Beggars

View in the mist

Most people, when giving beggars money, I’ve noticed, quickly throw a bit of loose change, avoid making eye contact. Sometimes I wonder if it is because there is this realisation it could have been them, how much they have in common.

I’ve recently decided to give beggars more than I usually would. Instead of just 20 cents or so, a euro. But this week I took it a step further and asked a begging lady with friendly eyes who stood outside the supermarket if I perhaps could buy her some food. She looked at me surprised and hesitated for a moment, then said: “I’d so much would love a chicken for my kids…”

I nodded and went on my way to shop. When I came back out and gave it to her, it was obvious she had never expected me to actually do it. She looked at me as if she wanted to embrace me and uttered ”May God grant you health.” I wished her the same back.

“This is the first time anyone has done this for me, people wouldn’t even part with a piece of bread.” she told me, and in a weird way the boundaries between us melted away with just that chicken. She waved at me when I drove out of the car park and I felt all warm after having had this short moment of unlikely friendship.

Yes, how easily I could have been her. It is only due to the right circumstances that I am not.

Because really, down the gutter is only a step away from luck.

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The Joke

“There is a saying in English, to do with watching paint dry and being bored.” I comment to villager T while we’re watching his cousin at work, standing on the scaffolding. ”Here it’s actually interesting.”

We all laugh.

Villager T’s wife wanted a dark red. I told her I didn’t like it when she showed everyone the samples.

I told her that if I had it my way I’d paint my house pure hippy on the outside but that I didn’t because I wanted to take the rest of the village in consideration.

The scaffolding is rickety and my mind skips playfully down that accident prone path,  imagining the cousin on the concrete below, broken bones,  Make shift ER until an ambulance turns up. Villager J’s son once fell out of an oak tree he was trying to cut and had those metal pins everywhere  in his leg after they operated him and I knew I shouldn’t stare at those but I felt entranced by the sight.

“I have no idea how he does it.” I say to his wife. It’s only a few metres up, 4 metres if that but still.

“How much is he paying you?” I know the answer. It’s the predictability, I think, which I like. “In alcohol.” he shouts back. We’re going out tonight  but he’s not allowed to drink so he can watch me getting drunk.”

We all laugh.

We’re discussing the crisis while the cousin, whose age I’d not correctly guessed but is mid 60’s, continues painting. ”Some people have had to live in crisis all their life though.” Villager T points out. ”Indeed, your wife, being married to you.”  I say, quick as a flash.

We all laugh.

I take my daughter to the pool later that day, otherwise we might melt.

There is enough shade at the side of the pool and I take out a book by Kundera which I am still trying to understand. I always hope to understand it, I try to grasp it but his sentences are elusive.  I felt like that too when I stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and when I stood in front of those rooms full of hair in Auschwitz.  I tried to understand.

I open the book at a chapter which I hadn’t finished yet, this is a book about novels, and the novels he describes, apart from Tolstoy, I haven’t read,  which makes it even more impossible to understand.  For a second I look up, and stare at the water of the pool in the distance, the ripples in the water before reading.

“Every true novelist listens for that suprapersonal wisdom, which explains why great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors. Novelists who are more intelligent than their books should go into another line of work. But what is that wisdom? What is the novel? There is a fine Jewish proverb: Man thinks, God laughs. 

But why does God laugh at the sight of man thinking? Because man thinks and the truth escapes him. Because the more men think, the more man’s thought diverges from another’s. And finally because man is never what he thinks he is.”

The moment I realise I’ve understood what he meant, it’s already slipped out my fingers and replaced by doubt. But it’s a nice doubt now.  Because I know now that whatever I write, maybe I don’t need to understand it in entirely anyway.

And God must be falling over himself laughing at my attempts to think.

I’m drinking whiskey. Or maybe he is drinking whiskey.

I think I can still hear the tinkling of ice cubes in my glass.

