Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The first day of Herring in the Netherlands

This is the second bit first, but sometimes that’s the way things come out. The next mail will deal with the first steps at the Kennedylaan.

We had gotten ambitious with our bit of wall because we wanted to have a something to show for our time here and some target to achieve. We realized that this was a predictable response and that the real interest is just in the doing of it and the faith that something will result. But truly one wants to see results, to see form. We were pursuing Peters instructions and laying rows of flat tile alternating with double stretcher bond sections, and then we decided to create a ramp or a surface, to move onto the top of the wall. We started to prepare the foundations for a corner and wall return to start to close the table. We spent some time trying to use a large ugly chunk of glued together rubble but could not make it work. We were due to meet a gentleman who had been working on the project for years and was a trusted advisor. We became scared that we might appear amateur and so tied to downplay this ugly learners corner. We tried to build more wall as a disguise or a ruse or a foil, to distract him.

I didn’t even know he was coming and then he was there, walking his bike up behind us. Thomas is working on his Dutch as well as his work on the Ecocathedral and Siebe Homningg, the second supervisor of the day on the project, walked up yelling something in Dutch. I find sometimes already that I can get a lot from the context and sometimes it almost sounds English. He was very excited and from his bag he pulled out a plastic container fresh from the delicatessen, sealed in glad wrap. “Fresh herring, today!” “Salted; you want one; like this:”, and I found myself holding a fish in my mouth about to drop it down my throat. I believe in being courageous with local foods and eating traditions, but it can get you in trouble. I once ate some kangaroo from a community group that refused to enter my body, and as soon as this herring made it into my mouth, my body said “What are you doing!”. I managed to deal with the mouthful and respectfully gave it back. Siebe was excited because today, 6th June was the day when all of the Netherlands got herring. It was controlled so no one got it first, no one got it second. It was a very genuine gift to share his herring with us but no amount of goodwill was going to swallow that fish for me.

He returned later and the apprenticeship would be different than I thought. He was gentle in his advice and discussed not what you should do, but what he was doing. His own system was based around alternating colour arrangements of the bricks. Working between red and black. He admired the corner we had made and suggested ways to use brick chips and the angles on the large kerb modules to create the batter on the wall. We had been persuing a stepping back of the courses rather than an angling of the wall. After this he resumed his own section of alternating colours, and began to take our bricks that we had separated earlier. I realized of course that this is not a selfish exercise since it is entirely improvisatory. You may separate rocks for a day for yourself, but if you do not get to use them, then someone else does and gains the same value for them as you would, and with the same net outcome of production. We worked quietly in parallel and I made an important realization about the nature of the process, which is that there is a reservoir of experience but not a set guidebook. Siebe begins pursuing an interesting alternating in out brick bond which is much more creative than the restrained wall erection we were doing. He walks over and says to me smiling “Ah you have an imagining, a design in your head” suggesting that there is a certain point in the process where the construction starts to become a clear form, moving forward.

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