Sunday, June 21, 1992

Letter to Jan Part 1

Dear Jan                 5 July, 1992, 2 AM (Dutch time)

I’m sitting in a cabin in Bolinas, drinking red wine, feeling all alone in the world, and I’m not sure what to think about my time in the Netherlands. It wasn’t an easy trip. So much on my mind, also I’ve been unwilling to commit anything to paper, feeling a bit betrayed.

Another letter-poem has been brewing under the surface for weeks but won’t ferment, won’t get written; I’ve been thinking of it since the solstice, especially now that I’ve been to the dukedoms of North Brabant, Limburg, Brabant and to Antwerp. I thought we were all going to Stockholm together for the solstice. I was disappointed because I didn’t get to spend very much time with you. 

Vins and I rented a car and had a lovely time ferreting out the myriad dolmens of North Holland. We made a ritual altar on the top of the largest dolmen: yew branches, pieces of flint, coins, crow feathers gathered from the village church (once also a Neolithic site of worship with its enormous megalith), libations of tobacco, wine, chocolate, and a flame . . . 

We swigged deep red Langdouc wine while a kid on a bicycle madly circled us three times counterclockwise like a demon-moth. Watching the fiery sun set a few degrees to the right, I was puzzled until it dawned on me that these dolmens were built to mark the winter solstice!

I loved traveling through Belgium: the sad coal towns juxtaposed against the town of miracles where droves of believers arrived in wheelchairs to be blessed and healed, the huge beginhof, Peter Paul Ruben’s birthplace, the castletown of Louven where Vins went to university (we crashed a theologians’ Ph.D. party for wine and crackers), where they raped and drowned Marika legendarily floated upstream to unmask her murderer.

We went to Waterloo at sunset, the desolate green fields of memory unrolling before us to Napoleon’s earthen pyramid. On the way to Brussels, we leaped the fence surrounding an extraordinary castle at twilight. Sleeping swans. I picked up a pigeon snoozing on the moat gate. Though it awakened, it could not fight the instinct to sleep during the hours of darkness. The absurd rows of chickens in the branches were much safer.

Antwerp was my favorite city. On the main square, the fountain of the slain giant, the fish are doing something naughty with the mermaids. On the Lijnwaadmarkt, we had a meal in Angelot, a garden cafe, once an old annex of the gothic cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp, our table covering the ancient well. 

I can’t help thinking about the story of your Antwerpan lady and the Spanish soldier of your ancestry. Did she come to this place as a young woman to draw water from this well, and sit in the sun dreamily wondering what the future might hold for her, only to be raped, a pawn in the spoils of war? The image of a broken pitcher in our wine carafe, spilled blood came to mind. 

I think the cathedral at Antwerp with its original red frescos is more beautiful than Louven, Den Bosch, Brussels, or Köln, though I love the juxtaposition of the Roman arch next to the church of Köln. Stories of tyrants and belief structures, the towers of men against incurably blue skies.

On my way to Bolinas, I stopped in the small village of Point Reyes, near where I grew up, and in a box outside the office door of my friend who owns Floating Island press—were some books; the very first book I put my hands on was the Granta issue your Bavarian Christmas photos were in. A strange synchronicity, Bergtesgaden, the hometown Hitler. Rods of absolution. 

Just yesterday I was missing the time we didn’t take to visit, (and to go over the San Francisco photos etc., the black hole of unfinished business—remember, I’ve got unpaid time invested in this story too; if you don’t sell the photos, I don’t sell a story). Driving to Bolinas, I listened to your Eartha Kitt tape. As she was singing “All by myself,” I realized how aptly the storyline fit my own experiences, what I’ve been feeling the past six weeks. But instead of Israelis and Palestinians warring, I’m caught between three realities, and the sad crossfire of two men—lifelong friends—who can’t seem to communicate. You may think it’s all OK, but there’s shrapnel in love’s killing fields.

Part two

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