The “Nicaragua Inn” next to the Pali in Rivas is the only place in town where they serve the kind of breakfast I feel like. Coffee and toast with marmelade. The 6:30 bus has just taken me here, and I’ve enjoyed the ride a lot. Zooming through the countryside on local buses, breeze in my face, cows crossing the road, loud music, smiling people, candy vendors, it’s one of the top attractions of my journey anyway. Rivas is a typical Nicaraguan town: a big active central marketplace it has, and a lot of horse carriages. It’s drizzling when I ask around for my European breakfast, and helpful hands point me the place where I write some five hours. I will continue my voyage in a bus to Granada this afternoon. In the bus, I will eat crispy fried banana and coconut pastry. Granada will be a friendly-looking town and an affordable hostel is easy to find. I will end up in a gringo hostel called “The Bearded Monkey” run by a friendly Belgian man. At night, I’ll have a cocktail at the hostel bar mixed by Dave. It will taste delicious and I’ll ask for the recipe to publish on my blog.
Use a tall glass with ice
– 1 1/2 oz of Flor the Caña 7 años (rum from Nicaragua)
– 1 1/2 oz of Flor de Caña 4 años
– long pour mango juice
– short pour piña juice
– juice of 3 to 4 limes
– dash of grenadine
Garnish with a lime wedge
The “last big novel” has already been published. According to Milan Kundera, who still doesn’t give interviews but re-enters the literary scene in the year of his eightiest birthday with some essays, Garcia Marquez’ “cientos años de soledad” was the apotheosis of the novel as such. Its proponents don’t have children; they are the tragic end of their ancestral line. “Great stories” belong to the passed, according to Lyotard, it is time for a whole new kind of philosophy that plays around conscientiously with the broken mirrors of the old, something like that. But behold! They forgot about us. To be frank, I can’t stand the boisterous arrogant bombast of the “ultimate”, it makes me feel sick. And it’s so wrong, too. Wasn’t Aristoteles the last big theorist; wasn’t Cervantes the last big novelist; wasn’t Shakespeare the unsurpassable dramatist; wasn’t Dante the ultimate Poet? And Bach the absolute musician? And yet, long after their deaths other giants have lived and died. Goethe, Schiller, Voltaire, Molière, Kant. Every epoch is its very own culmination and nothing else. What I’m worried about is that once upon a time a generation won’t accept the change of guard. They’d rather kill their own offspring than accept that they are themselves just insignificant dust and not a royal pathway to anything higher.
The sheer size of this city. I arrived dreaming weird dreams on the heavily airconditioned coach I took. All kinds of people live in those dreams, they assume each other’s roles and exchange them like I don’t know what. They say sentences laden with meaning, sentences leave their mouths and fizzle out against my eardrums. They want something from me. Everything is turned around in those dreams, best friends turn into naked French hens plucked by gasping little monkeys, professors appear on a card deck as jokers with ringing bells on their fool’s hats, family members loan their faces to the stars that envie the moon because it is washed every once in a while, a rhesus monkey proudly parades between the dream personnel with twinkling eyes and slaps them with a sawn-off leaden measure if they get too serious.
I walked around in Sao Paolo, found a hostel and wrote in a bar for several hours, until it was time to check in. I spent the afternoon recuperating on the clean sheets and thinking about my trip. All has been well until now. I went out for dinner on my own, breathing some of the metropole’s air albeit only in the immediate surroundings of the hostel. I had the famous hamburger and smiled at the people. I saw just another city with everything working, everything connected. I went to sleep early because I wanted to be in the airport on time.
Today, Jack meets the homeless. He sees a woman on the street with a young child on her arm. The baby is silent. Jack passes and feels he wants to sit there too. So he sits down next to the woman, humming in his mind some heavy music he finds suitable for the occasion. The woman smiles at him. He likes the smile and starts to dream about it. Another child comes along and quickly steals Jack’s wallet. When he wakes up he feels its absence in his pocket. He asks the woman, who smiles again when she shrugs her shoulders. Such a beautiful, such a wonderful, such a marvelous, such an mysteriously beautiful smile, such an – expensive smile. Jack likes expensive things, and here he got one for free. That his wallet had been stolen he had already forgotten. The smile of that woman filled him with all the happiness he was capable of. All the happiness he will ever be capable of.
Total detachment is a crying freedom. The days are so hot that the hammock catches the odour of its sleeper and you have to use chalk powder and shake it real hard. In the morning, we went to a bloco (a street parade with drumming and dancing). The drums had a lot of energy. These blocos are great! People threw water out of the window to sooth the heated crowd; I rubbed an ice cube in my neck. Everybody’s sweating and moving to the drum sounds that penetrate your ears. Some dogs are dressed up. On the ground are cans and people who collect them. A rope seperates the drummers from the crowd. We just dance and forget who we are.
