FRANCE, SHAME ON YOU!

France often tries to escape its less glorious history, yet even during the debate this spring, between the future President Macron and the contender for his throne to be, Marine Le Pen, the issue of the Vichy regime was tabled for a minute or two. Tricky business, as Marine’s father, Bastard Le Pen, has always defended that zone of ‘Free France’ which existed during the Second World War.

There was a so-called ‘demarcation line’:

 

 

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Curiously enough the position of the towns indicated on this little map, supposedly helping you to understand the little memorial which is the subject of this Sequence, is rather flawed. No idea why, but this sloppiness may help to clear up the monument’s quality.

Between 1940 and March the First 1943, on the spot to be shown a little further on, there was a sentry post on that borderline separating ‘the free French’ of the Vichy regime and the German-occupied part of France. This memorial was invented and then blessed on the 25th of December 1945 by the priest l’Abbé Jean Toulat of nearby Jardres.

Before showing you the commemorative site, however, observe a larger frame of the situation:

 

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Note the large strip along the Atlantic coastline, reaching all the way down towards the Pyrenees. The Germans obviously did not trust the Great Maréchal Pétain to defend his ‘Free France’ against an allied invasion… That was left for German guns and tanks.

It is here that the line was drawn:

 

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The road still stretches out into nowhere land. This way:

 

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And that way:

 

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The little monument is of a sickening quality. Not only was it not the French state that erected it, but a private person; however, this priest also confiscated history for his own faith, for the cherished Church of Rome, which did not do anything at all to prevent the Holocaust.

 

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Up there, on his concrete pedestal, is hanging Our Lord So-Called, always in that sickening pose of a dolce far niente, caring perhaps for ‘mankind’, most certainly not for the tens of thousands of Jews and Gypsies that, not so far away, were ‘concentrated’ in a vast camp near the village of Douadic, almost next to my French home-hameau. From there they were transported Eastward, to the death camps in Poland. Like nothing is left of them, nothing is left of this site, only a minor plaque out there tells you its story, thus blotting out history.

Here, on the former ‘demarcation line’, things are undertaken in a manner more grand:

 

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According to the inscription it was the Swastika that separated France, not the vicious anti-Semitism of so many of its citoyens, and the fascist leanings of its former Marshalls and state bureaucrats… So, the Cross of the Roman Church must heal the wounds and make the French ‘unite again’… History reduced to mere symbols and signs performing their illusionary tricks, quite independently of men’s doings, undoings and non-doings.

Shame on you, France!

Sierksma, Autumn 2017

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SKIRTING

 

 

PADDESTOEL

 

Hiding under Time’s outskirts,
a lady endlessly undressing.
Biding time to count her blessings,
– it seemed so well, at first.

Until that swift, lush little instant,
flaws in her crystal, covers shed,
abrupt exposure to the gale,
a fierce and icy universe.
What was so near – so dead.

Sierksma 26.9/2017

ART WAS

 

Good art is the sensual appearance of ideas that are the most important for the functioning of our soul.

Translated from the German edition of De Botton’s Religion für Atheisten

________________

How well I remember the feeling of a high, of an immense surprise, the moment I read Nelson Goodman on the issue of art history. All those years, teaching aesthetics to architecture students, they always asked this question, one that had been bothering me since I had been a student: What is art?

There never seemed to be a final answer, one that is well argued. Whereas I had solved the infamous problem caught up in the phrase: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – an argument I shall not get involved in here and now – the question as to what is art hovered in a fog that never really lifted.

Then, of a sudden, there he was: Goodman. The question, so he argues, should not be: What is art? You will never solve it, which as far as I was concerned is a very true statement. Then his solution: The pertinent question is: When is art?

In each historical period different things may count as art, human artifacts called ‘ art’ which in another period were not so considered. Goodman is using the perspective of historical anachronism. Just as it is highly dangerous for a historian to consider certain concepts to have the same meaning as they have today, simply because in both situations the same word is used, so for an art historian it would be a mistake to think that from Genesis on God has made it clear what art is and what it is not.

