I was born in a family rooted in the area where I was raised. Both my grandparents and their grandparents had come from the same village I was born in or one of the neighbouring villages. My parents counted 20 mature (not counting the ones that had died young) brothers & sisters, most of them got married, had kids. Most of them remained in a 30 km radious of where they were born, where I was born. Most of them had no idea what the world was about.
I am still trying to figure it out myself but at least I feel home wherever I land. I count the friends I made throughout the years and their friends as my family. I don’t always keep track of them but when I land somewhere I am astonished and touched to find them there.
I have been in Barcelona 10 days now. Every day again there is somebody to drink coffee with, invite over for a glass of wine or share a meal with. I feel embedded in something I guess I am responsible for myself. The nomadic family. The arms of a community I actively chose to be part of. It is comforting. It is what makes me feel at home. That and what strangers offer me.
I went for a drink with a friend. A Monday evening, it had been raining all day. My favorite cafes where closed. We ended up at a nice but somewhat chique place called “Bilbao”. I ordered two glasses of red wine. The glasses were classy and filled almost to the top. The wine was good. When we had almost finished them a plate arrived with cheese and slices of dried sausage. Our glasses were refilled without asking. We talked. We laughed. We enjoyed our wine. And before we could say no they were filled again and a big plate with juicy olives was put on the table. We hesitated, we wondered about the bill, but the olives looked like they wanted to be eaten and we didn’t feel like worrying so we drank the wine and ate the olives. We asked for the bill. It was €6,-.
The kindness of strangers. Hospitality. Home.
The day started with my neighbours having a fight, shouting. She was crying like a wounded animal. It was 5.30, I had been sound asleep. I live just under their floorboards.
I live in the gallery, in the back of the gallery space there is a spiral staircase. It leads to what I call the cave. An almost 7 square meter space in which I can just stand. There is a bed and a desk. There are no windows. The second morning I woke up and I stared in the dark, not knowing what time it was and I suddenly thought about my father, lying in his coffin in the dark, in his small room. We buried him shortly before the old year ended.
A girl was screaming “madre, madre”. The mother said some things I didn’t understand. They moved their fight to another room. After a while the silence returned. It took me some time to fall asleep again.
Saturday. A sunny day. I went out for a walk, hesitant to wear my suit. I wrote down the quote on this blog from Thoreau, the one I like so much, the one about wearing an old suit because there is no use to buy yourself a new suit until you feel like a new man in the old. When I found that quote, three years ago, I had been wearing the same suit for more than two months, wondering what would be the right moment to take it of. Thoreau handed me a guideline. It had worked then.
But the suit I am wearing now is new. And I am not sure if I have become a new person recently. In fact I came to Barcelona to search for the new. And walking the streets in my suit, on the look-out, I feel like a tourist, sometimes even a business woman. It makes me feel awkward.
I need my suit to be my soft armour, I need it to shield me from the outside world but also to make me feel part of it. I hesitated. Could I call it a day off from work and wear something else? Or would considering my walking, my being here partly work and partly life undermine my project?
Questions. The answers could wait. I put on my suit. I walked.
I saw a mother undressing her young son so he could pee inbetween the carbage containers. I saw a silver living statue in an alley talking frantically in his phone. I saw leaves in the reddest red on the pavement. I saw people laughing their guts out.
I saw the sea.
When the sun had gone down I checked in with a friend. I adopted a cactus. We walked through Barcelona with two cactuses in our arms. We went in different directions. When I came home and looked at my cactus more carefully I saw how sad it looked. I had adopted the right one.
Eating, writing, thinking. Sleeping. Bouncing against the ceiling at 2.30 when my neighbour decided to raise his voice even more to sing “I did it my way”.
Tomorrow I will try again. The Spanish for trying is “pretender”.
I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles. (p. 23-24)
Kings and queens who wear a suit but once, though made by some tailor or dress-maker to their majesties, cannot know the comfort of wearing a suit that fits. They are no better than wooden horses to hang the clean clothes on. Every day our garments become more assimilated to ourselves, receiving the impress of the wearer's character, until we hesitate to lay them aside, without such delay and medical appliances and some such solemnity even as our bodies. No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience. (p. 21-22)
From Henry David Thoreau's Walden
I walked passed the outer wall of Park Güell, high up on the other side two young boys leaned over the stone fence. They shouted something at me in Spanish. I saw what they were meaning. On the sidewalk a few meters in front of my feet the red lid of a sandwich box was lying. Next to it a blue paper airplane.
I picked up the lid and tried to throw it up like a frisbee. The second try was succesful. The boys cheered and pointed down once more.
I picked up the airplane, gave it a try but this was much harder. Every time I tried and failed the boys shouted “uno mas!”, one more time! I sharpened the airplane’s nose, tried from far away, from close by, almost flew it into their hands one time, but it was too difficult and I told them “uno mas!” meaning “the last time!”. I failed, gave it one final final last try and flew it over the wall. The boys thanked me in English. I walked away but when I turned around I saw the boy with the airplane in a launching position, about to throw it down again. His mother showed up and shouted something at them. They all walked away.
A few minutes later I suddenly heard them behind me. The two boys were too busy playing and fighting to recognise me. They jumped passed me, the red lid and the blue airplane in their hands, doing some sort of karate exercise. I looked at them, they ran off and I caught the airplane boy in the act of flying himself, both feet lifted from the ground, floating in the air.
a map of the universe
a map of a microbe
for the universe
a Grand Master of chess
made of electronic circuits.
But above all
to sort peas,
to cup water in our hands,
the right screw
under the sofa
- Miroslav Holub
One of the first things I did after arriving here was finding out where they sell English books. Today I went to the Hibernian. I fell in love with the poems of an internationally distinguished scientist (imunologist) who was also Czechoslovakia’s most lively and experimental poet. On my way home, reading, I bumped into this lady.