In the afternoon I went to buy my bus ticket to Sao Paolo in the Rodoviaria and walked around a little in the neighbourhood with the intention to see something else in this city than carnival. It was dangerous though, and I reached the limit soon enough. I sang as I walked under a long freeway flyover chasing my long shadow. “So e feliz quem /pensa bem e / fazo bem” was written on every concrete pillar supporting the flyover. I sang and then I saw where the extravagant Carnival waggons come from. The remise was dilapidated and it looked dangerous there, in the womb of the Carnival. Further on, I kept taking pictures of the neighbourhood that gradually got more interesting – and more dangerous, until I saw a kid in a window yelling at me holding something in his hand that looked like a gun. I turned around and ran back to the safe haven of a small bar, where several people discouraged me to take photographs because you might be robbed for your camera if they see you handling it. I didn’t need the advice: I’m heedful enough. An Italian guy showed me how to get back to Central. Grazie mille. The houses still got worse. People live in piles of stones and dust and dirt. Two policemen carrying big black assault rifles were doing a drug raid. They told me so when I asked them. They had to pick up a drug trafficker that lived in one of these ramshackle domiciles. I decided that I’d seen enough and went to the Central station which is crowded and safe. I looked at two girls who were walking in the opposite direction. After the moment we passed, they turned around at exactly the same time I did, and we gave each other a nimble smile. I do not only see, I am seen.
If you can say X o muerte: Patria o muerte, Democracia o muerte, Liberdad o muerte, Independencia o muerte, there you go. Your adolescence is over. In Brazil it’s independencia o muerte, that’s what Dom Pedro exclaimed in 1822. In my bus back home I thought about that, but in my case I don’t know what to substitute for the X. Arte o muerte, maybe. And you? McFluffy o muerte?
A life for the art is a life apart. A life à part, a sacrifice of solitude. You have to keep moving on, or you will become mediocre, a painful aesthetic entrepreneur smiling unctuously to his customers. But how do you live art? Hear that question? It is no good thinking about that at all. You just live. Take me and Jack, we just do what we do. If someone comes along and asks us if we live for the art we say of course and what are you living for? For the dough? Who doesn’t live for the art? Who doesn’t consider himself an artist of life?
Today I went for a short walk in the Barrio Alto to find a café to write in. I walked down too far first, then went up again. Behind me a street musician playing Beethoven’s ninth, the anthem of Europe, and shaking his paper cup with ample coins in it to match the rhythm. Beethoven in my back, a straight blue sky above my head, reflections in the shop windows, wonderful clothes they are selling, walking up the street again to reach my café A Brazileira, the popular tourist place with the Paris entourage. I went inside and jack came along. I ordered a coffee, wrote, was said that sitting inside costs extra, felt too proud or stingy, went to another place and continued my work there. Some poetry, a fragment in French I will send my friend Aurélie to correct, and a short Dutch essay about the beauty of moving our appendages. It was a beautiful afternoon. I concluded the day with satisfaction and appetite to continue writing tomorrow.
Jack didn’t say much and stands at the counter to order a strong espresso. Why didn’t he go for crack right away, one asks. Well, I can explain that to you. It’s because Jack lives by the second, not by the millisecond. He still has some sense of what’s going on around him. There are still some moral values, there’s still some social glue that slips into his perception of the world. Jack is always after his pleasure, if he sees something that he can associate with pleasure (and he has a rich fantasy) he tries to grab it. He tries once, twice, and when he’s not successfull he moves on.
Jack is only a few days old now. I created him out of a rib of mine, if that metaphor pleases you. He already gave up on the world, the poor bastard. He would have been a cynic if he were like one of us. But he isn’t. Jack has no consciousness. But as we will discover in the course of his development, Jack will become our consciousness.
The opposite of Jack, of course, lives aeon by aeon. It is the higher spirit Nietzsche dreamed about. The spirits that communicate with each other throughout the centuries, Napoleon, Bismarck, Goethe, Mozart, Dante, Shakespeare. Their talk stands on a higher level. The Apollinic beauty of the products of their minds is tantalizing to the smaller spirits; the aere perennius of their words becomes the holy grail of the less gifted; their halkyonic aura does a great job consoling the misanthropic semi-geniuses among us. Jack has a brother, Marin, who is his opposite in this sense, but he wouldn’t come with us. He is hibernating in Berlin.
Jack sees a man with a golden watch around his wrist and starts talking to him.
“You must be a wealthy man with that golden wristwatch?”
