I have been thinking about all the different places where I have lived.
But more specifically the different houses. The different ‘Homes’. The places people in Indonesia call their ‘Tampat senang’.’
The place to be your own.
But to get there I must start at the beginning. And I started to see and hear things on the 10th of July 1945. In Sydney, Australia.
So now I must write a little more about the beginning.
The beginning that so miraculously seems to be still starting every day of my life.
From Sydney to Rotterdam and back.
After the 2nd world war my mother was sent to the Netherlands, Holland, The Hague.
During the war, my father was a KNIL man (Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indisch Leger or Dutch Colonial (Volunteer) Army).
His Government decreed that all officer’s wives and children be relocated to their husband’s Motherland.
Their hubbies still had some mopping up to do. My father in Dutch New Guinea.
We left Sydney Harbour I think at the beginning of 1947
The ship was called the Waterman and was obviously no normal ship in normal times.
Arriving in Rotterdam my mother asked a sad looking Dutchman in English: ‘Where is Rotterdam?’ His reply, in Dutch: ‘This is Rotterdam, Mevrouw.’
Ask the Germans where the rest is.
Unimaginable, this slightly spoiled girl from slightly spoiled Sydney suddenly in a totally confused and shattered Europe. With three kids, one still a baby who never stopped crying, Paul, me (but I have learned to stop since).
The Waterman also carried hundreds of Japanese concentration camp survivors back to Europe. After being strengthened in Australia these poor skeletal people were shipped back to Holland. Some would have never been to Holland. Like my mother. My mother remembered these skinny white bodies lying in the sun on Bondi Beach being turned caring nurses in Australian Army uniforms.
Turned like sausages on a grill, turned so their skin didn’t burn in the sun. Fattened up a bit but their hearts were dark and afraid of the next day.
Pity I never pushed Dientje enough to tell me more. Something. Anything. But she told me it wasn’t all that bad otherwise she wouldn’t be talking to me. The poor girl was only just a teenager when she had to take care of her sister and two baby brothers. Her mother was bedridden and her Father, the famous Dominee_Sikken from the Tropics (Tropen dominee), was in an all male camp locked up in a bathroom with a catholic Bishop. The Japanese had respect for the clergy.
Did Dientje have a cabin number on her way back to a country she could barely remember?. We did. SS_Oranje, cabin 100. First class.1957.
But I am on the Waterman on our way to Europe. And it is 1947.
This semi hospital ship also carried many mentally ill people.
My mother shared a cabin with a woman and her baby. The woman had lost her other kid and was afraid of us. She must have felt outnumbered by this family.
What will happen if…
Now Joan, our mother, was here with three tiny children in a foreign and not so friendly land. A country just liberated from the enemy. Over populated and still paranoid. We didn’t speak Dutch and many people in Holland told us the Brits had bombed The Hague. They had. Admittedly by accident. But war torn civilisations are not very fussy about details when scurrying for bread. So much fear and anger and so many opportunities to vent your shit. At anyone.
We lived with many others in the beautiful Hotel des Indes, on de Lange Voorhout in ‘s-Gravenhage. The Hague. Turned into a refugee shelter. Queen Wilhelmina was known to come by and give these people some courage. My brother Norman was patted on his head by the Queen.
At that same time my mentor Dick Loef finally made it back home. Back home from the German forced labour camp at the Berlin Railway depot.
He was 21 years old when he got back and had seen and experienced way too much for one so young. He did tell me a lot because I asked him. We’d talk to dawn sipping beer and smoking ‘Moroccan’ tobacco.
Sometimes I do think of the train he saw which arrived from Prague packed full of Jews. Two obviously privileged ladies in fur coats fighting over a mug of clean water. The utter degradation of man as seen by a teenager. He had to live with his memories and terrible nightmares until he died at 57. Ja, ja Dicky, ik ben je niet vergeten. Tot straks (Yes, yes Dicky, I have not forgotten you. See you later).
Dick could only tell me his stories when he was pretty drunk. I cannot tell you his stories when sober either.
After a not so friendly meeting with my father’s family and eking out a living selling cigarettes and other things she didn’t need from her Red Cross parcels with in town. Our mother was homesick.
She had made a friend in The Hague. A girl called Ursula, a Japanese camp survivor.
Ursula, who’s feet had been beaten and broken by the Korean guards was a dancer. Had been a dancer.
The Korean guards must have been the Ukranians of the Japs.
My mother could never, even years and years later, tell this story without tears running down her pink chubby cheeks.
Now they are running down mine.
