Archives for the month of: May, 2021

One of the things I have enjoyed living in the rural regions is the bell towers as a sonic cultural network across the land. At the same time, I question the reason for the continuation of this marking of time, the purpose of these regular intervals, in which the people have long been spurred into activity, or collective behavior. Is it comfort? Do we still need these daily reminders of the passage of time? Does it give a sense of community, of belonging? Are we just unskilled in interpreting the movement of our cosmic bodies? Most of us have personal devices anyway to let them know how time passes. 

Living in Italy is the hilly region of the Apennines foothills for a while, I grew accustomed to the bell towers, most of them located on ridges and hilltops, extending the acoustic reach. Depending on where I was in the land, I could hear one or more bells. The closest village, where I would also do my shopping, and work in the fields, had ( and hopefully still has) a special pattern. It could only ring six times, the reason I don’t know. This would mean that ten ‘o clock in the morning would ring four times. It would also ring every fifteen minutes, providing extra codes to the ten o’clock signal, giving it an extra ring at 10:15, two extra rings at 10:30 and three extra rings at 10:45. It was a lot of ringing, requiring a bit of attention as well to decode the exact time. During the day, this was fine, marking exactly how much longer to go in the field before lunchtime, but for a short time I resided in a house near the old plaza and ringing is not limited to daytime business. I’m sure in time, you can get used to the bells and get a good night sleep. On Saturday, Sunday’s and Catholic feast days, the bell towers guided many to the church services. In Italy, it still resonates with (part of) the community.

Fast forward to the Terp villages in NorthEast Friesland, my current location. I am confronted again with the bell towers, distinct features in the landscape, as each village is build around the church, protestant this time. The bells ring until 12, and ring once on the half hour. My first few nights were a bit sleepless, but over time, I’ve grown accustomed and only hear the bells occasionally during the night. Now that I have my bedroom window open on the other side of the house as well, I can also hear the bells in the morning from the neighboring village and I am beginning to appreciate the sounds. The bells I hear are not synchronous, but maybe that is just part of the distance travelled. Sometimes the distant bells go a bit faster, other times slower, sometimes it resonates so beautifully.  Walking through the fields, I can gauge the distance by the sound of the bells between the villages, somewhere they meet, sometimes you find yourself in a sound ‘vacuum.’ This is probably an area where nobody lived in the past.  It is not just distance, but wind, moisture and temperature play in this game as well. I am not sure if the bells still perform their old function of guiding the community to meet in church, but as a cultural network it lives on and resonates beautifully.


After years of spotty or no connection, my internet connection has been continuous for about a year or so, which makes it possible to stream movies and series after work. Although I try to be modest, every now and then I cannot resist to binge a bit on crime series, and I am always surprised that I often feel sympathy for the bad guy(s). Maybe that is just a testimony to the skills of the makers, or, is it that the line between good and bad is a fine one, or even non-discrete?

Last week’s news presented a real-life case. A ransomware attack crippled a vital fuel pipeline in the US, named the Colonial pipeline. It caused gas prices to go up and a wave of anxious drivers and hoarding behavior. It was a wake-up call how vulnerable our systems actually are. The attack was attributed to a group called Dark Side, operating from eastern Europe, the obvious villain in the story.

With a bit of shame I must admit that I am not sure who is the villain here, and even though Dark Side operates under questionable motives (making money is their game), I did feel a bit of sympathy for the attackers. 

It must be because I have been reading up on the gas exploitation in the northern Netherlands, the profitable fossil fuel market as a whole, that is not going to let us go anytime soon and is causing us, and the world around us so much trouble and devastatingly so in the (near) future. Does this industry, the policy makers who keep supporting them, deserve my sympathy? I don’t think so. 

So what about Dark Side. It seems they are professionals and even have some principles; they attack businesses who possess the financial means to pay the ransom, their goal is to make money, not to create societal problems, and it is forbidden to attack service organization such as healthcare, education, public sector and non-profits. It is secretly not what we would like, for companies that have exploited our lands, our people for so long to finally pay up. 

Not yet, not yet, but I wonder when comes the time, when I, and many of us, change our minds, when the end justifies the means for radical change.

Wondering about the peculiar aspect of human behavior that seems to cherish our self-destruction, but only as a distant future, a fate that can be averted,  a future that can be shifted to be always on the horizon. Therefore our short-term gains always seem to win over our long term interests, even though we are able to imagine these long-term scenario’s, an ability that is thought to set our species apart from the rest of the living world. It leaves me a bit hopeless about our ability to “transition to a sustainable future” as the slogan goes.  I need something positive right now, gear myself up, to make believe that there is something I can do to change this strange direction in this world, where ‘intention’ seems to be enough to satisfy us, even though our actions communicate a completely different, destructive, message.

