The greatest show on earth.

I went inside. A small square table right in the center of the mirrored wall. Well, all walls were mirrored but I mean the one facing the Boulevard de Saint Germain-des-Prés.

Paris, Café de Flore. I’m chasing the footsteps and memory of Hemingway. Whenever I go to a place he went I feel some sort of personal connection. Unexplainable I guess. He’s not there anymore and I am too young to have been his lover. If I could have been I probably would have been. Anyway, Café de Flore in the Parisian center of literature and philosophy. Simone de Beauvoir sat here too. Maybe just like me but probably not alone but with Sartre sharing one of these small tables. And a café creme or more likely a glass of wine.

cafe de florePhoto: ‘Café de Flore’ © 2013 Alice Anna Verheij

Hemingway wrote that people who do not allow themselves the hugely overpriced coffee at Café de Flore are missing out on probably the greatest show on earth. I happen to agree. Because this café certainly is an ongoing show. More than it’s equally interesting neighbour Les Deux Magots, which I tried out the day before. One simply has to go in and sit at one of the tables and watch. Watch the waiters moving around. The place is lively even when only a handful of the 40 tables on the gournd floor are occupied and the rest of the guest are outside enjoying the terrace and the spring. The real show is inside. Through the open doors just before lunchtime you will find no less than 20 waiters running in and out with filled and emptied trays. Outside the peak hours their number deminishes to ‘just’ 12 and even they are sometimes pausing to chat with each other lively. But never for long. The waiter flirt with the women, the have a good eye for beauty looking at how the respond when challenged. The Amrican girls don’t notice it. The interior of the café is very art nouveau-ish. Light, lots of glass, squared shapes and ornaments and those little tables placed in an invisible grid in such a manner that it’s possible to travel full speed in between them with filled trays. The chairs are Thonet chairs in the variety with the 6 bars in a waiver shape at the back in between the elongated back legs. Little arcs in between the legs give them enough strength to withstand long term use by gravitational people.

A napkin is draped over the left arm and the tray rests on the right hand. The skirt is whiten and long ending just above the well polished shoes covering black trousers. The vest is as black as the trousers are and the shirt is toothpaste white. A black bow-tie is standard. Waiters really are waiters here. Their smile is tempting and inviting and has just about the same color as their shirts, independent of their age. Interesting. Although there’s the 20 of them running around they form a group of 50 on the café’s payroll. They accept tips with a slight nod and a smile, but tips are rarely given. I suppose the prices prevent people to give tips. In their wallet the waiters seem to have enough change to prevent them from unneeded walks to the cash register inside. Their walking route is twofold. The ones from the side terrace follow a high speed trail with a double wave making them zigzagging in the café, the ones from the Boulevard terrace have just one corner to handle. Both streams end at the right side of the mirrored fake wall behind which the kitchen is located. The connect with the line of waiting waiters who are emptying their trays, passing the orders and refilling their trays with earlier orders to deliver them to the guests after another high speed wave walk to the terrace or inside the café. The cutomers inside the café are left alone. There are just a few of us sitting at a few of the tables. The others are reading a newspaper or a book. I am writing, it’s quiet and I realize that there’s no music distracting us. A stranger stares outside with his mind wandering of to a place unknown.

The café creme is delivered on a silver platter. The cup and saucer, coffejug, milk jug and glass filled with water are all imprinted with ‘Café de Flore’. I guess they’re some sort of collectors item and I presume that because of that they are renewed very frequently. They look brandnew. The whole café is a time machine. From my table position I imagine that the view hasn’t changed much in the past eight or nine decades. There’s an unmatched level of perfection in displaying the past in a beautiful manner, even better then in that other time machine opposite the church. The mosaic of the tiled floor with the little waiver shaped in yellow and brown tints, the dark wooden chairs and tables, the tomato red seats, the mirrored walls divided by marble elements, the copper of theframes around the mirrors and off the illumination and the creamwhhite of the ceiling and the two lonely pillars in the middle of the café split the space in a darkish but interesting underworld and a light upper world. The murmur of talking people is everywhere all the time. Some people are silent.

Around lunchtime the number of inside customers quickly rises to the level that most of the little tables get occupied with cups, saucers, plates, glasses and cutlery. The noise level rises equivalently. The waiters still smile, no matter how hard they have to work. In retrospect I agree with Hemingway’s words. Visiting Paris without having coffee at the Café de Flore is worse than not seeing the Eiffeltower in Paris’ skyline when looking down from the Sacre Coeur. The patron at the door never smiles but shows a presidential expression overseeing his world of customers and waiters. His hands are almost permanently folded in front of him. When I finally leave we greet. A bientôt. I will come back soon I hope.

© 2013 Anna Ros

Advertenties

A phone call

trein

Train. The Hague to Amsterdam. The thing was on time. Oh, and there actually was some sunshine out there to guide me. To keep me awake. Of course I didn’t take a book with me, after all it’s less than an hour to Amsterdam. I hate reading books when I’m sure that there isn’t enough time to finish at least a couple of chapters.

Anyway, time was flying in absolute boredom. The landscape was absolutely boring. The people in the train were totally uninteresting except for that girl who sat three seats away. I liked her hat, a bowler at the perfect size. Problem was that she looked so cool that it wasn’t fair. The good news was that her shoes didn’t match. Thank the Lord for cool girls who make fashion errors. Makes me feel human. We stopped at Leiden station, a concrete, steel, aluminium and glass structure in ultimate uglyness. Silently I requested Al Qaida to bomb the place. Stations like that should be destroyed. A.S.A.P..

Phone rings in my bag. I don’t notice it.

