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#StreetStory | Melodica | Michel Honig

“People need to be taught the love of music. And the love of god.
I have Javan roots. I grew up godless.
I spent five years in a South American jail. That’s where I met god.
The fact that I got out of there alive proves that he exists.
My brother took piano lessons. I chose judo. We were allowed one thing each. This was back in the ‘50s. Meat on the table twice week. I taught myself how to play piano.
I’ve been locked up five times. Eight years total. All drug-related.
The first time, in Spain, I was twenty. Franco was still in power.
Then Morocco in ’79. I’d bought a bit of hash for myself and my girlfriend. The judge wanted to give me a suspended sentence: 3 months and 16,000 dirhams.
Then he asked my girlfriend if she had anything to say. And she started ranting that everyone’s corrupt and that all the cops are smoking it too. Goodbye suspended sentence; hello jail.
This is my favourite piece: Bach.
He wrote it for his daughter.
It’s actually too cold to play. It’s out of tune.
I’ll be heading off to South America again soon.
Of course, yes. I know what to do now. I won’t get caught.
When I get back, I’ll have some money. I’ll call you. Maybe we can set something up. Something good.”

(Story & photo by Michel Honig | Translated by RdN)

Melodica Michel Honig

#Streetstory | Akita Inu | Michel Honig

“It’s an Akita Inu, a Japanese fighting dog. The samurai used them to hunt bears. He’s like three pitbulls rolled into one. He’s a male, right, so if any other male comes near him, wham, he takes him down. A while back, this guy came cycling past with his dog off the leash. So I say: Put a leash on him.
And he says: My dog doesn’t bite.
Yeah, I say, but mine does. And it will rip yours to shreds.
You should put a muzzle on him, he says.
So I say: You’re too lazy to walk your dog. Look at you, cycling.
And he says: What you see is what you get – you really are antisocial.
Just because I’ve got some tattoos. I work in a tattoo shop, right. Look at this skull on top of my head. It’s made up of details from paintings by Dali. Look, here’s the melting clock. I’m not a barbarian. Do you know what barbarian’s do? They chain their bikes to statues.”

(Story & photo by Michel Honig | Translated by RdN)

Akita Inu Michel Honig

#StreetStory | The Settler | Michel Honig

Nevin is from Dundee. He recently moved to Amsterdam. He’s visited the city regularly in the past twenty-five years, but this time he’s staying for good.

Why now? He doesn’t really know. But he does tell me he left school at sixteen and did some travelling before ending up at a comics house, where he published his first story at the age of eighteen. No, he wasn’t the artist, he wrote the storyline.

“The best days of my life,” he says.

That doesn’t sound very positive coming from a man in his sixties.

He likes to sit beside the water in the late afternoon. We sit together in silence.

Two lads with rods walk by. Nevin asks them what they’re after.

Snoekbaars.

“Ahh, perch-pike. Delicious.” He grew up alongside the water. “Do the people here appreciate this place?” he wonders.

The sun sets behind Central Station. There’s a chill in the air.

“Sorry to ask,” he says, “but could you spare some small change?”

All in all, a gentle soul, Nevin. He leaves me wondering about the rest of his story.

(Story & photo by Michel Honig | Translated by RdN)

Nevin by Michel Honig

#StreetStory | Fighter | Michel Honig

“I really need the sun. I may look fit, but my body’s rotting away. Lyme’s. Caught it right here in the Vondelpark. It’s like HIV. My immune system’s totally buggered. I had pneumonia for two months. Look, I can’t even stand up straight. I used to be an instructor: Capoeira, Pencak Silat, yoga too. Now I can’t even get out of bed some days, so I do breathing exercises lying down. That’s why I still look so fit. I’m a fighter – that’s my main advantage. My childhood was crap, but you learn to survive. I beat cancer, but this…
I’m into mental coaching, these days. People need to start thinking about themselves: What am I doing right? What’s holding me back. A while back, there was this guy, an artist, who just kept screwing around, wasn’t making any progress. So I said: three sessions and you’ll know all about yourself. I let him talk and he had to write it down. I just sat and watched. The year after that, he sold a hundred-thousand’s worth of paintings. So he took me out to dinner.
Do you do any sports? Boxing? I thought so. Where? Bep Kneppers in the Jordaan? Classic style. Wait, watch this. You guys punch like this. I do this. Open hand. That way you can go straight for the eyes. Pencak style, yeah? Turn off your line, like this, now I’m next to you and you can’t hit me. I give you the elbow. That’s not allowed in boxing. Out in the street, I’d add a kick to the knee for good measure. And if that doesn’t teach them, I give them a stroke to the nose and then a slap to the ear. I can’t run away, see? So I have to be effective.
Boxing is brilliant. I love the English style: shoulders back a bit, front hand low, so your opponent can’t see what you’re up to down there. Shit, man, I’m in the mood to do some sparring with you. Maybe next year when I’m better.”

