Refuge : schuilplaats, toevluchtsoord, vluchtheuvel, schuilhut. Chercher refuge : een schuilplaats, toevlucht zoeken. refuge (Fr.), v.(m.) (-s), (veroud., hist.), 1. wijkplaats; 2. uitwijking. Refuge: (latin refugium) -Lieu, endroit où quelqu'un qui est poursuivi ou menacé peut se mettre à l'abri. -Simple abri ou construction en dur plus confortable. contact: Wim Cuyvers,


The house is always neat and tidy. It smells of bleach, the floors sparkle - the mother takes care of that. She always seems to be on the go: cleaning. Chairs are stacked on the table, legs in the air, carpets are folded back, greys pools of soapy water gather on the shining red cement-tile floor. The ironing board is always opened out, the red-hot iron always stands menacingly at the corner of the ironing board. The fringes of the rug are combed, the wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms perpetually vacuumed with the whining cleaner. The vacuum cleaner smells like its counterparts world wide. The gleaming white retractable clothesline is always pulled out; the laundry is white and cold. The dishes are washed as soon as the meal is finished, and stored away in Formica cupboards. The cupboards are emptied twice a week and wiped clean. The shoes are arranged on racks in the boiler room and the laundry room. Every evening the shoes are cleaned: four pairs in a row on an old newspaper. They are brushed off with a hard brush, rubbed with grainy shoe polish - the polish has first to soak in, then the shoes are buffed up, after which hands are washed in scalding hot water from the copper tap in the laundry room. The mother kneels beside the bath. She kneads the little one’s hair with her knuckles, scalp and skull glow. There's no room for you where cleaning is done. No spot is overlooked. The mother shouts in a loud, shrill voice if someone sits on the edge of a chair. The voice sets one’s teeth on edge. She says the little one makes too much noise when he breathes. The little one holds his breath, makes no sound whatsoever, and then when he can no longer hold it, sucks in another deep breath, very deep, and then nothing for two minutes. The mother shrieks when she hears the loud deep breath - almost a sob. The little one doesn’t know how he should breathe to stop his mother hearing it. He can see only one possibility: to get away, outside, where no-one hears you breathing, where the wind breathes louder than he does. But the mother says it’s not good weather to be outside. The little one would love to go out. Outside, not in the garden: the garden is just like the house, the garden is part of the house. The garden belongs to the house: demarcated with barbed wire, overlooked by the house. The garden is a room belonging to the house, hardly different from the kitchen or the living room. The garden with dry, sandy soil first has to be hoed, not one weed may remain; then the dry sandy soil is raked into patterns - the hands of the person who tends the garden are as dry as the sandy ground itself. The little one is only outside when he can rummage on the garbage site. The garbage site is a big sand pit. The little one’s grandfather dug it, he used the sand in bricklaying: for hundreds of houses. The grandfather is dead. He looked like Gramsci. The huge hole in the sand has filled with water. The sand is yellowy-white. The water is pitch-black. There’s a smell of rotting refuse, it smoulders constantly. The dump teems with life: salamanders, ducks, rats, frogs, herons, sometimes people come there. Fat Corry for one - he sells scrap metal and actually lives on a garbage site dump, he visits this one for the fun of shooting rats with his air gun. Beyond the garbage site there is a forest, the needles of the pine trees are pale blue-grey. The soil is acidic. You walk on an even carpet of pine needles on the sandy ground. The little one often walks in the forest, but he never gets to the end. The forest is a dark, gentle place: rough, scaly trunks of countless, similarly shaped and sized pines: pinus sylvestris. There are hardly any animals in the forest, no warbling birds. Sometimes the little one sees two people meeting at the edge of the forest, they don’t go far into it. The little one watches them, but doesn’t spy on them. He sees them enter the forest and leaves them alone. All of a sudden the little one knows he must turn round, go home: it’s dinner time at the house. The little one must take off his shoes before he goes indoors and get straight into the bath, as if he must be decontaminated. The little one hurries to the house. He hopes the mother won’t call him, that her shrill voice will not resound far into the forest and reach the other houses.

