Sunday, September 30, 2012

Breathless in Antwerp

City life can be really dusty. Especially fine dust is a real killer. In many European countries the freeway is still cutting cities in half, causing noise pollution and also a lot of fine dust being spread through the cities, causing lung problems. There are communal elections coming up. The aim of today's gathering was to raise awareness and to ask people to vote for one of the four parties - ranging from a pro industry party - called 'liberals' but not in the American understanding of the word - to the greens and a left wing party involved in health service 'medicine for the people'. In Antwerp there are two contenders to become Mayor, yet none of them were present, nor seem they to be interested it what is a very important issue. Covering the ring, making a tunnel, for the 300.000 cars a day which impact over 300.000 inhabitants would provide cleaner air. The citizens would breathe better and be healthier. The city expects 100.000 new inhabitants: schools, kindergartens, social housing all has to be build. In covering the ring, a green lung for the city would be created and new space where the urgently needed provisions could arise. The through traffic would be lead around the city in what is called the Meccano plan. To show support for the plan four poets read, among whom the former City Poet Laureate, speeches were delivered by Ademloos founder Wim van Hees and Manu Claeys from StRaten generaal. People were invited to bring a pick nick, and while I blog tango is being danced on top of the Craeybecks-tunnel  where the whole action is held in pleasant green surroundings.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

At the canal to the left - Bij het kanaal naar links

The play by Alex Van Warmerdam is a co-production between Toneelhuis ( Belgium) and Orkater (The Netherlands). When I bought the tickets for the performances, the person on the phone said: Oh you will enjoy that one. As it is: I feel bewildered, dissatisfied, wondering... The content: two families (one consisting of four people: mother, father, brother Machien, sister Angelique and the other just a father and son Lucien) have a feud since a few generations. Living in dystopian times the mother, seen the father hasn't been paid for a long time, and the son of the other family look for cooperation setting in motion a chain of events. From a depressed woman, she becomes strong while the policeman father grows weaker and grayer. Machien hates the other family for not being of pure blood. The two families are the only six white people left, Angelique being 'the only fertile female'. Under the bridge are the Congolese, to the east 'the pretty but dark' Iranians, to the south the gypsies and Mongolians and along the canal 'it is black with people and who knows where they are from'. Luciens plan is to make a child with Anglique. The mother brokers the deal. After the suggested intercourse, she goes home, embraces her brother who kills her. End of play. People, also the bunch of young boys from an out of town school who had chosen this as a cultural activity laughed. I failed to appreciate the jokes. The play was what a classical play and listening to other theater goers on the way out, it seems I was not the only one to be dumbfounded. A strange effect of the co-production was that in each of the families there was one character speaking the Flemish variant of Dutch which puzzled me for a while what it mean, why...
The introduction was right: I quote: I see a full house. It happens outside, but all of you came here. I don't know whether you made the right choice. I suggest you lower your expectations.
A last positive remark: the actors did a great job in the performance and the school boys were giggly after the suggested intercourse and having seen naked breasts...

Monday, September 24, 2012

A visitor

Since a few days I have been thinking of Jean: A Vietnam vet, Navy, special ops, suffering from PTSS, a miner and bicycle racer on national level. When she, a woman of 62, visited me with Aurora her Hybrid wolf, she was stuck in body and soul. Not pathetic, but searching as so many of us. The latest identity, beside being a father, a soldier and trans-gender, came about when her mom died and she discovered that she was Cherokee. She even found the family name in the books. She didn't quite look the part because of a German father. 
How does one integrate a voice from one life segment to the next. Only in the bike racing, she was recognized as an athlete before and after the operation. She always knew she was a woman, born into the wrong kind of body. Where can she find acceptance, a companion, peace of mind and fulfillment? The wish has never come true for her since no group fully accepted her for all she has been. If only our society were less judgmental and more welcoming to all differences... She lived her life the way it was supposed to be. Like so many people do. She was a man, married, had children, cross-dressing  in the weekends. Some of her life was good, some bad times too. She changed, made mistakes, missed a right or left turn on the way. But she kept looking. I am not sure for what, nor for whom. She had a dear friend Dave, good buddies. he just accepted her the way she had become. What she found was who she was, whom she could be if she dared to share her friendship and true soul. When we met, I had to push Aurora, her big wolf of my bed, laughing about the silliness of it. Then again she left, following her road from past to present and future... And then she was no more but a memory and a lesson.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Iraqi Ghosts