(Story & photo by Michel Honig | Translated by RdN)

Michel Honig Fighter

#BookWalk | The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet | David Mitchell

Thousand Autumns David MitchellAs a reader, I love David Mitchell. As a writer, I loathe him. Here are ten reasons why, captured in as many excerpts from his novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Arie Grote is plucking a bird under a canopy of pans and skillets. Oil is frying, a pile of improvised pancakes is rising up, and a well-travelled round of Edam and sour apples are divided between two mess tables. (p. 31)
| Mitchell not only transports you to a kitchen on the Japanese island of Dejima, but also engages all your senses with carefully chosen, telling adjectives.

Jacob considers the power his visitor must wield to waltz into Dejima on a day turned upside down by the earthquake and mingle with foreigners, free from the usual phalanx of spies and shogunal guards. Enomoto runs his thumb along the crates, as if divining their contents. (p. 80)
| The first of multiple antagonists makes his entrance. Multiple antagonists, goddammit.

“Joke is secret language” – she frowns – “inside words.” (p. 134)
| Communication and cultural differences invariably present a challenge on the island.

“Girls earn a fair clip, while their looks last; the ‘Corals o’ Maruyama,’ the pimps call ‘em. But for boys, it’s harder: Thunberg Junior’s a goldfish breeder, I hear, but he’ll be a worm breeder by an’ by, an’ no mistake.” (p. 164)
| Mitchell lets his characters recount historical background information in their own jargon, thus keeping the edifying aspects of the story fresh, interesting and even comical.

“The present is a battleground” – Yoshida straightens his spine as best he can – “Where rival what-ifs compete to become the future ‘what is’. How does one what-if prevail over its adversaries? The answer” – the sick man coughs – “the answer, ‘Military and political power, of course!’ is a postponement, for what is it that direct the minds of the powerful? The answer is ‘belief.’” (p. 222)
| Like a superb actor playing Shakespeare, Mitchell brings characters and ideas to life, giving them a heartbeat, a cough, their very own diction.

Otane stares at him like Time itself, made human. From her sleeve, she withdraws a dogwood scroll tube. (p. 254)
| Mitchell is not averse to a little cloak ‘n’ dagger ‘n’ scroll tube.

Uzaemon catches his sneeze in a paper square, which he tosses in the fire. (p. 292)
| The (poor) health of the characters plays an integral part in the array of techniques that Mitchell deploys to win the reader’s empathy.

“But I discovered there are problems with owning your mind. When I am on my mind island, I am as free as any Dutchman. There, I eat capons and mango and sugared plums. There, I lie with Master van Cleef’s wife in the warm sand. There, I build boats and weave sails with my brother and my people. If I forget their names, they remind me. We speak in the tongue of Weh and drink kava and pray to our ancestors. There, I do not stitch or scrub or fetch or carry for masters.
Then I hear, ‘Are you listening to me, idle dog?’
Then I hear, ‘If you won’t move for me, here’s my whip!’
Each time I return from my mind island, I am recaptured by slavers.”
(p. 345)
| No historical account of atrocities can match this moving soliloquy in bringing home the horror of slavery.

Surgeon Nash examines the ankle, swollen to twice its usual size. “Steeplechases and mazurkas are, more than like, behind you now, Captain. May I recommend a stick to help you walk? I shall have Rafferty fetch one.” (p. 409)
| Let’s throw in a British Man o’ War, shall we? But let’s not have a cardboard cut-out with bellowing cannons; let’s populate it with real people and take the reader on board.

“Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike-topped walls, and triple-bolted doors.” (somewhere near the end)
| I am not a great fan of lengthy descriptive passages, but Mitchell blends the lyrical with the technical, compelling the reader to take note, to join him on his journey, to see the story through the eyes of his characters, to sit beside an omniscient god.

