22……. TwentyTWO


Hieronymus Bosh worked as a Dutch painter at the beginning of the 16th century.   Religious iconography and biblical symbolism were obsessively represented in his work.  Clearly aligned with the Christian ideology Bosh had an unusual style entangling scholars in heated debate still today.  One triptych has received special attention; being picked over, dissected, and analyzed as only art historians can do.  Each fingertip or fold of cloth a vital part of a deeper message. Clearly the debate is self-indulgent as even the original title for the triptych was lost years ago; The Garden of Earthly Delights (it’s posthumous title) was enshrined at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

I was sitting at the counter in the dining car, sipping at my already cold instant coffee when the sun rose.  Somewhere after 12 hours I had given into the offensive prices in order to save myself from the florescent nicotine-saturated box of hell.   We were cruising on a flat stretch of track and the sun seeped its golden hue into the dry grassland like honey, it was beautiful.

I sat entranced, possibly delirious, absorbing the sweetness deeply and the announcement was made – we were approaching the station in Madrid.

Still aching from the unexpected expense of the dining car and fueled by honeyed sunshine I strapped into my pack and sought out the very cheapest hostel I could find… with a hot shower.  Bathed and paid for, I slept for the rest of the day.  Only after the sun had returned behind the horizon line was I able to collect myself enough to find some bread and cheese for my dinner – the struggle to find a more interesting option not even registering as a possibility.

Completely recovered the next morning, I walked from my hotel through the city until I found my way to the “Paseo del Prado”.  The canopy occasionally breaking for a fountain, affording me a nomadic afternoon – traveling bench to bench, I stopped to enjoy the sunlight filtering through the leaves overhead.   Eventually, the benches led inside the Prado museum and the pedestrians transformed into patrons, the trees into painted canvas and I continued to move through the building much the same way I had traveled along the Paseo outside.

The Prado is said to own over 21,000 pieces of art, while at any given time only about 1,300 are actually on display for public viewing in Madrid.  An additional 3,000 are on loan internationally.  That means that over 17,000 pieces of artwork are merely stored, in warehouses unseen.    One of he lucky works that make it onto the wall permanently at the Prado is a triptych painting depicting the Garden of Eden, humanities lascivious fall, and then realms of hell.  Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is an immense, some may say surreal, painting usually interpreted as a loose story-line beginning on the left panel in the Garden of Eden idyllic, peaceful and serene.  For the middle panel, Bosch featured strangely erotic menageries of animal and fruit, humans and fantastical architecture.  The final panel depicting images crafted to cause a sense of unease in the viewer; dark, infused with demonic reference, a portrayal of a nightmarish inferno.  When ‘reading’ the painting in this order you are suggested a sense of pity, as ultimately paradise is lost.

After a few days walking the scorching streets of Madrid I pointed towards north.

It was very early in the morning when I squeezed up the stairway, trying not to scrape off the carelessly posted flyers that haphazardly climbing their way towards the ceiling.  On my way from Madrid to Barcelona I had identified this as the ideal hostel, ideal location for experiencing the festival.

Sonar is an event spanning three days and nights in locations across Barcelona.  Touted as a hyper cutting-edge mixture of live acts and multimedia art pieces, every year it attracts tens of thousands of people from all of over the world.  Logically accommodation was in high demand, and even arriving before 7am only got me onto the waiting list.   The construction was in full swing all around us, electricity cables hanging unattended, plastic sheets draping the hallways – all setting the stage for the loud and very loud power tools busy transforming the environment.  I was directed to a small seat in the closet-sized entrance joining a dozen other hopefuls lining the walls…waiting.  Mine was the last name they called at the 10am check-in.

My good luck continued, the room I would be sharing was filled with other travelers planning on attending the festival and quite naturally joined forces.   That afternoon after eating falafels we crossed the city and entered the Contemporary Art Museum for the afternoon concert.  An artificial picnic style atmosphere had been constructed with Astroturf and lawn chairs.  That afternoon I was looking forward to seeing DoseOne and Sage Francis a couple of hip-hop MCs and the intimate uber-relaxed atmosphere was a perfect compliment to their politically charged densely spoken-word style show.  Before the evening set began we returned to the hostel, napped and then returned to the streets to drink a never-ending stream of cheap beer sold by peddlers in the plaza.  That evening the event was held in a much larger arena, a network of giant, people-filled rooms opening onto people-filled rooms, spilling lasers shows and baselines into each other seamlessly.  The hostel clan was on the patio eating doughnuts in between Giles Peterson and house music inspired dance sessions.  For a couple of hours I joined them before re-submerging for a low liquid set performed by Dj Krush- a Japanese hip-hop DJ I had loved for years…. finding my way to the hostel bunk bed sometime after breakfast.

