My mother is abdicating, as you may have heard.
And now it’s only days before I crash face first into a wall. I have been on a collision course with it my entire life, this wall; preparing for it, if you will. And on this path I have dragged myself for 46 years.
Lessons, there have been plenty, too; one of them being that love doesn’t come from symbols but from the act of giving – that wealth isn’t a blessing at all but a mere consequence of it.
The job itself isn’t exactly clean, either. Or, let me put it this way: just thinking about it overwhelms me every time with the urge to wash my hands. Often I have cringed with migraines too and fought back the feeling of wanting to empty my stomach at the thought that my place in history is in the role of an opinion-less puppet, a knight without a horse, a conquered lord.
However, opportunity has presented itself and I have decided to step up, right into the surge of destiny.
A politically flavored commission put out the call to let my subjects collectively compose a song in my honor – good idea were it not for the fact that a song sprouts from the heart of one poet and rarely as the product of a collective effort. But the sentiment was pure, I’m sure.
Had they asked me what I thought of the idea, though, I would have told them that it is too cerebral this way. I would have said that the project was doomed to be shredded by compromise from the very start. And that besides, these just aren’t the times for this sort of things. The epoch of collective sentiment and song just isn’t upon us, I would have said. I would have told them that from a technical standpoint, writing an opera in this fashion might have been easier.
– Friday, April 19 (morning) – The royal bard presents his hastily quilted masterpiece.
– Friday April 19 (mid-afternoon) – disappointment and rejection of the song collects itself on social media like a ripple that could well become a tidal wave by the time it reaches the shore.
– Friday April 19 (evening) – Outrage has gone viral. The nation seems united in one voice: Kill the song.
– Saturday April 20 (morning) – The land awakes to the call to hang the bard. For a moment, I feel it is me the subjects are rejecting by rejecting the song and its maker. I feel I have come upon my inevitable defeat – the wall up close, the second before my face explodes against it.
– Saturday April 20 (afternoon) – I feel ashamed, though I am not sure about what exactly – or if the failure is entirely mine.
– Saturday April 20 (evening) – The bard gets taken to the central square and is hung by his feet. The throng stones and mutilate the dying bard with sticks and fists. With sickles and knifes he gets gutted, his insides staining the ground over which I will soon be forced to reign.
– Sunday April 21 (that entire day) – I do not get out of bed. What has kicked me off my feet isn’t the migraines this time, which have become more frequent as my mother’s retirement nears, but something all together darker: hatred.
– Monday April 22 (morning) – The princess gets the girls off to school, locks the door and returns to the bedroom. She merely glances at the sheets on the bed, a bitter heap of inability and defeat. She retreats into the bathroom. From the closet labeled ‘private’ she removes her finest and softest night garment, slips into it, fixes her hair, returns to the foot of the bed and declares:
“My darling, today is the day I make you King.”
She throws back the covers and does to me the thing only Catholic girls can do.
– Tuesday April 23 (morning) – I inform the press that on Wednesday I will direct myself to the people I was put on this planet to unite.
I will simply let them know that it isn’t they who are called to like or dislike a song, but me, their King. I – and only I have the right to hang bards – and as far as there being a song fit to capture my spirit and honor my reign, it is I and I alone who can will it to be so.
I will decree that all my subjects compose a song of their own, in which they express how they plan to take me into their hearts for as long as I see fit to call myself their King.
Every subject will be called to present his and her composition to me personally. Next to the hanging corpse of the last bard my kingdom will ever have, a stage will be erected and the show will last until every song is heard – until I have heard the one song fit to serenade a King’s heart.
And when this chapter in my kingdom’s history can at last be written, only then will I assume the rest of my responsibilities.
I command armies, as have my forefathers, and when every song has been heard, only then, together, we will attack England – again.
A young woman and her three children enter the home of her dying mother-in-law. The two women have not spoken for years; ever since their last falling out, in which both said things that would never be unsaid and which would mark them until death – as it turned out.
Records are sketchy as to what was said exactly, and by whom. But on this day the three small children will learn that it had involved a curse their mother put onto the ‘old witch’ in payment for her disrespect.
Later, when the children are old enough to ask their mother for details of that day, and what had lead to it, their mother openly replies – as if somehow putting curses on family members were still a common thing. Well, it would seem that with emigrants from the Old World – even in 1940-s – it still was.
The curse had been clearly formulated, without frazzle, as curses need to be:
“Old witch, you will not die until I forgive you ….” – hatred put to words and given a place in the everyday of things.
It has been years since that fateful day. A month ago, grandmother suffered a massive stroke. The extensive bleeding in her brain killed her right away, speaking in terms of human dignity that is. Though, technically, for almost a month, in a coma, she can still be considered to be a collection of somewhat ‘functioning’ organs and can thus not yet be boxed. She hangs on, amazing family, friends and the medical professionals alike with her heroic inability to find peace. Stoic – the emigrant has always seen worse….