In the end Goodman’s solution of the puzzle is both philosophical as well as sociological. Whatever we do can only be understood inside its institutional context, something Arnold Gehlen argued succinctly in Urmensch und Spätkultur. That is: Not only understood by those ‘living’ these social institutions, but also by an outside observer, someone studying their behavior – posthumously so to say.

Now for something to be considered art a set of institutional arrangements is needed: special places to exhibit; journals and papers in which criticism finds its expression; a public of those ‘in the know’, people that follow ‘developments’ etcetera.

 

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When, for instance, macramé was a female pleasure to while away superfluous time, it was not considered art. Then, historically speaking quite suddenly, it was; it had become art. What before was used to decorate tables, couches and what not, suddenly hang on walls of special galleries and was critically evaluated by specialists in the papers. Whether this was related to feminism surging at the time or to anti-feminism, I dare not speculate upon.

Certainly, Goodman’s solution not only involves an acute perception of the problem of historical anachronism, it also fits in nicely into postmodern cultural relativism. And with this kind of relativism I do have a little problem.

 

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To put it bluntly: I cannot accept Somali immigrants in my country to practice clitoridectomy: the surgical removal of a woman’s clitoris. This, however, is defended by relativists as something ‘these people were accustomed to do in their homeland, so why not’. I strongly beg to disagree.

Back to art, where else to go!

Discussing the Goodman issue with my friend Ton Korver, we came to deplore a lot of what nowadays is considered art, thus art in the Goodmanian sense of the word. Mentioned was amongst others J. Koons:

 

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Master Koones and his Art

The art works of people like J. Koons and D. Hirst are extravagant versions of all postmodern art, which more generally keeps me from going to the galleries, or for that matter from visiting many a museum reorganized to become a temple for the postmodern empty Ego, bolstering it, filling it while celebrating Holy Art – whatever it may be.

I consider such visits a waste of time and rather commune with my favorite Rembrandts in the Amsterdam Rijks Museum or with Rubens in Antwerp, even though even there their manner of exposition has become a pain in the ass: too many people at the same time, often blocking one’s view.

To be quite honest, and perhaps again blunt: I simply cannot consider such nonsense as Hirst’s diamond skull as … art.

 

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A little funny caption, For the Love of God, a so-called ‘concept’ – and it’s done. Bullshit!

The worst kind of postmodern conceptual art is ruining beautiful places, if not simply killing their genius loci. Often an instructive text is added, telling you that this object is good art, that is the best art for this place.

As an example this little monstrum. A fucking shame!

 

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It is placed immediately opposite to this gorgeous house, the style of which is exemplary of the little river town Limeuil, built against a hill overseeing the confluence of the Dordogne and the Vesère.

 

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A plaque, in itself already disfiguring both cube and locus, tries to cheat you in believing it to be a masterpiece:

“As a result of its size, all this is so well adapted to its site of placement – this mass of eight cubic meters, rigorously constructed, thus contrasting with the irregular charm of the structure of the village. The cube ‘Han’ poses itself, as well as imposes itself as a new architectural element, at the same time ethereal and closed in.”

What cheek! I did not make this up, Reader Mine – neither the blah-blah, nor the thick words used to say nothing.

Consciously sinning I am against what Goodman has argued so well, an argument against which I did not find a good counter-argument, an argument which I taught my students.

In the middle of one of our chess games, during a pause in which we release our mind’s tension, my friend Ton solved the aesthetical and moral predicament. He said: Perhaps the good question would be: When wás art?

And so right he is. It is a good old folks’ conservative question, pointing to what we are very sure about: Art was then, is not now anymore.

Sorry Goodman…

Sierksma, La Roche, 9.10/2017

TIME ECLIPSE

A summer comes apart,

its all too speedy tempo, yet so slow.

Cranes flying over, winging south,

first leaves in red, a yellow glow,

then falling,

giving in to breeze’s gentle sway,

time’s threads, all interwoven.

 

Even the longevity of  rock

– that famous Peter, built upon:

it is but make-belief, as all belief short-lived,

another version of decay,

time’s shreds outlined in marble’s rot.