Train moves again, cityscape Leiden slides along my window. It’s ugly from here, which is strange for a city that really is quite nice.

Phone rings again. I notice.

Front pouch of bag zips open and there’s my daily junk. I frantically search through the chaos I created when leaving home cursing myself for not being organized enough to have a nicely ordered and accessible bag.

Phone rings again. Got it.

I let the white devil slide from it’s cover and thumb-slide the sucker to answer the call. I don’t recognize the number. I mean, the phone doesn’t recognize it and as such shows a number in the display. I never recall phone numbers if they’re not connected to either lovers or friends. I answer.

“Morning, Alice speaking?”
Man says: “Shouldn’t you be at Katwijk to file charges for abuse?”
“I didn’t abuse anyone.”
“You’ve been abused, haven’t you?”
“Not in Katwijk, I never go there.”
“But you’ve just been released from hospital…” Man asks with a doubtful voice.
“For some months.” I answer truthfully.

I decide to play him. He obviously isn’t that smart and I hate guys on the phone without the decency to say their name when I answer. Same goes for women.

“We’re waiting for you here you know.” The man sounds a bit agitated. I love it.
“Oh dear, that’s a nuisance. So, you want to be abused?”
“Err, what do you mean?” Man sounds confused.
“Well if you are than charges can be filed of course.”
“Yes, but…” Man sounds totally confused now.

Silence. For 10 seconds. Voices in the background.

“Err, you are Mrs. Verdoorn?”
“No, I’ve been having a different name for years.”

Silence.

“Oh, I must have the wrong person.”
“I am quite alright but certainly not yours.” I answer the guy. He still doesn’t laugh. Fucker.

Silence.

“Err, well err. I mean. Err…”

– click –

I smile as the train rolls into Amsterdam Lelylaan station. I grab my stuff, put on my cap noticing the girl with the bowler following me with her eyes and a big smile. I wave her a kiss and leave, she miles back at me. It’s gonna be a great day.

© 2013 Alice Anna Verheij

A lady, some dead poets and a painter’s academy.

Didn’t expect to find the one we did and not to find the one we wanted to. I mean, we were looking for that dead actress but found the lady instead. Lady Wilde to be exact. Oscar’s mom. According to her tombstone she wasn’t just his mother but also a nationalist (which is no surprise) and a women’s rights activist (which is a surprise to me). But also a pretty snobbish character according to Dave. Dave? Yes, Dave. The old guy we met at the graveyard and who visits the place twice a week every week. He likes the quiet atmosphere he said. And he loves to chat about the people who’s remains are lying there under the most fantastic stones, monuments and tombs. Surrounded by stone carved angels frozen in time. It’s a poets place shared with writers, theater people and painters, doctors and officers, gentlemen and their ladies.

lady wilde

So what’s snobbish about lady Wilde? Well, Dave told me that she had some desires concerning the place where her remains were to rest till eternity. A tree for instance. She demanded to be buried under a tree, which I can understand as she would be secured by crows and other creatures inhabiting the trees. Like the squirrels one can see running around the place. The snobbish thing however was her wish not to be born next to ‘commoners’. After all, lady Wilde was a lady and commoners where of the lower species in her opinion, I presume. I guess it’s forgiven by now.

Dave was quite a character and we met him by accident. The old man was about seventy years old I suppose and walking in the muddy paths in between the stones and monuments. He obviously knew his way around because for an hour or so he guided us through the maze of thousands of stones to the likes of William Thackeray, princess Sophia, some poets and writers and peculiar ladies. With stories as a company he clearly enjoyed showing some of the special monuments. From the Egyptian like tomb with the sphinxes around it, to the lady with the veil over het head and the tomb from which a tree grows without any roots in the ground. It made the place magical and the visit most enjoyable.

After the long walk it was nice to rest a bit at the pub just around the corner. A typical Victorian style building with high ceilings, dark wooden panelling, an endlessly long bar and just the right tables and chairs to be comfortable. The Mason’s Arms is an old one, named after the stone masons who would have been working next door carving stones and monuments.

The tube station is near and within minutes the underground brought us right into the heart of London for a non buying shopping spree in Oxford and Carnaby Street, Piccadilly, Soho and with some detours to Burlington House, the wonderful building where the Royal Academy of Arts was and still is seated. It is magnificent with beautifully painted ceilings, impressive stairways and an atmosphere which is inviting. Great exhibitions too but that wasn’t what we came for. It was the building with the seven arches at the entrance looking like enormous teeth in a monsters mouth waiting for people to step inside.

Time warp.

We’re in the Windsor Castle. The pub, not the castle. In Holland Park close to the Kensington area for which this whole visit is intended. The great thing about the place is that’s its still for the most part in its original state. Three areas separated by wooden walls to divide the customers. At the back is the Sherry Bar. In old times for men only. The 1835 pub was first a meeting place for farmers bringing cattle to the market in Hyde Park, then a meeting place for painters and poets and now for trendy and moderately wealthy locals. Most important me is that it is the very location where some of my novels characters used to meet long, long time ago. And it felt good to be there because it was everything I hoped for to find. An ideal spot for some key scenes in the lives of the ladies who have become a part of my life in such an unexpected manner.

A few hours later we’re back at the Mason’s Arms, drawing a bit and writing a bit in anticipation of what’s to waiting for us in the coming days.

© 2013 Alice Anna Verheij

Skies over Chitwan.

Last year around this time (well almost) I was in Chitwan in Nepal. When I was there I did the usual and the unusual. The usual being the elephant ride, the unusual was falling in love with a wonderful Nepali women with whom I traveled. It didn’t last in spite of our mutual equal feelings, I suppose culture and personal change where in the way. Now, I am past the hurt and only cherish the memory.