I need to find some solace in my surrounding like I always do, after all, I am in a rural place, in a beautiful old house, where the woodpecker wakes me up in the morning. He, maybe I just do the same as we all do, look at the beauty that surrounds us to temporarily forget the looming doom. Looking for intimacy.

My little village is organized radially from the central church location, my house is on the outer ring. Stepping out from my lot I enter the open field, straight horizontal horizons in all directions, interspersed with bell towers and wind mills, of other, similar villages in the region, and the view of the sea dike to the north.

The open land, the agricultural fields, the sweeping cloud formations. Whenever I step out for my much needed walks, I quickly follow my path, it doesn’t really matter which direction I go, the view stays remarkably similar, it is only a matter of wind direction, no nooks, hide-outs, enclosures to envelop me in their comfort. It feels good, yet I don’t feel the urge to halt and take it all in, it is extensive, not intimate (yet). 

I remember other places, whenever I run or hike there are moments when I want to stop, and take in the intimacy of a place, the moment.  Suddenly connected and feeling the relationship with a particular environment in an overwhelming way. These feelings are often sudden and can be quite dramatic, such as a place in Japan, a dense forest enclosure with hanging moss, I stopped and at that moment I realized that this felt like a place I would like to die. The saturated feeling of being completely accepted and integrated in the living community.

Not so in the Frisian fields, where the wind tries to sweep me off my feet. But then there is something else, wait until it gets dark.

Whereas much of the western world is bathing in light pollution, the coastal Frisian zone is dark. So dark, that on cloudless nights is it possible to see the Milky Way on the nearby islands. The scale is different, but intimate nonetheless. I remember sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, where I experienced the Milky Way in its full glory for the first time. I am now looking forward to dark nights and connecting to the world on this path.  Intimacy is not restricted by scale. 

I am reading a book entitled, “Unworthy Republic” by  Claudio Saunt, with the subtitle, The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory (2020).  A well-documented book that provides a different story of the conquest and colonization of the North American continent, a story of theft, violence, politics, and bureaucratic smokescreens as a means to justify, and legitimize mass deportation of original inhabitants, and taking possession of their land and homes. I am not sure what is most disturbing, but maybe it is this method of legalizing atrocious behavior, laws through which robbery and disrespect became defined as a service, an act of kindness. Making empty promises. A story that continues until today. 

Robbing people of their livelihoods and resources. It is something many of us engage in, often with the law on our side. Maybe not as instigator, but as part of a system that allows such behavior to continue on a global scale. 

Think global, act local sounds like a motto to address such behavior. It is something I take seriously, and which I interpret as to mean to be aware of the global problematic trends and to undertake local measures to correct these trends for the better. Think twice; is my interpretation universal? Maybe in the circles I mostly move, but I realize this is just an assumption. It can easily mean the opposite, Act local, like you’ve always done, and divert any problems onto the global scene, preferably not too loudly.  We call it trade, not always legal initially, but rules can be made and bent. Enter carbon-trade and land-grabbing.

Resource Exploitation is your problem too!

Kyoto 1997, some 180 countries signed the protocol that calls for the 38 industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Act local? The Protocol is a scheme that includes global carbon trading, because the task of reducing carbon is considered a collective (global) responsibility.  Environmental brokers enter the trade market, scouring for carbon assets,“environmental services”, forested areas, tree-planting projects that can help off-set emissions by their clients. 

Although it seems that this can help reduce emissions globally, while at the same time supporting sustainable development in poor countries (World Bank), a win-win, it has a dark side. Planting fast-growing eucalyptus trees with EU support in Sicily, is not a good thing. Removing Indigenous peoples from their land, in order to create a nature reserve is even worse. And in order to continue for instance their highly polluting meat and dairy production at home, many industrialized countries grow their animal feed elsewhere, the Global South, where local populations pay the price of emission. Many of these lands are cultivated through complex trade and investment rules and regulation that are far from fair, as ‘license to grab’ And these practitioners are not your regular thugs, these are established firms, governments, and the like.

The story continues, different rules, but the plot is remarkably similar. Maybe we finally confront our Colonial pasts, Imperialism, however, is here to stay. Think local, think for yourself and ACT.