 

This almost corpse, my body cumbersome,

shot through with defects and diseases,

dragging its weight over a rural path,

more constitutional than pleasing.

Then, of a sudden:

deer in swift flight,

not to forget, ‘t was only yesterday,

two hares zigzagging,

faster than the eye could sight.

 

All times are in consoling constellation,

some speeding slow and others slowing fast,

together on their way to some uncanny, final blast,

or merely fading into peaceful consummation.

Sierksma 28.9/2017, La Roche

 

THE EMPEROR’S FOOTPRINT

Some five years ago, I banged the right foot onto the leg of my bed, the middle toe that is, which in its turn banged into the tissue of the little foot bones, this in a manner both seriously painful and devastatingly crippling. The result: post-traumatic dystrophy. Years later, walking and navigating that foot is still demanding full attention of its user.

 

That first year, though, I was walking with a stick, if walking is what it could be called – a golden one, bought in a hysterical fit of anger and defiance, to replace an old one which I inherited from an epileptic friend for yet another walking affliction.

 

 

 

Now and then, this Golden One is still a needful help, I’ve got it with me in the car boot all the time. Of great assistance, as far as wider movement is concerned, was the fact that, at the time, my car was equipped with automatic gears; the foot would not have stood the repetitive pedaling.

 

After being home-struck I finally went to La Roche again. Then I took a full six days of complete rest to prepare myself for a little trip. On my wife’s telephonic and epistolary advice I had decided to break through my solitary lethargy out there in la France profonde and make a trip to the town of La Rochelle, the one time citadel of the Calvinists in the fierce fight against their catholic King Louis XIII.

 

In religious wars I never take sides, though in general I prefer the more libertarian Roman faith over Calvin’s diabolical and theological terrorism. Of course, La Rochelle’s Huguenots supported William of Orange in The Netherlands. After a siege, La Rochelle gave up; in 1661 the Protestants were expelled from France.

 

As my own kingdom was but the moving cocoon of my car, I parked it right on the edge of the old harbour, on a site with a sign explicitly forbidding this. Thus, what I saw of the town that year where the impressive and massive harbour towers and the city’s front. I never entered La Rochelle.

 

 

 

From there, I drove back some fifty yards, parked the car in front of a restaurant, again right under a No Parking sign, and had lunch. The town, though had seemed attractive, yet it remained a forbidden Paradise.

 

 

 

Thus, one’s world becomes a small place, now reduced to the micro cosmos of a car, the roads travelled in it and of course that circle of some hundred yards in which to be a cripple in. In mind I still was a globetrotter, however now traveling an orb suddenly become full of infinite terrae incognitae.

 

In search for a smaller town with an even smaller hotel, I left my restaurant table. The idea was to return to La Roche the next morning. It took me quite awhile, driving away from the ocean, into the countryside again, happy go lucky, most of all unlucky as far as rooms were concerned. It was autumn and off-season; the hotels I tried that were still open were all filled to their brim with wrinkelies on pensionado tours.

 

While it was already getting dark, I entered a little town which – to my surprise – once again lay at the sea side. There was a small hotel called Le Galet Bleu with inside it one last room for me. I had just been driving on and on, not the slightest idea of where I was. After eating a sandwich on my bed I fell asleep.

 

The next morning I went down for breakfast. An elderly couple was still at their table, the other guests had already left, rather early. The wife was sitting with her back to me, so I was facing her husband who, from time to time, looked at me intently as if to make sure that I was, indeed, a foreigner.

 

Quite suddenly, he stood up, greeted me formally, perhaps even in a military manner as if I were an equal in his army. He then asked me: “Do you know where you are, Monsieur?” Vaguely remembering the card on my hotel table, I answered: ‘‘In Fougas, perhaps?” “But no, Monsieur. No! Not Fougas. You are in Fouras! And do you know, Monsieur, what it means to be in Fouras?” “Obviously, Monsieur, to be in Fouras!” An exchange that could have been prolonged indefinitely.

