The first day.

The last night of the Contexts ephemeral arts festival we danced into the hour of the woolf in the park next to the old Sanatorium building and before traces of the sun became visible we went on a walk through the woods and the fields. It slowly got light, somebody gave me flowers, we walked in a circle and went back to the village. At five in the morning I had breakfast with two brothers, twins, in one of the beautiful old houses scattered around this sleepy town center. I had the feeling time had slowed down here, in this place where Kieslowski and Thomas Mann had left their traces, where abandoned villa’s and the ruin of the 150 year old sanatorium dominated the atmosphere. Everywhere around the world was speeding, but here in Sokolowsko time worked differently. When I left at six in order to get on my bike and cross the border to my house in Libna, I didn’t manage to get out of Sokolowsko. I left the bike where it was, in front of the hostel where my students were sleeping. I walked through the village, sat on a bench, returned to the park next to the sanatorium and stared at the building, the left part -normally housing the Kieslowski archive- already renovated, the right part still waiting to be put back in its old glory.

It took me 7 hours to leave. I sat on all the benches in town, said goodbye to people, waved out my students. And when I got back in the world it didn’t seem like I got lost in time like Rip van Winkle did, it was still the 23d of July, a Thursday. Sitting in my garden I wondered if I would be back in Sokolowsko.

When three days later I unexpectedly left the residency where I was supposed to teach for another two weeks, my feet led the way, I didn’t think. July 26, my wedding day. A beautiful day. Then and now. I walked carrying my most important things on my back. I was slow, I ate raspberries and cherries, and in the afternoon I found myself sitting on the terrace of the only cafe in Sokolowsko, drinking coffee, waiting for something to happen. I wandered around town, sat on the same benches again, didn’t see any familiar faces.

In the sanatorium park I found a good spot under a tree, I collected dried grass to form a bed, the moonlight was bright and when it started to rain in the early hours of the morning the tree protected me. Sometimes an animal moving through the bushes woke me up but I slept well. Nothing beats sleeping under the stars.

Still it is hard to live outside, especially when the weather is tricky. So I found myself a room. A safe place. And I offered my services to the Contexts festival organisers so in exchange for some hours of watching after the exhibition space in the Sanatorium, I had a desk and a chair and good internet to do some writing and research. So four days after I sat outside of the sanatorium looking at the door while my students were asleep in their hostel beds, I had turned my world inside out and was working inside the sanatorium, looking out into the park and at night I slept in the room adjoining the cozy hostel room where my students had cooked their communal meals. Somehow it brought the Kieslowski book I once bought back in my mind, Double Life, Second Chances.

A home, a job, wild food in abundance. What more do you need?
There’s one thing. Human company.
The Nomadic Life can be a lonely life at times, but it also gives you the opportunity to make friends easily. Suddenly there were four people sitting on the bench and the chairs outside my room, some familiar faces, some new ones. I shared the only beer I had around, they went for a bikeride and afterwards I joined them in Koala house where I had had my breakfast when time stood still. We drank wine and listened to the story of a walker who had just showed up, passing through the village on a week long walk. We talked about art and life and the magic of this place.

And afterwards I fell asleep with the scent of freshly laundered sheets, my head on a soft pillow. I slept long. I felt safe. And when I woke up I kept my eyes closed and thought of Christian Bobin again: “Great things always begin with sleep. Great things always begin by the thinnest edge.”

Today is another day. The first day. Again.


empty handed

On the road again. Unexpectedly. A backpack, a sleeping bag, a suit. Nothing more. Nothing less. There is food everywhere, berries and weeds and seeds. There are sheds to sleep in and hopefully some friendly people on the road. There is little room for books in my bag but I took Christian Bobin's "The very Lowly" with me. He writes about the life of Francis of Assisi. "Leaving. Leaving once more. Incessantly, endlessly leaving." And this: "The difference between men and women is not a difference of sex but of place. The man stays in his man's place, cleaves to it ponderously, with seriousness, remains safely within his fear. The woman does not remain in any place, not even her own, but constantly disappears into the love that she calls, calls, calls. This difference would be a desperate one if it were not for the fact that it can be overcome at any moment ..... A movement is all it takes, a single movement of the sort that children make when they throw themselves forward with all their might and without any fear of falling or dying, forgetting the weight of the world." And a last one: "I will be enriched by everything that I loose."

I am empty handed again. So I can fill my hands with raspberries, malva seeds, cherries, wild spinage. So I can take other peoples' hands. So I can hold my walking stick in one and hold to other one over my eyes to protect them from the sun while staring into the distance.


Sometimes the walking isn't in your feet

My students left at 8 in the morning for an epic walk across the Czech-Polish border, connecting three places where art is at the heart of things: the artist residency where we are all staying in Zdonov and research borders in art and life, a small church on the border where a group of Czech artists have been working for a week on the theme of Borderland and the epemeral art festival Context in Sokolovsko. They were supposed to be there at 16.00, to receive their applause at the opening ceremony.

The evening before they had prepared food for the road and in the morning there was a big breakfast. I had planned to walk with them but other things needed my attention more and sometimes it is also good to let go. Janine, who had decided to only eat what she would find and get offered for the whole duration of the festival (5 days) asked me for some last minute input about edible wild plants and we did a short walk outside together, looking at malva, wild spinache, dandelion, plantain. Guida gave me an envelope with the first page of “Waiting for Godot” inside. I had asked them all to leave something behind, a gift for an unknown person. We had been talking about having a group of people walking the same route next year but in reverse, from Sokolovsko to Zdonov, where they would find what we had left behind for them now.

