The unexpected physicality of a Stasi interrogator

Seeing his friend on the stage, in a theatre that stood on top of a swimming pool in an unassuming part of East Amsterdam, brought on an unexpected sense of pride. He knew his friend had been involved in numerous productions, both as a director and actor, so why this sense of pride? Either way, there it was.

His friend’s acting provided the sense of comfort and trust well-cast actors always bring to the stage when they’re on form. It’s the sense of trust that exists outside of a character’s likability or moral direction; a sort of artistic license that says: I will let you sweep me away to wherever you want to take me. It didn’t happen often since it required the transcendence of acting into something else, what certain people might call some kind of truth.

Knowing that it was a friend that led him down the satire led street of  “Allo’ Allo’” was an experience he didn’t know existed before, in that moment, it existed. But what was the experience exactly? Pride by association? An intimacy that elevated the perceived quality of performance? He couldn’t make sense of it as he sipped on a Duvel in the dimmed theatre. But the smile on his face was one of full capitulation to what was happening on stage.

He tried unmasking his friend beneath the cloak of his character. He clearly remembered numerous articles in the art sections of the Sunday papers where actors would say, “you must expose something of yourself to fully own a role”. He’d always agreed on an intellectual level, despite never having acted himself, or ever having an inclination to do so. He believed that it meant that any play, no matter if it had been reproduced on a stage hundreds of times before, had an automatic uniqueness since the actors always brought something from themselves into a role. While this said nothing about the quality of the Sunday paper actors, or indeed their plays, it did say something about live theatre and the inherent re-contextualisation that is part of its DNA.

After all, a play does not only consist of actors playing their parts, but inevitably also includes elements of personality that can peek out beneath the cloak of fictional storytelling.

And so, as he watched his friend perform, he couldn’t tell if there were aspects of his friend that he recognised, or if there were any previously hidden characteristics that he expressed through his role as a Stasi interrogator. But there was certainly an unexpected physicality that was present, which he put down to refined acting skills rather than a previously hidden feature of his being.

Although some of the sternness and directness, which he normally wouldn’t attribute to his friend – an ideological and morally convinced person with a diplomatic side that he tended to abide by unless he was engaged in an intellectual debate he did not agree with – did perhaps point to a side of him that had always been there, but which he’d never had the need to display. That the role was delivered without the glee that some actors fail to suppress in such roles was also impressive. Revelling in the opportunity to act out could easily take an actor too far, turning it into farce. And while Allo’ Allo’ voluntarily sits comfortably in the farce bracket, it was a balancing act his friend came out on the right side of.

After the play, when he met the amateur cast over some drinks, he gave his friend the credit he was due. They discussed art and what makes a good play and he remembered that he liked his friend for these conversations. A mutual appreciation and understanding had developed between them over the years.

And perhaps, he thought, his pride was located, somewhere in-between them, in this common understanding and shared experiences, and less attached to anyone’s individual qualities. And that in some way, his friend’s acting abilities became another layer of their friendship, another avenue of insight in which their relationship could exist and relate to.

After a couple of more beers he found himself in a cab, in that reflective state one can fall into on dark winter nights when yellow street lights flicker through the car window like a necklace of lit up butterflies.

A narcissistic voyage to another side of Patrik (post half-marathon thoughts)

amsterdam marathon

I recently pushed my body to a place it had never been before. Ever since I’ve been wondering what finishing my first ever half-marathon, as I did in Amsterdam in late October, really meant to me. Before the event I was forced to spend quite a bit of time running and learning to notice the shifts in my body. One day running seemed easy, other times I wanted to quit after only a few minutes. Sometimes the reasons were clear: not drinking enough water or having a few drinks the day before, other times I couldn’t figure it out.

During the race I eventually moved into some kind of machinelike state which I managed to stay in throughout. When I passed 15k I was in unchartered territory, a distance I had never crossed before. I was intrigued to find my body continuing, almost becoming nervous when I occasionally got stuck behind slower runners. My body was determined to keep the rhythm. I passed the dense crowds outside the Rijksmuseum and increased my speed. I couldn’t decide if the goose bumps on my arms came from my body’s reaction to running this far, or because of the cheers and the facts that I was running through my old home town high fiving children and thinking that my body was kind to me this day, that it had the lightness and eagerness I had hoped for.

