MELANCHOLIC METAMORPHOSIS

 

 

 

Summer’s coming, poppies fading,

just days ago deep, carnal red,

a female mouth in lipstick heat,

now suddenly transformed

into chaste ornament.

For sure, they have forgotten

the deep red of the wine,

once growing on this plot,

a little vineyard with its vines,

their heavy grapes well hidden.

Ripped out by brute force of machinery,

then substituted by a field with grain,

in which are now the poppies fading,

the coming summer in their train.

Sierksma 31st of May 2018

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DEVIL’S TRIANGLE

Within these boundaries, staked out by three grand and loveable trees, I existed. Writing, reading, when older taking a siesta, listening to music, bringing up my children, writing my PhD. The works, forty years long.

 

One of these trees was one of the very good reasons to buy our house, shading a comfortable garden in which summer after summer I have been studying, dozing and enjoying the generations of cats who were also buried here. A magnificent, giant sycamore with a history so weird, that I never stopped contemplating it as if seen for the first time in my life.

 

Then, two years ago, a so-called tree surgeon – in fact two tree surgeons – trimmed the tree thoroughly. Neighbours had complained about the amount of light it took away from their garden. I conceded. After the operation I asked them to smear ointment on the enormous wounds inflicted on it. They told me that this was unnecessary. I thought I knew better, having studied gardens and trees for at least a decade in order to write a book on the 18th century villas and their gardens around the former Wijker Lake. However, I shut up.

Last summer, that sycamore was declared finished, dead and a corpse. By now it has even shed its outer garments, by now its shroud of bark.

 

 

It has become a personal Golgotha, if only with one cross on the hill.

 

A month ago, the first winter storm felled the weeping willow at the corner of the ridge over the Haarlemmer Trekvaart, a water over which people in days gone by were transported by a boat, drawn by horses on trotting the bank. A weeping willow for which I now had to weep, the second of the markers of my home territory.

 

 

It felt like the storm winds taking away this beauty were now blowing straight through the chinks in my soul.

 

Then, a week ago, the second winter storm with gusts of tornado quality killed the third tree, the one diagonally across from the weeping willow, breaking the giant off at its roots. It fell all the way over the road towards the water, splitting open the fine flower kiosk which for all those years had provided us with the colours on our dining table.

 

 

That same day I was informed that my carousel of hospital visits for various rather unpleasant afflictions once again had to be intensified in order to be also examined for possible cancer of the prostate. No willow left to weep for me…

 

It now feels like residing in a Bermuda Triangle of defunct trees, fading slowly and traceless.

 

Sierksma 29.1.18

LOST, REGAINED, LOST AGAIN

 

 

Having returned the friend to the speedy TGV-train that had first brought him to La Roche, to play chess and to enjoy ma douce France, now to bring him back to Amsterdam, I immediately fled the architectural horror of postmodern urbanism surrounding the railway station of Poitiers.

 

 

 

As I had been very tired already, the idea was to return straight to my little hamlet, some ninety kilometers into the interior. But again travelling the first thirty kilometers of that straight ugly road, passing through flat territory and endless suburbs with ‘sleeping policemen’ galore and 30 km/h signs all over the place, was frightening me. So I took a sharp turn to the right, to let my car idle through autumn delights.

 

Suddenly, I knew where to go.

 

On my way there, I found some solace in this fine Modern building, as it were a go-between, a stepping stone from ugly Postmodernity into the cherished Middle Ages, a factory built in about 1930, however now defunct:

 

 

 

Then, half an hour later, up there on the little mountain of Morthemer stands the Chapelle, in a hamlet of three houses and one dog – and of course that little church itself. It hides the one and only true hortus conclusus that during this life I have been in. Walking towards it, I heard cork-dry leaves lisping over the graveled place and chestnuts burst open on receptive stones.