 

However, he was ready for his plot. I noticed his wife turning her neck into a whiplash in order to see the effect of his words on the face of this stranger. “Monsieur, you are in Fouras. Here, on its beach, for the very last time, Napoleon put his feet on French soil, that is before he was shipped to St. Helena!”

 

On my roadmap, brought with me to my breakfast table, I checked the lay of land and sea. There it was, Fouras: situated on a little peninsula dipping into the French Atlantic. On a clear day, from its beach you can see three islands, somewhat farther away the larger Île de Ré and the Île d’Oléron, up close the Île d’Aix. The small fishing village of Fouras grew somewhat larger thanks to it’s a railway connection, which turned it into a rather chique little summer resort.

 

Then, on the morning of the 12th of July A.D. 1815, the already dethroned and by then exiled former Emperor Napoleon was driven by coach to this beach. He stepped out of the vehicle and a few sturdy sailormen took the beaten Proletarian Prince on their shoulders, bearing the man over the waters towards the small barque awaiting him – a profane Christ carried by his sailor Christophers. No wet feet for this little man, to remind him of that sorry day.

 

Could it be that a little band, by way of a last farewell, was playing the mighty sounds of Mozart’s slow-moving Rex tremendae majestatis…?

 

How different was this raising of Napoleon from the way in which, all these years, he had been elevated and worshipped by his people. For the last time now, on the beach of Fouras, he felt France’s terra firma under his feet. From the beach those sailors paddled the sloop towards the Île d’Aix.

 

After the military man had told me the story, I decided not to leave Fouras immediately, but risk it. My golden stick in one hand, the Michelin hardcover guide under my other arm, I limped from the hotel onto the promenade, an abject word ever since that dystrophy had struck me.

 

It is still early, I am all alone. Leaning on the boulevard’s railing I peruse once more my atlas, and look out over the waters in the direction of the Île d’Aix, where – I know now – his ship had to wait for quite a while, because of lack of winds to sail upon.

 

Napoleon must have seen exactly what I am now observing and admiring. On the left, a crescent-shaped little beach, at the end of which a mighty fort is towering over the sea.

 

 

 

On my right, a steep rock formation rising into sky, sprinkled with nice looking houses. Both heights have an overpowering grandeur, yet one feels embraced by these two arms – and safe and pleasant.

 

Then, of a sudden, I am quite sure that one cannot leave Fouras without first having descended onto its beach. In slow motion I manage to tumble down the stairs and plow myself through the sand towards the sea’s edge.

 

By now, I have put in my earphones and am listening to that lofty Adagio from Mozart’s Gran Partita, a majestic accompaniment to both my own and the emperor’s come-down. This music also befits the salty sea smells and the cool morning’s sun, which is giving the yellowish sand a rosy glow.

 

I cannot find Napoleon’s footprint. Instead, while listening to that sad and sublime music, my silly stick-supported gait having led me towards the water, has left its three-partite trace in the sand, as if some strange bird strayed from its habitat and has been following me.

 

Is it then given only to emperors to have their bearers? What this invalid would not have given for a few strong men to carry him, if not into the sea, then simply just towards it! Now I decide to take of the shoe from the injured foot and dip it into the cool ocean. Could it be that one of these billion HO2 molecules, now touching my toe, once stroked His feet?

 

I should have changed the music on my sound machine. What was needed here was the Marche Funèbre of Beethoven’s Third Symphony. The composer dedicated his composition to the Revolutionary General Napoleon, however later to scratch out his name, angry as he was because he had heard that Napoleon had crowned himself an Emperor.

 

Out there, in the sea breeze, once more I was well aware of being a Dutchman: O, Thalatta! I couldn’t do without it. Back in The Netherlands, I walk the beach once weekly. The contrast between La Roche in France’s interior and this Fouras on the sea that very moment was enormous. Out there that year, after a tropical summer it had become a dust bowl; here, however, were the vast waters of the ocean. Living out there, for some six months, is a solitary pleasure, I am always feeling that intense longing for a sea manqué.

