visible. But maybe it will be. 

Day 48. Dirty suits.

I watch them in their expensive suits. Lining up. Smiling. All of them arrived in expensive cars, flew in by plane, stay in hotels and eat diners that cost loads of money. They talk and talk. A lot of words. Very little action.
I am too tired to take off my muddy suit, to keen on seeing what is happening in Paris. I had planned to sleep outside again but it started to rain and was already getting dark and there was a hotel. I hardly ever ask - only when I know that if I don´t use what is being offered, it won´t be used anyway - and the manager phoned the owner and offered me a room with private bathroom for €20,-. It is more than the €15,- I have available every day but yesterday I didn´t spend anything, sleeping outside and eating what the kind baker had given me in Sens. I didn´t spend anything else today either, this morning the locals payed for my coffee and the lady running the cafe gave me food for the road. I didn´t ask, I just answered their questions about what I was doing and how I was doing it. And just now the manager knocked on my door and told me he would offer me breakfast tomorrow morning.
All those people give me hope for the world. The people I meet on the road who share with me, the people out there on the streets in Paris and in other cities, acting. Those politicians in suits on tv don´t. We have to do it ourselves. And if we wear a suit doing that, the suit will get dirty and we will wear our dirty suits with pride.

Day 48. (The) Art of/or Baking

In my no-planning planning thing always go differently than I thought. I am sitting at a windy bench under a cloudy sky - but still my fabulous solar panel powers the iPad mini I am writing this on - next to a church in a small village. I always look for the church in any village because ther will either be a small cafe or a bench to sit on. No cafe here but I don't mind, I just walked from another village after a long break in a cafe where I had some pleasant conversations with the lady running the cafe and the local men drinking their beer and liquor at the bar. They offered me coffee, snacks and when I left I got some food for the road, rice and paté and soup.
Yesterday, after having barely recovered from the tough walking and sleeping outside days last week, I left the cheap F1 truckers hotel in Sens with the idea of sleeping in some other cheap hotels on the road. It would give me the opportunity to walk more and also to give my body some proper sleeping hours but as always things changed while walking. I found a good spot to sleep outside, saving money and also enjoying being alone in the world and today, instead of walking a long stretch, meetings with people and ideas that have been floating around in my head ask for my time. And I take time. Taking time is what this journey is about.

I think and talk and sometimes (less than I would like) write about the things happening in the world. I keep an eye on the media, exchange e-mails with people, do a lot of small talk. Sometimes there is room for art, I installed my small boats on an Iranean carpet in Germany during a strange detour and the last days a project started to grow in my mind. An environmental friendly mobile art bakery, inspired by a baker I met in Sens and some music a friend posted on his Facebook from a French punkband that revived itself after the Charlie attacks and is now getting connected to the recent attacks in Paris. Inspired by another friend who turns old Citroen vehicles into electrical cars and an artist I spent time with off and on in the last years who dreams of constructing a zen-van, exchanging his energy with other peoples' energy. 

Working title: The Punk Bakery. (The) Art of/or Baking Bread. I imagine driving through Europe in an electrical van with a rocket stove wood oven, baking a rough and rustic simple bread with local flavours, adding herbs and wild flowers and other local ingredients I find on my way. There will be music and art and bread of course. I will exchange what I have to offer in return for electricity to power my vehicle and other devices. I could host artists to join me and add their flavours to the mix. I hope to have some space to grow things as well. I plan to have it ready in 2018. Long term planning, something I don't do too often.
Let's see. First get myself to Paris. And while I write these last words for today the sun comes out! I wonder where I will sleep tonight. That is the recurring question every day. And last week I even read it, in Werner Herzog's "Of walking in Ice", page 18: "And now the question, where to sleep?" I won't ask it until 16.30 though, half an hour before it gets dark.

(photos: a salad made out of weeds and flowers and a bread with local rosemary and garlic I made when I was kindly hosted by a friend in the house he shares with a small community of people, doing permaculture and naural building)


Day 46. The kindness of strangers (or: the kindness of bakers).

