“...... before I walked into the Nomadic Village I stopped and sat down at a bench in the middle of Cuges les Pins. I waited. But I wasn't sure what I was waiting for. For something to end or for something to begin.”
I remember the moment well. September 23d, 2013. I had walked 40 days in a row. My house on my back. That day I had climbed a mountain. I had walked through Holland, Belgium, France. 40 days, 40 stories. My last report ended with these lines.
But it had begun already, maybe it began 41 years ago. It had taken me 41 years and 2 days to arrive at a bench in the dark in a village where I’d never set foot before. It had taken me 41 years and 2 days to get a master degree in medieval history, a degree in art, to start an art foundation, to found an artist residency in a far away country, to get a career, to get married, to have dreamt big dreams, to have collected enough things to fill a medium size apartment with, to be somebody.
It took me 41 years and 2 days to realise I wanted to be nobody. Somebody who has her house on her back. Who walks the world in a three piece walking suit to find stories. Who feels at home on her own on a bench in the dark in a strange country.
But it had ended already. It had ended when I started walking.
I first walked as an artist in Amsterdam, almost 10 years ago. I was appointed to be the new bridge guard in the Bridge Guard Art & Science Centre in Slovakia. The bridge that was to be guarded was the Maria Valeria Bridge, connecting Slovakia and Hungary. A bridge that had been rebuilt recently. A bridge that, during its existence, had been destroyed many times to make it impossible for people to get from one country to the other. The Maria Valeria Bridge is 495 meters long. 711 steps. And before I travelled to Slovakia, for two months I walked 711 steps every day, starting from my doorstep in Amsterdam.
I never stopped walking afterwards. Short distances. Longer distances. But the first time I went on a long walk, an absurd 6 day walk following the exact border of a municipality in Holland, walking through fields, crossing canals, entering peoples’ houses, sleeping on the border in a small tent, I felt the way I had felt as a kid when I went out exploring the fast forest behind my parents’ house.
I was hooked. There was no way back. But I didn’t fully realise it until a year later. When I walked from one end of Belgium to the other end together with a group of artists. I was a Walking Librarian, I carried books. And I wore a suit. A three piece walking suit. My first soft armour.
I’m still not sure why I decided on wearing a suit. It made sense to me. It made more sense than anything else. And it still does. Even these days when my body carries a tattoo naming it “a soft armour”.
There have been five suits. I wore the second one for 108 days, using it as my notebook. I counted the days in my collar like a prisoner does. After 108 days I took it of. I walked the streets naked. I got myself a tattoo. I travelled to Sweden.
In Sweden I wore my third suit. I caught snails in it, I walked pilgrim trails. I embroidered it with a neverending red thread, turned it into a map. I thought about the Chinese saying that all people who are destined to meet are connected by an invisible red thread.
The fourth suit was somebody elses’, I found it in the closet of the room I stayed in when I worked as a pioneer in the Swedish woods. It was the sort of suit you see people wear in old movies. The suit they get married in and get buried in. It had belonged to the man who once lived in the lonely house in the woods I was staying in. I wore it one weekend. I brought it back to Amsterdam. It is still there, waiting for something.
The fifth suit, the fourth soft armour, kept me safe all the way from Amsterdam to the Nomadic Village in the south of France. And afterwards, when I harvested corn in a small mountain village in Portugal. On my last day there I filled my pockets with corn and I left a trail.
I knew I needed a trail. I know how easy it is to get lost in the modern world.
And I was right. Because here I am, back in the “real world”, wondering if I should go back walking. Wondering if I shouldn’t get myself a proper job. Some proper funding. A house to return to. Stability. I know the corn trail I left has disappeared, the kernels have been eaten or trampled by goats. I knew when I was leaving them behind that it didn’t make sense. Just as measuring the corn sheds with my body and wrapping hundreds of kernels in red thread didn’t make any sense.
Here I am. Sometimes I don’t see the sky all day because my city apartment is on the ground floor. Sometimes I don’t see my friends for weeks because they are too busy making money. Sometimes the only way I add meaning to the world is because I pay taxes. Sometimes I follow the rules and feel unhappy, I go through the motions and feel like I waisted my time. People tell me that this is how the world works. Some of my good friends even tell me that. And if that makes sense, then walking the world in a three piece walking suit might make even more sense.
I’ll get my things together.