There isn’t a prayer in the community that can prompt the Lord to wing this gentle soul and take it into His kingdom. The suffering – for all – is exasperating, for no-one knows that it isn’t God’s cruelty at all prolonging it, but a thing as human and clear as a duty that was forced upon the old woman by the wife of her only son.
And on this day, with her young children by her side, the young woman decides it is time to end it; to release the old bat into the arms of God at last.
Standing by the side of their grandmother’s bed, the children observe their mother cross herself with short and deliberate stabs to her own chest and lips. They watch her lower her hand to the old woman’s forehead and then strike it swiftly down the pale face that now feels nothing but still will not disobey the power of the oath.
Years later, the children will recall – though, this has yet to be confirmed – hearing their mother word inside a stifled sigh, as her hand touches the grandmother’s face, “Enough. Go.” – a whisper powerful enough to wing souls indeed and open the gates to kingdoms only God (and Italians, apparently) have the might to open.
The children’s grandmother was buried at the Parque del Recuerdo in Santiago the next day.
As the book has been out for some weeks now, and here and there feedback has been coming in from the field, pictures of it lying around on trains and on cocktail tables in Paris have also been been spotted.
Since the release on Feb 7, the book has shipped between three continents, so here the call:
^IF YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE The Hand of Yemanja IN YOUR POSSESION, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, MAKE A SNAP OF IT IN YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND POST IT IN THE COMMENTS BELOW OR TO THE FACEBOOK PAGE^
Let’s see how it roams – a trip around the world for the ‘on-line’ generation.
In the Old Patagonian Express, Paul Theroux begins his journey to the Southernmost tip of the American continent by observing a young woman reading one of his earlier books on a train.
Now, anyone who has ever written anything at all, in the hope it will be read by anyone, will understand what a mystifying experience that surely must have been – how very few things in the world are more engaging than actually watching a total stranger suck up the words you yourself put on that page.
It’s been a while since I have read the Old Patagonian Express, and I’m not all that sure if this reference is even accurate. But the idea is still that this is very much a fantasy I hope I will get to live out some day myself. And, so I have put myself at the mercy of chance and need to be ready to spring into action the minute opportunity presents itself to turn it into a reality. Magic, the conductor of fate, needs to be put forth before it will come bouncing back, is the way I see it.
When certain requirements, conditions, are finally in place; only then can the Goddess come in and do what she does best: turn fantasy into reality;
– A book from one’s own hand needs to be making its way through the world.
– The author of said book needs to be traveling with said unsuspecting reader, who happens to not have been tempted by any other masterpiece at the kiosk of the Gare du Nord and can furthermore, be bothered to read said author’s work.
– The author of said work needs to then be awake for a large portion of said train ride, even if it is after a long romantic weekend and said author’s eyelids are made ever so heavy by the sensuous rocking of the Thalys going supersonic between Charles du Gaulle and Bruxelles Midi.
But then, said author will remember that his book hasn’t been out long enough – and that a French translation of it, at this point, is a one fantasy that is still to make it out of the ranks of common lunacy.
Said author may chuckle to himself at this point, a little bitter, perhaps; though in no way bitter enough to dirty his gathering karma with cynical thoughts, of course, and he will remember that the Goddess is also fickle, as Goddesses tend to be. The Goddess needs tempting, the timid will bore her and she will walk right by, unless one tugs at her robe a bit to get her attention from time to time.
Directly next to me, on the other side of the isle, there is a man I take to be French, reading something that is beautifully bound – and thick! I take him to be French for no other reason than that he has a moustache stuck to his face and has not stopped chewing energy bars since leaving Paris. I get up and pretend to reach for my things to sneak a peek at it. English!
Now, this not only rules out him being a Frenchman, but also suggests he is tourist travelling alone, far from home and therefore keen to starting conversations with total strangers. And best of all, as a traveler, he will know about the Goddess for sure.
I tap the man on the shoulder. I introduce myself and explain my relationship with the Goddess. I learn he is Dutch, a man serving in the public sector, going home to Schiedam.
I grab my own copy of the book, the one out of my own hand… and offer it to him.
He looks at me like I am a complete maniac and is clearly fearing for his own safety. He reaches into his inside pocket of his blazer – for what I am hoping will not be a can of maze, but a pen.
It is the latter.
I sign the book:
To my neighbor Maarten from the Thalys;
The Hand of Yemanja
I’ll be on a train again tomorrow.
Enjoy the read, Maarten! The Goddess is watching us both.
As of this morning, everybody who needed to approve things that needed approving have approved them – and The Hand of Yemanja has gone to print!
This morning I went running, as I have done often before. Technically, sure, I covered distance; moving is obviously a process. But sometimes, as it was today, it isn’t the process that’s felt but the arrival, the conclusion of effort; not the contemplation of a jump but the landing itself.