The elephant ride however brought me some photos that are truly special. Because of the weather, the environment, the specific moment of the day and the company I was with. One photo in particular is cherished by me because of its composition and the amazing sky that brought a touch of mystery to the photo. As if the Chitwan Nature Reserve isn’t mystifying enough in itself. Here I share that photo with you showing the workers carrying their load past the impressive but unimpressed elephants close by under an exciting sky. Nothing was manipulated in this picture concerning composition and color. It is just like it was at that moment.

It was July 16, 2011 with my then love at my side on top of an elephant in the late afternoon.

photo: Alice Verheij © 2011  – ‘Chitwan Elephants’

Although there are a lot of wonderful things in my life right now, I do miss my days in Nepal and will keep my friends there in my heart. It has become my second home for as far as I am concerned and I will praise the day I can set foot on Nepal soil again. For sure I will return to Chitwan then.

Alice © 2012

The benefits of being ill (for a while).

Sometimes life travels at lightspeed for some. The reasons why are usually a totally unpredictable combination of events, challenges, situations and probably more known factors like character, emotion, personality, ambition and health. For me it’s not difficult to attach something personal to all of these words but the last one has, for the time being, become like the sand in the machine. And that was about time.

There’s no need or ambition in me to go through that whole string of words but a few things are at this moment determining my life in the short term. That is until expectedly the end of this year.

So I fell ill. An intense flu crossed my path and although that is no drama at all for me it meant that I for the first time in many months was forced to take a break. If only for a week or two. And taking a brake from work, obligations, efforts and ambitions forces one to think. Usually.

In the coming months is a lot of work waiting for me and with a lot of luck I’ll be able to get it done before summer. The long awaited novel is getting printed and so are two photobooks. The latter two however still have to be produced from ground up and that is quite a job even for someone like me who is able to make beautifully layouted work in a relative short timespan. And then of course there’s the big one. The film. Still so much to do and so much of it only possible to be done by me. It was, is and will be the biggest time consumer for at least another couple of months. That isn’t everything on the agenda. Because I am turning this work of writing, filming, photographing and publishing my profession rapidly. I know exactly what I want to do in the next part of my life and in fact I have been doing that already since about two years. It feels good, it is me out there doing what I love.

But there’s also the demonic shadow of the past preventing me to build a business of it in my home country because of a business past gone bad (nothing special there either but the left overs are still quite unmanageable). So if I want to do what I do on a solid basis I will have to work internationally. The good news is, I love that. Still, being stranded by illness for a while does force me to revise plans. Not in the least because when out of the performance loop the mind starts asking questions. Making reality checks. And so plans change.

Sure, I still will start to work from abroad for a large portion of the year as soon as it can be arranged. Economics will decide when, I decide if. But the timelines and the way this will happen shift, turn and change. It is not realistic for me to work from Nepal as a home base. I will however keep visiting the country I love so dearly and keep following, filming and reporting the fate of my Bhutanese friends in and around the refugee camps. Not because I promised but because I see that as an obligation to do so. There are more angles to the Nepalese society and the developments of Nepal that I want to report about. But it will never be my only world.

I am still a novel writer and that will not change, just like my love for writing poetry and songs for entertainment. So there will always be times when I am not in Asia or anywhere else for local reporting or filming but in stead I’ll be somewhere, anywhere, writing a novel. And the topic will not necessarily be connected to previous work because my very being as a literary artist doesn’t allow fixation.

So what does all of this mean for the plans I had and for a part still have?

Well, I am the journalist writer, photographer and filmer interested and focussed on human and women rights in South Asia. No doubt about that. But maybe after finishing the film not for this year anymore. Probably if not almost certainly next year again. But I am also the heremit writer in a soft spot somewhere writing that next novel. The sort of novel is already decided and quietly I am starting up research for it already. It is going to be very different from previous work, a challenge to write (that’s never a surprise) and a very special book. And I will also every now and then take the stage with a song or a short story in whatever show with dear theatre friends.

It will mean that I will not leave my country permanently. It will mean that I will leave my country intermittently, sometimes for long periods. But I’ll always be back for long periods. Like this year. Because this year, after the dust has settled of the books and the film and the two years of work involving the Bhutanese exiles issue, I will take a break for something very different, to keep myself in shape and not loose myself in one topic to work on and to take care that my mind stayes free. (I will not drop the topic of the Bhutanese, I can’t but it will be not the main focus for some time.)

Sometime this summer the real work on my new novel will start in traditional writing style. Designing the essence of the story, the plot if there is one to be, the characters, events, images and emotions. It will be England from roughly the end of the 19th century until the 1930’s. It will be distiguished romantic painters and one specific exquisitly beautiful model. A girl who became a model by fate and lost that work also by fate, never known by the public by her real name because she was not so high class savvy as that other famous painters model in that time but by the names of Greec goddesses or biblical Heroïns and who faded away in history but by her image remained unforgettable. I long to write about the life and loves of that woman who was once ‘Flaming June’. And this novel is one that will take quite some time to write wether I am in the flow or not. But it is a certainty that this will be my next major work.

Alice © 2012

Being lesbian (1920’s – 2010’s).

I live a quite liberal life. In my own country and my own culture. Which means I do not hide my gender or my sexual prevalence. Of course I am open about both as my friends, family and readers know. After all, it’s 2012 and we live in a modern world, don’t we?