The race finished at the Olympic stadium. When I entered through the large gate on the side I was greeted by the crowd and terrible dance music (which felt appropriate). I sprinted as fast as I could, feeling like an animal chasing after a pray, until I crashed into an exhausted pile of people after the finish. A speaker pleaded for everyone to move away from the finish line, but there we were, broken men and women. It was a curious feeling to try and read my body’s reaction.

Many people have told me I should be proud; that it’s an impressive achievement, although the fact that a friend of mine (not pictured) completed a full marathon just before effectively dampened such feelings. While I do feel some sense of achievement, I don’t feel proud. And I probably wouldn’t have even if I did the full distance. What has instead stayed with me is the experience of exploring a place in myself where I had never been. Despite my dislike for the expression “inward journey”, that is what it felt like more than anything.

I slowly walked out of the stadium on painful legs. The only place I could take in was right there, my tired body blocked my mind from traveling anywhere else, it was fully occupied with trying to keep my body functioning. Later, after some nutrition and a beer, I slowly walked to my friend’s place, passing the last runners in the race. People lining the course urged them on with applauds and cheers and I almost started crying when I saw it. I couldn’t understand why, but somehow I became extremely emotionally invested in the crowd’s support and last runners fighting to finish the race.

A few minutes later I found myself laughing on my own, for no particular reason, as if my tiredness was some sort of comedic experience. And I thought I’d really gone mad this time as I walked around in southern Amsterdam laughing and crying on my own. The emotional waves eventually subsided, and in their place came painful muscles that made me walk like an old man, which I expected more than the emotional rollercoaster that came before.

Despite my inability to feel proud, I cherished the strange combination of physical and mental fatigue the run brought out. A narcissistic voyage into another side of Patrik.

The death of a bike (and trusted friend) part 2

For part one, click here.

The day after I spent my lunchbreak on a lawn in front of Buckingham Palace. Filled with misplaced optimism I then entered the shop to pick up my bike.  After dealing with the young lady, whom I liked at first but eventually sapped all faith I had in mankind, I was confronted with a bike mechanic. He came out of a back door with a concerned impression, as if he was pondering a complex math problem, or had just recieved some bad news. He was holding a cycle wheel, which turned out to be mine. He looked at me, took a deep breath, and told me it was broken. “One of the spokes is broken and since it’s so old I don’t have the tools to fix it”. He explained that I need a new wheel, a new chain, and all kinds of new things. I sensed I’d be faced with an uncomfortable choice, and when he added all the parts I need to add to my already expensive tires he easily crossed 150 punds mark. “Then there are other things that might break soon, it’s quite used,” he continued, as if it wasn’t enough to push a rusty knife into my heart. “Can’t you just weld it or something?” I asked, as if it was a genious suggestion from a very capable bike fixer. “No, that’s not possible” he said, pointing out the intricate nature of the spokes and the lack of room. My only response was a nod, and some mumbling yes yes yes.

My energy evaporated and I suddenly remembered how I once fainted at a Loney Dear concert in Amsterdam. A decision had to be made: did I want to put that kind of money into an old bike that might break soon, or was this the end of the line for us? My head was a mess as I rushed out of the store for a meeting, telling the man holding my broken wheel that I had to think about it. The whole thing feeling strangely depressing.