 

 

 

Perchance, at their ending, believers may find heaven awaiting, that may be a secluded garden as well. For the infidel, however, this must be it: Heaven perhaps, but certainly Paradise on earth. One enters it on the chapel’s right side. Then this is what you then see:

 

 

 

Wholly walled in is this Garden of Eden, at most 10×20 square meters large. You walk towards this stony wall, sit down on a little chair that you have taken with you, and then turn around:

 

 

 

Unexpectedly, the little edifice rises sky-high – an effect of being in this confined space with no way of taking distance.

 

 

 

Spread out like a Persian carpet, which always represents a watered garden in the middle of the dry barrenness of a desert, there it is – my little plot.

 

The body being sequestered inside such small confinement, one’s mind, perhaps even one’s spirit is closing in upon itself, thus mirroring the little hortus which, as a micro-cosmos, is emulating the greater cosmos out there. Or so they say.

 

Is this then religion? Perhaps ‘religious’ is the better word, meaning ‘binding anew’ or a ‘rereading attentively’. Revisiting one’s life. Inside the hortus conclusus one ponders existence, that being out of oneself, now turning in upon itself.

 

No – religion is the denial of life, thus the denial of death. Religion is opium for those who cannot cope with the idea that all is never-ending, while one’s life does indeed terminate. Calvinism is religion’s extreme, that godless theology in which from the very start God is a Devil who, ‘in the beginning’, predestines for all beings, before they are even born, whether they will be saved or condemned.

 

The hortus conclusus is more catholic, thus more humane, linked through its beliefs to all that came before, like the desert, the gardens and its life-giving water. There is that feeling of continuity with life surrounding us, with other people, also with birds and with deer and with flowers – a bond. The hortus conclusus is a symbol of the Source of Life, the womb. Re-entering it may be infantile, but certainly wise as well.

 

Here, in this confined garden, an infidel like me ponders the tomato in his lunch box, celebrating what is probably and sadly the last fruit he will eat coming the garden of his French friend Roland. Three days ago, that man has been diagnosed with leukemia. His three weeks stay in hospital resulted in a barren desert of its own – his former vegetable garden, the alpha and omega of his life after his wife died some years ago.

 

 

 

Time to leave. I cannot wait for the key-stone to drop out of the little garden-cosmos. Though fall it will, one of these days.

 

 

 

Out there, it is already happening. Just a few minutes after descending Morthemer’s mountain, I enter the latter-day desert of France, its once gorgeous countryside ruined by remembrement, the efficient re-allocation of farmer’s territory which resulted in the destruction of a feudal tapestry of little plots by ripping out thousands of hedges and lined-up oaks.

 

Left are these vast and miserable prairies. No escaping this, in front of me as well as from behind the desert is chasing me.

 

 

 

The Claws of Capital, stretching out into the vaster landscape, yet also piercing the finer texture of our consciousness. Everything Mondrian-straight, all Corbusier-flat.

 

 

 

Out there, in the far distance, the threatening towers of our modern castles loom high, chimneys of an atomic plant dominating the horizon.

 

Perhaps, that capstone has already fallen from its setting…

 

Sierksma La Roche 26.9/2017

SHIT ALLEY

France, known for its architecture produced by a Swiss immigrant, is also known for its architectural schools pouring out landscapists and urbanists galore, who really should get a Nobel Prize for their brilliant destruction of its small towns, lovely little squares and venerable streets – if such a prize were existent.

 

I have seen sweet little villages sublimely fucked up by way of rond-points and sleeping policemen, bordered by ghastly coloured pavements, everything completely out of place and out of sorts. Must have been, each time again, a stroke of urbanism’s genius of the man or woman commissioned by some fool of a mayor or his grandiose adjoint to modernize the hamlet and make it ripe for future tourism.

 

To make this magnificent mess of things, one surely needs an education at the highest level. Of course the landscapist and urbanist must also be liberally equipped with spikes on their elbows, to be able to compete with the many colleagues in order to get the job and get the job done in this manner. An aggressive breed it is…

 

Especially for the tourist season they have now invented a whole new field of architecture, called roadscaping. The main object of this science is to allow for the creation of shit alleys all over Ma douce France. Observet the great results of the relief provided for their many customers:

 

 

 

To get the shit precisely where it is intended by your roadscapist, he has made a study of what in architecture schools is known as ‘routing’, the placing of shields and captions in such a manner that all and everything arrives at its proper place in the right time.