Sonar closed with Bjork’s mega production and her show was the most chaotic, the doors opened late and by the time they did the line had metamorphosed into a sea of anxious fans, indistinguishable form one another as the pressure behind them built.  I had managed a spot near the coned-off police line and was able to maintain some breathing room before the floodgates opened and we all filled the enormous warehouse.  I had attended the evening alone and because of this was able to maneuver my way towards the stage and achieved a great perch from which to watch the grand finale.  Bjork is as famous for her unique scream-sing style and unusual Icelandic accent as she is for her powerful visual productions and the show exceeded all expectation.

Perhaps inspired by the afternoon concerts, the next day I left the market with a picnic and sought out grassy hills facing the ocean.   The weather was fantastic … a fresh breeze swooped over the hills and I sipped a plastic cup of supermarket wine, sliced another piece of cheese and sunk my toes into the grass.  A kaleidoscope of images from the past three-days of debaucherous combinations still rotated through my mind and I was reminded of the Bosch painting in Madrid.  For a moment I contemplated my progress across the triptych and decided that my journey was moving in the opposite direction.  I had been delivered from the hellish realms into an explosion of hedonism.  It was then that I decided it was time to seek out the third panel and regain paradise.



400,000 years ago Homo erectus learned to control fire.  An incredible feat if you are able to consider the place fire held in the lives of these early hominids.  Danger, destruction, decimation of their food and resources.  Somehow our early human ancestors were able to set their fear aside in order to get close enough to examine its behavior, its potential.  Soon they learned that by using the light fire provided they were able to free themselves from a schedule dictated by sunlight.  They were able to protect themselves from various biting insects and dangerous mammals more effectively and  they were able to utilize the culinary landscape to a greater degree, rendering many toxic plants edible and benefiting from more of the nutritious value available in the meats they consumed.   It is through thousands of years of relating to and negotiating with fire that we have forged a dualistic understanding; fire as protector and provider on one side and fire as weapon and destroyer on the other.  Throughout the world fire is featured prominently in ritualistic ceremony and celebration while simultaneously used to obliterate entire cities and torture non-believers.   Although one of our very first tools it still ignites our divine imagination as well as our instinctual fears.

I watched apprehensively as the machine gobbled up my last five Euros and I boarded the shuttle bus back to Porto.  The last three hours had been spent with the DHL staff attempting to locate my package until finally driving me out to an enormous warehouse to retrieve it personally.  The small box now safely on my lap, I gripped it tightly and tried to breathe normally; I had nothing left except for a three night hotel bill and a growling stomach.  I was so far inside my mind that the scenery outside the window seemed like an Impressionist painting, colors softly blurring together as I battled “worst case scenarios”.

Finally standing in front of the ATM downtown Porto I slid the card through the reader and entered my PIN number.  A few electronic clicks and a whirr had never caused such a sense of profound relief in all my life, the gun-metal grey door slid open and there before me was cash, was freedom and security, was the rest of my journey beginning.  Immediately I returned to the hotel.  It was already evening and the landlady was in her dingy nightgown doing laundry, the filtered sunlight creeping back up the walls of the inner courtyard.  I paid her, packed my bags and went directly to the train station and boarded  the next train to Lisbon, hoping never to see Porto again.

Arriving in Lisbon late that evening, I discovered that the overnight train to Madrid was leaving in a couple of hours and there were only “hard seats” available.  Without much thought I purchased a ticket and  sat down in the lobby to wait for the boarding announcement.  It had been a long day and the adrenaline was starting to give way to the fatigue when I was finally able to jostle my way to the last train car and find a seat.  It was instantly clear what the teller was trying to explain when I inquired about the term, the seats were nothing but “hard”- moulded plastic with low metal dividers used as armrests.  My next half delirious realization was that I had found myself in a smoking car and it was quickly apparent that my fellow travelers were well stocked and planning to keep a night-long vigil of tobacco and lighters in the small cabin.  Before I could fling myself from the train, give in to exhaustion and splurge on a hotel room for the night, the train started to pull out of the station and into the darkness.I comforted myself with the thoughts that I could sleep through the fluorescent lights and heavy pale blue air and in doing so wrapped a scarf around my face and burrowed into the sharp corner of my seat.   It was only 11 hours after all.