But Joan Claire Bakker-Hutchinson wanted out. She wanted to go home…
So she went to the Australian Embassy in The Hague and told the ambassador what she wanted: ‘I want to take my kids and go back home, please. Home and Sydney.’
She told me she cried in His Excellency’s office.
To get home at that time there would be a 4 year waiting list. Everybody wanted to go home.
But my mother had a cousin at the High Commission in India. Charles Kevin, Uncle Charlie to us.
He got us out. The ambassador in The Hague and uncle Charlie were mates. He would help us again some ten years later in a similar predicament. But more on that later.
The Holocaust in Europe
This time the ship, the SS Amsterdam (?), was filled with survivors from the Holocaust in Europe.
My mother told me she talked to a young Jewish girl who had miraculously found her parents alive. They had all survived. Think of the odds.
But also that the poor girl, shame to God, would want to tell the unimaginable, would need to testify. To a woman so alien to her world. Doesn’t matter to whom. It is a tradition built out of history. Why? I will never understand.
Just those three members of humanity relocated to Australia. Where?
All the way to Australia these three victims, numbers scratched on their arms, shared our table in the dining room but never uttered a word. Only the girl spoke what needed to be said. But not very often. But kindly, nevertheless, mum told me.
Imagine these people, these dead angels, these fucked up karma’s, having to share a table with three noisy children and their ‘strong’ mother. A family with a future. A family with a family. They had neither. They had nothing.
When the ship passed Palestine many of the passengers needed to be restrained. Many believed they HAD to jump. Their last chance to jump overboard and finally reach their Israel.
Soldiers stood all along the railings of the decks with the bayonets drawn.
But the ship finally steamed through the Suez Canal anyway. Our second time through the canal but certainly not our last.
I had to do this crossing a few more times. Not only through Suez. Once through the Panama and once around the Cape too. But always alone.
Lists of homes
So where am I now in this saga?
After the academy (The Royal Academy of Fine Art in the Hague) I married the prettiest girl in my class and not more than 9 months later our daughter Renate was born. Paul, Heleen and Renate.
I had my first and only real regular job as a graphic designer at PR Bureau van Hulzen with my adopted boss Han Kuipers. He was the first adult I ever met who didn’t have ties to family, school friends or parents of friends. He was my mentor in the real world. He talked about his life, his wife and his dreams. Sex, politics and football.
I didn’t know much. I was terribly naive. But nothing has ever phased me. Everything is meant to be and meant to be experienced.
You know, I can write about it now because it is so sweet and silly at the same time. At 16/17 years of age I had never spoken socially to a labourer, in Dutch: een arbeider, and the manholes in the street were for those labourers to go home through. They were tunnels I imagined. Somebody had told me this when I was a kid and I never questioned this.
But here I had a home for a short time. My first home where we were the boss. An attic in Adelbert Foppe’s house.
Walking home from PR Bureau van Hulzen
One day it hit me like a tonne of bricks; I was not doing what was intended for me to do. I had to paint. Not to be a husband or father or graphic designer.
I left Bureau van Hulzen and a class mate, Jos Tigges, took over the job and matured it.
So I moved home, again. I went back to Australia where I worked with great fun (and success) for nearly two years as an art director before I needed to find a better home for my brushes.
I wrote to Jeremy Y and he told me to join him in the Azores.
Kenworth, Bondi Beach
The very first place I can remember is this large dark place. It was called Kenworth, apparently after a racing horse. Our Family Home. My Great- Grandfather had built it to be a guesthouse. It was a copy of a house he had seen in Hawaii. Something like that. In Bondi, a hop, skip and jump from the famous Bondi Beach.
Once, when I was 3 or 4, I walked out of my sun drenched bedroom I shared with two cousins, Toni and John. I remember walking out into total darkness. It was the hall in Kenworth and it was pitch black.
I thought I had gone blind. I panicked and must have have made some noise as the door to the room where my grand dad slept opened and out walked this huge white blob in underpants. My grand father, known as Sunny Hutchinson. Ex Boer War. RSL ( Returned Soldiers League).
In Kenworth my grandparents lived with aunty Claire and uncle Norman. Aunty Claire was the boss and if and when I was naughty my mother would threaten to call aunty Claire.
Uncle Norman was an artist. Uncle Norman. The man who built the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
He was in fact one of the engineers from Scotland who had designed and build bridges all over the world for British Rail. His previous posting was in Peru. Then Australia in the 1920’s. The British Empire at her best.
I was told that not long before his time, say at the turn of that century the men would stick targets on the backs of the local Indians and make them run. Target practice.