I’m drinking whiskey. Or maybe he is drinking whiskey. It’s a long time ago. I’m trying to knit the snippets together.

“But this isn’t about the village. It’s not what I ought to be writing about. I ought to be writing funny anecdotes about villagers and their escaping donkeys.” I tell myself firmly and turn my attention to the clouds in the sky instead. Villager O had explained to me that castle clouds predicted thunder.

The clouds are no longer just castles. They have taken on fortified proportions. A rumble in the distance. Villager T walks past with his horse and donkey. The sun has changed his face. His hair no longer grey, it’s white. “Cold isn’t it.” I shout. Our ongoing joke. We tell each other it is cold when it’s hot and visa versa. “Freezing!” he shouts back. The rest of the villagers don’t seem to get our sense of humor which makes us even worse. “Best get the fire on when you get home!” He laughs.

I listen to the hooves disappearing round the corner. And I am alone with my thoughts again. Write what should not be forgotten, a quote by Isabel Allende. But I’d really much rather like to forget this episode.  I think I can still hear the tinkling of ice cubes in my glass.

Summer, 1995 Croatia.

I’m drinking whiskey. Or maybe he is drinking whiskey. It’s a long time ago. I’m going to knit the snippets together. There is a war going on not far from here, Bosnia to be precise. This area, Split, Dalmatia is calm. I’m sitting on a terrace of a café. No tourists.

Lots of NATO around. It used to be UNPROFOR, UN protection force, but they’ve recently changed their name to NATO. I do voluntary aid as well as research for my thesis. I’ll be here for five months.

He’s a UN monitor. We’re talking about recent events. Srebrenica to be precise. ”That is all exaggerated bullshit.” he tells me. “There was no massacre.” I think for a moment he is trying to take the piss out of me. But he isn’t. I’m perplexed. ”All of it. All the atrocities against the Bosnian Muslims, all exaggerated. Greatly exaggerated.” he leans back in his chair.

I am thinking about the survivors of the Bosnian camps I got to know back in Holland. The ”Never Again” thing which was played out more or less live in front of TV cameras. The pictures of men behind barbed wire. It caused me to get involved in doing something, anything, because being a witness to ”Never Again” albeit on tv made me feel as if I was compliant. I point out that the camps were no exaggeration. He is a monitor, he is supposed to be neutral. “All second hand accounts.” Irritated.

I notice suddenly that he slurs. I am outraged, he notices, it  fuels him and he leans forward. I can smell the alcohol now he is so close to me. ‘You think those Muslims have done nothing?” he pauses, stares at his glass in front of him. “Have you ever had to deliver a son back to his mother in pieces?” his voice is menacing. His jaw clenches. “You know what they did to him before they cut him in pieces?”

He describes what they did to him. Graphic. I’m feeling sick. But he’s a monitor, he’s supposed to be neutral. I am sitting here talking to a UN monitor who denies Srebrenica happened as well as the Omarska camps and he’s unstoppable.

He continues describing  the undescribable. ”He’s drunk.” someone intervenes, people try to calm him down. “He’s seen a lot.” someone else adds. I put the glass of whiskey which is in front of me to my lips. Maybe it’s his.

The ice cubes have melted. I down it in one. Snippets. I’m thinking about the soldier I met when I was working elsewhere,  in a refugee camp. Lots of soldiers around. They came back from the frontlines to visit their families which had been displaced. I still remember his face. He looked Like Ron Wood. Front tooth missing.

”See this ring?” he asked me. He held his hand up to my face, a big golden ring. ”I cut it off a Serb’s’ hand” He grinned, then laughed. They said a lot of things to wind us volunteers up. I hoped that was all it was, but I decided then that I didn’t want to talk to any of the soldiers anymore.

The atrocities in Srebrenica nor the camps weren’t exaggerated. Mass graves were discovered.  You can’t exaggerate mass graves. Today was the burial of yet more identified victims of the Srenbrenica massacre which took place 18 years ago.  The total of identified victims stands at  6066.  Another 2306 remain missing.