I didn’t want to give up on my proud London soldier. But deep down I knew, even when I stood in the shop thinking about my fainting experience while looking pleadingly at the mechanic. The bike and I had a few good months, went on some epic London journeys, some of them including alcoholic beverages, others rain and thunder. But as I rushed to the meeting, standing in the office elevator surrounded by strangers in suits, I felt sad knowing that the end of an era came too fast for us both. I always thought we’d experience more, but that day, on a beautiful sunny London day, it ended. And so the quest for a new bike commenced, with all the time, energy and financial waste it brings. The hippie attitude I had that morning long since gone, exchanged for Destroyer’s European Oils (see above):

Desperate times call for desperate measures
I wanted you
I wanted these treasures, too…

Sharing the unfinished

I was a summer day in 2008 and I was on my way from Paris to Amsterdam on a Eurolines bus. The tiredness from a few intense days, which had included some fighting with some asshole cashiers at the Centre du Pompidou over a Sophie Calle book, was intense. I was absentmindedly looking through the sport section of the Guardian as we drove north on. On the right side of the bus we passed truck after truck in the dim evening light. Driver after driver sitting in their driver seat, some of them with a colleague next to them. I stared at them as we passed one after the other. When I got to Amsterdam I could not get those truck drivers out of my head. I tried to imagine their lives and how they saw Europe change from their driver seats and out of town warehouses. I even made a plan to shoot a documentary about them. But as I wrote last week in the introduction to my Dublin documentary, I mostly just did a lot of talking.

Enter November 1st 2011, I am home from work with a fever. In my Stockholm suburb I hunch in front of my lap top after checking my job email. I decide to have a look at Bodil Malmsten’s (the Swedish author I very randomly had a dream about recently) blog. In one of her recent posts she is angry that the Swedish road side libraries for truck drivers will get their funding cut. In the post she quotes an old novel she has written. There I see it: the same picture I had in front of my eyes that summer evening in 2008:

(my translation, for those of you who read Swedish click here to read the Swedish version)

I read about the closing of the roadside libraries and remember when I drove back and forth between France and Sweden.
And saw the truck drivers.
Often alone in their giant vehicle on the Autobahn. That they slept in their trucks at truck stops.
I wanted to write a monologue about a truck driver, let his voice be heard, but it only became another of all of my unfinished monologues.

In some strange way, sharing a similar unfinished thing made it all feel better. I think my fever even subsided a little.

I Can’t Keep My Head Inside

I Can’t Keep My Head Inside: Dublin 2010 is the result of an idea I had of making a documentary. During my time in Amsterdam I talked to many people about various documentaries I wanted to make. Nothing ever did come out of that except for some laughs. Until I went to Dublin. I was there a few times during that year and without any real plan I decided that I would document one of the visits I made. I wrote some notes, making sure to make up half of them as a tribute to my belief that “truth” is a fairly uninteresting concept, and went to town.

With the help from my girlfriend I got some shots together. There were no retakes, not because I like things fresh or unedited, but because I was too lazy. I also felt moderately awkward in front of the camera. This means that this piece of travel documentation is, well, pretty sloppy at times.
I almost forgot I even had these clips until quite recently when a colleague told me about a video he did for a wedding. He explained how easy it was to use Windows Movie Maker that I one evening, fuelled by some low priced Italian wine, began playing around with the limited material I had. A few hours later this came out. It is quite embarrassing to watch at times, but I like the parts where I am not talking and there is pretty music and scenery. It is also almost 13 minutes long, so make sure  you have enough time to watch the whole thing when you do push play.

By the way, I am fully aware that the sentence “Irish people are comfort” is grammatically incorrect.

If you laughed, found the music nice, know an Irish person, or just want to share this video with others, please do.

My forthcoming project involves a saxophone player, A4-sheets with quotes and a Spiritualized song. Might be a while until anything comes out of that cocktail.

The wedding speech never held in Prague

Picture: wedding roboboogie

Just over a month ago I attended a wedding in Prague. There I secretly planned to hold a speech until I realized that speeches were not on the agenda for the non-immediate family. I also partly blame some Slovak hunters who had me drinking serious amounts of Brandy. Thus, the speech remained in my pocket and never reached the intended audience. Ben himself did get a poorly printed note with it but since I think it could also be interesting for a wider audience I present to you:

The Ben Cunningham wedding speech never held in Prague

Ben Cunningham stumbled into my life sometime in August of 2007. We were put together in an Amsterdam apartment by the dysfunctional housing department De Key. Within a few weeks he had drunk biked through a giant tunnel and attended a Ghostface Killah concert.