Saturday 28-11-2015, Sens

I walked into his small shop because the sign outside said 4 croissants or 4 pains au chocolat for €2,-. 
Sometimes I spoil myself and when I do I always wonder. Shouldn´t I be more strict about living as simple as possible? Isn´t there a better way to spend my money? But in order to be able to deal with the freezing but free nights in my sleepingbag in the woods after a full day of carrying a heavy backpack around, talking to people on the road, answering e-mails kind people send me and write about my walk, I spend my money on small but not too expensive things that make me smile from time to time. I asked him if I could have 2 croissants and 2 pains au chocolat for the €2,- and he asked me what on earth I was doing in Sens. I told him about my walk, he packed the sweet things in a bag and when I wanted to give him money he said it was a gift and asked if I had tried the local speciality, the gougère, made out of pastry dough and cheese. He warmed one up for me and asked if I already had a place to sleep for the night, otherwise I could sleep there but I already payed for my hotel and it was too late to check out. Then he asked what I would eat that night and when I said I hadn´t thought about that yet he said "Come back after 7, I will throw out the things I can´t sell tomorrow and I can give you some things."

He had said 7, dix-neuf but my memory turned it into 6, and when I came back shortly after 6 the bakery was still open but the baker was tired and thought about closing early anyway. He offered me coffee and I asked him about his work and his life. He loved baking bread but it was a tough life. He was doing it all on his own, baking everything himself, selling the bread in his shop, every single day of the week. He hadn´t planned to come to Sens, there was an opportunity to buy this bakery here and he had just done it but he was thinking about selling and maybe move somewhere else, out of France, maybe do something else. Let´s see.

It is a beautiful profession, baking bread. It is one of the two things I sometimes think about I would like to do if I wouldn´t be an artist and a writer. Be a baker or a farmer. Both underestimated professions, like being an artist is. Long days, a lot of work, little payment. But very fulfilling if you do it in the right way. I sometimes try to combine it. I was a baker in the Nomadic Village twice, baking bread for the artists every morning. I baked bread last week for the people I visited, living in a small community doing permaculture in the mountains in France. When I feel at home somewhere, I bake bread. Water, flour and salt is al you need. A little bit of yeast. It is a miracle how that works. Just as miraculous as sowing seeds or planting something and see what grows out of it. I tried that as well and I miss it when I am on the road.

The baker filled three paper bags with all sorts of delicious things and I thanked him. It is hard to express how deeply I am touched when somebody I don´t know at all, somebody I just randomly meet, is so generous and warm and open.

I often wish my French was better. There were so many other things I could have asked him if my search for words and winding sentences around the expressions I can´t find wouldn´t take up so much time. I manage quite ok though and who knows, maybe some other day, somewhere else, in the place where he will be doing something else, or maybe still will be baking bread.

I forgot to tell him the croissants were the best ones I ate in a long long time, and I love eating croissants. I have my favorite places for coffee and croissants in Amsterdam, Weimar, Barcelona, Paris. His croissants are better. It must be a combination of skillful baking and lots of love.

If you are ever in Sens and if he is still there, go to "Au bon Sens du Pain", 44 Rue de la Republique. Tell Bruno I sent you there. Buy something you like, eat it, enjoy it and send me the bill afterwards. 


Day 39. The fleet

On my way I collect discarded trash, pieces of paper and I fold them into small boats, every single one dedicated to somebody helping me on my journey in any way. My fleet accompanies me all the way to Paris and is starting to relate to more and more different subjects like ecology (how we deal with our trash), refugee situation (people trying to flee in small boats), literature (Baudelaire amongst others), absurdity (folding boats while walking on foot), childishness (and the wisdom of it), improvisation (how they come together and relate to their invironment as a full fleet), etc. I will write in more detail about that later.

I was invited to present my project in the Old School in Havelberg in a day about Gastfreundschaft, hospitality. A gutfeeling told me to put my ships on the carpet in the big social room where there was food and art on the walls and people wandered in and out. The carpet is Iranean and I am not sure about the statue but I´ll do some research into that. They made a beautiful match and formed a completely new story.

While I was photographing my fleet, Ursula Achternkamp (who had invited me) took a photo of me without me noticing it. We were both in the right place at the right moment:

Day 39. A day about Gastfreundschaft, hospitality

Today I was a 40 year old broadminded atheist Russian woman, working in shifts in a factory.