The children walk to school; they wear black pinafores made from corded nylon over their pants and vests. They have to walk fast to reach school on time before the bell rings, before the gate is closed irrevocably to whoever is late. The bell is as strident as the mother’s voice. The big children shout admonishments to the smaller ones, their shouts are loud, they whirl their arms round, they are strong and harsh. Every day the little one remembers the profound sense of betrayal on his first day at school. A child vomited on the black and white speckled cement tile floor. Using a small metal shovel with a wooden handle, a nun dressed in the blackest of black and a starched white headpiece shovelled orange sawdust from a zinc bucket over the orange vomit. How can someone be so far-sighted as to keep a bucket of sawdust at the ready in the corner of an empty classroom for that one occasion when someone would throw up? Would you have to view the world through starched white blinkers? The mother wants the little one to be the best in the school. But in the large, rectangular, light-beige classroom the little one sits among the others, dreaming, he dreams of the beat of the lark’s wings and he hears the lark’s song, time and again, while the nun and the kindergarten teacher and the schoolmaster and the professor will keep on nagging, keep on teaching him what they want to hear, the way they want to hear it: they teach him to play-act. The mother said he had to be the best. The best at play-acting, the little one thinks. In the classroom the little one has to dream about keeping the ever-growing tension inside his too small a body. In school even time is caged up. In school those who smell of bleach hate those who smell of grease, and vice versa: they hate the smells that others have brought from their homes. When the little one walks back home from school, alone, surrounded by the others, he stares at the abandoned house. He stands still. The girl from next door, who isn’t a girl to him but a kind of schoolmistress, someone who acts as if she is already a schoolmistress, calls him. The little one stands on the threshold of the house that no longer has a door. He sees the crack that slants up from the top left corner of the door. The little one looks into the black space, there is orangey-red rubble and grey crumbling mortar on the floor. Between the fragments grows fluorescent green moss specked with orange. The little one would love to stand there, stock-still, with the sun on his back and the damp, black space ahead. He cringes when he hears the teacher-to-be calling and he returns with the others. At school the little one learns nothing, but on the way to and from school he has understood the house.

There is a wooden shed at the edge of the garbage site. The shed is built from pine planks. The planks are grey and thin and were once used for making formwork. There is fibre-cement sheeting on the roof. For hinges, the shed door has two pieces of thick grey leather. The door closes with a chain and a lock. Because of the chain there is a gap of around ten centimetres between the door and the wall. The little one pushes the door, which gives a little. The little one wriggles into the V-shaped crack. First his legs, then his hips, which almost get stuck. Then his stomach - that’s easy - then his chest, the little one breathes out several times to make himself as thin as possible. He lies flat on the ground, that’s where there is the most space in the V-shaped opening between the door and the wall. His chest chafes, gets stuck, chafes and slides further. Now his neck is in the opening. Only his head protrudes. The childish body is inside the shed, the little one turns his head, wanting to pull it in, but his temples are jammed between the wood. With his hands the little one pushes as hard as he can to open the door. His head twists and presses agonisingly slowly inside. The opening is too small. The little one feels the pain, but knows he will manage. The narrow space shouts it out in the little one’s ears. He is inside the shed completely. The shed resonates with evidence. It is a space that appears to have been there always. It contains bricklayers’ materials. Everything is grey and desolate, dry: spades and trowels, a couple of buckets, three bags of cement, a pile of sand on a wooden board, a rusty drum, a mark indicating where the grey water once reached, a few lengths of string. The little one is protected from everything: rain and wind, but more especially no-one can see him lying here, no-one can get in; grownups are too fat to squeeze themselves in. There is only the man who has the key to the shed. The little one is constantly aware, the entire time, that the man might come. If he did not have that awareness the shed would be nothing, would have no significance.

