Retracing Marseilles

Marseille always leaves a dull, empty thud in my heart. The streets are dirty and dazzling, the city ancient and teeming with an aroma of green olives, gutted fish and rosemary. The ghosts of past events haunt me, they overlay the city like a thin sheath and render every turning of a corner a possibly lethal point, every passing a potential run-in with heartache.


Figures and memories spring to life and chase each other across the canvas. Part of me wants to chase after, but I deter from fear of what I might unravel, rather than from the belief that it’s all in my head.

Because it’s not. The ghosts are very real, and with every silent step on the pavement they clench my heart just a little bit tighter, just a little bit harder. Cutting off the blood supply – but never enough to numb me completely.

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Taking too Long

‘I never imagined that it would take so long’ she said, smoothing out an imaginary crease on her pants as she sat hunched in her late husbands arm chair.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘This! Dying!’ She waved at me, irritated that I could need clarification on such a simple statement. ‘It’s just too annoying. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, my entire body aches… I fart and burp without being able to control it. The diapers… And still I just won’t die!’

I laughed at that, recognizing the truth in her words and appreciating her candor.

‘You never were one of patient types, were you?’

‘But I won’t ask for euthanasia!’ She bristled. ‘Not for any moral or religious reasons mind you, simply because I don’t like the thought of what it does to the person injecting the needle, of how it must affect them.’

‘But this’ she gestured at at her frail little body with bony hands. A body that only a year or so ago seemed strong as iron. ‘this is already gone. I have maybe a week left at the most and I won’t let them drag me off to a hospital before this’ she gestured at her forehead ‘is gone too.’ She raised a threatening finger; ‘Or else!’

She settled in agin, a quirky little smile on her face. ‘Besides, they can always give me some more of those pain killers – that morfin. Stuff’s just the same as what they kill you with, only in smaller doses…”

Revealed…

The stark and ugly

I have always reveled in my hatred of early spring.

Winter in Scandinavia can be dark, dismal and bitterly cold, but there is nothing quite as off-putting as streets and parks emerging from beneath the snow for the first time in months, ready to reveal themselves in all their ugly nakedness.

And that pallid yet relentless light that has left the winter landscape in peace for so long. Day by day it invades our cities, not only helping to uncover all that depressing muck, but making it the unwanted foci of each and every passer-by.

You see stark but average skyline. I see defeat.

 

 

The Dormant Village

Pure coincidence led me to spend the night in the small town of Béhuard, located on an island in the Loire. Arriving late in the evening it seemed completely abandoned, and when our host left us it was as if the last echoes of the last footsteps of the last man that ever was disappeared into the night with him.

Come morning the town was just as devoid of life, but wandering up and down its cobbled streets I noticed small details testiment to the fact that someone did care for this little island and that perhaps, just perhaps, it was only sleeping, lying dormant in wait for spring and summer and for it’s inhabitants to come back to it again…

But Their Monsters are Much Cooler Than Ours…

Sometimes one thing leads to another. Girl is talked into going to market. Girl’s guy goes into shopping frenzy – buys ten tons of crap. Bored girl finds grumpy headless man doll, absconds with it in hope of passing the time… And does. Turns out bodyless grumpy men – also known as daruma dolls– are a big thing temple wise in Japan, and the hour or so it took me to actually find that out led me to uncover a number of other interesting characters in Japanese lore…

Daruma Doll

Uji No Hashihime

Uji no hashihime prayed to a deity to turn her into an oni so she could kill her husband, the woman he fell in love with, and all of their relatives. To accomplish this, she bathed in the Uji River for 21 days, divided her hair into five horns, painted her body red with vermilion, and went on a legendary killing spree. Besides her intended victims, anyone who saw her instantly died of fear.

Kuchisake-Onna

Kuchisake-onna wears a surgical mask and asks children if they think she is beautiful. If they say yes, she takes off the mask to reveal her mouth slit from ear to ear and asks the question again. The only way to escape is to give a noncommittal answer, such as “you look OK.” Barring that, you can distract her with certain Japanese candies. But if the children say yes again, she will cut their mouths to make them look like her.

Aka Manto

Aka Manto hides in public bathrooms. In one version of the story, Aka Manto asks women if they would like a red cloak or a blue cloak. If the woman answers “red,” Aka Manto tears the flesh from her back to make it appear she is wearing a red cloak. If she answers “blue,” then he strangles her to death. Unfortunately, if you encounter Aka Manto, there may be no escaping: Some versions of the story say if you don’t answer or if you pick a different color, he will immediately drag you to hell.

Akaname

Meaning filth licker in Japanese, akaname can also be translated to mean red licker since aka is an homonym for red and filth. For this reason the akaname is often described as being red in colour. The akaname is the “personification of the fear of using a dark bathroom late at night”. It is said to come out at night to literally lick up the grime and dirt that accumulates in unclean bathrooms.

Nurarihyon

The Nurarihyon is usually depicted as an old man with a gourd-shaped head. The Nurarihyon will sneak into someone’s house while they are away, drink their tea, and act as if it is their own house. Because it looks human, anyone who sees him will mistake him for the owner of the house, making it very hard to expel him.

Sunekosuri

Sunekosuri appear on nights when rain falls and rub against the crotches of people who walk on roads at night. The victims have a little difficulty walking, but no other harm. Another legend states that Sunekosuri slips into darkness at night and pull on people’s legs, making them fall over.

Shirime

In old times, this was a yokai found on the roads leading to Kyoto. The legend goes that late at night, a samurai walking down the street when a man in a kimono stepped in to block his path and said “Excuse me … just a moment of your time … “ The samurai readied himself for an attack, and shouted back “What do you want?” The man suddenly shed his kimono and stood stark naked. He then bent over and showed his ass to the samurai, which had a single, huge eye. When the eye opened, it shown with a bright light. The samurai screamed with fright and fled from the mysterious monster.

Suddenly our Western ghost stories and legends seem rather timid and unimaginative…