A Tuscan Mystery

I couldn’t find my photos of Florence. I took them sometime last century, when digital photography was still a fuzzy joke. In those days, you dropped your roll of film at a special shop, waited a week for them to print the photos, viewed them once or twice, and then tossed them into a big box full of other discarded memories. Well, that’s what I used to do. As did my wife, the professional traveller, who also has three big boxes full. We ploughed through the avalanche of images together.

“We’ll need a second house if you ever paste these into albums,” I said.

“I think this might be Prague,” she said, gazing at a photo. “Or Budapest.”

“I think I don’t care anymore,” I said, “because I have this!”

“Which is what?”

“The receipt booklet I stole in Tuscany!”

receipt booklet tuscany
I’m not even sure it was stealing. There were piles of them lying in a box I found in one of the crumbling outbuildings that surrounded the courtyard of the palazzo we had rented with friends. Part of the roof had collapsed and the boxful of booklets was fighting a losing battle against a landslide of broken furniture, rusty farm equipment and other bric-a-brac all tumbling over itself to stay out of the rain.

What drew me to the booklet were the old-fashioned colours: the faded orange cover and the aging pink slips. You could almost hear “l’agente” saying to “il ricevente”: “Sì, la rosa è la vostra sicurezza,” or something to that effect. Perhaps I even had some premonition that I would one day write about the booklet, weaving a story of love lost and receipts issued in a Tuscan villa at the turn of the century.

More practically, in retrospect, the booklet provides clues as to where we were staying. I know it was somewhere between Sienna and Florence, because I recall visiting both cities, but I really have no idea what the place was called.

So I googled “Tenuta di Catignano”, which returned only five hits. The first four linked to sites selling rather expensive wines labelled with that name, dating from the late 1960s and early 70s. Maybe I would have found a couple of these bottles if I had looked harder among the bric-a-brac. All of which led me to conclude that the receipts were probably used for the sale of wine. Call me Sherlock.

But I truly hit the jackpot with the fifth link, which whisked me to an article on Baronessa Margherita (Marga) Sergardi Marmoross, whose name also appears on the receipt. Unfortunately, I couldn’t copy and paste the Italian text into Google Translate, but I did find another article on Margherita Sergardi, which explained that she had been an actress and poet who had been very active in theatrical circles in Sienna, heading the school of dramatic arts and co-founding the Piccolo Teatro di Siena. I also found a report that the baronessa had passed away in 2011 at the age of 92. Here’s a superb photo of her, taken sometime in the 1950s.

[Read the rest on KLM.com]

Baronessa

Dude

(Story & photo by Michel Honig | Translated by RdN)

It’s the end of the afternoon. The skies have cleared. A pale sun shines over the Amstel.

Here comes the Dude. He’s out for a walk. No, the Dude doesn’t walk, he saunters.

Where’s he headed? The Dude isn’t headed anywhere, he’s always where he’s at. And he’s always carrying his plastic bag. Sometimes there’s a DVD inside, sometimes there’s food, which he prepares for those that love him.

What’s on the Dude’s mind? He’s counting the number of benches he sat on today. Or whether it was yesterday or today that he last ate watermelon. And wondering when the next great American boxing champion will step into the ring.

How are you, Dude? “Splendid, man. Always splendid.”

Michel Honig Dude

Ugly

- Do you mind if I take your picture?
- Rather not.
- Why not? You look great.
- I don’t think I look great at all.
- But those pants are great.
- I think I’m ugly.
- Oh?
- My family always said I was ugly. Everyone said I was ugly.
- This is not the first time I’ve noticed you. And it’s because you look great.
- Just look at how people are dressed. Men should pay more attention to their grooming.
- It’s fun to look good.
- I want to look neat and tidy. Grooming is important.
- So, do you mind if I take your picture?
- Alright then. But make it quick.

(Story & photo by Michel Honig | Translated by RdN)

See more of Michel’s stories on Facebook.
Follow Michel on Twitter.

Michelhonig.nl

Introducing The Nameless Foundation

Nameless bannerMy brother runs a railroad company. And a telecom company. And he’s in shipping, too. Infrastructure is his game. You could say we split the DNA three ways with my sister, who took the scientific strand (she’s a mineralogist), while my brother got commerce, leaving me stuck with creativity (thanks, sibs). We enjoy each other’s company, but we don’t see a lot of each other because we’re all on different continents. In short, we’re not always aware what the others are up to.