Several hours later, my eyes a striking crimson color I decided to seek refuge in the dining car.  A few minutes later returning after the sad realization that in order to stay in the dining car, you had to actually purchase one of their criminally overpriced snack items…only doubling the regret that I didn’t choose a hotel room that night instead of this hellish Las Vegas vending machine of which I was now a prisoner.  Another few hours of acrobatic positioning and the train seemed to be slowing down for something.  According to my time estimates we should be nearly 5 hours away from Madrid, looking for confirmation would give me a convenient reason to escape to the dining car for at least a few minutes.  Sliding the glass door behind me, I stepped into the cool, fresh air envying the passengers seated comfortably snacking on 10 euro peanuts and 12 euro colas.   Slowly I approached the bar, savoring every moment away from the company of my  “hard seat” companions.  Carefully I asked about the estimate time of our arrival in Madrid, and that’s when I saw it.  The waiter turned to look at me with deep pity, not only the kind of “you-are-swimming-in-a-cloud-of-cigarette-smoke-in-the-worst-cabin-in-the-worst-seat-at-the-end-of-the-packed-train-where-the-overhead-lights-never-shut-off-and-you-cannot-afford-the-peanuts” pity, now it was compounded with “AND your intercom system is broken” kind of pity.

There was a serious wildfire which had consumed the tracks ahead of us and the train had been forced to re-route in order to connect with Madrid.  Our arrival would be delayed at least 8 additional hours.  EIGHT HOURS…  the words rang in my head like my skull was a Tibetan singing bowl and I couldn’t stop the reverberation from circling around and around … EIGHT MORE HOURS.  When I finally recovered from the deep stupor the news had plunged me into I returned, defeated, back to my assigned cabin.  Scanning the train car, I realized there was a door at the end.  As if the universe conspired to give me at least a little glimmer of hope, the door opened slightly and I if I sat in the right position on the floor against the back wall I could get a small breeze and was able to see out the back of the train.  The moon was out and the tracks behind us seemed eerily quiet and peaceful as the stretched further and further away.  A passenger nearby light another cigarette and the control with which he maneuvered the glowing red ember seemed a stark contrast to the raging fire out there somewhere in the night from which we now fled.


Portugal, SPAIN

Romance is immortal.  Industry in the machine age can only become a machine without it… Without Romance the essential joy of living as distinguished from pleasure is not alive… – Frank Lloyd Wright’s words in regards to being a romantic architect.  “The Creative Professions” as they are sometimes called (a title I will use only temporarily as to not deny the creativity inherent to all professions) are very fond of using the term Romantic.  Much the same way popular culture uses the term to signify a magnetism which leads to some sort of seductive process, Romantic for The Creatives are acutely aware of the natural world – the world outside of our control – seducing us to duplicate its engineering, describe its colors, represent its systems and pay homage to its power.

We passed the morning drinking arabic-style tea from delicately painted glass cups, at home on the table of any little girls tea party, and enjoying the slow pace of the small plaza.  Nestled into a corner of metal folding tables, the dozen or so patrons of the cafe were all afforded a wonderful perch from which to observe the activity on the plaza pass by undisturbed.  After we had finished our tea and paid the bill we started out for the bus station, looking for a bus that would take us to Seville. My brother had the Puente del Alamillo in his sights.  Designed in 1992 by Spanish structural engineer/architect Santiago Calatrava the bridge, like many of  his larger projects, clearly echoes the Modernist themes present in contemporaries such as Gaudi or Candela.  He managed to do so while simultaneously presenting  the viewer with his unique personal affinity for combining elements of  human anatomy and those of the natural world.