 How to express the reality of war? The three young Iraqi artists each have survived three wars. That is nine wars right here, says one of the actors. True enough. There are as many wars as there are participants, victims and survivors, as many wars as people have to live true them. The play is disquieting, loud, funny, clashing, a confrontation with what we have only seen or heard in the media. It is the personal experience of the three Iraqi actors which informs this play. The female roles are performed by Flemish/German actresses. The audience is eased into the drama of war through the first scene with the actors wearing animal masks, animals as victims of war too. I particularly like that each scene was introduced and 'framed', explained and thus creating expectations as to what is to come and how long the particular scene will take.
The vivid images created on the scene, incorporating elements of home - oriental carpets, couscous, food, projected film - are all elements of the questions raised: What is war? How do people live in times of war? The three main images which follow are: The day before the war, marked by fear, tension and preparing for what one cannot prepare. The next scene is the day after the war when distrust reigns, when old friends no longer dare to shake hands. Who is a friend anyway and who is foe? The third day there is war. One of the actresses states: I feel alive, all worries have been lifted, all the rest is unimportant. Now it is all about survival. The performance, albeit very personal, is reaching for a universal almost physical language. In the play language plays a main part: the two actresses speak in German, English and Dutch and a few times almost grammolo, often as a consecutive rendering of the texts spoken in Farsi. To me that was mesmerising. Iraqi Ghosts is a play by Mokhallad Rasem in cooperation and improvisation with the actors Duraid Abba, Sarah Eisa, Ahmed Khaled, Julia Clever.
Remember: Peace is the way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Theater play: FLOU - (Blurred)

The author of this strangely beautiful play is actress Abke Haring performing together with Han Kerkhoffs the play FLOU. In a disquieting opening with electronic music the two actors stand absolutely still next to each other holding hands. The rectangle on the floor and the floating roof above their life represents an abstract home. During the music drops fall in an array of glass containers. The roof leaks. The couple battles out their pain in a discouraging silence. The repetitive dialogs are pure poetry. His unwillingness to speak is magnified by her voicing his thoughts which he calls nagging in the drip drop on the stage. There is a moving part when they put small glass saucers under falling drops - yet they fail doing it together. Grim. The two longer monologues of the man are very sexual in a strangely ordinary language, talking as he is about wild sex in the deep freeze compartment of the supermarket. His language here is coarse, uncaring about her feelings. Every kind of frozen or fresh produce is used in this wild fantasy of an impromptu encounter with a past flame. At the same time it is almost hilarious. Yet it is obvious the couple doesn't have a lot of sex, or anything else with each other but being stuck, powerless to go or to let go, unable to be fulfilled by each other. The whole performance is punctuated by long eloquent silences, communicating something important, they are unable to share. Towards the end the woman asks to let her grow in 'a being without words', thus seeking the ultimate intimacy of being understood and understanding without words. Words have been used before, are charged and therefore treacherous. Yet this kind of silence would also be a hell of loss, emptiness, and a disappearing self... An intriguing performance balancing, as the author qualifies it, between duet and duel.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Unsung hero

Rose vdw is one of my unsung heroes. She is gentle and compassionate, a good friend and poet. She is quiet spoken, a lover and supporter of art. She bakes a mean apple cake which I savor with relish. She is also a help in working through my feelings concerning my mother who is suffering with dementia. Rose, for about 16 long years, visited her mother with Alzheimer in the ‘Cocoon’. This soft spoken soul however was a power house when she felt her mother had not been dealt with as she deserved. The institution offered ‘comfort care ‘, which turned out to be mainly comfortable for the nurses. The patients would be bedded down every day and every night. They were no longer dressed, nor would they sit at a table to eat, or sit in a comfortable chair in the afternoon. Then the daughter became the advocate who trembling with emotions of sadness and anger would defend the quality of life of her mother and thus also of the other patients. When my mother's illness began, Rose would answer my questions, sometimes sketch what awaited me in the logical evolution that was to follow. She gave invaluable insight and thus acceptance of what was to come.

Here a moving poem about her mother’s reaction when Rose's father passed away.

I have loved him so much, she said.
A month before he died - he couldn't
eat a bite - she had set out there
the same stack of sandwiches
already for fifty years. He fumed.

A wounded lion. The berry jam, soon a
bloodstain on the carpet. In almost
a scuffle he was felled by her as if a feather.

I have loved him so much, she said
while crying and unknowing of the days,
now angry, then again fearful was left behind.
On her own a passport with a spotless past.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Yesterday it was Leonard Peltier's birthday. Two dear friends, Unciya and Hakata, run the Flemish Leonard Peltier Chapter and decided to do something for his birthday. So in a small literary café Den Hopsack a reading was organized from his prison writings My Life is My Sundance. Of course reading the whole book Is a bit long. I was asked to compose an overview of his thoughts in the book and to read it to the audience. Hakata had made an excellent slide show, running slowly in te background. And Unciya, she rebel roused the people present explaining about AIM and why they do what they can for Leonard. They made some money to be send to the defense team.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


You have all heard about Selma, Alabama as a city where Dr. Martin Luther King fought for civil rights. Selma was the launching point for pivotal protests that hurtled the voting rights movement into the national spotlight. It is also a city of tragedy: thousands of students, religious leaders, my late husband and families fighting for civil rights in Selma were arrested, injured, or brutally killed.