Cutting to the chase: my brother recently contacted me to write a series a blogs on African railways for his company. He’d read the blogs I write for KLM and wondered if I’d be willing to do something similar for him. Naturally, I swiftly informed him that I knew just enough about African railways to get myself into a lot of trouble. So I suggested that it might be better if I put out a call to my growing network of African authors, who I was sure would be able to tell wonderful short stories about trains and railways, set in their home countries.

And thus our first project was born. In fact, my brother liked the concept so much, he suggested we might establish a foundation to sell projects of this kind to other companies and organisations. He’d supply the seed capital and fund the first project, and I’d handle the creative side of things. As we mailed and Skyped back and forth, we discovered that we still share a gung-ho pioneering attitude to such things. And so, within ten weeks, we have not only established The Nameless Foundation, but are rounding off our first project – a series of blogs on trains and railways – with fabulous short stories from leading African writers Muhammad Aladdin, Yaba Badoe, Monique Eleanor, Kiprop Kimutai, Rustum Kozain, Lauri Kubuitsile, Beatrice Lamwaka, Yewande Omotoso, Jamala Safari, Sylvia Schlettwein, Claudio Silva, Zukiswa Wanner and Rachel Zadok.

We already have a Facebook page, and our website will be up soon. During the coming weeks, we’ll be posting more information about our mission and objectives. In a nutshell: we’ll be selling top-class fiction to companies and organisations, giving them access to superb stories offering unique insight into their chosen topic. Our policy is to give writers the freedom to soar, offering new perspectives, rather than placing them in a gilded corporate cage. As a foundation, we ensure that our creative contributors are paid first and that a percentage of profits from projects will be used to support writing and reading programmes and projects.

We’d love to tell you – journalists, columnists and bloggers – more about our mission and objectives. And – writers and readers – if you know of any daring companies and organisations that might be interested in a whole new take on ‘content’, please contact leigh.fisher at namelessfoundation dot com.

Delft – A Short Story | Pandemonium: Ash

“They eat the slime,” says my guide, pointing to the dusty herd milling around on the shoreline. Several horses are kissing algae off the rocks, tails swishing a warning that alert hooves await those that cannot wait their turn.

“Have they always done that?”

“Here on Delft, yes. They also swim out to sea sometimes and dive above the deep reef where seaweed is plentiful.”

“They swim underwater?”

“With great power and grace, yes.”

“How did they get here? Did they swim?”

“The colonist pirates brought them. A Dutch captain named the island after his hometown. That was their fort,” he says, pointing to the island’s only tree, a giant baobab half hidden by crumbling walls.The lower branches have been stripped of leaves. The canopy begins at the height of a rearing horse. “Our forefathers were enslaved to build the walls with coral taken from the shallow reef at low tide.”

“Why would anyone choose to live here?”

“This was once a fertile island, with orchards, vineyards, a spring that had gushed sweet water for centuries.The colonists chose a perfect place to build their fort. But that was before 1883.”

“Krakatoa?”

“First, giant waves washed over the island, dragging almost all the inhabitants to their death out at sea. Only the strongest swimmers survived. Eleven men. And then the ash began to settle in thick layers. It choked the vegetation and clogged up the spring until only a trickle remained.”

“Sounds nasty.”

“The horses saved my great-grandfather’s life.”

“Did he eat them?”

“No, when he was carried off by the waves, he found himself upon a living, biting island of hide and hair.The waves eventually rolled off into the distance, leaving the water trembling. My great-grandfather did not know which way to go, but the horses had no doubt. And so he grabbed a tail and was towed through the drifting debris. Bodies popped up all around him. It was then that the fish man appeared.”

“A fisherman?”

“No, the fish man.That is what they called him. He too was towed back to land by the horses. A stranger. No one recognised him. He was naked and spoke a language they had never heard before. In my family, we still say ‘fish man’ when one of the children shrieks with pain or laughter, for that was the sound the fish man made. A high-pitched, whistling chatter.”

“Like a dolphin?”

“Yes.”

(Read the rest of this story and five others in “Pandemonium: Ash”, a free chapbook that can be downloaded via various sites.)