The world is simple: the world consists of just a few elements, a few simple materials - the child realised that very early on. The child can easily draw that world. He draws the world like a map, a plan view, with a stick in the wet grey sand. The map is triangular - an isosceles triangle. Yes, isosceles not equilateral. The child does not want to think that a map should always be rectangular. The child draws the map the way other children would draw a treasure map. The child draws a small square, the square represents the house, the house where he lives. The child has no idea of bisectors or dividing lines, yet he draws the square perfectly at the intersection of the bisectors. Many people believe that to be the centre of the triangle, but it is not: the centre is the point at which the medians intersect, and the medians are the lines leading from a vertex to the middle of the opposite side. The bisectors on the other hand are the lines through a vertex that divide the interior angle into two equal angles. Perhaps the child does not want the house to be at the centre of the drawing. Then he draws a small triangle, that small triangle represents the school. The small triangle is in the smallest corner of the triangular map in the sand, the child does not envisage it as the top of the triangle, nor as the bottom, the child continues to circle around the triangular map. He does not have a preference. The child stirs up the sand in the triangle that represents the school. Between the square and the triangle, at the bisector of the smallest angle in the map, the child again draws a small square, carefully adding diagonals in the square. The small square with diagonal lines is the abandoned house. Behind the square that has no diagonals - the house - the child draws a line parallel to the shortest side of the triangle. On the other side of the line he places the garbage site. Then he draws one more line, parallel to the last, between the last line and the shortest side of the triangle. On that line and on the bisector of the smallest angle he draws another small square with the diagonals passing through it. The same symbol as for the abandoned house, but this square represents the shed. The child makes dotted lines for what he sees as the garbage site. He makes scratches on the other side of the line he has just drawn, like he did in the small triangle. The area between the last line he drew and the shortest side of the map stands for the endless forest.

The young man does not wonder how he has ended up here, this Saturday night, against the concrete panel wall of the kindergarten playground. He does not wonder how he managed to remember this place, this place to which he had never returned since he was around five years old and about which, at that time, he could not possibly have known why he would now need it. He must have needed something then, something similar. The young man follows the body to the space and the place that ensure the body does not blow apart. Society and the body have shown him the way here. They will also show him the way to the dark lavatories under the lean-to, with no flush facilities and always reeking of piss. The lean-to roof shelters you from the rain; you can lean against the cement panels and rub your back against them as you can against the old lime trees in the playground. They hide him from the scrutinising and admonishing looks of neighbours and passersby. When locked up and dark, the school is a place of ineptitude. Anyone who has been inept remembers as a child the possibilities of the school’s lifeless architecture after school hours. “This is where I could be”, he must have thought then. Clearly he has never forgotten.

The young man cycles, undoubtedly faster than he has ever cycled before. He doesn’t tire. When he is no longer moving along fast he has the impression it’s the bike’s fault, not his, not the fault of his lungs or his leg muscles, but of the bike. He rides at the bike’s maximum speed, the same as a motor cycle. He does not get tired. The flashing blue light of the police vehicle approaches fast, the light speeds ahead of the car, he hears the typical sound of the Volkswagen engine, especially when the driver changes to a higher gear. The blue light comes and goes. Each time it comes back, it is closer. Since the moment he first saw the flashing light, he hasn’t given it any more thought, just kept on cycling, without faltering. If he had waited for them he would probably have got off with a warning. But he does not want to hear the pedantic tone - he does not want to be checked out. He pedals and pedals, stands upright on the pedals at the transition from the asphalt road just in time to take the sandy track. It is pitch-dark here, but he does not slow down, he knows the sandy path, not every pothole, but he knows how the holes even out and how there is always a slight hump - an almost flat strip - in the middle, with grass on it that is never mown, but never grows higher than a few centimetres. The flashing light does not get any closer, because of the tunnel formed by the bushes growing along the sandy path, meaning that the light cannot shine fully there, but also that the police vehicle has to drive more slowly. He cycles a few hundred metres over the sandy track, two bends. The walls of the abandoned house are slightly lighter against the dark sky; there is no moon. He leaps into the pitch-black hole of the door opening where there is no door, he drags the bike in after him, across rubble and nettles, planks containing nails. He doesn’t know the way, but it seems as if he cannot be mistaken, as if he is at one with the space. He crawls into a corner, the bike is lying in another corner, fortunately the wheels are no longer turning, there is no sound other than the hammering of his heart and the rushing of blood in his ears. The police vehicle drives past, stops further on, the light of a torch shines in, shines over the small field of lupins and wild cherries, then the light shines in again. He hears the engine start up, he hears the car drive off. The young man remains seated, for a long time until the car has driven past slowly. Now he knows it’s over. He gets the bicycle, trails his hand along the walls of the abandoned house, in the way a person might stroke his own skin or old people can do sometimes: not a caress, but merely a moment of acceptance.