 

*

 

By the way, the reason for this rather hysterical extravagance in Fouras was not some megalomaniac identification with the Great Man. On the contrary, my nature is more one of the anarchist.

 

However, one who has read his Hegel will never forget that great passage – methinks in the Phenomenology of Mind – where the philosopher describes himself as sitting at his desk in Jena, looking up from his writing and down into the street, then suddenly observing Napoleon who was riding by under his window:

 

I saw History on horseback…

 

These words I had been thinking of on that day.

 

Now – five years since this first visit to Fouras – with a foot that is more or less functioning, no stick needed any longer, I decided to revisit the little town. The evening of my arrival, a storm was blowing in from the Atlantic. Again autumn, the tourist season ended, there was not all that much light left on the boulevard.

 

 

 

Having succeeded in taking this night picture to document my gale, I now decided to also try and make a picture of the lighthouse on the Île d’Aix, seen out there at sea. I must have made at least a dozen failed shots. Finally: Got you!

 

Right in the middle of this bluish darkness you can see it, perhaps the beam of a lighthouse already functioning during the days Napoleon had been waiting to sail for St. Helena.

 

The next morning, once again after breakfast, I went down to the beach and walked towards the seaside. Lo and behold! There, rather deep inside the sand, was still His footprint. His last footprint, left there just before the sailors carried him to his sloop.

 

 

 

And surprise again: My size! The shoe fits as if the print was made by it.

 

 

 

Never despair of miracles. You only have to be patient and just wait for five years…

 

Sierksma Fouras/La Roche, Autumn 2017

A MIRACLE

Now, I’ve always found proofs of the existence of God a bit overrated. Philosophical history abounds with these. Perhaps real philosophy exists only when people do not feel the need for such proof, like in Antique Times – or do not feel need any longer, like today.

 

Ever since Nietzsche scourged the face of the earth with his fiery aphorisms, trying to prove His existence has become a chutzpah as it is called in Yiddish: Being over-confident in the face of the Lord himself, as if one knew better!

 

If today we could still intuit such existence of a higher entity, even if only sporadically, it cannot be but in the form of stumbling upon a true miracle.

 

Sometimes a miracle arises out of tripping over the beauty of death. Death should not be allowed to be beautiful.

 

 

 

A little butterfly, smashed by an early autumn storm against the marble of the round topped little table on my side terrace, accompanied by what seems to be one of those nasty little tick, also finished.

 

Then again, miracles may appear in the form of welcome disaster. As happens in that masterpiece of a movie Amadeus, where Salieri is grudging the father the light in his eyes, because that man is refusing him a musical career. Suddenly he sees him having a heart attack, finally choking in his porridge. ‘A miracle’ he cries out silently, ‘a miracle!’ He vows never to touch a woman if only his Lord will allow him to compose glorious music.

 

True miracles, though, involve the epiphany of what be called utter chance, outrageous accident, incredible coincidence. Or whatever.

 

 

 

Before I fetch my best friend Ton from the very speedy train in the station of Poitiers, I await its arrival, then to observe him descending from the coach, with a travel bag in one hand and under his other arm a fat book – as always.

 

That friend is a voracious reader; his library is all over the house, on endless shelves with double rows of volumes, the first row hiding the other. When in need of one of the invisible copies – in that rare case when he is not completely sure of a quote which he has already fully memorized – he walks towards one the shelves, takes out a book, and there it is, the one he is looking for, right behind the one he took out…

 

While walking towards my car – parked a little higher up the hill, the two of us panting, as both of us have an affliction which causes oxygen to be always in short supply – I ask him what he is reading: The Bandini Quartet by John Fante.

 

 

 

I almost faint, not from lack of precious O2, but from hearing the title. This can’t be true. Out there in La Roche, in the little farm house we’re heading for lies on my reading table the little novel Ask the Dust – by John Fante…

 

 

 

The Fante phantom: Two novels, bien étonnés de se trouver ensemble. That writer, at least for me, was a complete unknown. He was also in fact a rather obscure writer who started out in L.A. in the year that the Big Crash exploded over Wall Street. Never heard of his name until five weeks ago, when reading Bukowski’s Notes of a Dirty Old Man I came upon the following passage, in which he is giving his unasked advise to his readers as to what to read and what most emphatically not:

 

 

 

He even wrote that ‘Fante was my god’. And from his later poem Fante one can deduce that by now that writer must have been only obscure to me:

 

he never knew he would be

famous.

i wonder if he would have given

a damn.

i think he would have.