I quote the text from : "I grew up in Selma. Now, as a community organizer, I think often about the sacrifices of the people who lived here before me. I was outraged and ashamed to learn that Selma's city council is sitting idly by as a local neo-Confederate group expands a public monument to a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Monuments celebrating violent racism and intolerance have no place in this country, let alone in a city like Selma, where the families of those attacked by the Klan still live.

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate military leader, a founding member of the KKK, and the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. He wasn't even from Selma -- why should Selma be honoring his shameful legacy of racial segregation and terrorism?

If Selma wants be viewed by the rest of the country as forward-thinking, we cannot give in to those who pine for the "good ole days" of the 1860s. This monument has blighted our town for far too long. Please join me in calling on the Selma city council to remove the monument celebrating Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Petition Letter

Dear Selma City Council,

I am writing to strongly urge you to stop the current plans to expand a monument celebrating Nathan Bedford Forrest.

People know Selma, Alabama as the city where Dr. King fought for civil rights. Selma was the launching point for historical protests that hurtled the civil rights movement into the national spotlight. It is also a city of tragedy: thousands of students, religious leaders, and families fighting for civil rights in Selma were arrested, injured, or brutally killed.

It was shocking to learn that Selma would ever choose to celebrate the legacy of a Ku Klux Klan founder and Grand Wizard by allowing a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest to stand on city property. For the council to allow this monument to be expanded would simply be beyond the pale.

If Selma wants be viewed by the rest of the country as forward-thinking, we cannot give in to those who pine for the "good ole days" of the 1860s. The Selma city council has no business allowing the the city's history and the memory of those who fought for civil rights to be smeared in this way. I demand that you stop the expansion of the Nathan Bedford Forrest monument and remove it from public property.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Poetry in the park in Hoboken

 It was a wonderful afternoon: Easy talk among like minded friends, good poetry read. The choice of musicians grand. Left, poets listening to poets reading. Right Roger Nupie and Vera Alexander Beerten. Roger read naughty homo erotic poetry, lighthearted and fun. Vera read a cycle of poems about 34 children drowning on a Friday night during the war. Chilling to the bone. The words smuggled in all had to do with caring for one or other issue or being moved by something. The audience was wonderful participating in the exchange with poets: looking up at the leaves in the dappled light, repeating words when a poet asked them to...

It was all great stuff. The extra appearance of Iron Maiden lead singer Blaze Bayley was a pleasant surprise. Many reasons to be grateful.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I read a lot, I love books. Yet some of my friends are shocked at how I treat my books. Usually in pencil, yet also in pen and ink or anything that will write, I make notes in my books. Underlining, adding exclamation marks, putting in the initials of whom I should send a specific quote to. Sometimes an elaboration, a yes! Or No! No! Sometimes when rereading a book years later, I don't even recognize my younger self. There was a time that books that weren't in almost unread, virginal state wouldn't be bought nor sold in a second hand shop. yet that has changed in the last years. Books belonging to authors, writing in a book they have read, have now become more valuable and are considdered a tool in literary studies. In 'De Brakke Hond' in the section called 'Glimpen' by Paul Claes I read a note about a very industrious librarian who had erased all the penciled in notes and remarks from Dutch poet Jan Leopold in a book of poetry by Mallarmé. It is a shame we lost the insights and comments in the margins. It is I guess like looking in through an illuminated window, or reading over another's shoulder...sharing a thought with an unknown person.

The square and B B King

I am sitting in a trendy square and am amazed at how young the city has become. Just here and there a graying beard, a white head. Just two, three ample gray haired women. The 30/40 year old are mainly skinny, Sancere sipping and speaking about a new partner be it in love or in business. Also relationships turned sour are a frequent subject. Good advice, or advice meant as such, is balanced by hard edged principles, used as a dam against more hurt. And then from somewhere a line of music:

If you don't know
what to do
listen to T-Bone Walker
if you don't now
what hit you
when you're under
a bad spell
can't hide the thrill
to B B King