He’s left, away from the house; left home; a flaming row. He made a fifty-kilometre detour to get here, taking a whole day, just before midnight, close to home but away from home. He hasn’t been searching all day, the need only built up slowly until the need took over his body and showed him the way to the shed. On the exterior little has changed, only the lock is different: the chain with Yale lock has been replaced by a lock screwed on the inside of the door. That means there is no room to spare between the door and the doorframe. The young man cannot imagine the fact that he has grown will mean he can no longer slip through the opening between the frame and the door. But he does not hesitate for an instant. It is as if everything is happening outside him. He finds the metal handle of an old paint tin. He pushes the metal wire between the ends of two planks, twists it to form an ‘L’ with a short end of about one-and-half centimetres. He pushes the other end of the wire between the planks, turning it until the tip is almost bent round. The ‘key’ is ready. He does not wonder if it will fit. He cannot remember ever having been so certain of success. He sticks the twisted wire into the lock, turns. The lock grates. He pushes the flat aluminium latch down and allows the door to open. He is not surprised. The smell is identical to that time, over ten years ago. Smells and fears never change. He immediately lies down, in the same place as before. There’s different material underneath. The shed seems to be even less used than in the past. It is colder and damper than before. He curls into a ball, like a dog. For the first and last time in his life he sleeps for sixteen hours solid.

The child lies down in the warm grey sand. He looks at the drawing he has just made. Because the child is now lying down, with his head close to the plan drawing, he sees the triangle far more precisely than before. The child holds his breath for too long. The drawing wavers and multiplies in the child’s head, there is not one triangular plan drawing, but several, a great many, together all the clearly-defined triangles form a circle: the triangles have become segments of a circle. The small scratched triangles in the smallest corners of the triangles coincide and cluster to form a small circle in the middle of the circle. On the edge of the circle a dark band forms. No, that’s wrong: the child does not see an outer edge or a middle - nor a centre in that circle. The child knows there are lots of schools, other schools, where the big children go, the child knows there are masses of houses, and abandoned houses and sheds. He knows that the garbage sites converge to form a ring and that the world is bordered by the endless forest. And of course the child knows that there are factories and shops and offices, but they don’t count in the concept of the world, the child knows that for certain.

The man works on houses and schools. He is not usually the one to build them; other people do that, so you could hardly say he makes houses and schools. Nor does he think it’s designing. Designing would mean that he dreamed up those house and those schools, devised them to serve a purpose he wished to achieve. That is not what he does, he looks for the houses and schools he works on, he retrieves them. He retrieves something that already existed for a long time, or at least pieces of what has existed for a long time. He believes that he recycles things rather than inventing them; he deploys them from memory, he can find them within himself. No doubt it is an unimportant occupation, just as life is unimportant. The man knows the houses he envisages are not real houses. The houses he envisages are desolate like the sheds he knows and to which he always has access. He would like the houses he works on to always be ramshackle, as much as is acceptable for the clients: like abandoned houses that crack and creak. Time and again it comes as a shock when people hang up curtains and roll out carpets there, but time will always be his ally. And the schools are conceived as if they were always closed, as if no lessons were held there, as if there were never teachers. The man who sees himself as a child builds canopies and lean-to roofs at schools. He remakes views out of fears. The fears of the child and of the adolescent are incorporated and ritualised in concrete, steel, brick, planks. They are places where a person can sometimes stand still, for a moment. When he sees someone doing that, when he sees someone taking up an orchestrated position, he feels a warm glow: it is a momentary contact, but the built space stands there as a monument to that moment. Through that space the man and the person who stood in the sheltering outdoor space have touched each other. The schools he builds have been conceived recalling the young man’s fear and drift.