 

 

Reason enough to order a copy of Fante’s Dust through faithful Amazon.com. It dropped into the La Roche mailbox only four days before Ton arrived in Poitiers. If this ain’t a miracle, what is? And imagine this one: In our two different volumes one finds Bukowksi’s very same introduction.

 

Nothing like telepathy; no communication between us whatsoever on the issue of ‘John Fante’ – coincidence pure, the miracle of the outrageously improbable becoming possible, then real. I could not have foreseen such a thing, yet these photos are its proof.

 

The miracle of coincidence is divine for an unbeliever. Just like only he can be truly amazed by the utter improbability of a beautiful little robin, without discarding Darwin. I once saw two farmer’s sons shoot these sweethearts from a pear tree, this after they had listened to a two hour sermon in their godforsaken church.

 

Thus, in spite of everything, even after Nietzsche God might still exist, occasionally sprinkling our existence with his own proofs, perhaps not trusting man’s intellectual powers to produce a philosophical corroboration of His fact. For that purpose he may even have used the prose works of what are, after all, two minor American writers, Bukowski and Fante. Though I must say that Bukowski’s poems are a different story, quite often strong stuff.

 

How can I not but abuse the miraculous appearance of the Fante volumes in the interior of ma Douce France, meeting one another in the hamlet of La Roche in The Brenne on that 17th September A.D. 2017? Lying there on their respective reading tables, they oblige me to ponder the issue of our Subjectivity as related to the mysteries of Chance and Miracle?

 

As human beings we can only experience ourselves as Subject. We cannot but consider ourselves as the centre of it all, alpha and omega of what is done and what is not done, or even of what is undone. All our passions, emotions, spiritual sufferings and euphoria are spent in vain; they are but the foundering of illusions, a silly soldiering in mid-air. However, for the Ego they are the drops of oil that make our mental machinery work.

 

Our language has always already imprinted this on our conscious being. Chomsky has made it abundantly clear that each of us – wherever you are! – is infested by a language instinct, always and everywhere making us use ‘subject’, ‘verb’ and ‘object’: I do this to that. The world is always already ‘object’, we are always already ‘subject’, subjecting things to our moulds, wishes and desires, projecting what is inside us outwards and onto it.

 

Brain research has proven, beyond any doubt, that a tiny slight slice of time before you feel that you’re willing something, inside that info-machine certain ‘decisions’ have already been made for you, lighting up on pet-scans, electrodes and what not. Yet, you cannot but feel that it is your I that is the willing instance, wanting something; that it is your Ego that has its ‘free will’ and the power of making ‘decisions’.

 

However this I is but a complex appendix, somewhere and somehow tagged onto the conscious replay of the brain’s mechanism. It is an illusion, yet a necessary delusion; we simply cannot live without it. It is precisely what the French philosopher Althusser described as ‘lived reality’: Our always already colourful but pre-printed experience of what our organism is undergoing.

 

Thus it is, that the Ego is ‘confronted’ with things inexplicable. Even though it may be definitively argued that whatever happens is caused by whatever happened before the event, we have only a miserable grasp of its so-called causes. Being is so complex, that human consciousness can never fathom that wonderful myriad of coinciding and diverging time-lines, which are travelled by all those countless happenings, one of them of course being your very own ‘person’.

 

Precisely this explains our awareness of the miracles of coincidence and chance. It is a miracle, because we are too limited to be able to expect its coming about. All too easily we attribute it to some ‘higher being’, somewhere outside us; thus religion is born, or for that matter the vaguer notion of providence – mistakenly so. Then again, our subjective delusion, of course, also resulted in Bach’s fugues, Rembrandt’s self-portraits, Brahms’ sextets, Shakespeare’s sonnets and the quartets of Shostakowich.