One atrocity doesn’t out rule another. I should have said to that UN monitor that evening. I can still hear the tinkling of the icecubes in my glass.

I’m drinking whiskey. Or maybe he’s drinking whiskey.

The whatifs and shouldhavedones

View from a rock

View from a rock

I Went into the hills today followed by a bunch of whatifs and shouldhavedones. Some days they don’t leave me alone. It felt as if I went out with a horde of them in tow, they made so much noise they distracted me from looking at the summery happenings around me. “I don’t want you to come with me when I go into the hills. You should have stayed at home.” I told them. “We wanted to come.” they said.

I quickened my pace, which was hard in my wellies. They kept up. I wore wellies because the weather has been crazy lately. It doesn’t know what it’s doing. It’s indecisive. It’s having identity problems. Maybe that fuels the whatifs and shouldhavedones.

The shouldhavedones told me that I ought to have a proper job, that embarking on life as I have done so far was risky at best, idiotic at worst. Shouldhavedones wear designerclothes. I guess they do that to point out the fact that I don’t. The way they speak seems rehearsed, but it isn’t. They’re just that good at speaking. “Why is it inferiority complex? mine is quite simple.”
I joked, trying to distract them. They didn’t laugh.

The whatifs pointed out, list in hand, all the things that could go wrong, backed up with statistics, taking into consideration all the things which had gone wrong in the past and the disastrous effects. I tried to ignore them.

When I arrived at my favorite lookout point in the hills, they were still with me. This annoyed me. They normally tend to give up half way. Now they were blocking  my view.

I like my view. I found this particular lookout spot a few years ago, when looking for petroglyphs. I sometimes fall asleep on the rocks, or sit there staring in the distance, entertaining the thought that one of the hills in the distance isn’t a mountain, but a man-made pyramid.  That’s s not a strange thought. Word goes that one of the hills nearby isn’t a hill either but man-made, and that there are still remnants of an old fort there. It’s near the priest’s house I wrote about before.

No one messes with my view. So I told the shouldhavedones and whatifs a few things, gave them a piece of my mind. It got a little ugly, I might have sworn. But back off they did.

I walked back with a sense of relief, alone.

The whatifs and shouldhavedones are probably still there in the hills, they’ll be on their way back soon but for now they are silenced, marveling at the view instead.

I like that thought.

Painting

One of my paintings is on the cover of womenwriters ‘s new literary online journal, www.whenwomenwaken.org.

Hide - Oil on canvas

Hide – Oil on canvas

I wanted to write something about the painting, but after staring at an empty screen for 30 minutes I gave up. I found it impossible. Not from a pedantic pretentious my art speaks for itself point of view but simplistically put, you’ll either like it or you don’t. You read in it what you will. You can look at it and groan inwardly “See that’s what happens when people do the autodidact thing and end up with no skill.”

It all depends on perspective. Your perspective.

Like so brilliantly summed up in this movie.

Urban Yearning

That day the light was perfect.

I’d walked past the scene daily, the balustrade and the ruin behind it.

It radiated a type of urban moodiness that nearly made me yearn for the city.

Nearly. But not quite.

 

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Challenge

“I’ve decided I’m going to write about you lot on the internet.”  I told Villager T.  Villager T and I always try to outwit each other. Villager T, it has to be said, is the village clown.  ”I’m going to tell everyone you’re the village drunk and that we always and forever discuss how we are going to exchange my car for your horse.” He burst out laughing at that.

I’m starting on Monday, I’ll begin with A and will end with Z, every day a letter.  Apart from Sundays. Not to keep in Catholic Village tradition, but because that is one of the rules for the a-z blog challenge I have decided to join.

A will be for Answers and Ants. B will be for Bread and Bored, C might be Cats,  Cows or Colorado beetles.  And I will somehow  fit in that story about the Priest who was ousted by the village women.

a to z