Image

1928 American Novel

But this is certainly not true everywhere. There are still many societies and cultures (and / or religions) that disapprove homosexuality and transgenderism. And being confronted with that after many years of being out of the closet is ehm, well ehm, confronting… Without giving away too much details I can safely say that it’s ok to be lesbian and travel and work in Nepal. As long as you stay beneith the radar. So for most of the time I did so. On the few occasions that I was open on myself I received mixed reactions. Some people, including my best friends there, didn’t make a fuss. Others however said they didn understand and as for most people the standard question for a western woman traveling alone is “do you have a husband?”. When answering no most people gave me some sort of pityful look and sometimes even said: “oh how sad.”. In most cases I didn continue conversation on the relationshsip line so that was it. And some specific situations turned awkward when people simply said “We don have that in our society.” Which is of course total crap.

I do honor other cultures and religions I am not familiair with so I just go things out of the way. Why would I make life more difficult than necessary?

But then love strikes and after an initially good time things turned for the worse. And I learned. The hard way. I learned that some things are simply not possible in traditional societies for all kinds of reasons. And I realized that although in many places on the globe people like me are gathered equal to anyone else there still are many, many places where that is certainly not true. That in itself makes me sad. Very sad. Because it takes away the opportunity for that one most beautiful thing on earth: love.

This world is not as modern is it looks like. Unfortunately.

Alice (c) 2012

Half of me in half a home.

The street where half of me lives – Photo © 2012 Alice Verheij

Half of me in half a home

 

I live in half a home, the other half not being there

with a mind that is gone and wonders for so long

if I walk I’m only half, the rest is on another path

feet trying to go and flee cause it’s there that I should be

the other world pulls strong it does that for so long

to drag me away from this to grounds I so much miss

to a home that’s not here, not there but anywhere

I have no mental home as I’m on a quest, alone

so when we accidentally meet on an occasional street

remember it’s only half of me, the better half hopefully

and when I leave you then, the other has never been

your companion alone, that one was in another home

Alice © 2012

Missing paradise.


The countryside around Damak, Jhapa, Nepal. Photo: © 2012 Alice Verheij

It’s now almost two months since I left what I consider paradise. With love in my heart. Not long ago that love left me for reasons I will not share. Too sensitive. In these two months the country I traveled, lived, cried, laughed and made great friends never ever left my thoughts for much longer than an hour or so. Actually, I even think that it isn’t even an hour.

I feel sad, depressed and out of place. Homeless. I am most certainly in the wrong place. The ricefields, the fields filled with mustarde plants, the warmth, sun and smiles. The ever blue skies and crystal white mountaintops, the deep green of the forests and the calming and comforting sound of mountain waters streaming onto the plains. The rivers and the monkeys, the chaos on the roads and in the towns, the smells, the food, the colours. It is all not here. I feel like my senses are dimmed constantly as if my body is in a constant sleep with feelings chilled and sensitivity lost.

I live in a nice house, with nice people and except for the problems in my life that are always at the background I live a happy life. When looked upon from the outside. But I live alone and in the wrong place. Every few days I wear my Nepali clothes, they make me feel better. They suit me better. Every day in the mornings and evenings I do Puja, greeting my personal Gods and asking them to take care of my soul. Every day my room is filled with the soft scent of incense and because of the work I do with the sounds of Nepal streets and voices.

Editing our film, my film, is complicated and challenging. It quite often kills me. Not because of technical issues or creative problems but because it fires the longing to unmanageable proportions. All I do is focussed on getting out of here and finding a way to live and work in the country that I have left in January against my will. Because that is what really happened. I have this constant feeling that leaving for ‘home’ was actually leaving my real home. Like abondoning my ship. That feeling has not left me since I set foot on the damned airplane that flew me to this cold country. My best friends here understand that there is nothing that can hold me back from returning to the land I love to that culture that has for a part become mine.

I am a woman with a history that she prefers not to have. With a present that is pushing her down and a future that is uncertain. someone who has lost her old home and not yet been able to move to her new one. Someone who has lost the attachment with the society and life she comes from and who feels the hurting ties with a society that’s at this moment out of reach.  So for my own good I just have to continue and fight, be strong, not cry and not feel down. But work hard to live my dream of leaving this life in the west. If not forever than at least for as long as possible. Because whatever anyone might say or think, I do no longer belong here anymore. I miss my Nepal, I miss Kathmandu, Patan, the Terai and Damak. I never thought that making a film would do this to me.

Alice © 2012

Public Transport in the Netherlands or how something good turns evil…

I live in the Netherlands and in the city of The Hague. That’s where the government seats. A beautiful centuries old city with wonderful sights and a generally peaceful atmosphere. The City of International Justice too as the United Nations has vested their International Court in it. The Hague is a proud if not sometimes pedant city. A typical western European government city. Not the capitol of my country as that is reserved for Amsterdam but still quite important.

And like any of these type of cities, The Hague has public transport. Buses and trams. Actually it has a fairly modern public transport system albeit somewhat expensive for the travelers. But it does operate quite well and most people seem satisfied with the performance of the HTM, the Haguean Tram Company or whatever name it would have in English. An old company too. Since a couple of years The Hague is like other cities in the Netherlands, actually like most of the country, blessed with the ‘OV chipcard‘ system, the Public Transport Chip Card that facilitates travelers in fast and easy payment of their journeys. Like a pre paid phone card it works on a balance that can be placed on the card’s account, which basically is some sort of dedicated credit card. And the system works. Most of the time that is.

Now, introducing the ‘OV’ system has taken years and years and many political discussions on government and city levels. But it’s there now and there is no escape from it. Or is there?