Thursday, September 6, 2012


The days shortening make me a little sad, yet last night having to run an urgent errant at dusk I was thrilled that people had turned on their lights. Many shutters were down, or the curtains drawn, yet here and there I could catch a glimpse of beautiful woodwork in an almost stately home or a beautiful rosette centering the luster of a crystal chandelier. But the greatest joy was seeing people going about heir daily life: kids  doing homework or crafts at the table, a parent puttering around in the background, cooking, clearing clutter and coaching from a distance. People eating or talking gave me a sense of warmth, a sense of caring and community. Of course there were some voices of crying toddlers, angry parents shouting, a couple fighting... There one felt how overburdened the people were within their situation, how hard it is to deal with the daily disasters. These glimpses give me an insight in what seems to constitute happiness, serenity and a feeling of belonging. Last night 's image I cherish most is an old man sitting and reading by a lamp near the window. He is secure in his place, knows where he belongs and so he is reassuring to me. These short flashes of unknown people's life seem to hold for me valuable wisdom and insights.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Around the kiosk

Frank De Vos organizes next Sunday, September 9, a beautiful gathering of eight poets who will smuggle in their words around the kiosk in Hoboken. It starts at three, be there!

Smuggle ware from Croatia:

Birds whisper softly
don’t drown out
what was thought

Bells clang
-       it is six o’clock-
to the day
the good life
in submission
to a normal life
of singing women in black

the heart  full of fire
the soul in the wind
and the distance that calls

Birds whisper softly
don’t drown out
what you think at all

Monday, September 3, 2012

Living on the edge of the Jewish quarter

Living on the inner edge of the Jewish quarter I have a choice when  I go shopping: to the right or straight ahead I'll see the people in their diverse religious attire. Fedora like hats on top of the head, white shirt all in black with the curls along the ears flying while cycling on the boardwalk. Yarmulke's and the fringe of their ceremonial scarfs peeping out from under the coat, while some where long white stockings and large fur hats, which when it rains are covered in a specially designed plastic bag. The women I saw this morning wore all a different color of wig: black or blond, light or dark brown. All wore comfortable flat shoes. The difference between richer and poorer Jews is immediately visible. The poorer women can't afford a good wig, so they wear scarves, either hiding all their hair or a scarf with an attached fringe of hair sticking out.
Since there are also a lot of Polish Jews there are also some good polish shops where you find kefir, other wise only found in the health shop or in the Pakistan shop. I also notice that some peope go to synagogue each morning and on special occasions they'll have palm leaves wrapped in plastic under their arm.
Going left however, I enter the general mainly European stream of peoples, with North Africans and black Africans being part of the mix just as Turkish and oriental people. A friend once called me on the fact that when one is at a local police station and does not speak the local language that one has to bring an interpreter. She was totally offended by this and thought the city should have the interpreters on call. So I got curious and asked how many languages were present in the small old jail, where people who have been picked up wait for their first meeting with the judge. The answer was a to me staggering amount of 76 languages. So the menu is from kosher to halal, from bio dynamic to straightforward meat, potatoes and veggies... All in walking distance. Wonderful.
What I don't understand is that the protests against the scarfs Muslim women wear and the acceptance of the same principle in a different execution in the Jewish community. In both cases the hair of women is supposed to for private viewing only.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I know A. since she was 11 and I was 12. Being very bright she had been schooled a year early, so we ended up in the same secondary school class, both having chosen Latin and Greek. She remembers whom and how I was in the difficult years of puberty and the fear of a stepfather. I remember her 'normal', yet strict family. We followed each other's lives and marital turbulences. We knew about each other's jobs, crushed longings, unfulfilled expectations and moments of joy and happiness. We are friends, even if I fall often short on being there for A. when she needs it. She knows that I know and thus we get together every so often to exchange, to tell about the latest episode of our lives's road. She is ebullient and talkative, I am a good listener. While listening I recognize old patterns, habits, griefs, resulting for me in a sense of peace stemming from familiarity. The normality of our encounters is also the glue that keeps us in each other's life. She is adventurous and does volunteer work in the field of alternative cultural events. She is brave, yet needs a structure which grants her her freedom without making her feel lonely or isolated. 

I once wrote a poem for her:
Ach A,

Ik wilde komen
maar voor ik zo vertrekken
moet naar nieuwe straten
ander licht en vreemde bedden
koester ik mij in stilte
het alleen zijn thuis
en vergeet dan
dat om 11 uur
zondag de wereld
nog bestaat

Ik wilde komen
maar nu bij koffie
wachtend op de pendelbus
is het te laat.
Oh A,

I wanted to come
but just before I have to leave
for new streets
different light and strange beds
I cherish my silence
being home alone
and forget
that at 11 o'clock
on Sunday the world
still exists

I wanted to come
but now with coffee
waiting for shuttle bus
it is too late

(on the road to Strasburg, France)