 

 

 

Now, of course, my reader knows from experience that this is indeed quite an endeavour, needing lots of special intelligence. Who has not lost his way inside a hospital, or for that matter driving in foreign territory, simply because of ill-placed signs and signals!

 

All the greater should be our admiration for the splendid job these roadscapists are doing in inner France, directing masses of shit precisely where it is meant to be expulsed:

 

Reserved for road-travellers

 

You can actually observe papers and turds precisely placed behind this sign. Even here the genius of French intellectualism so well fits in with the chef complex residing in the mind of the general public.

 

A worthy symbiosis it is.

 

Sierksma 4.9.2017

RAPE RUIN

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

D.H. Auden, Stop all the clocks…

Thus, in spring, a farmer walks his fields – later, in the summer, the traces of his paces have been blown over by the blessing of the corn which he has sown.

Joseph Roth, Radetzky Marsch

________________________

 

 

For literally ages and ages this path has been used by Cistercian monks. Oxen, donkeys or horses – animal power pulling the wooden carts first up the hill and then down again, towards the vast pond called Les Fourdines.

Observe the enormous stones, their flat side on top. Even now, walking this little road is difficult; it demands an efficient navigation of the servile feet. Driving a car here is dangerous to its health. This path is now primarily used by farmer’s vehicles whose giant tires are capable to manage the rough surface.

 

You also see that in those ages past the path was smaller. It has been broadened for the use of those modern sized engines. On the side of this stone path the surface is more flat, when I do not walk it but use my bike, that part of the road is where I ride.

Having walked the easy way down, you would enter a narrow, hollow and shaded road covered by trees, thus approaching the lake as one should – in awe, as if a woman, kind enough to let you enter her body.

 

 

Don’t you forget, Kind Reader of mine, that already so long ago water was considered the source of life and grace, springs deep down in hidden grottos. The Etruscans knew, they celebrated these wells, covering them with their gentle domes!

 

I call these waters My Great Lake, since long considering them part of my back yard. I open the little northern gate to my court, pass through and after passing two farms begin the climb, then to descend again towards my lady. Serenity is the word, heaven another. And why not balm. It is my place to be pensive and weigh the imponderables of existence.

 

For eighteen years now, this has been the spot to which I retire when the mind is in turmoil. A last vestige of tranquillity, a place that with some help of the imagination and one’s wilful suspension of disbelief returns the soul to the Middle Ages, a time in which it was at least reasonable to belief in that substance’s existence.

 

Like in the old days, each year on the first Monday of November, people from the village still gather in long-legged rubber boots. After the sluices have been opened in September, two separate locks that keep the rainwater inside the lake, over weeks and weeks the waters have already been emptied into the river down below. The fishermen enter the circle of deep water that remains, then start fishing the thousands of carps that have gathered there.

 

It is done in a fashion monastic as it were, little has changed. The men, till their middle in the water, fill small float after float with these enormous fish-bodies, then push these towards the edge of the water where they are emptied by others, who put them into case after case. These in their turn are hauled up onto the dike which shuts off the pond.

 

Here it is, finally, where Modern Times have changed things. Nowadays no carts, no horses and no monks are awaiting the catch to transport the fish to the monastery. In the old days, most of the fish were put up into special basins, lying at the opposite side of the dike and still filled with water, as only so many carts and so many monks and so many horses could transport so many fish in one day.

 

 

Nowadays these basins are never used again. Two or more lorries are waiting on the dike, on each a row of huge aquaria in which hundreds of living carp will be fed oxygen, kept alive to be transported and slaughtered elsewhere. In the past their destiny was Germany. In autumn, carp is one of the delicatessen on the dining tables of the restaurants with a Gut- Bürgerliche Küche. Once filled up, the lorries climb back on the hill to disappear towards the East, with them the fish.