Some years ago the HTM, the local public transport company, acquired new railcars for the newly made metropolitan lines 3 and 4 that run in The Hague and between The Hague and Zoetermeer, a phorensic town just outside of The Hague. Nice modern railcars with much more comfort thant the old ones that are running in the streets for some decades. Although the first few years of this new model railcar were not exactly easy it now is a quite reliabel tramway. But not for the chipcard system that has been implemented in the railcars in the past few years.

First of all it took a couple of years fo dual ticketing systems on the line 3 and 4 because on government level the chipcard system was not agreed resulting in tramcars running with chipcard readers installed that were switched off. Only after some three years and numorous political discussions and technical drawbacks like hackable chipcards the system finally was switched on sometime ago.

The Dutch Way.

Meaning that the old system was abandoned after some months and the travelers are since then expected to use the chipcards exclusively. No card sales in the railcars except from a ticketing machine. A ticketing machine that – although German built – continuously malfunctioned. Until this day. Actually in the first year the chances of a working ticketing machine against a non working were about 50:50 according to emperical research by the author. It saved me quite a lot of money because when the machines don’t work and tickets can not be bought otherwise, whow would be so stupid to have a chipcard on him er her. Well, not me, that’s for sure.

So I had a lot of free travels thanks to the crappy system.

Until I went to Nepal for sometime and after the first journey noticed a major change. The coint slots of the ticketing machines were barred by an aluminium strip rendering them inoperable. Only paying by Chipknip (a digital wallet in the form of yet another chipcard) was allowed since then. The good news ofcourse being that most of the machines didn’t work anyway so I continued to happily travel for free. And when checked and the conductors noticed a broken ticketing machine everybody simply had a lucky day.

Then I went to Nepal again.

When I returned for the second time another thing was changed. Now there was another aluminium plate glued to the front of the machine. With words on it. In English translation it read the following:

‘When this machine is not working or you don’t have a Chipknip with you, a valid transport ticket remains obligatory.’

Wow. I almost immediately realized that this message means that when you don’t have public transport chipcard with enough balance with but do have cash and a chipknip for digital payment while one of these damned machines broke down you are liable for a heavy fine. The logic in that completely went beyond me.

A public transport company that doesn’t facilitate buying transport tickets because they blocked cash payment and there’s no conductor on a tram and that has inoperative icketing machines actually thinks that they can fine travelers who in such a case continue traveling?
First of all one can only discover this situation after entering the railcar which by the time you find out that it’s imposible to obtain a ticket has already start moving will automatically make your journey illegal and there is no way you can get out of a moving railcar.
Second it also means that if you succeed in escaping your illegal journey at the next stop it means that you have to wait until the next railcar hoping that it has a working ticketing machine on board, which it in about 50% of the cases won’t and therefore bring you in thesame situation as before.
Thirdly it means that some travelers can by no means pay for a ticket even if they wanted too.

Obviously this situation is hilarious to say the least but the real problem started when the transport company actually ordered their staff to fine the purpetrators who they might catch in such a situation. The transport and chipcard system obviously had some trouble with mental derailment. It took a while and some quarrels in the trams between travelers with good intentions but without valid tickets and conductors with weird instructions, before local politics stepped in. So just recently the mayor of the city together with the responsbible city council members asked the transport company what the fuck they were doing? Not in those words I expect, but the answer did come in the end.

In the letter of which a relevant part is shown here the public transport company first of all downplays the problem by stating that the machine are most of the times working albeit that they have no figures on the number of malfunctions. Then they come with this great alternative. When a situation as described occurs the traveler is supposed to attack – in a friendly manner – any conductor entering the tramcar and force these to accept cash payment for their journay against th eminimum rate of €2.50.

Brilliant. So in essence nothing changed because that was how it always has been before exceot that these conductors no longer need to fine anyone willing to pay a normal minimum fare.

And so, the transport system and it’s latest innovation once again showed a typical Dutch approach: don’t fic the problem but just organize yourself around it…

Alice © 2012

The Headwind Poject: an overview.

In the past year the Headwind Project has broadened from making a documentary to much, much more. At this stage the project is in fact a more than full time job for the Headwind Production team. The following graph shows what is done and what is coming in the (near) future:

Alice © 2012

Winter morning.

The morning sun shines through my window. I can see how it lits the pearly white of the woodwork of the house opposite of the one I live in. It’s cold in my room. The heater was turned down last night and it usually only takes a few hours for my room to become freezing cold. My windows are single pane, the house is quite high and I live just under the the flat roof on the top floor. So the nightly cold easily takes hold of my little hideout. My hideout is made just right for me. It’s small and exists of a square room and a small annex, the latter being used for storage, drying laundry and the cat bin. The room itself is spacious enough to live in but to small to stack my things in a nice manner which results in a somewhat cluttered look. I somehow, being quite chaotic, haven’t found the way or the discipline to keep it tidy. So there’s things lying around everywhere. My equipment for filming, photographing and writing. My artwork and my books, a chaise longue in bright red, a bed that’s white and too empty with only me in it. The desk is small and occupied by a hundred years old typewriter and little bottles and boxes because I like little bottles and boxes.

There are musical instruments but I rarely play on them. I seem not to have the time to learn playing one properly. An electric bass and a collection of percussion instruments and drums. And on the wall opposite of my bed is a huge wall painting on cotton by Klimt: The kiss. In the not so far corner is a heater. It works on gas and above it is a tiny chimney with a big golden mirror and my temple. Not that I am overly religious but I do like to medidate and my temple has a role in that. Shiva is the God who’s most impressively positioned in the middle of the chimney, dancing as ever in a tempting pose. Next to Shiva are Parvaati on the one side and Aradanashvara on the other side. The three of them being my inspiration with a mix of feminine looks and male powers. Of course there’s incense. I like the smell of good incense. And some Bhuddist things like a prayer wheel and a shell. To remind me of the culure that impressed me and to remind me that there’s more in this world than this European non-religious and non-spiritual world.

