From what, for over thirty years, has been the study of my father in Leyden everything has been removed, except a gas stove and his splendid desk awaiting its homecoming in the future new house of my son.
The place on the wall where, up till a few days, for more than sixty years one of his bookcases has been hanging, there is now a brown hole gaping in the once white surface. Beautifully mounted it was. I had to unscrew it from pins, provided with a flat end and beaten so deep in the wall that they could not to be removed – at least not by this amateur. For safety reasons I had to crush them against it.
That brown rectangle is the shadow thrown by my father on those who remained. As a result of delirium quality alcoholism and a failed intestinal surgery he died a few days after his sixtieth birthday, a long, long time ago. After his death my mother had the room whitened again, but the painter’s brush could not touch that piece of wall behind the case.
The nicotine fumes, however, with which my ever smoking dad poisoned his study did reach out there. You may observe how the smother hit the immediate perimeter of that hidden rectangle the strongest, although the rest of it has also become browned.
That this is not just a reckless hypothesis, but an honest depiction of reality, may be gathered from a photo that I made of a book that during all those decades was situated on the shelves just above my father’s typewriter, and right in front of him.
What was once a moss green book jacket has in the meantime acquired a brown-yellow hue quite similar to that weird colour of the typical nicotine finger of the smoke addict. Quite a nice tint, mind you.
However, it brings back to mind an image of myself, deep down in the early years in Groningen where, every new day, I had to fetch packets with Old Mac cigarettes in the little shop on the corner of our street, a bit reminding me of the movie Smoke. Sometimes the order was for a whole carton. That man smoked on and on – after all these years his books still smell…
That nicotine colour of the once moss green book jacket is an icon for my lost past. Having sneakily smoked one single cigarette in my whole life, this when I was six years young, I became very sick indeed and never touched them again. Perhaps, this has also something to do with that nicotine father… However, when in 1974 I broke with him this had nothing to do with his smoking, I was then twenty eight years old. We should have been able to talk things over.
That ‘hole’, now visible there right next to ‘shadow’ of the bookcase, also stand for a lost past. The fact that this patch isles brown by the nicotine suggests that before it was covered the walls had been painted once again.
This is the painting that once hung there, or rather the photograph of it which the restorer provided after his job was done, to indicate the changes made. On it a tribe of Indians, a life-long study object of my anthropologist father.
This rather large canvas, heavily framed, was made by the painter/psychiatrist Plokker who gave it as a present to my father. Meanwhile, it hangs in the room of a nephew. Before gifting it, the painter himself had it restored, which may be deduced from what is printed on this card: ‘Kunsthandel Oenema in Rijswijk’. That is where Plokker lived
By now it must have yellowed again, but as it has gone I am not able to check on this.
A past lost. Curiously enough all restoration involves renewal and disappearance simultaneously. The painting as it was is no more. You may even wonder if what results is still the same painting… A bit like the house of my mother, after it was emptied out – it was not any longer the house in which I grew up.
It is as with trees. I’m a tree-crazy and I can sit endlessly in my garden in La Roche, staring at the old pear tree, fully aware that it was already there when I did not yet exist and that it will still be there once I’m gone. After all, the self-conscious Ego can imagine The Other to be gone, however not its own existence.
Of course, that tree might be felled by the next strong storm, together with me. After all it the two of us are oldies. The rest, then, will be aftermath.