The man walks across graveyards and garbage sites in the cities he visits, he looks, the way he used to look as a child, it is impossible to cheat on the garbage site. Suddenly he recognises the heavenly smell of the garbage site, even though it is thousands of kilometres from his own seminal garbage site, even though the garbage site of his youth is long gone. He looks at people wandering over the graves like hooded crows, and he looks at people combing through the rubbish, at those who like rubbish, he sees people but prefers not to talk to them. He prefers an encounter to take place soundlessly, through space. He does not need to shape the spaces in order that the ritual takes place. Like a stray dog in the city, he can find those spaces. Schools ask the man to teach there: the height of perversion: they will supply him with the youths. He heads the youths away from the school to garbage sites and graveyards, to cities destroyed by bullets, disintegrated cities, cities full of abandoned houses. The places of the graveyards and garbage sites give them insight into the city, help them to understand the city, but that is just a fallacy, a reason to hang around the graveyards and the garbage sites. The graveyard and the garbage site give them insight into the city’s structure, but no insight, no understanding of mortality. On the garbage site tip all you can do is wander around. Very occasionally they touch each other, for a moment: then they weep: the man and the youth.

The child knows the map of his world which he drew in the grey sand has swelled to become a map of the world, tout court, that together the segments form a map of the world. But that isn’t all, the child continues to lie there, shuts his eyes. Now it’s no longer the segments but the circle itself that wavers and multiplies. The circular map turns around one point, becomes a globe, a sphere. The sphere is transparent for the child, he can look through it. He sees the outer, thick, scratched skin, he sees the next dotted layer, he sees the globe with the small squares with the diagonal lines and then the globe with all the small squares and no diagonals, and then further inside the sphere he sees the next globe with small squares and diagonal lines, and further in the scratched centre of the sphere like a small globe, almost a dot. But for the child the words ‘core’ and ‘skin’ have no meaning or undertone: the diagram the child draws contains no hidden criticism, just as, in the universe, there is no hidden criticism. That is the world: a school globe around which abandoned houses revolve like moons, beyond the abandoned houses circle the abandoned houses bordered by the skin of the garbage site, with at its far end the scattering of sheds, and farther still, like a thick layer of fog, the skin of the endless forest.

The old man is in the endless forest. He walks back and forth in the endless forest. He carts stuff along, like a homeless person, like a stranger: he is not at home, he is a stranger. Everyone thinks it’s ridiculous when other people cart stuff around. The businessman does not understand why the vagrant hauls a sack of smelly clothes around, the vagrant cannot imagine why the businessman walks back and forth with a briefcase full of annoying papers. The old man is a child, a young man, a man. He sees at the start of the endless forest, where the forest and the city touch, heaps of rubbish: building rubble, work clothes, old drums, empty paint tins. He sees two cars parked there side by side. He sees two people sitting together in one car. Youths and adults come here, before going to work, to school, home, before they have to go home. The old man recognises the rituals, he recognises the clues, he recognises their desires, he has not forgotten his own. And whenever he sees the clues, whenever he sees them looking furtively, whenever he sees the turning off the road, whenever he sees the path petering out at the tree trunks, whenever he sees the small garbage site beneath the trees, he feels a warm glow. The old man knows that some people make inventories of forests, in order to exploit the forest, they are people who know which trees grow where, they know how many cubic metres of timber there is per hectare and of what quality, they know what diseases affect the trees, what the subsoil is like. They resemble the people who exploit the city, they know how many buildings there are, how well or how badly the buildings are fitted out, they are the ones who know the value of the neighbourhoods. There are two open spaces in the endless forest. On one there is an abandoned house - une maison abandonée - the old man sleeps there, but it is not his house. On the other open space there is the shed, hut, shack where the spades, saws and axes are kept. The old man knows that the abandoned house and the shed in the endless forest are necessary to make the endless forest a place, so that in the endlessness there are places: common places. Common places that could lure people out of their houses, like schools can. The old man keeps on longing for no re-proaches, for ap-proaches. Far away a dog barks. In the endless forest you cannot tell where the sound comes from. He does know it will never happen, but still… he would really like someone to stand with him and look into the dark, damp space of the abandoned house, frozen, with the sun on his back. In the endless forest everyone is a stranger. A foreigner, someone who is not at home, who sees scope in the abandoned house, in the shed, in the edge of the endless forest. The old man lies on the damp ground in the endless forest. He follows the lines of the tall trunks with his eyes. In the endless forest no-one knows what tree should be where. At the edge there is perhaps recognition, but in the forest the forest is the forest. In the forest nothing happens, nothing is wrong. You go there to die.