I also sat with uncle Norman while he did his beautiful water colours of London harbour or Aberdeen. Anything with water and boats. I sat silently doing my thing but never losing sight of him. The lessons I was learning by just looking and not talking.
But that was the beginning of my memory of homes. In this case my first home.
Then we went to Indonesia where the capital Jakarta was still called Batavia. My youngest and departed sister Johanna Maria was born there. Batavia/Jakarta.
Santa Maria, Azores
To get to the houses worth mentioning I need to mix and match a few years so now I am 25 years old and after a short year on the Island of Santa Maria and a few miserable months in Paris I came back to The Hague. Heleen picked me up at the station. I was gone for six years.
But wait, the house on Santa Maria was very special.
It was built in the 18th century on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The house was built for a couple to be married who had never met each other. He came from the African Provinces, probably Angola, she was a local Azores girl. Apparently they didn’t like each other and didn’t want to get married so the family built a smaller version of the house at the bottom of the hill for their unmarried daughter. The new spinster.
I shared that house in Sao Pedro with Jeremy Y.
In the kitchen someone had written on the wall: ‘The crockery is crying, crying, crying.”
I reckon the spinster wanted to stop spinning.
Back in The Hague, my first house, on the Noordwal, was like a doll’s house. Now we are in 1975. It was on a canal and was a shop with living space some years previous. One shop space and a tiny living space upstairs. 4 x 3 meters.
Up one more narrow staircase to the tiniest attic. One toilet on the ground level. Nothing more. Once it would have housed maybe eight or more people huddled together. In the twenties?
I did a lot of body prints up in that attic. I was obsessed by the human body. But for this period I obsessed about my own body. Click here to see one of those prints.
They sold very well. Later on Henny Hinten was my model and I’d paint him all over and print, press, print. Then the agonising cleaning with kerosene. He, Henny, was brave.
It was opposite Dick Loef’s studio on the Veenkade. Often I’d go over for a chat and he’d be making his wax figures or firing something in his huge kiln.
He made me see how much fun it is to work on whatever makes your mind tick. Or whatever makes your mind forget.
Then after a year I moved into a house in the Witte de Withstraat, just two minutes walk away. Below was a fish and chip shop and I had the two floors plus attic. I had a living space with a low ceiling and I ended up making the inside into one large area and made it look like Portugal. Joost Albronda was paying me a visit when I had just moved into the Witte de Withstreet and I asked him about the possibilities to brake away a few walls. All wooden. In those days Big Joost walked in clogs. Brightly varnished noisy wooden clogs. He took a look and then lifted his clogged foot en kicked the whole structure down with one kick. One clog.
Rough white walls, black floor and dark blue ceiling. Blue and white blinds closed me away from out there.
I had a collection of wax heads, shop window heads with real hair. All from the 20’s and the 30’s.
In this beautiful large black, blue and white sphere the eyes looked back at you. My studio was on the first floor and I could smell the cooking oil used in the shop below.
However I was isolating hugely and mentor Dick suggested I share a house with him and his new lady Mitzy and daughter Nathalie.
It was a fun house. Much to their amazement I stayed mostly upstairs on my own floor, living space and studio.
But I would have a coffee or a beer at least once a day with them. After all I saw him in his studio too. Frankly, I was a little possessive.
My friend Wiep Munter was the Big Friend in my life at the time but she met Him and out I went.
Dick Loef’s death
I was in Sydney doing a exposition at Holdsworth Galleries when Mitzy’s brother called me on the phone to tell me Dick had dropped dead. I was with a friend in Woollahra.
When I heard the news all I remember doing is take a quick short breath.
Literally 17 years later I woke up one morning in Sydney and he was standing in front of my bed.
I knew it wasn’t real nor was I suffering an illusion. Certainly no dream. He stood there in 3D and I could even look a little around him but I knew not to get out of bed. It was simply him telling me it was ok to cry and I did for his death, all those years later. Why not sooner I do not know.
Monte dos Campos
After the death of Dick Loef I left Holland for Portugal. On the Monte dos Campos, some 12 km from the border town Elvas. Again, Jeremy Y had found it driving around the area in a taxi chauffeured by the friendly Senhor Parreira.
A farm house on 700 acres with about 300 head of cattle. Two bulls, and they were very protective and kept busy. They never never mixed up what cow belongs to which bull. Truly, bulls are faithful.
Once a cow gave birth to a calf with unhinged hind legs. The shepherd put the calf in the barn opposite me and for four days the bull never left his post at the entrance. The mother had long since gone. The calf died and that was that. But the bull never lost sight of the matter.