I don’t like the cold. Especially not when I am alone. Today at least there’s a sun shining so I won’t get depressed but the days when even that light is gone push me down. I miss my love, her presence and smile. Her laughter and cheerfulness. I guess that’s what it means to live with a long distance love. I long for another chaotic phone conversation in which we seem unable to hang up on each other but I have to take care not to use the phone too much, it’s costly calling and crossing 10.000 km’s.

So, I get up and make breakfast. Fried rice with tea because I still have some rice left from a previous meal and I notice I’m out of milk. Today I will do some shopping and when I get dressed I realize my clothes are dark, mostly black. It looks good on me but somehow I long for the bright colors I wear when in Nepal. I’d rather wear orange or red but these colors are absent in my wardrobe while the kurta’s I have are to chilly to wear on a day like this. Somehow it took just a week to be dragged back into the greyness of life here. My mind still wonders to the rice fields around the little farm with the fields filled with yellow mustarde plants, the mountains in the distance in a light blue haze and the sounds of birds everywhere. There are no birds here and mustarde comes in small pots. My body is in Patan holding the one I love and my eyes scan the old carvings of the temples at Durbar square. My skin thinks it feels the sun touching it and keeping me warm and when I close my eyes I can still hear the sounds in the streets of the little town and smell the smell of freshly prepared food everywhere. I even hear the bells of the mandir, I think. But it’s becoming like a dream as if it is not real.

And I know I am lost. Unable to stay here, unable to go there. At least for now because I have to finish my film first. But then I will return and see her again. Will it be forever then?

Alice © 2012

Eve teasing.

It’s fairly common in South Asia. Due to the changing society and increase of women’s liberties it is all to common now in countries like India, Pakistan and Nepal for women to travel without male company. Many men in those countries cannot handle situations where women prove to be independent and some of these men (and boys) become harrasive. Eve teasing is the term used for their sexually abusieve behavior.

Eve teasing relates of course to the Biblical Eve and the word teasing to a playful thing, which it for obvious reasons is not. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working in Nepal, in the southeast Terai and due to the way we work we often used public transport. Two western women, one of them dressed European style and the other dressed Nepali style but still very obvious European white women. Most of the days and most of the travels are without incidents and also most of the days and travels men noticeably observe and watch. Not much ado about anything.

And then, one day, there’s a local bus ride from a provincial town to a refugee camp. The bus is crowded, over crowded as the busses always are. It is by all means the quickest way of transport in that location although one would probably not think so according to the speed of the vehicles. It’s the big bus, not one of the small ones and after a few stops the thing is completely filled with people standing against each other, leaning over and trying to grab anything that can hold them upright while the bus bumpes it’s way along te road. And we are of course noticed.

Most people don’t even react, some of them look at us and children gaze. Older women smile when they see us and younger women look curiously. Old men have no interest but the other man gaze. Except for one. The guy starts throwing remarks. Friendly at first as if he’s trying to charm us but after a while he continues with his remarks in a flirtatious way. Some people laugh. Some remarks are in Nepali and not in English, presumably he thinks we do not understand his Nepali. He is right as far as my European dressed curly haired companion is concerned but I do understand some words. They are sexually loaded remarks.

No one interferes and he seems unable to get more attention than a few laughs from other young men and a couple of giggles from teenager girls. Still, his remarks were pretty indecent as the whole of his behaviour was. The only reasons for it being two western women traveling in the same bus he was in. He could have stayed silent. But he didn’t.

This time there were no others to jump in on his attempts to be ‘funny’. This time there were many women on the bus and only few men. So this time it all stayed at a harmless level. Quite different from another instance earlier last year when I solely walked the streets of a little town during a bhanda, a general strike. At that instance I came into a situation where young men in their early adolescense started throwing remarks at me. Mind you, I was dressed Nepali style as usual at the time. Still they started of from the other side of the street making remarks. First it were words but within minutes some of the were shouting remarks at me. A few of the remarks I understood as I do understand some Nepali. I was being ‘Eve teased’. Not in a ‘funny’ way like on the bus but in a more agressive and intrusive way. I didn’t quite understand what happened at the time but now I know that it was one of those examples of harrasment that many women in South Asia experience when moving in public without male company.

Both instances of Eve Teasing were relatively mild but both of them unwanted. Both instances were sexually loaded and directed at me and both instances were examples of sexual harrasment as in both cases it wat unwanted and intrusive.

Now, after months living and traveling in the region I know more and now I realize how deep the unease of a lot of men is when they see women in public without a male companion. I also understand now that social change and women liberation in countries like Nepal and India has come at a consequence that society has not been able to handle. Men simply seem not able to accept women being emancipated.

Now ofcourse this all is quite different from the experiences we’ve had in working with the great guys who were helping us with our work. They are the modern guys. The ones who act normally and do not fool around. They support and enjoy working together and gender is not an issue with them. But outside this amazing group of guys there are so many men in Nepal and India who seem sexually frustrated. Harrasing women is an evil in society that is unfortunately all to common. Bollywood enforces that as society is constantly flooded with gender traditional images on television. Films, commercials and even music underline an overly heterosexual and gender biased mentality in a culture that is changing rapidly but does not yet understand the importance of female independency and emancipation. Eve teasing is just part of that. It should be fought against as much as possible.

