Christmas tree in Bratislava

Same question, different year: what to do for the holidays?

Seeing everything lit up for the holidays in Bratislava last weekend made me realise how close Christmas, New Years and last but not least my (50th) birthday are getting. It has never been my favourite time of the year, too much food ( no good for me), alcohol (even worse) and obligations and yet, not being part of it feels very awkward, uncomfortable and emphasises loneliness. I just wish it would pass unnoticed, but it doesn't, no matter how much I would like to ignore the 'festive season' it bugs me, makes me restless and irritable rather than peaceful. There is a lot of resistance in me to just surrender and be part of it in any way, I have no idea why. There is an urge to raise my hand and say: but... but... but... But what is it that I want to say? What is my protest?

Why can't I just surrender and celebrate? I do not know. I am at a loss, every year. I always feel better as soon as the 1st of January arrives, but that only lasts till the following December, as no resolution has been arrived at in the mean time.

This year I feel the added pressure to figure out what I want to do for my 50th birthday. I would like to do something, you know, 50, the big five-o, what better excuse does one need to do something unusual and spoil oneself? But I can't think of anything, isn’t that weird? The ‘spoiling oneself’ may be a nice idea, but seems to belong to ego territory of a child and not be long lasting. What would my soul want? Probably nothing, probably just wants to Be, or does it?

The Green Grass

View from the Slovak side of the basilica of Esztergom, Hungary

The week before last was not so good. With a spine 'stuck' in various places, sleeping had become a restless affair with tossing and turning and never being comfortable. The weather had been grey, bleak and cold. Lack of sleep was having an effect on my moods. The lack of response by local people was getting to me as well. Almost everyone looks chronically depressed, aloof and unfriendly.

Last Friday I went hunting for a chiropractor. Called here and there and everywhere in Bratislava, Slovakia and Budapest Hungary. In the end with the help of a man next door in the town's office was able to help and locate someone in... Sturovo of course. No phone, but I went over and he was there. The premises looked a bit, well run down to say the least. The table looked more like a butchers block. Things just look different here I reminded myself, hoping that the looks were not an indication of the service offered. He spoke some German making communication possible. Next Monday he could see me, costs SK300 or NZ$15, awfully cheap for New Zealand standards. Again my mind was beginning to doubt his credentials... as long as he fixes my neck instead of breaking it. I had little choice.

That night I went to the thermal pools and had a massage, again cheap, butcher block like table with no space for the head to rest without twisting the neck. The guy worked up a sweat, working hard, slapping tons of cream loaded with 'deep heat' setting my back on fire. The whole exercise had little effect as he just repeated a limited amount of massage stokes over and over, without going deep or working on any specific area of tension. The experience put further doubt in my mind about the upcoming session on Monday with the chiropractor. I bought a decent desk chair on Saturday to improve my posture while sitting at the computer. That made an immediate difference.

Main street Sturovo with Basilica of Esztergom in the background

Monday 10am, on the butcher block of the 'csonkovacs' (Hungarian for bone-smith, a very trust encouraging term), with no questions asked he began with a massage, similar to the one on Friday, with the same fiery lotion but slightly better in quality. Hmmm did he think I came for a massage or a manipulation? I decide to wait and see and trust this man, again I did not have any options but surrender. Maybe he just wants to loosen my muscles before starting the amnipulation of the spine, which is really a good idea, something practitioners in New Zealand often do not make time for. After 15 minutes he said "Kein Spannung Heute", which means something like: no tension today. I took that as my cue to relax so he could manupulate my spine, and sure he did. Thank God he knew what he was doing and straightened out my spine, what a relief. I went back to the thermal baths that day to sooth my body.

Sleep improved every day since, pains decreased, and with some Feldenkais and other exercises I am now much better, maybe see him one more time. My mood improved too, and so did the weather. The Indian summer is back with sun and lunchtime temperatures in the low 20's. I can throw open the French doors of the studio and have lunch outside, ahhhh.

I am beginning to learn that the lack of willingness of locals to engage with me has nothing to do with me, or the fact that I am a stranger. It is just their way of being and is not due to a perceived lack of friendliness, politeness or the presence of chronic cultural depression. Things are just different and attaching the above labels is just a defensive ego strategy, trying to justify my way of being and maintain a sense of who ‘I’ am. Being able to recognise that the nature of the ‘mirror’ is just that, the nature of the ‘mirror’ and not a reflexion of me is a relief. My ego does no longer need to be defensive and judgemental of others in order for ‘I’ to just be me. For me to act like them would be unfriendly, inpolite and be depressing as it is not my nature ( so I like to believe). Now that I understand the situation, I am able to ‘tone down’ my ‘friendliness’ so I won't embarres locals without actually being unfriendly on the inside. My soul is still smiling.