Day 38. Back in the other world.

Friday, 20 November 2015

I underestimated this. I forgot. What it does to you when you spend the whole day on the highway under a grey sky surrounded by mainly flat land, factories, electricity poles, smoking chimneys. When your neighbours play their music too loud and shout in their phones. When every three hours there is a break and you find yourself outside a gas station, a macdonalds, a giant parkinglot, human trash everywhere. Changing busses and moving through crowds of unhappy people, drunken students, concrete buildings. Getting back on another bus, moving back into a speed that isn´t your natural speed.

They say that once you get in a car, a train, an airplane, once you start to travel in a speed that isn´t your natural speed, your soul is left behind. I know an artist who made an app based on that, it shows you where your soul is and lets you know when it has caught up with you. The soul travels day and night with a speed of 5 kilometers per hour, it doesn´t need a pauze, no sleep, no diner breaks. All it does is move to be united with your body as quick as possible.

My soul is far away. I can feel the hole, the empty space. I left it in a peaceful place where for three days I worked in the garden, baked bread, collected wild greens, woke up with the sun, ate the meat of the sheep that had kept the grass short not so long ago. Where I checked out the hand built cabins, the rocket stove bathtub, the washing machine that is powered by a bike and even though it doesn´t work well is a nice experiment for a future better version. The dry toilets. the arched walls of the old house, the water cachments, the chicken coop. Where my friend showed me the big piece of land they were about to buy while planting seeds inbetween the bushes and trees. Where I jumped in big piles of leaves with a small boy after he showed me the city he had build out of sand. Where at night I looked at the stars and in the morning I woke up before the sun, the sky turning pink over the mountains. Days were short there but they seemed to last forever. I couldn´t but smile.

I left my soul and I could have known it but "could have" are words I don´t want to use anymore. You take decisions and not until you are in the middle of it, you really know what you got yourself into. And maybe it is a good thing. To feel how painful it is when you don´t fit in the world that surrounds you. When you move too fast. When you do things you don´t really want to do.

I smiled only a few times. Twice when we made a toilet stop along on a small parking space without a restaurant, a toilet building only. The womens toilets were dirty and only one of the three had a door. The women were appaled and all lined up in front of the one with a door. I walked outside and chose a nice bush to hide behind.
I wasn´t wearing a coat and when I walked back a girl asked me if I wasn´t cold. I was but it didn´t bother me. "I am used to it,¨I said and smiled again, thinking about the two weeks coming up when I will sleep outside again, when my feet will lead the way.


Day 32. Words and the world.

I hadn't planned to wake up in a shed again but I did. Happily and by choice.
The Saturday early morning plan had been to walk from the mountain valley where I had spent the night to Sigean and catch a bus to Narbonne but when I walked into Sigean in the early afternoon and checked the sign at the bus stop where I had seen a bus leaving just when I entered town, I saw it was the last bus for the weekend.

When I don't know what to do I wait. I sit on a bench or in a cafe when there is one around. And there was. An old round room in the middle of Sigean, beautifully decorated with old furniture and black and white photos of people who once visited this cafe, maybe even ran it, on the walls.
I drank coffee and watched the news, there was a big flatscreen on the wall. People covered in blood with terrified faces. It was the morning after the terrorist attacks in Paris. A friend had wrote me about it late at night and it had been on my mind all morning.

The waitress told me there was a train station in Port-la-Nouvelle, a 6 km walk and I decided to walk there and take a train to Montpellier where there was a youth hostel and also a facebook friend who's husband might possibly be able to host me. I contacted her, started walking, by then it was already after three, just in time to catch the five o clock train.

Around four I saw a vineyard in the distance with one of those small houses I often use as a shelter. I could see from the road that the door was open. Right at that moment my friend wrote me that her husband couldn't host me but she would send out a call to see if any of her friends in Montpellier had a bed for me. I decided to stay, the shed looked like a good place and I could save the money for a hostel to pay for a trainticket. I found a pan along the road that might come in handy to cook a proper meal. I tied it to my backpack.