Alice © 2012

2011, a review.

It’s two weeks after the demise of 2011. A good moment for a quick review of my life in that year.

First of all, I’m getting used to realizing that part of my life actually is not following the western calendar but the Nepali calendar which means that this review is some three months too early. Anyway 3.5/12(2067)+8.5/12(2068)=2011 in a somewhat nonmathematical way the reality of last year but for the sake of readability and because I just happened to live in Europe until last year let’s review the past twelve months as the 2011. Thing is, 2011 has become a very surprising year in almost all aspects of life. So much has happened and although some things were really bad most of the year has brought me happiness. Reviewing is not an easy thing in my life as it might very well become a rollercoaster reading experience so I will try to stay chronologically correct.

End of 2010 I had started working on the Headwind project (then Atma project) to bring myself to Nepal and become useful for society in a place that is not as selfish and egocentric as the west. At the same time I had to experience a conflict in the lesbian scene in the Netherlands that pretty much made me sick to my stomach and desiring even more to let it all go and go elsewhere. Little did I know of what would happen.

In january the Atma Project turned into a project for filming a documentary and the decision was made to make a research trip to Nepal and hopefully to ‘a refugee camp’ to find out if making a film would be feasible. We left in February with three team members and it became an amazing trip. We did see a camp, we talked to UNHCR and affiliate organizations and we decided to go on with the filming. That is to say we decided I would continue filming. One team member couldn’t cope working in Nepal. In March we returned to Holland.
Back in Holland that lesbian thing had become worse and so did my disgust with it. It’s not nice to see how a friends business is destroyed by cybercrime and idiots spreading false information on the internet and in the scene. It’s even worse to find out that most lesbians and even some lgbt organizations swiftly hopped on the crucifixion bandwagon pushing for the destruction of an honest business and not caring one bit for the person who runs it. It became the downfall of many lesbian ‘icons’ for as far as I am concerned. So I wrote about that shit.

Then on March 22 the Goldhap camp in Nepal burned down and I just had to leave for Nepal to go to the site as soon as possible. Which meant that I left for Kathmandu in April and stayed there until August. That whole summer including the monsoon I worked and filmed there. I wrote my novel in June (to be published within a couple of months) and I came back with almost all the footage I had set out to get. I visited three major camps including the unfortunate Goldhap camp and the huge Beldangi refugee camp. I gained friendships with amazing people and in the end I lost my heart in Nepal. In August I returned, in love with the country, the people and a woman that I’d met. I had not intended to fall in love, but I did. Still I didn’t know if the feeling was mutual in spite of the special friendship we already had developed. From September disaster (relative disaster that is) struck. The investments for the film had been high and financial support extremely low basically draining my last financial means to the extend that I had to leave my house. Eviction, a traumatic experience.

But I found out that friends do exist and to my great surprise within weeks I found a much cheaper and much nicer place to live. Within a group of people in a beatiful city house and for the first time in ten years I really felt at home. Home is not about the roof above the head but about the people one lives with. A great lesson to learn. And although the financial troubles were big, and still are unsolvable, I felt much happier. The filmwork was in good progress although the Dutch shooting took much longer than anticipated. And then after a couple of month filled with homesickness for the beautiful Nepal countryside and missing my dear friends there all of a sudden that phonecall was there. My co-producer / co-director suggesting me to travel to Nepal and India to escape the grey Dutch winter.

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I knew it was my chance to do extra fieldwork of the things I had missed and, more important, to find out wether my love was something that could be mutual. To find out if she loved me too. So we went on December 10. Back to Kathmandu, back to Jhapa, Damak, the camps, the little farm, to my love. The trip to Nepal and India was amazing. A true adventure shared with the best travel and working companion imaginable and resulting in more than 10.000 photo’s, 8 hours of great video and in the end with a new love in my life. December has been the best month in the year for me which is in itself miraculous as I tend to hate that month.

So it worked out pretty well. And here I am now, fresh in the new year, counting the days before I can travel back to Nepal and start a new life, living together with my love in Kathmandu for at least half of the year and maybe longer when we’re smart. Only months before the release of Headwind, the documentary and the publication of not one but three books. Only months before I will be able to hold her again with the solid intention to start sharing life again.

In the meanwhile that gruesome Dutch lesbian community affair had escalated into the courtroom and end of the coming week a verdict will be read by a judge against one of the people who’ve been rightfully accused of setting up a slanker campaign to kill some other woman’s business. I’m curious wether justice will be done.

As for me, this year will be different from other years, this year I will divide my life between time in my country of birth and time in my country of love. This year will be the year that I am finally done with the biggest perils in my life and restart into another stage of my life with better, more important and more creative work and for the most of it together with that one woman I love so much.

2011 has been a miracle, 2012 is going to be magic!

Alice © 2012

‘The Storm’ (2) or ‘Back Home?’

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Namaste my dear readers and friends. I wish you all a great New Year.

I Know, I know, I’m a bit late in doing that but as you know I’ve been away for a month to a region where modern technology is something that is not available constantly. And (I only dare to whisper that) I actually haven’t written much in that month. except for some love letters and the occasional FaceBook status update. But I’m back home. That is to say, my Dutch home for I have during my travel found a new home to live. A Nepalese heart where I feel loved and safe. I won’t reveal nor bother you with the details so let’s just say I’m hooked up with a wonderful nice woman who I love dearly. So I now have another ‘home away from home’ in the south of Nepal, the eastern Terai region to be exact.