 

In The Science of Chance [1953], Levinson wrote  the following remarks on financial speculation at the stock exchange:

 

As far as we are incapable of unraveling the causes of the movements of prices of commodities and of shares, as for each such change in price we may indicate various causes, we are forced to think in terms of chance.

 

It is the same with throwing up a coin. We do believe that fully determined causes exist which clarify why the last throw of this very coin came up heads; because we are incapable to disentangle these causes, however, we are obliged to explain the outcome of the throw of a coin in terms of chance.

 

As if Levinson had been writing The Science of Free Will and of Miracles.

 

Sierksma, La Roche, October 2017

HAMLET’S DEATH

This very moment, I am surprised by an instant bond I feel with humanity, without drawing any inferences, without any intentions.

Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

 

Bernardo:

Have you had a quiet guard?

 

Francisco:

Not a mouse stirring.

Shakespeare, Hamlet

____________________

 

Returning from a little journey, I entered my hamlet, a little French hameau of a few odd houses, hidden somewhere in the middle of la France Profonde. Built on solid rock, next to the River Creuse, they aptly called it La Roche. How often did I try to strike wine from its stones… Till, finally, the doctors forbade this fruitless enterprise.

 

Entering the place midday, I found not one shutter in the village opened. The place was dead. It still is.

 

Three of its little houses are not inhabited anyway. One is attached to the home of my friend Roland. More than once, he has tried to buy the ruin. It is decaying fast, an eye sore as well as dangerous to his health, as tiles galore continually fall on his footpath. As is the habit in France, ‘the family’ does not want to sell.

 

 

 

The other empty house is a curiosity indeed, an ugly modern contraption attached as it is to a depraved little barn, dating all the way back to the 15th century.

 

 

 

That the barn on the right was actually built in the Renaissance, may be deduced from the beautifully shaped cut-stone beam over its door.

 

 

 

The new building’s window may not be shuttered, it is certainly blind, lighting an empty space behind it.

 

The third empty house was owned by the village fool, an old army sergeant who on the festive, revolutionary day of 14 juillet always dressed up as silly sea captain and whose military record covered Indo-Chine. He was chased from the hamlet, after shooting his guns at the weather-cock of the old lady who is my neighbour. From then on, he lived in his second house at the river, a former railway post. What he left are ugly coloured shutters on ugly coloured walls, that house dilapidated by now.

 

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Just before I left, Roland went down, bleached white in the face. He was taken to the hospital where the doctors discovered anemia and leukemia. His house, always open, is now also dead.

 

 

swallow 013

 

His mother, La Mémé, 102 years old and my immediate neighbour, had to be immediately transported from her house to that of her daughter elsewhere. Up till now she could still live on her own, simply because her son Roland cared for her. The house next to hers is only inhabited by a couple of Parisians for a few weeks per year, now also dead as a doornail.

 

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As even on high summer days I often dress in black, I feel akin to Hamlet who said of his clothing that it consisted merely of ‘the trappings and the suit of woe’. His real sorrow dwelled inside, invisible and aching:

 

But I have that within which passeth show…

 

His whoring mother, having sold out to a wicked man, was so right, even though at the time she did not know she was prophesying her own death, as well that of her evil new husband and of her son Hamlet:

 

Thou know’st ‘t is common: all that lives must die,

passing through nature to eternity.

 

The houses of my hamlet may yet seem colourful, these closed shutters, though, show their mourning. It is inside the chilly emptiness of their thick walls that the real woe resides – invisible. When, finally in November, I shall leave this beloved hamlet, perhaps not to return because my death is also awaiting me, even the last man standing has fallen. The shutters of 14 La Roche will remain closed in daytime. When Lilly, living in the wings of the hamlet and now and then using already a stick, decides to move to the big city, there will not be a witness left. The fragility of social life.

 

The potent poison quite o’er-crows my spirit. The rest is silence.

 

Sierksma, Autumn 2017 La Roche