There was no path straight to the vineyard but I found a track through the fields leading there. It was messy and dirty, like most of these places. Chicken bones on the floor, the remains of a bed with dusty underwear hanging from the leftovers of the mattress that was only a metal carcas. The door had a lock though and there was a window without shutters. In the middle of the space there was a big black hole in the floor going into a space filled with water.

I covered the hole in order not to stumble in it in the dark, locked the door, barred the window and prepared my diner. Made my bed and slept.

I woke up early, opened the door and saw the sun rise. All those people were on my mind who were killed recently, not just in the Paris terrorist attacks but in other places as well. It is crazy how the whole Western world gets shaken when it is being hit in the middle, when our precarious balance is topped over, but how we just blink an eye and continue what we are doing when it is happening somewhere else. Most of the time we don't even hear about it or we just see the headlines pass by. People who wake up in circumstances I wake up in and often far worse but not by choice and not in a warm sleepingbag with food at hand and who don't have the time to wait and watch the sun rise because they are not safe where they are.

I packed and walked and was happy I was slow and I could take the time to think about the things happening in the world outside my own small world.

In Port-la-Nouvelle I just missed the 8.40 train to Sète. Not Montpellier, plans had changed again, my Facebook friend had a friend in Sete who was happy to host me and it was in the right direction. The next train would leave at 10.40 so I walked into town. Not the touristy corner but the quiet side where there was a square with a cafe that was also the local tabac and betting shop. The locals were gathered, inside and outside. I saw Maroccans and darkly skinned people from deeper into Africa, French men and women, women wearing headscarves. A mixed group was sitting outside next to me, people went and arrived, they shook each others hands, they talked, smoked, drank coffee and wine.

Next to me three women left half of their breakfast untouched and after they left I asked the waiter if I could take it. Toasted bread and orange marmelade and butter. I explained him I tried to live with little, live simple and sustainable. It was a lovely breakfast.

It was the second time in a train on this slow journey, my eyes could hardly keep up with the speed. Narbonne, Beziers, Agde, Sète.
I sat down on a bench in the first square I found leaving the station to finish my writing. There was a big historical building dominantly placed on the side of the square. It had the three words in stone on it that are on everybody's mind these days. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. I wish they were more than only words.

I walked through Sete and sat on a terrass. The man at the table next to me wore a t-shirt with the words "young, wild, free". A fancy dressed woman walked in asking if they had crepes. A young couple with a baby, the man carrying a chocolate pie, payed their bill. A man passed yawning, carrying a mega size bottle of coca cola. People with sunglasses and big motorbikes and fashionable hats. And even though I am wearing a worn out, dirty and torn three piece suit and I am smelly and tired of walking for a month, I am drinking a beer and I am part of this.

Oh man, this world we live in .....


Day 29. The one million star hotel

I am a critical customer. I had booked the best room in the One Million Star Hotel and I had arrived in the dark, as they had advised me I should. But when I crawled in the bed that was soft and nicely scented with rosemary and earthen tone fragrances, there was some soft rain and no stars at all, so I complained. The staff acted swiftly. They took away the clouds and I got the million stars they had promised me. The Great Hunter was there and all the other constellations I don't know the names of. I searched for a list in the hotel room and found one but it only had a few names listed. Apart from Orion, The Big Bear was the only one I could read.

At night they sent some animal entertainment and to make up for their mistake the One Million Star Hotel sent me the biggest boar they had and it got so close I could see it. It was trained well. It growled a bit, enough to wake me up before it got too close, and little enough not to scare me. Upon checking in, the staff had given me all of the necessary information on how to behave during the entertainment hours, and so I turned on the small torch with the bright light that they had suggested I bring. The boar walked off.

I like a little entertainment from time to time but not too much and I had filled it out at the desk and fortunately the staff took my wishes into account. The rest of the night I slept like a baby.

I received the alarm call just before seven, in time to wake up properly to enjoy the sunrise from my bed. From my one window I could see the fog lifting over the mountains. From my other window I saw Venus, the Morning Star and a soft pink sky. When I got out of my bed and stood up I could see the sea and when I walked the few meters to the highest point of my room I had the full view, sea and mountains and sunrise and the last stars.

