Particulate MatterI am sitting in my studio, in a found-on-the-street recliner chair as I stare through the large window at the copper beech standing motionless in the communal garden that is tucked between our apartment and the identical block two dozen of meters away. Behind that block, oak trees pointing into eastern skies. These are the trees that stand inside the trams long turning loop. I can't see the loop from our apartment, but when the wind is just right I can hear the trams ringing their bells to announce De Kromme Zandweg, where the line both ends and stops, as loops often tend to understand departure as arrival.When I look down from the balcony, I see some of my neighbours standing around a fire that was a barbecue some hours ago. I follow the fire’s thin smoke ascending in straight, uninterrupted lines, into the windless skies. It is the last hour of the day and the sky is empty of both stars and clouds. Despite the light pollution, I generally see a few celestial bodies in Charlois’ night sky, but on these warm, windless summer nights, the sky is nearly opaque. I have been told that the adjacent port’s emission of particulate matter hangs stationary above the city, veiling the night sky of it's stars. Friends often respond with disconcert to this fact, but it is alright with me - I never cared all that much for the stars to begin with.As the sun sets, the veil that leans over our apartment begins to bounce the industrial lights back to earth into an orange glow - the sky becoming a hand glowing by a torch pressed deep into its palm. I have come to call this glow the nightsun although it doesn't really immaculate anything and it doesn't rise, but simply appears in the sky above the buildings and cranes along the street, a palimpsest of the day about to pass.Nearby, across one of the ports’s obsolete railway tracks, a long pier extends about 600 meters into the Waalhaven. Sometimes I walk to its end and sit on a bench that is carved out of an enormous grey block of stone. There, I look at ships both passing and stagnant and try to see the ports’ veil, but I never can: it only becomes visible in what it makes invisible. Although the nightsun interests me more than the stars, from time to time I do look for the great constellations, more out of interest in how things so far apart can be connected than anything else. The tropes of cinema and literature tell me I should feel tiny in those moments, in awe, like a speck of dust inside a giants eye, but I never do - not from the night sky anyway. Before Copernicus, there was a time when we believed those lights above revolved around us, but that time is long gone, and I feel there is a comfort in insignificance, in being an uninvolved audience to the night sky's slowly swirling choreography, the night sky that is mostly invisible here to begin with.As my eyes adjust to the pale semi-darkness, Venus appears. Later, I recognise Sirius, Perseus, Libra and some of their brightest companions, but my celestial knowledge doesn't extend much further than that. Unbound by knowledge and names however, I grant myself the liberty to make up constellations myself: one I call the table, another the balcony, and with great effort I find I few stars that I name after our cat. Probably I'll forget these names and places soon, but that doesn't matter. The next time I am looking up I can name the sky according to things that are of importance in that moment.Down below, large, bulbous clouds of steam rise from the fire. Someone emptied a watering can on the fire. As the last bits of steam disappear the neighbours leave the garden. All the other balconies are empty and so are the streets. It is just me, the nightsun, the cat, the table, the apartments balcony and the recently named balcony of the sky now. In a while, I will leave them be, for all this naming has made me tired.
When I return inside I leave the door to the balcony open although I don't suppose it will cool down this night - it hasn't cooled down anything the last two months. The only relief from the heat these days is a plastic ventilator that was left by the previous tenants. My partner named it the airplane engine, both because it makes an overwhelmingly boring noise and because I like to fall asleep next to it as I image being inside transcontinental flights. Today’s last hour is waning and as the sky darkens, deep orange-blue reflections of our apartments interior bloom onto the bedroom windows, yet another veil of light that diminishes my view of the empty night sky, the night sky that was dimmed to begin with. The airplane engine has accompanied me all day as I worked behind my desk, and now it stands next to my side of the bed. The bedrooms curtains are shut and the blinds are down - I have seen enough nightsun for today. As the engine runs I close my eyes and mind the gaps, I am inflight and entertained, I am remaining seated and attentive to the seatbelt signs, and then, with my luggage stowed away safely and sitting in the upright position, I take off and fall asleep while the night sky continuous to swirl slowly, but nobody can see, the nightsun is way too bright.
RenovationI am sitting on the mustard yellow couch in the living room, it is nearly noon and the sky that has been bright blue since forever is now growing speckled with white and grey clouds. The temperature dropped about two degrees centigrade today and I wonder will the rain finally come? As I make my way doing day to day business around Charlois and its neighbouring areas, I notice the brown, dried up grasses. The trees however remain of a radiant green and I tell myself this is because they extend their roots deeper, dipping their toes into the Dutch surface waters, the surface water that rests in the soils most shallow regions to begin with. In Latvia, way further in the north-east, when the winter’s snow melted, I noticed the brown-yellow tints of the various grasses, appearing burned underneath where once laid snow.I hear machinery and building tools outside. I suspect these sounds find their way inside our apartment through the poorly installed double glass windows: a series of thin, long pieces of plywood, browned due to exposure to UV-light, presses the glass into plastic frames. The sounds stem from a renovation project of an apartment block along our streets opposing side. It is one of the few buildings I consciously look at when I walk down the street to dispose of our recycling: not only do the ochre bricks give it a sense of robustness, the front doors alternate from protruding from, to being placed flush against their facade, a playfulness that I feel is strangely at odds with sixties functional aesthetics that marks large expanses of this side of the city. The renovating started at the block’s northern most side, which is the side farthest away from our apartment, but the builders slowly renovated their way southwards. When I lean outside the living room’s window, I can see their scaffolding covered in magenta safety nets. It sounds as if piles are being driven into the earth now, onto the ever churning layers of clay, clay that perhaps was once part of the Rhine’s hinterlands before being pried loose by molten snow or heavy rain, then carried on streams and currents through Switzerland, Germany, France until finally they silted up the harbour’s floor, but I can’t be sure; the pulsating sounds originate from the apartment block’s rear gardens that are kept outside the public view by the building itself.Google grants the Rhine a generous 4,5 stars: an average out of 752 individual reviews that mostly appreciate the beauty of it’s reflections, the spectacularity of it’s importance without specifying what that importance exactly is, and the uncanny floating castle of Pfalzgrafenstein. Driving north-west wards along the Rhine’s banks in Rheinland-Pfalz, the castle emerges just after one of the river’s many elbows. It is known as a floating castle, but rhetorically speaking it does not float, not really anyway. Although the castle resembles a ship somewhat - it has a pink bow onto which the Rhine’s waves break rhythmically - it still sits firmly and clearly stationary on Falkenau island’s bedrock. My memory of this odd coalescence of forms 389 kilometers south east of our apartment brings me back to the here and now: back to a mustard-yellow couch in a small apartment that begins to display the first signs of dilapidation as it looks out on Europe’s harbour, in a country where the dichotomy of water is perpetually rearticulating itself, where layers of mud and clay churn not that far underneath me while the renovation site across the street continues to produce pulsating sound waves that crash onto the crumbling, discoloured shores of our apartment, conveniently forgotten by the social housing organisation.