Jack lives by the second. He knows all he has to know about watches, namely their price.
The man felt uncomfortable but then found the question hilarious enough to answer it. He laughed
“Yes, you could say that. I don’t complain.”
Jack pops his lips. Then he asks his next question.
“Is your daughter free?”
-“What do you mean, free?”
Jack frowns. He isn’t used to being the one that has to explain everything.
“Free to have. Can I marry her?”
The man looks stupified. Jack says “marry” because it sounds good.
-“Look mister, I don’t know who you are, but I don’t like your tone.”
“My tone? I’m only politely asking for your daughter’s hand. So, is she free?”
-“I don’t know.”
“Can’t you find out?”
The man turns his head and starts to talk to a beautiful young woman who sits next to him, in order to shut down the conversation with Jack. Jack estimates the woman to be about 27 years old, and falls in love with her on the spot. It is not only her breathtakingly well-formed décolleté that makes Jack feel like a hummingbird exploring a peach tree, not only the warm teint on her smart-looking face, not only the shiny long hear that curls over her shoulders like manes in gentle gait, but her whole appearance. Her whole appearance fits into Jack’s seconds. He moves over with his chair and looks the young woman straight into her eyes.
“So, you must be his daughter. I reckon you can answer my question. So, are you free?”
-“No mister, I am happily married.”
Happiness sounds good. Jack doesn’t want to meddle in that.
“So, who’s the lucky guy?”
-“I am” the old man answers and he kisses the girl on her mouth. “She’s my wife.”
Jack understands pleasure is out of reach here. He gives the girl a card whispering in her ear “if he dies give me a cal” and leaves.
That night we heard piano jazz and bossa nova from Mozambique in the CCB (Centro Cultural de Belém). It was a free concert, and it was really good. I recognized Schubert Impromptus in a terrific jazz version for solo piano. Sitting on the floor, I dwelt in dear memories of listening to piano music, memories that I have to take care of. Music is the only thing that counts! I can understand the musicians who are living for nothing but music, who marry, love, work, sleep, procreate, eat, drink, all for music, all with music in their ears. Alfred Brendel. Daniel Barenboim. That night, the piano touched me. As a writer, I take off my hat. This went way beyond words. Still, of course, my task is to find out beyond which words. I think during concerts. Always did. They can only stop the stream of thoughts in very short moments, then I feel the music, but normally thoughts pile up in my head, unfinished philosophies, ideas for writing, buzzing through my head and warming it up like a huge chestnut in a campfire. Music must catalyze it in some way. The thoughts, the words that are the furthest coasts of language, the Southern Patagonia of speech, the heavenly words we imagine music goes beyond – is writing not a quest for these final words, that we must never understand as final but as the beginning of the organic movement of music?
We are on an Odyssee. I have to remind Jack all the time, because he never gets it. He doesn’t get excited about what’s more than a few seconds, perhaps a few hours away from him. I feel sorry for him. But what can I do? There’s nothing in my power that I can do to educate Jack. Not yet.
Sintra. A wonderful, sunny day. Portugal has been a monarchy but the coward royals went off to Brazil during the Napoleontic invasions. In Sintra, you can visit one of their flamboyant castles. It’s very beautiful as you can see on the pictures. The opulence of the crown was paid for by the poverty of the people. It’s really beautiful the rooms are stuffed with relics of the heighdays of the Portugese empire. There is a Chinese room, an Arabic room, an Indian room, a bathroom, a private chapel of the king, a monch’s refectory with the finest decorations, a dining room, another bathroom, an exhibition room (of course the exhibitions were not started before the royals moved their asses to more usual mansions). The outside of the castle looks like a fairy tale, like the wizard of Oz. The Moorish influence ont the architecture are noteworthy.
The train to Sintra costs you only 3,40€ roundtrip. In the small town itself we met a friendly watercolor painter who lured us into his atelier with a promising sign about the most beautiful view on Sintra. He showed us his technique. You just take a picture, copy it on a piece of paper and start working from light to dark with the paint. You can always make the color darker, never make the color lighter. The light in Sintra is spectacular. I also saw a pregnant woman in the train back to Lisbon and I thought she looks so alive, she is an epigone of life itself that I wanted to take a picture of her, to slurp her appearance through the lens of a camera. Big cameras pointed leisurely at her, sucking the life out of her like giant insects, consuming the new life in her womb. Everything that is visible must be conserved, made eternal, sterile. The abundance of life blossoming must be categorized, crystalized because that’s the reflex of our technological culture of life. Life is visible in all its aspects, so life is visibility. I didn’t want the photograph of the pregnant woman anymore. I want to make her invisible again, a phantom in the blind spot of my eye, sensed yet unseen.