As many of you might know, that year Ben Cunningham shared a room with Richard, a Chinese man of simple pleasures. Favorite past time activities included burning food, occupying the toilet for long stretches of time and wearing long johns no matter the season. Richard was a devoted viewer of low quality Chinese kung-fu tv-series, an infinitely complex character who’s hotmail still is: richardcatpanda@hotmail.com. The fact that both Ben Cunninghamn and I had had sex with females was infinitely intriguing for Richard.

As you might understand living with this man was no cake walk. However Ben Cunningham, although juggling with the idea of moving, stayed on for a whole year. This strong sense of perseverance is one thing that characterizes Ben Cunningham. He takes life on the chin, sometimes falling on it, but never blaming bad luck, or life. “It is what it is”, he once told me, shrugging his shoulders.

Another trait that characterizes Ben Cunningham is modesty. He never talks himself up and despises people who do when they don’t have intellectual coverage for doing so. I don’t know if the rest of you Americans know this but here in Europe one generalization we have about Americans is that this is precisely what you are good at. When dealing with politically clueless liberals, knee deep in beat poet romanticizing ideas of Europe, Ben Cunningham would quietly wait, sipping on a bruski or five before eventually laying down the law.

Ben Cunningham put his head down and slowly but surely worked his way to where he is now. This took him to some strange places. I remember speaking with him when he was living in Vranje, Serbia. I was occupied being heart broken in San Francisco and while I chose to blame pretty much everyone except myself Ben Cunningham, who was definitely not sailing around one pink clouds, simply said that he spent his time “smoking like a Serb”. Sure, things were kind of boring and he was broke, but hey, “It is what it is”.

Thus, when I heard that Ben Cunningham got a job in Prague after having returned to Amsterdam, just as I was moving back there in 2008, I was upset. At the same time it was clear that this was an opportunity Ben Cunningham was in no position of turning down.

Ben Cunningham is a man I deeply respect, who has taught me about international politics and gangsta rap, and someone who I am very happy to call my friend. His wife Bibi is clearly pretty awesome as well, a straight shooting bullet who can both cook up a mean hangover breakfast and introduce me to her mother as “a Swedish person who looks like he is sixteen but really is almost thirty”.

This is for them both.

The most extravagantly gifted young singer-songwriter

Today is Laura Marling day here at the editorial office of Memories of the future. After first reading about her rise to fame and forthcoming album in The Independent I found out that the whole thing is streaming over at The New York Times. So I headed over there, real fast. Now I am in the middle of her new music. Laura Marling is one of the most remarkable musicians I know. I remember seeing her after she had released her debut album in Paradiso in Amsterdam when she opened for Andrew Bird. She stood in a white dress and she had a friend with her who played the cello. It was clear that she was something different, even though Andrew Bird blew her out of the water that time. I’m not so sure that he ever will again.

Last year I saw her play in a beautiful church in Göteborg at the Way Out West festival (picture), one of the definite high points during the festival. It was then that she showed just how much she had developed with her thornier and more confrontational second album. This was a unique storyteller with haunting stories that should not be possible to come up with at her age. But she did, and we sat silently in the church and listened. I’m sure at least a few jaws dropped to the ground during that show.

Next week it’s time for her to release her third album, “A Creature I Don’t Know”. A few songs in it sound like a natural continuation on her second album. “Night After Night” is a standout track.

The Independent calls her “the most extravagantly gifted young singer-songwriter operating in Britain today”, I second that, and if I would not need to focus my writing on work related tasks I would raise it with some well thought out words. Now I’ll make due with listening to her haunting and unedited stories: “I never edit the songs that come out. And they tend to come out as a whole. The closest thing I have ever done to editing them is just cutting out a verse, but never rewriting lyrics. And so sometimes I struggled to really know what I was saying in this album.” she tells the New York Times. As a hater of editing I understand her. However, it difficult to grasp how she manages to get things so right the first time around. But then again, Laura Marling is someone who isn’t really graspable.