 

All ponds in this region of the Brenne seem to function according to the same Five-Year Plan. After four years the pond is left to dry, grain is sown, the dikes are repaired with tar that is put into the holes that been have eaten into the dam. While dry, you can now see the various levels of the lake in the other years, varying with the amounts of rain filling it up again after each November.

 

This is my eighteenth French year, I live here for six months and I almost always wait for the fishing before I leave for The Low Lands again. It is either on All Souls or a day very close to it. So in summer time, quite a few times I have also witnessed this emptied and dry Great Lake of mine. Each fifth year, however, it surprises me again, like I have never seen anything like it before in my life. It is purely and simply a thing counter-natural.

 

Walking the floor of the dried-up lake is surreal; it gives one the same feeling as when suddenly observing, in the middle of the American desert, fossil rests of a fish that are carved in the surface of a rock. It is moonlike.

 

 

I felt like an explorer of extraterrestrial territory, looking for life. What I found was death, at least the semblance of it in the form of a shell of an eerie size, quietly lying in the new-born grass.

 

 

Like China porcelain of good quality, the earth was broken like an old woman’s face. Terre craquelé.

 

I was overwhelmed by a counter-punctual feeling. Only last year did I visit Lac Vassivière, situated at the edge of the Auvergne plateau. Not all too long ago this had been a canyon. After they built the barrage, it was flooded. Walking the footbridge to what is now a little island with a castle on top, I looked down on the water’s surface well aware that deep down there lay a village drowned.

 

So drowned I was now, on the bottom of the world, in those gorgeous air waves spread by an early summer’s wind. From the bottom of the world I looked up against what had turned into a mighty wall of high, shiny reeds. All of a beautiful sublime.

 

 

The lake, when full, is delicately sculpted into planes that are now a sixty meters wide, then again no more than thirty. Filled to its brim, it spreads out as far as the eye reaches. However, to my left was now to be found the last residue of water left of this vast lake, its surface normally covering some sixteen thousand square meters.

 

 

Then, only a few days ago, early on a Sunday morning, I decided to make my walk to the Great Lake again. Turning the familiar curve in the path, I almost fainted. Expecting the shaded tunnel leading onto the water, a white glare hit me. I instantly noted that on one side the trees and shrubs had been slaughtered.

 

 

 

The glare was caused by a plane of enormous white cobble stones. I walked on, to find the floor of the pond excavated like an enormous parking lot, again extravagant rocks overlaying the once argyle floor, draglines and other machines standing on the side, waiting for the Monday morning.

 

 

From what it looked like, this cemetery would become even larger. A few days later I came back and found that this is indeed the case. The dam, instead of being repaired with picturesque patches of tar, has suddenly been cemented away completely. An eye’s sore. My lake has been completely ruined, thus the beautiful world that holds it like a sapphire in its setting.

 

 

Sic transit gloria mundi.

 

Water is Woman. My lake, my maîtresse, raped. It felt like looking at Duchamp’s Étant donné…, an installation consisting of a sturdy door with a hole in it. Once the eye is properly in place, the Peeping Tom perceives the lush body of a woman raped, thighs wide open as well as dead.

 

 

It goes even deeper than this. They have found that our innate feeling of personal space, socially conditioned as it also is, performs strange tricks with our experience. The moment someone enters that space, one feels like threatened. Once inside a car, this personal space is unconsciously widening into a much larger circle, extending around the automobile’s body which now feels like it is our own. Media, the extensions of man…

 

I have always identified so much with these waters, that I myself am raped. This Great Lake, c’était moi! For the first time in my life, the fact that I am an Aquarius has acquired meaning.