They didn't supply breakfast but I ate the fruits I had received as a gift from the farmer at whose farm I slept yesterday. Lemons. I sliced them open with the hunting knife I have with me to feel safe but have never used except for fruit and wild edible greens. From somebody else they might have tasted sour, but from a man with soft silent eyes and a deep love for the land they tasted fresh and healthy and nourishing.

A thought popped up in my mind. It was this: I could make a fortune if I organised small trips taking rich bored people to the one million star hotel. But I couldn't. The one million star hotel only takes reservations from people who live like me. Usually they have a room for you but it might not be the best one. You only get the best room after you got lost on a rocky mountain top in the dark and are in despair because your body hurts and it is cold and there are only big prickly bushes and boulders and no way out and you can't reach the trail and you wonder if it wouldn't be wiser to curl up next to a rock than try to climb down in the dark.

I slept in the hotel often, I am a regular customer on my walks. They know me there well enough by now to give me some extras from time to time. They threw in a small curious robin this morning to keep me company during my breakfast and the sound of bird wings to top it off, a big, big one flying over swiftly. They know I like birds.

Check out is when the sun is warm enough to make you feel comfortable to pack up your things and if you want, you can stay another half hour afterwards to sit on a rock with your eyes closed, sunbathing, opening them from time to time to take in the view.

Maybe I'll reserve another room for tonight. But first I have to walk, otherwise they won't accept me as a customer. I know the rules.


Day 28. I am only here today (the middle).

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Today I am in de middle of my walk. And a middle suggests a beginning and although there is one, it was only chosen randomly. I am still not sure if it was the day I was supposed to start walking and postponed for a day or if it should be the day when I actually closed the door behind me. Or it might in fact have been the moment when the thought of walking from Barcelona to Paris first entered my head. Or when the decision to really do it was taken. But at the same time it was the first time I mentioned my idea to somebody else, put it in words, let it go out into the world to make it more difficult to turn it around, knowing that defending not going after all would taste like defeat. Or maybe even three years ago when I decided I would only walk from that moment on, be a walking artist, a modern life nomad, living in different worlds at the same time, being at home everywhere but most of all in my own skin, on my own feet. And probably it was even further away in time, maybe it started in my childhood when I roamed the vast forest behind my grandparents´ house with my handmade survival kit, building huts, pretending I was living on my own in the middle of nature, learning about birds and trees and tasting everything I imagined might be edible.

There have been many beginnings like there have been many walks and in fact every walk is part of the same walk and every beginning is part of the same beginning. I don´t really know where the middle is since it will only become clear when there is an ending. I count on 90 years, but you never know. The walking teaches me that you should never count on anything. Save your battery, even if you can´t imagine the next day will be cloudy and the solar panels will generate very little power. Be prepared to be either hungry or carry food with you all day because you never know if the villages you will be walking through have a foodstore or a restaurant and if there will be fruit trees or vegetable fields on your path. Sleep with your clothes on because even though the old shed looks deserted and the field neglected, the owner might still wake you up in the early hours of the morning, checking on his property. Make sure you have a back-up plan when you sleep under the clear starry sky in case later on the clouds come in and rain will fall down. Be prepared to deal with people who treat you rudely, think you are a fool, don´t have a clue why somebody would want to do something like I am doing even when you believe in humankind being capable of thinking differently than what history is showing us.

Never count on anything but always trust that somehow it will work out and in the end it always does, although when you are in the middle of it, it might be hard to anticipate when the end will take place. Don´t loose your patience though. Patience is the key to it all. Be slow. Do things when the time is right. When you don´t know what your next steps should be or in what direction they should go, just wait. Wait and something will happen.

I wrote it before and I write it again here: walking makes time disappear. There isn´t really a beginning or a middle or an ending. There is only now, this day, this moment, and the beginning is in it just as much as the ending is. It doesn´t matter where I go because I am not going anywhere. I stay in this moment again and again.