View from the Slovak side of the basilica of Esztergom, Hungary at 4:30pm

I hope I will be able to maintain this mindset and no longer be affected by the perceived bleakness of this environment. All I need to do is look across the riverbank at night and enjoy this beautiful view to remind myself about the lesson learned this week. No longer is the grass greener on the other side of the border. I can see the 'green grass' and let it be part of me without the need to be there.

View from the Slovak side of the basilica of Esztergom, Hungary at night

Every week I discover more delicious things in the shops. I found 2 packets of Dutch coco, which I hoarded straight away. The local coco is much weaker, and yesterday I came home with fresh basil, chives and parsley plants, yeahhhh fresh greens! It was the first time I saw the plant for sale. Buy while you can is still very much a necessity as who knows when it will be on the shelves again.

This weekend I am having my first visitor, Mala from New Zealand, who will ‘surf my couch’. Something I am looking forward to.

The Mária Valéria Bridge Guard Log, a new blog.

Video still: the bridge at dusk.

The Mária Valéria Bridge between Stúrovo, Slovakia, and Esztergom, Hungary, was first built in 1895. People destroyed the bridge in 1919 (for 7 years) and in 1944 (for 57 years). It was longer unusable than usable until it was rebuilt in 2001. I am the 7th Bridge Guard at the Residential Art/Science Centre in Stúrovo, Slovakia. The Bridge Guard Residency was established with the aim to mentally protect the bridge. It is my duty as the Bridge Guard to ‘protect’ the Mária Valéria Bridge, by building virtual bridges, cross and move boundaries, in or through my work. The idea being that as long as new connections are created, boundaries are (re-) moved and destruction of the actual bridge by people is less likely. In addition I am expected to record my daily observations of the bridge, which you will find on The Mária Valéria Bridge Guard Log blog. I choose to blog the Log for it’s potential to mentally connect as many people as possible from all over the world to this relatively unknown bridge thus building virtual bridges. Observations of the bridge, its environment, the two sides it connects, and my connections with the site will be documented in text and photography (digital, and video stills).

Pool of Angels, a new blog

Image: Cover of: Pool of Angels, a book by Mark Suntres.

As part of my work here at the Artist-in-Residency in Sturovo I have blogged the above book Pool of Angels by Mark Suntres from Chicago. Mark is one of the many talented artists with intellectual disabilities that I have worked with over the years. This book contains Mark's story and as such is quite unique in a world where literature by people with intellectual disabilities is scarse.

The book is the result of an international collabotarion between Mark Suntress in Chicago,U.S.A., my colleague Brooke Dallimore from Art Compass, Wellington, New Zealand and myself Chicago/Wellington. Please take the time to read Mark's story and view the beautiful pages, you won't regret it.

Chilling Change

Friday 28 October
Temperature: 25C/75F
View of my residence (I know, such a humble abode)
Waka(Maori for canoe) ready in case the Danube floods.

Friday 3 November (one week later)
Temperature -2C/30F
Forget about the waka, dig out the skates.


Digital image: Sturovo

The local cemetery
Into a ocean of flowers
Lit at night
A fairy playground
Where spirits can happily roam.

Digital image: Sturovo

The Russian war graves
Next plot over...
Who wants to be a soldier?

Digital image: Sturovo


This is the studio from where I am working at the moment. From here, with the internet connection working, I can easily and confidently connect to the greater world. The next challenge is to connect with people in the sleepy village of Sturovo without much of a common language. I do not stand much chance to become fluent in Hungarian or Slovac in 6 months, I hope that visual language will enable me to build a bridge between me and my neighbours.

El Camino De Santiago: The Journal

Video still: 38 days of being mirrored by El Camino

On the 9th September 2006 I headed for St. Jean Pied de Port, a small town in the French Pyrenees, to walk 764 km to Santiago De Compostella in western Spain. This walk is an ancient catholic pilgrimage walked by thousands for religious, spiritual and/or recreational reasons. I had 38 days to get there.

Walking that far is not quite recreation for me, neither am I a practicing catholic, but I did hope that walking ‘El Camino’ would somehow bring spiritual and transformational benefits. I had no idea what those benefits would be, if and how they would eventuate.

For the next 38 days I will publish one post per day about my experience of being on ‘El Camino’. I will attempt to convey this experience using text and images of video stills and soft pastel drawings made during the 38 days that I was on my way to the bones of Saint James.

To view the 38 posts please click here to view the specially created blog:

Marcel Baaijens

Monasterial Palace

Interior photo of my new residence in Slovakia.

Echoes of silence
By bare
White-washed Walls
2 feet thick
13 high
20 or more
There is no wind
Only thoughts
Echoes of silence

Auntie Rie, Tante Rie (1921-2006)

When Auntie Rie
Could not
Laugh too

It was her time
She was laid to rest
I hope
She will find her way
To the tunnel of Light

Video still: Lourdes