Writing is travel, for me at least. It is waking at an ungodly hour to pack a bag, call a cab, clear an airport and feel yourself being pulled off the ground with a destination. Sometimes – though not often – it can also be like your body breaking the surface of the water for the first time, on your first day of a sunny vacation. Everything that clings to you is now behind you. Your past actions are what they are and there is nothing you can do but accept that for a brief period – until your next onbession that is – you are free.
I revisited some old material, hoping to find work that might match this experience. What I found was a clip in which I visualize Lydia’s arrival in the New World, the moment she too is free to just look forward.
My sweetheart’s cat has gone missing; been gone two days. It surprises her – and me – how attached she’s become and what it does to her to think her furry friend is out there somewhere and that no-one knows where to really look. I wish there were something more that could be done, that I could do more; that peace of mind could be as easy a thing to make as the chapters we open and close so precareously all the time in the stories we write!
A cell phone in Dublin slips into a coma and there is no prayer that will bring it back to life, so I read on facebook. All my friends seem to be chapter-closers these days. By late afternoon, the plug gets pulled at last and the mourning there too can begin (an iPhone is my hope), the closing of a chapter that immediately announces the one that is soon to come.
I just closed off a job of ten years today and though I must have, I don’t remember seeing a soul. Just walked through the door and rode the borrowed bike back to the station, where I smoked my 17:30 cigarette and took a train I have secretly been hoping I will never have to take again. I already miss it, the job, the people. Knew I would, that this I too would mourn.
But the pling in my pocket, as I am reading through this morning’s non-news in the free non-news newspaper that was handed to me by some kid in what has always looked to me like the jacket of a race car driver – for some reason – announces the opening of MY chapter NEXT, page ONE.
I swipe and find there is a message from the design department, containing four files in total: Book Cover – front, Book Cover – back, Book Cover – spine, Book Block pdf, requiring my last revisions and (please, not to fuck around with corrections anymore, for we are rather pressed for time) approval by morning.
As I want to jump with joy at seeing I am now another monkey with a book, I decide that the mourning part I will skip today and just lather myself with that heavenly balm called EGO and stare into that mirror in which I am always pretty and will always have something to say.
So, how does the Bantu Goddess of the sea, Yemanja, get to play a title role in the book? To answer that question I need to take you back to my biography.
On 9/11, 1973, democracy was hung by its feet and bled to death in Chile. Soon, an exodus got underway out of the clutches of fascism and among the thousands who felt threatened enough to leave everything behind were my parents, selling all but the bare necessities and taking their three young sons on a cruise bound for Genoa. No, really, a cruise, a boat; the idea being that it would be less conspicuous than – say, crossing the Andes on mule to Argentina.
Point is, even though, we passed through the Panama Canal, we too navigated over Neptune’s roof, like Lydia and Paxi and other characters in the book; over the lap of the Goddess and too were touched by it, The Atlantic.
And: so, what about Pierre Verger, with his the fleshy, moving work that captures so enticingly the Brazil of Condomble? Well, in the same way the Goddess comes to Edmilce in the book, by Pierre Verger’s hand came this:
Which Anja Robertus laid over one of her own photos shot in Brazil, and for me and the book she made this:
Thank you, Anja, for your design and thank you Pierre Verger Foundation for the pic. Both contributions have been invaluable, given of course that it is with this image that the book begins to get visual, as it was still largely being written at the time. The marriage of Pierre Verger and Anja Robertus’ work is actually what put me on the path to Lit-Cinema, and if The Hand of Yemanja ever gets made into a movie, this will be the poster.
I am sitting at a large table. There has been a gallery opening. I find myself surrounded by individuals active in the Amsterdam arts scene. Among them, a famous Dutch writer – a very famous Dutch writer – but not the kind that does judging gigs, I think. And when it’s my turn to introduce myself to the Intelligenzia something interesting happens.
I say I have just found a publisher for my first book and that it will be coming out in a few months. My announcement causes neither much enthusiasm nor skepticism. But whether it is a good book, or if it will ever sell even one copy, the consensus appears to be that it is still an artistic endeavor and therefore honorable. My place at the table seems granted.
Before long the famous Dutch writer is coming forward in his chair across from me, scraping his throat to speak. He looks me in the eye and it is at that moment that my chair loses a screw and becomes wobbly, going on kaput in fact. Something tells me I had better slow down on the spritzers.
“So, why did you write your book?”
I don’t even think to answer.
“What is the reason you wanted to write your book?”
I try to have a go at a slice of time, the moment before all is revealed at the end of some inevitable sequence that would probably come the closest to getting cherry popped. Because nothing else could feel like this, I say to myself, not quite finding inner dialogue either.
But, however wacked the question, and well-timed too, it is a fair one. And most importantly: I have an answer.
I come forward myself.
“I wrote my book on the day I had nothing left on my shelf that was worth reading again,” I say, and add that I wrote it because I needed to read it. “Because it didn’t exist yet.”