Today I am not walking. I sit still. I watch the fog rise. I sit in the morning sun, the midday sun and the late afternoon sun. I listen to the dog snoring. I look at the cats moving from sunny spot to sunny spot, from window sill to woodpile to the dusty path and back again. I watch the curious chicken enter the kitchen, the wasps building their nest next to the door, the dragonfly moving through the air from room to room to find a way out. Now and then I think about the past days and the days to come but not too much. They will come anyway. I am only here today.


Day 26 - 27. A place to return to.

The fog is slowly lifting. La belle Auriole is waking up, young people arrive to help with the farmwork. An old ecological farm, all alone in the mountains, 6 kilometers from the nearest tiny town, Opoul, where the people are kind and I spent two evenings in the only bar in good company and feeling at home. A long circular walk yesterday along the massive chateau and the abandoned village of Perrillos, first time I walked without the weight on my back and accompanied by a friend. It was a beautiful day.

The cat insisted on sitting on my lap and the dog is starting to become less afraid but keeps his distance. The big brown chicken, the only one I´ve seen walking around freely, enters the kitchen, curious. The other cat, the dusty one with the scruffy ears, the fighter, sleeps in the window. There is a small hole in the terrain in front of the gite which is every animal's favorite spot, they take turns, the cat rolls down in it to get even dustier, the dog lays down in it with his head on his feet, staring into the distance, staying alert. Sometimes he digs in it to make it a bit deeper, to reach some cooler earth, at ten it is warm already.

It is a pleasant community. So different from the villages I walked through on my last two days where there were bored tourists, frustrated locals, noisy people. Where there was nothing charming about the abandoned, graffiti covered buildings, people were suspicious, where two girls were following me in the dark and where twice I almost got caught in my illegal sleeping place.

I passed through Salses on Monday, where the only attraction in town was a huge fortress that was renovated beautifully but expensive to enter and where all the locals I asked about some nice inexpensive accomodation in the area after another week of mainly sleeping under the stars, tried to hook me up with their cousins and neighbours who all rented out run down mobile homes and dodgy rooms for special prices that didn´t sound too special to me. I did some internet research and found La belle Auriole. I crossed the big highway to get away from the flat land with the bad vibes and straight away it was a different world. It was a 10 kilometer walk from Opoul and another 6,5 to the farm but a friend was coming from Barcelona, driving in 3 hours what I had walked in 26 days to take me in his car for the last stretch.

The road was long and winding, over my head a massive flock of starlings performed their flying skills for the first kilometers, spreading out from time to time and then returning, forming shapes, circles, dogfaces, ribbons, creating whirlwinds, darkening the sky when they were just above me.

I arrived in Opoul after dark, there was a bakery and a small foodshop and a bar, there is always a bar. I had walked 25 kilometers. The draft beer, a Dutch one, was the best beer I had tasted in a long time. But any beer would have been.

The locals were there and within 10 minutes one of them had joined me at my table and offered me a beer. Jean-Louis was an architect who had travelled around the world, worked for an NGO in Africa building schools, had seen kangaroos in Australia, the Himalaya, all Asian countries and now he was living here, in a cave, but a comfortable one, with a tv and a kitchen and a bathroom. He was counting bats at night and getting payed for it. He explained that the number of bats can tell you a lot about air pollution. When I told him I was walking to Paris he told me he was going there as well, for the COP21. I hadn´t mentioned it yet and the next day, when in the same bar one of the other locals told me that everything Jean-Louis tells people only happened in his imagination, I still wondered where that had come from. And if this other local, who looked like he had been in the bar the biggest part of the day, was speaking the truth.

But that was the next day, it was still Monday and Jean-Louis was just inviting me for an aperitive and diner in his cave when the door opened like I knew it would and after having slowly moved into another world in 27 days I was suddenly transported back to my old world and I got stuck in the inbetween, like in a dream but the dreams I dreamt later on that night seemed to be more real than this small moment, this opening of the door and seeing a familiar face.
I didn´t pinch my friend like I had told him I would but ordered him a beer and offered Jean-Louis a glass of red wine and he took the opportunity to tell in detail about his journey around the world again in a mixture of French and English. He said he spoke many languages and I am not sure if I believed him but that didn´t matter, as long as he believed it himself.