The several hours it took to reach Seville were spent comfortably enjoying the endless fields of vibrant yellow flowers and a shared picnic lunch as we sped along the open highway.  Seville is a relatively small city embraced by the Guadalquivir River and after a short walk we were at its banks.  To view the bridge with my brother recalled countless family dinners eating out.  Even now, our father is an interior designer for restaurants and it is not unusual for him to turn a chair over in the middle of dinner, to see who the manufacturer is.  I may have seen it as a rather nice chair or maybe not even noticed it at all until he was already startling the other diners.  But he was seduced by a future with the chair; he could imagine a potential relationship, the perfect solution to the patio space he was currently designing or one to buy as a sample to show clients, whatever the vision- everything else stopped for a second.  It was like this with my brother and the Puente del Alamillo.  The bridge had engaged him in a secret dialogue that none of us could hear, it was whispering things to him that made him smile, without even knowing it.   And this, in turn, made me smile and appreciate the bridge through him.

After a very brief stay in Seville we took the train to Lisbon, crossing the Spanish/Portuguese border in the south of the country.  Portugal was not at all as I expected.  Somehow I had a sense it would be more latin, more vibrant and “in your face”.   I have no idea where I picked up this conception, but as a result I needed to do some adjusting as we walked around the city.  The people were stoic, quiet, and they looked at us as if there was some kind of code we had failed to interpret.  The next morning we decided to take a day trip out of the city and headed west on a quaint rural train to a small area called Sintra.  We had read that Sintra had a very unusual castle well worth the excursion.

Pena National Palace is surprising example of Romantic architecture, said to be one of the best from the 19th century in the world.  Segments of the building complex are painted bright yellow, some a contrasting pale red and some the deep bluish grey of the original stone.  Fantastical creatures carved from the walls, whimsical tiled-mosaics, gargoyles and towers that begged for locked-away princesses, it was clear to see we were walking inside of a vision come to life.   The palace was surrounded by a forest of equally surprising components.  Apparently the same seduction that had directed the architecture also made its way into the landscaping, there were trees and ferns from all over the world; China, The Americas, many of the distant corners of Europe… The thick imaginative nature of the entire experience left us all floating slightly as we boarded the train back to Lisbon that evening.

We spent several days in Lisbon, disquieted by the ghost of our expectations.  What we discovered is that Lisbon is filled with stairways and has one really great vegetarian restaurant.  My self-imposed dietary restrictions were especially difficult to meet in Lisbon and it was beginning to wear on my fellow travelers.  As a vegetarian you not only need to find a “non dead animal” option on the menu, but one you have not already eaten that day, one that looks appetizing in that moment, one that gives as close to a balanced meal as possible and one you can afford.  In a word…quasi-impossible.  Fortunately on one of our treks up one the numerous staircases in the city we discovered an excellent vegetarian restaurant which quickly became my solution for at least one meal a day.

When I was 10 years old I developed my own secret dialogue, with food.  I formed a romantic view of myself as a vegetarian and for the substantial majority of the next 11 years of my life the discussion dominated the way I thought about eating.  I had grown accustomed to explaining why I chose to eat differently than almost everyone around me  and as I grew older my explanations became more sophisticated, but never ceased in creating serious logistical problems.  Regardless of the relative suffering of my comrades, I refused to make exceptions to my vegetarian life-style… the whispering seduction of my own essential vision was holding fast.



Monday- 18.2.2

Seemingly infinite tessellation carved from the walls of the Alhambra inspired much of the artist M.C Escher’s work.  During a journey through Spain in 1922 Escher explored the palace and halls of the 10th century Islamic fortress in Granada.  As is custom, the artists commissioned to adorn the buildings did not depict a single image of  sentient beings, the entire building complex is covered with poetry and pattern – or tessellation.  Tessellation is the process of repeating geometric patterns without any gaps or overlapping shapes.  One room in particular, The Hall of Two Sisters, presents the viewer with a domed ceiling encrusted with a honeycomb of 5,000 cells… each unique and intricately designed by hand to fit perfectly together.  An impressive example of “Stalactite Vaulting” – as it is called by architects and art historians, represents the Moorish reverence for symmetry and design found in nature.  The idea of the  interdependence of precise mathematical equations and undeniable aesthetic beauty remained with Escher throughout his career.  From it he illustrated impossible worlds, infinite loops and layers where each form was carefully weighed and measured against all others.