 

Am I, then, a late-late-late Romanticist, deploring so-called progress as ruin, always à la recherché du temps perdu? Perhaps. However, even though I do indeed find the ways of the world more and more distasteful, I also know of the panta rheï. There may be talk of an ‘eternal return’; it sure takes odd curved round-abouts of devastating changes to get there…

 

The Keatsean notion of a chaste, never ending chase after girls eternally unravish’d as the poet described his women visible on the Elgin urn, it is a stranger to me. My kind of beauty is un-urned. Yet, true enough: Progress, the great forgetting.

 

Thus, change it shall be. But why call it so mistakenly progress? Change is indeed most often ruinous, though of course it depends on the eye of the beholder whether he applauds or deplores it.

 

How well I understand these people here, out in the campagne of La France Profonde, that agricultural working class once communist, now voting for disgusting Marine Le Pen. Once they opted for a new kind of communal life, against the social ruins of capitalism. That communist illusion gone, now faced with postmodern agricultural industrialism, these people look back and nostalgically desire the old communality of the days past, which they now unexpectedly consider Paradise Lost…

 

To speak in sober sadness, this is how I perceive all this. Since two years the buyers of the carps are not German any longer, but British. Those blasted lorries, loaded with fish, have to be on time for the ferry that leaves Calais at its appointed hour. These buyers cannot afford to be late. Thus the carp-sellers have been put under pressure. Either provide for easy loading and a turning place for our lorries, or we’ll find ourselves another fishing pond!

 

The farming of fish has been turned into a capitalist exploitation of the environment, thus into the ruin of my aesthetic pleasure. Not only have they raped My Great Lake, I am quite sure that the manner of fishing itself will change. Through some kind of machinery those carps will be hauled straight from the pond into the basins on the lorries. Fishermen? What’s that?

 

Progress as ruin. Secretly, I hope that Brexit will posthumously and financially kill the whole endeavour. It deserves its own ruin.

 

Sierksma 28.7/2017

MEETING OF MINDS

An early photograph of Rome shows a deserted Piazza del Popolo in the year 1850. That day nothing ought to move, the camera eye had to be open for a long stretch of time. Pictures then taken always bathe either in early morning’s lustrous light or in the sunshine of a Mediterranean high noon. The times that people out there sleep and the photographer can secure his lonely hit.

Sometimes a lens stayed open for too long.

That day a donkey, oblivious of the agreement, had its own rendezvous. Halfway the shot it emerged, a fuzzy shadow strolling through the image, its destiny a standstill at the fountain. The smile of a shadow, immortalized in the Eternal City – like the Cheshire Cat’s grin, a phantom lingering in the tree while its bearer has already disappeared.

 

The source of that photo I’ve lost. This 19th century image, though, gives an impression:

 

GENIUSSCHADUW

 

Perhaps this epiphany serves as upbeat for a little essay on the Genius Loci or the Spirit of Place.

 

*

 

To occupy space, something or someone needs at least one neighbor. Completely alone one is nowhere. Aristotle defined a place as the inner surface of what immediately surrounds it. Beautiful, yet a little obscure.

 

In sharp contrast to Newtonian physics that antique philosopher was convinced that all and everything is on the way to its predetermined, final resting place. Here memory seems superfluous, everything previous finds its destiny and then, perhaps, disappears. Rest or stasis, in Aristotle’s philosophy, is self-evident, only movement demands explanation.

 

In our modern perspective nature is always already under way. Not movement is exceptional, stagnation is. Permanently on the road we are, never completely ‘at home’, even in our dreams in search of we often know not what – the source of history. History is what is not any more, at least not here immediately. Only its shadows linger, as documents, monuments, artifacts, music and ruins. The past, when present, resides in our ordered social habits.

 

In my half year in Rome I hoped to find that ass, if only in a mist of make-believe. Rome’s Genius so I thought. That magnificent city contains an overdose of mementos, so many documents are available. The visitor must decipher palimpsest after historical palimpsest. It seems imperative to transform the ‘site’ into a ‘place’. Place is time gone by, now experienced as a moment with momentum – a power in place.