A shepherd was on the property during daylight but at night you only heard the cling-clang of the bells the cows had around their necks and distant dogs barking. I had my dog Biki here. No water or electricity in the house. Down the hill a most romantic well from the Victorian era that had twenty or more buckets going down to the water level. Maybe some 15 to 20 meters.
Once a mule or donkey, blindfolded, was walking around in circles to haul the water up out of the depth of the Earth into a receptacle. Then I became the mule. Six times around the well and the buckets had found their equilibrium and the load was weightless, pouring out over my vegetable garden. No luxuries, just eternal beauty. Many friends visited that place.That home.
Rudo Hartman, a class mate from the Akademie with his wife and two boys, Aram and Demian, came to Portugal several times. To the Monte dos Campos and later Terena.
One summer, Heleen came to visit with two gay friends and she also visited Terena. Don’t try to visit in the winter.
In winter, you need at least to have a woman with you, the peasants say here. Or, like the shepherds in their huts who invited the field mice into his swag to help keep him warm.
To get from the house to the main road was a 800 m walk over a rough pathway to a gate where a taxi, still chauffeured by Shr. Parreira, would wait every Thursday lunch time to take me to Elvas for shopping.
He dropped me back off at the gate before dark and in a wheel barrow we kept hidden behind a rock I pushed the week’s shopping to my house where I quickly lit my lamps and checked the water in the bucket before darkness fell over the Monte.
I realised that I wouldn’t want to have an accident here in the middle of nowhere with scorpions and snakes as company. At night in the hot dry summers you’d see a row of about 3 or 4 toads with their front hands up against the wall of the house so some cool night wind might pass their hot bellies.
I was in The Hague again when Suze Oldewarris and Joost Albronda came to visit Jeremy on the farm. Joost was so tall that when he stood next to the house talking he would simply set his coffee cup on the roof of the house.
Joost, Suze and Jeremy drove around the area when they came across the hillside village of Terena. Back in The Hague in the Haagse Kunst Kring, an artist’s society, Joost told me about the place and drew a floor plan and architectural drawings of it.
They thought it sounded like something like I always wanted: a large house next to a castle. On a hill of course. On top of a hill.
It was for sale. It was involved in a family dispute and I bought this huge house for next to nothing. An antique dealer later offered more for just the doors inside than I had paid for the entire house. Maybe six doors, cannot remember but I told him I’d rather not sell the doors, obrigado Senhor.
I wrote about before that house, please click here.
Built in around 1630, the house was the Fortress Commander’s Residence.
The entrance hall was cobbled with stones as big as my fist. Horses were walked across this hall to their stables down a slope to the left. Protected against marauding bandits and gypsies.
Some of the building materials used to build the house were bits of marble scavenged from ancient Roman buildings built when Portugal was known as Lusitania.
Well into the late 30’s, rich Lisbonites would travel to our province the Alentejo to go hunting accompanied by armed convoys for protection from marauding bandits.
Dr. Salazar (April 28, 1889 – July 27, 1970), Portugal’s benevolent dictator for decades, cleaned the province up I am told.
The hunters still come today from Lisbon in their latest shooting fashions. Still leave empty cans and toilet paper all over the place. Now everybody is allowed to hunt but only on Thursdays and Sundays. Even weeks for rabbits and uneven weeks for birds. Whatever, it is now organised according to the rules of the EEC.
Dr Salazar wouldn’t allow Coca-Cola.
But now we have it all. In 1981 when I moved to Terena with my dog Biki I was the only one with a telephone on top of the hill. The only colour tv in the village. There ere maybe a few cars.
Not any more. All the young owe the banks for their bright red or blue Japanese made cars and mobile phones. One of the sweetest women on Earth ran the co-op in Terena.
Terena had a communist town council. We were communists. How cool is that!
Dona Tomasia wondered if we were happier now we have everything. Nao se.
I realise I have started something I hadn’t planned on: this looks like I have started to write my autobiography.
I don’t know if I know how to handle this.
To cut a very long story short I have learned one thing. No matter where you live, if you are happy and with the ones you love all is OK.
The Eskimo is happy in his Igloo if there is another Eskimo waiting for him inside. Even when cold, wet and windy.
It is 2009 so I will rewrite the last sentence so as not to upset my over sensitive friends. Political correctness: The <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuit” target=”_new”>Inuit</a> is happy in his prefabricated snow dwelling if there is another Inuit waiting for him inside.