Our plan, before it went horribly wrong, was to continue from Barcelona along the Spanish coastline to Valencia.  From Valencia we would meet my brother’s girlfriend further down Costa Blanca and the three of us would visit Granada and Seville before crossing into Portugal.  And it was with this plan in mind that we boarded the afternoon south-bound train leaving Barcelona behind.  Maybe it was because I could feel the roots of the city tightening their grasp or maybe I was tired and my pack was heavy… whatever the reason on that particular afternoon I was in a tempestuous mood.  I climbed into my seat on the train and stared out through the thick glass window without really seeing anything at all.  By the time we arrived in Valencia I was a human storm cloud and it was all I could do to keep from unleashing the gales building inside.  The next morning we took a quiet walk on the beach and then found our way back to the train station.

Valencia’s train station was humming with the frantic crisscrossing of people pulling, dragging, hauling all manners of things – luggage, children, merchandise, sports equipment…  We sought refuge at one of the many structural pillars which had been outfitted with wooden plank benches arching their way around the full circumference and providing a very welcome place to set down our rather cumbersome packs.  My skies had remained dark and my mood stubbornly foul this combined with the intriguing architecture of the station and we decided it was the perfect opportunity to allow for a little space between us.   My brother went first and as was agreed, I stayed with the packs  until he returned.    We had each brought a day pack, smaller and lighter meant for the travel necessities one requires close at hand, in addition to the two larger packs where everything else was kept.  I slouched against the pole and my brother escaped into crowds to explore the building alone.

After half an hour or so he resurfaced clearly happy to have had the break from both me and the responsibility of  his heavy bags.  He sat down and I set off to find the amenities and to stretch my legs unburdened.  For around thirty minutes I wandered around the station watching the people hustling around and trying to put it all in perspective.  It was nearing the time our train was scheduled to depart and I returned to collect my things and board the train.  Approaching the pole where I could see my brother and our mountains of zippers, straps and buckles as still as an oasis surrounded by chaos, I instinctively scanned the bags.  One was missing.  When he sat down he had transitioned my daypack to the floor near his feet to make room between the two larger packs.  Amazingly while he had been sitting there someone had climbed under the benches and snatched my bag without making a disturbance… at least not then.

My stomach started rolling around inside me and as if to keep my heart from stopping I mindlessly began patting my chest as I went over the contents of that bag: sunglasses, a novel I had been reading, my sketch book, debit card, rented cell phone, my digital camera… ALL documentation of the sculptural work I had completed  in Florence during the last four months.  It couldn’t be gone, I couldn’t accept it.  I decided that the thief would have probably removed all things of value and ditched the bag somewhere around the station, maybe in a dumpster or garbage can close by.  I circumnavigated the station and surrounding neighborhoods several times, furiously patting my chest and trying to breathe, before accepting that we needed to file a police report and get on a train.  The afternoon was maturing and our fellow traveler would doubtless be waiting – growing increasingly worried as we failed to arrive on train after train to meet her that evening.  Reluctantly and significantly defeated, I left the Valenica station behind.  The train speeding into the night, I opening the first of several bottles of wine as I sought consolation and to  resign myself to the loss.

We arrived in the small town on what seemed to be the last train of the evening.  I was put in charge of finding a hotel with vacancies while he went by bus to find the airport, we were to reunite at the station in one hour.  After a number of failed attempts, two rooms were finally secured.  There were still twenty minutes before I needed to meet them back at the station and so I sat down on the couch in the busy lobby.  Doubt arose about the type of establishment I had just arranged for us when a deep fever began to wash over me and I felt my skin shiver.  The wine made it difficult to assess my condition clearly, but later that night as I lay in a noisy hotel room the sickness descended upon me without confusion.  My temperature skyrocketed and I had horrible stomach pains, following frequent fits of delirium I slept awash in sweat and twisted by muscle spasms.

The next day, loaded up with fever reducer and liters of water we took the train to Granada.

The Alhambra is incredibly serene and walking though its halls and along its beautiful gardens, a water bottle clutched tightly in my hand, I was soothed.  The melancholia and physical sickness  I was experiencing as a result of having lost a huge portion of my artistic portfolio, found peace in the gracefully repeating patterns and images of nature that surrounded me.  The towering vaulted ceilings and perfectly engineered fountains comforted me with their order, with their reliability.  Outside, sitting in the rose garden, sunlight ricocheting off the surface of a small pond I found a strange type of solace.  The same set of abilities used to calculate the physics of a moment, to measure the distances, to weigh the visibility or velocity of an object – were all used by both my thief as well as the master artists who built the walls I had just been admiring.