Joanna had decided not to walk blindfolded. I loved the idea of her walking without seeing anything, being dependant on the group, especiall since it had been Joanna’s walk in the beginning. She had come up with the idea of an artwalk and she had been going on walks in the last two weeks as an explorer, finding trails, making connections between paths, creating a route, a map, a way to make a connection between two countries with her feet. Still she was keen on doing it somewhere in the next weeks but today she wanted to see, to see the people in the group walking her walk.

 In the festival program it was announced as an art pilgrimage walk and yesterday we had talked about the subject, watching video’s from different artists dealing with these themes, talking about the meaning of pilgrimage, looking at Francis Alys pacing in his studio walking a 108 km. pilgrimage trail in the confinement of his own workspace, inside his own head, seeing him pushing a block of ice through the streets of Mexico city. We watched Guido van der Werve walking in front of an icebreaker at the North Pole, doing a triatlon from Warsaw to Paris to connect Chopin’s heart with his body and running a marathon around his house. We looked at the PlanB website showing a map of the movements of Daniel and Sophia who have been wearing a gps on their bodies for the last 12 (Daniel) and 8 (Sophia) years so all their movements have been mapped, turn into maps themselves. We talked about Dan’s “Soul Walker”, an app that takes the idea of a ‘soul’ or avatar that can only travel at walking pace and, using the technology that many of us carry around (a smartphone), gives the user the ability to track the location and eventual arrival of their ‘soul’. And we talked about Anthony Schrag, who is on his way from Scotland to the Venice Biennale on foot, to this 'sacred site', revered by artists across the globe. “Anthony is questioning how alternative artistic practices are valued within and outwith the institutions of art, and through this asks wider questions of personal belonging, journeying and the right of free movement. He is asking what it means to want to go to a place, this place, with the desire to be included, with his participatory, often politically scented ideas. St Anthony, the patron saint of the Lost, acts as a metaphorical guide for the artist's journey and through this pilgrimage, there is an inquiry into why we are always looking to reach another destination; something new, something more, something bigger and better, both materially and spiritually.” (from the Deveron Arts website)

They were all eager to leave, it was a beautiful day, I waved them out and the rest of the day, while doing other things, I thought of them.

I was planning to join them at the opening ceremony but throughout the day I was starting to feel the urge to walk in their footsteps and at 16.00, when they were being called on the stage, tired and dusty, I started walking, wondering if I would sense their energy on the road, see their traces, hear the echo of their laughter.
I took the small detour my group had also taken and reached the church where they had paused in the morning and sung with the other artist just when the thunder that I had heard during the last hour turned into lightning. Inside there were happy people, in the middle of their symposium about Borders, hosting guests, serving beer and food. I listened to some of the speakers, speaking softly in Czech and Polish. I embroidered a small drawing on the inside of my coat. When the rain started pouring down, they offered me the possibility to spend the night in the church and it was tempting to stay there but they were very much into their world, their borderland and I was in mine and I left when it was dry again and starting to get dark. I was already too late for the 8 ‘o clock reception in Sokolovsko, I had at least another 2,5 walking hours in front of me, through dark woods but that didn’t bother me. But when I reached the crossroad where the left path lead to Sokolovsko and the right path back to Zdonov I decided to retrace my own steps.

In the dusk I saw toads crossing the path, big deer and a grumpy wild boar. And when I reached the residency, the big old beautiful farmhouse I was surprised to find Joanna sitting outside smoking.

She told me that the walk had been wonderful, they had all arrived very tired but happy. They sat on the front row inside the building where the festival opening took place but the organisers had completely forgotten about them. Afterwards they promised they would honour them at the opening reception at 8 but again they forgot to mention them.

I told her that if I would have been there I would have made sure they would have had their moment in the spotlights but then I realised it was good I hadn’t been there and they had felt the disappointment of doing this beautiful thing and it not having been acknowledged by the people to whom they had offered their walk, their pilgrimage. I hope that they realised the walk itself, having done it, having made things on the road, having enjoyed it, having reached their goal, was all they needed. 

And I thought of Anthony Schrag who is still on the road, meeting people, walking, while other artists are presenting their art works and themselves in the middle of the art crowd in Venice.

And to quote some words about pilgrimage by one of my favorite writers and walkers: 

"Es geht also nicht darum, an ein christliches oder in irgendwiner Weise spirituelles Ziel zu gelangen - sondern darum, auf eine bestimmte Weise zu gehen und zu sehen"

"It isn't about reaching a religious or somehow spiritual goal - but about walking and seeing things in a specific way"

(The rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald) 

Rests me to say  that I feel so priviliged to have this opportunity to share my own thoughts and experience with this group of beautiful young people, learning so much through them as well. I’ll join them today. I won’t walk, it will take up too much time. But I will wear my walking suit and carry all the steps I took in it since January with me. Sometimes the walking isn’t in your feet.


Why grow up?

The suit brings me everywhere. On the Czech-Polish border these days to teach and learn from a group of young artists. Today I walked into the projectroom in my suit, nobody was there since we all had a day off but on the table I found a book that made me smile.