 

In his book on the Etruscans* Christopher Hampton attempted to gauge a ‘vision of life’, to eavesdrop on ‘hints and echoes’ and listen to ‘the voices of silence’ dwelling in their artifacts and ruins. That is all that is left – no literature exists, no historical documents, no music. Only ‘the eloquence and expressiveness’ of things bring out ‘shadows’ that Hampton’s mind might meet.

 

Perhaps in an Aristotelian manner we may consider the seeker Hampton to reach his destiny in Etruria. Yet, how much of the Genius Loci is theirs, how much of it resides in the eye of this alien beholder?

 

In olden days the Spirit of Place – why not its Imp – resided in the Head of the Household. It was pretty much sedentary. Did that Spirit die with The Man? Or is his spirit able to migrate into the tangible things of the habitat, wandering amongst them, turned into an illusive entity? If so, could this then be the famous Genius Loci the traveler desires to meet?

 

In its long history, though, the Spirit of Place must have suffered metamorphosis. We latecomers are cleansed by Feuerbach, Nietzsche and, why not, by Marx, Hampton’s great ami. The Spirit of Place has come down to earth. Der Mensch ist was er it – Man is what he eats. The ‘inner surface of what surrounds us’ is of our own projective making.

 

It remains a reassuring illusion, the idea of a Spirit of Place awaiting the inquisitive visitor. A guarantee as it were, that the anthropologist’s work is not in vain. Yet, we can never discard the assumption that, after all, the Genius Loci resides in that visitor, yearning to find some things rather than others. We are a projecting race.

 

The Genius Loci – it is one’s Self! One’s biography, one’s knowledge and the literature read jointly compose ‘a site’ which, when visited, may prove to be the place. If, to be sure, one is fortunate enough to find it.

 

Always hope for this meeting of minds – the concurrence of the Genius Loci with what one hopes to find out there.

 

* The Etruscans and the Survival of Etruria, 1969

 

Sierksma, Haarlem December 2015

LE PENNISM, ANARCHISM AND THE VOTE

 

Since his wife died – a socialist who still held him in check – my French neighbour and friend in our very small hamlet has refused to vote. In his eyes all politicians are robber barons and cheats.

 

Now that the battle for the French presidency between Macron and Le Pen is on, I listen to his same old song, this time with some cute different little lyrics: Choosing between these two – so he says – is ‘voting for either the pest or for the cholera’. The difference – my neighbour and friend then adds, this for my pleasure – is that the cholera at least has some antidote.

 

But voting he won’t.

 

When still in the Netherlands I pondered the same question, even though with us it is not the presidency which was at stake, but the size of political fractions in parliament and the possible participation of a party in a coalition government. A few months long I claimed not to go and vote. In the end I did.

 

Abstentionism, if I may coin that word, always favours the wrong guys. The Brexit Referendum is a perfect example. So many young people whose interest it is to stay in Europe did not put their fiches into the urns. Also the cheating of those into voting wrongly will be sourly remembered. In the Netherlands it is that silly man with his platinum-whitened hair who seduces the fools, together with some other nationalist intellectuals.

 

 

 

Now, the interesting thing about France this Sunday is the still great contrast between La France Profonde – farmers’ territory – and the towns. France has always known a strong anarcho-syndicalist movement. And anarchism in whatever shade tends to be against parliamentarism.

 

Enzensberger – in his fine book on Spanish anarchism The Short Summer of Anarchy – argues convincingly that this anarchism is the result of the existence of a vast labour force that is or not all too long ago has been made up of agricultural workers. Anarchists always splinter and by not voting they let right-wing forces come into governmental power.

 

Such traditions have a long life and extent into  the present. This tradition holds that power should be ‘with the people’, that no hierarchy or parties should be organized. Action now and here is their motto.

 

So, with this anarchist mood in Deep France still very much present, one may expect that Le Pen gets more votes than might first be expected from the results in the first round. Many of those in the campagne who voted for left-wingers the first time, will now follow their root instinct and probably abstain.

 

One does not choose between the pest and the cholera – their alibi.

 

6.5/2017 La Roche