There are cities you visit, cities you check off your list – Barcelona tilled my subconscious soil and planted something inside of me.  Its roots started growing and Barcelona claimed me for itself.  Nine years later when people ask me why I moved to Tokyo, as if describing a lover betrayed I explain why Barcelona was left at the proverbial altar. Outrageous; how the decisions of a small network of people can direct the course of, for them, completely anonymous individual lives.

My first step off the train in Barcelona, I could tell we had changed directions.   We rang the bell of a small hotel under a canopy of flowers several stories thick.  A loud monophonic buzzing sound followed and we were admitted .  One at a time, we climbed the antique staircase which opened onto a hallway whose centerpiece was a very dusty, ornately carved, couch.  Realizing this was the lobby, we set our bags down and waited silently.  After a few minutes a small door opened  and an equally small woman warmly greeted us as if she were our grandmother, relived to see us safely home.  Strangely settled, and returned to the city street and we navigated to the closest plaza anxious to enjoy an afternoon of  homemade sangria, conversation, people watching and a general state of well-being.

Later on we made our way to the art museum, which apparently doubled as a decent skate park.  A dozen skateboarders were flipping and slapping their decks against the contours of modern architecture, it was somehow a perfect living orchestration of exhilaration, movement and defiance – much of what the art inside was attempting to interpret for its admission-paying viewers.  Another few hours and we were exploring the side streets again, this time happening upon a crusades-era stone doorway, dimly lit and offering a free design exhibit inside.  Museums have an important role in preserving and cataloguing the work of artists for later generations and some museums are able to display genuinely stunning collections.  The problem with museums is that ultimately they are institutions and because of this they are subject to the typical bureaucracy, regulations and agendas of all institutions.   As a result it is nearly impossible for them to engage with artists taking risks, those still untested by the market.  While I usually enjoy art museums,  I must also admit at times it feels more like visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the focus on the incredible celebrity status of the artists instead of their incredibly inspired ideas.   A hundred times more interesting, the designers were just starting out – just beginning to be able to express their ideas in public.  When an artist is still unknown they work harder to communicate and make a connection with the viewer. The pieces were brave and dramatic – fearless.  I had taken part in several art shows, many in places like this…unused and beautifully raw, but this level of sophistication and innovation was something completely new.  Nearly every piece inspired me, excited me.  I yearned to be a part of it, to be driven and share in the moment of brilliance about to shine on these newly budded creators.  But I was just a viewer and it was time to move on.

The next morning on La Rambla, an extensive pedestrian wonderland  winding through downtown Barcelona, we grabbed a coffee and started walking.  La Rambla was filled with street performers and buskers offering a lot of eye-candy, but I was more impressed with the market.  Drawn in by the stained glass sign and the glimpse of a myriad of delicacies, La Boqueria is a market that haunts me still.  I remained a stubborn vegetarian at this point, mesmerized and floating between overflowing fruit stands.  Never venturing into the visceral legacy held within the market’s core.  The humid blood soaked passageways of the inner sanctum retained their treasures.  Still now these ghosts tempt me while I sleep, with all that I missed as I made selections from the glossy, recognizable bits – the untold pleasures escaped me and for this I am ever repentant.

Sacrilegiously we left the market with a bag of strawberries, not without irony we aimed for La Famila Sagrada.  Antoni Gaudi was an accomplished architect and his iconic style echoes Egyptian design, Gothic architecture and naturalistic themes.  The massive church “La Famila Sagrada – The Sacred Family” even now remains uncompleted, years after his death.  As a building it brings joy, the facade is covered with all manner of creatures, the central towers stretching up like tree branches.  Even the cranes and machinery do nothing to interrupt the sheer glory one feels when gazing skyward.  Taking a breath, it was as if the whole city knew there were more important things for us all to do, more for us to contemplate, to dedicate ourselves to – more ways for us all to use the fertilized soils of our past to produce the gorgeous and newly imagined fruits of our future.