The trees often touch, then they make a slow groaning sound devoid of rhythm, rubbing the bark off one another. Sometimes, all of a sudden, a tree snaps: the upper part of the tree that grew upwards towards the light comes crashing down. He imagines himself buried beneath the bulk of the tree, crushed into the mass of limestone like a fossil dating back millions of years. A plane drones past high overhead, undoubtedly on its way to the city, communication and orientation satellites blink even higher up, if you don’t look carefully you might think they are stars. An animal passes by, panting. The high-voltage cable crackles in the damp night air, a tick crawls up to his groin. The forest is endless but the city is close by, the world is close by, the universe is close by, like his own body.

Often he is not alone in the endless forest. The endless forest, close to the city is not a place for a hermit. He is often there with a youngster, a youngster that, society has decided, has a problem. It is a young guy that cannot attune his body to society: his body collides with society or vice versa. He admires the way the youngster appears unable to learn - impossible. He is there at the same moment, in the same place with the youngster in the endless forest. The old man and the youngster walk to the abandoned house that shelters them. The old man can only see the black doorway. He feels only the heat of the sun on his back. He can only think about the moment the youngster might dawdle, might stand still and stare into the black hole. But the youngster walks on, at his irregular pace, through the door, to cut himself a slice of bread: he is hungry. The young guy takes a bite, turns the knob of the portable radio. Radio Energy blares out commercials. Sometimes the old man tells the youngster that the forest is a school, a school where there is nothing to learn, a school for those who do not learn. ‘architecture - school’ the man mutters. It is not clear whether he wants to say ‘architecture school’ or possibly ‘school architecture’. At all events, he is not talking about forestry classes. The old man and the boy are in the forest or in the abandoned house together; the space is their common ground. But the old man is old and the other is young. They take the same path through the forest, but they have a different rhythm. They have nothing to gain from each other - as in ‘architecture - school’: no diploma, no wages. The old man longs for his body’s centre of gravity to coincide with the boy’s. He knows it is not possible, he has always known, but that does not mean the longing ceases. Language cannot help them to become close.

There are a few leaves on the trees, not many yet, at this time of the year he can still see a lot of stars. The sky is black, the tree trunks even blacker. He recognises through the leaves and the treetops a few constellations: the illusion of insight: there are billions of stars and in a few he sees a constellation. The old man takes a branch, draws without thinking a triangle in the wet black decaying soil. He draws an isosceles triangle. At the intersection of the bisectors of the isosceles triangle he draws a small square. In the smallest angle of the isosceles triangle he draws a small triangle. Between the small square and the small triangle, on the bisector of the smallest angle of the plan, the old man draws another small square; in the small square he carefully traces diagonals. Behind the small square without diagonals the old man draws a line parallel to the shortest side of the triangle. Then he draws just one more line, parallel to the other line between that and the shortest side of the triangle. On that line, as well as on the bisector of the smallest angle, he draws another small square intersected by diagonals. He slowly adds dots to the area. He scratches in the area between the triangle’s shortest side and the parallel line, and makes dots in the next area. It is freezing. The old man is amazed at how little fear remains, all the lust has gone: the old man is ready to go.


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