The storm I wrote about last month has eased. The questions I had while leaving the Netherlands have been answered and many decision has been taken. The most important one being that I desire to lead a splint life. Half of it (or more) in Nepal, half (or less) of in in the Netherlands. The rest is just the execution of that desire. On the flight back the most vivid sign that such it a good decision is that we faced heave storms over de middle east making the flight slow and the flight time long. We faced ‘headwind’ while returning from the last shooting trip for my film ‘Headwind’. Actually, OUR film ‘Headwind’ as the positions in the production team have changed. Making ‘Headwind’ is no longer my personal task and responsibility, it has become a group thing now with a co0directing producer and a co-pruducing director.

Our trip to Sikkim to shoot mountain footage and travel through the earthquake struck area of the south central Himalayan state of Sikkim has been successful. We’ve also seen the teagardens of Darjeeling and the mists over Pokhara. We visited the now familiar places in Kathmandu, Patan, Pashupatinath and Boudha and travelled by bus, mini taxi, tourist taxi, airplanes, four wheel drives, local busses and riksha’s. We revisited the refugee camps near Damak, the now abaondoned and somewhat spooky Goldhap camp and we talked to and interviewed many. We visited the ex hunger strikers in Beldangi who have risked their lives for the unregistered people in the camps. We stayed at the farm of my love just outside Damak village in between the now still empty rice fields in between fields of amber colored mustard.

And we never had any disagreement or quarrel. Everything happened just like it should. We delivered financial aid to vulnerable non registered, brought media equipment to motivated and eager journalists in the exiled community and brought the photo’s from our exhibition (the one in the Netherlands) back to where they originated. And it all went well.

So here I am in my European home. Feeling happy with what we did living in anticipation of the next few months in which the film will finally become reality. Feeling sad about the love that I had to leave behind (but will see again soon). Making plans for the next journey, the publication of a number of books within three months and feeling dislocated as my heart is still out there.

In the coming months the following results will finally come from the project I started almost one and a half year ago:

  1. the English language novel ‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’
  2. a photobook about elderly people in the Himalaya‘s
  3. a photobook about the Bhutanese exiles living in diaspora
  4. the documentary ‘Headwind’
  5. a photo exhibition about resettling in the Dutch community
  6. a cd with music from the film
    and many, other things…

It’s going to be a busy time. After that time I will travel back to Nepal and God willing stay there for five months to live with my love and to promote and sell the results of our work. To show the film to the people who have become my inspiration and are part of it.

For now I’ll just focus on the work. Writing here will be less intense as it has been last month simply because of all the things I have to do for the project that not only produces these wonderful things and art but that has also changed my life and the life of some others working on it.

For the record: we’ve produced almost twelve thousand photos this journey, seven hours of footage and millions bits of memories. So much happens when filming and so memory memories build upon each other. In the end it feels like an epic journey and maybe that’s what it was.

So, namaste my dear western friends, I’m back. For a while. And for my eastern friends I can only say ‘pheri bethaula’.

Alice © 2012

Storm

When winter comes storm comes first. It’s an old meteorological law in the Netherlands. Always in November and December there are storms hitting the shores of my country.

When storms coming, animals get unrestly. That’s an old biological phenomenon. Always when there’s a storm coming the birds fall silent and animals get itchy. I just have to look at my cat to witness this.

And when a journey comes I get all stressed. That’s something I’ve become aware of over the last couple of years due all the traveling I’ve done. It’s the last days just before departure that are bugging me.

Painting ‘Ships in distress in raging storm’ by Ludolf Backhuysen, painted in 1690.
Collection Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.

So there’s a storm raging in my head. It immobilizes me and wares me out. It’s a bad storm because I get tense and scared. Scared things might go wrong. I start expecting trouble while traveling. Problems at the customs when leaving as my life is not without problems, trouble with the weight of my bags as I carry an excess of equipment. I worry about possible traveling damage to my cameras and computers. I worry about the money. But I’m also getting more and more anxious. Going on a long and complicated journey is like taking a drug. Adrenaline and endorfine start flying. The longing to see dear friends on the other side of this stupid globe gets stronger by the day. So I get jumpy.

This time is not much different from other journeys. This time I do not travel alone, which is a great thing. This time I also very different in another sense. Because this time I am not going away but I am coming back.

This is the deal. The last two weeks I have become emotional. Because I sense that this journey is decisive for the next coming years in my life. It might very well be a journey that changes me from a visitor to someone who has a foundation in a society that was alien to me but is slowly getting a society of which I am a part of. It will be a journey of choices to be made. Choices for a future working in an area under complicated circumstances for a group of people in distress or a future ‘at home’, meaning in Europe, filming and writing and building a third career. Choices will have to made by me in the early part of the coming year. The outcome depends on my ability to organize a local project, getting the funding to live there and getting certainty in my mind that it is the right thing to do. And I am not sure. I know my deep desire for not having to live in western society but I also am aware of the limitations and the possible bloccades that might prevent me to do what I think is the best thing to do.

So this journey is about finishing the filming of Headwind, finishing the editing of my novel and getting the darned thing printed, about making amazing photographs, about talking with my friend in Nepal to see wether the ideas that we have are feasible and spending time with a few people there that I’ve come to love. They are waiting for me to return, I know that.

And after all that, I will know what to do and not to do. I will make a choice and work on the outcome of that choice full force. I will continue to have a storm blowing my mind because that is how my mind works. And I am scared at the same time. Scared of losing it all, losing the connection, losing my energy and flexibility, losing the opportunity to create the things I want and losing the ability to make a change for the better in some peoples lives. I am really scared of all that. But aren’t we all scared a little bit just before the storm?

Alice © 2011