We left, drove up the long dark road into the middle of nowhere and made a fire in an old farmhouse, ate pasta and drank wine and talked, caught up, and by the time the fire had died he had become part of my world again, my different worlds had become one again.

We walked the biggest part of the Tuesday. It was the first time I walked without the weight on my back, it was the first time I returned to the place I had started from in the beginning of the day. One of the rare occasions where I could look at the colour of the mountains changing into a pale blue at the end of a walking day without wondering where to sleep.

The castle, the skeleton of a rusty car, the bare rocks, the ghost town where there was still so much room left on the graveyard. The site of a planecrash, the beautiful views. I realised again how being silent in company is so different from being silent on your own. It is a very enjoyable thing and we balanced our talking and our silence well. I only moved back into my solitary state one moment at the end of the afternoon when we had almost reached the castle again and my friend was out of sight and the mountain views on all sides were asking for attention and I stood still, the first houses had turned on their lights in the valley east of Opoul, the silhouettes of the mountains were dark already and everything seemed to stand still until suddenly in front of the blue mountains a lonely plane crossed the sky from left to right. And there wasn´t just the pleasure of being in that moment but also the pleasure of sharing the next moment with somebody talking about what happened just before, sitting on a rock while the sun disappeared behind the now dark blue mountains, smoking a cigarette.

We were welcomed in the bar like old friends, we met the mayor´s brother, admired the 4 wheeled monster one of the young kids was driving, people told us how nice the place we were staying was, people seemed to like each other, they liked us being there, they embraced the strangers we were to them.

And as always I decided I would return here one day but I know I would need two extra lives if I would return to all the places I embraced.


Day 25. An old story, a new story.

Saturday, 7 November 2015, Argeles-sur-mer

I woke up in a damp field, packed my things together and walked. Then I a saw the bird, a hoopoe. It flew up from the ground and landed on a branch. Another one was flying around, just like last week when I had also seen two of them, completely unexpected.

Straight away I thought about Felieke, Jan and Felix, who had given me the assignment when I was on another long walk from Amsterdam to Marseille 2 years ago, to look for the hoopoe. They had never seen it and neither did I on that walk but that specific day I thought about them and about the hoopoe and when I found myself in a small room by the end of the day with a map on the wall with all the bird species from the region listed and portrayed, the hoopoe in my imagination became real.

Today again I realise all the walks are really one and the same walk. Every time there are the same people walking with me because they got connected to things, events, landscapes. They aren´t there continuously, sometimes I am really on my own but when I see a hoopoe, suddenly my friends from Norway are there, when I watch the stars at night I am accompanied by somebody I never met but who has been sending me words and images since my first long walk and who is an amateur astrologist. The other day I ate cactus fruits and was joined by a friend from Barcelona who loves flowers and plants and from whom I adopted a cactus last year. And when I think about giving up, my father joins me and I smile and continue.
New people get added as well, when I walk difficult trails and climb over rocks, a recent friend from Girona is there to remind me of the way of the goat. Even though I usually only hear my own footsteps, I am in good company always.

Here is the hoopoe story from two years ago: http://www.asoftarmour.blogspot.fr/2013/09/day-31-walking-with-felieke-jan-and.html


Day 24. These blue days and this sunshine of my childhood ....

Friday, 6 November 2015, Collioure

A few days after Antonio Machado´s death, his brother José found a piece of paper in his old overcoat, bearing three notes jotted down with a pencil. The first consisted of the opening words of Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To be or not to be”, words that greatly obsessed the poet. The second was a line in alexandrine metre that read:
"Estos días azules, y este sol de la infancia", 
“These blue days and this sunshine of childhood ”. 
The last of the three was a variant on a stanza from his “Other songs to Guiomar”:
Y te daré mi canción:
Se canta lo que se pierde
con un papagayo verde
que la diga en tu balcón.
And I will give you my song:
what is lost is sung
with a green parrot
to sing the song on your balcony.
Thanks to this poignant document, we know that very shortly before he died, overcome with grief at the fall of the Republic, Antonio Machado’s thoughts were on the beloved woman who could not be his. And that, sensing that his life was drawing to a close, he felt transported back again to the Seville of his childhood.