This morning, I woke up in tears because of a disturbing dream I had. As with all dreams, it's fading quickly, but what I do remember of it is that we had organised my mother's birthday party. She looked like she did before she got ill, radiant and beautiful, but we did know that this was going to be her last year, so we had made it a grand affair. Everyone came, from near and far, and I was mostly dealing with all the drama that would occur if ever such an event were to happen. Especially my mother's side of the family have a tendency to be volatile and explosive and any party that doesn't end in police because someone drove a car through the front of a building, well, that's a really tame party to begin with. At one point, near dawn, when a lot of people had already left for home, we noticed that my mother wasn't there anymore. I went looking but couldn't find her anywhere. She was simply gone. I suspected that she may have skipped out early because she thought the agony would be less. Kind of like when a doctor wants to set a bone and asks you to count to three, then sets the bone at the count of one. I don't know, but I know that I felt very sad when I woke up.
I wonder how long this will last. It's been years since she died and while things are getting easier, these strange dreams keep coming occasionally. I will likely never let go of the sadness, carrying it with me as proof of my love for her, but the burden of sadness has become easier to bear over time. Maybe this is a permanent addition to my life. Pleasant dreams with a sour ending to fill the void that her pleasant life (with a sour ending) left behind.
When my mother passed away in Italy on July 29th, 2008, she left behind a pretty comprehensive list of demands regarding her cremation. We had talked about it quite a bit throughout her illness and when she finally succumbed at 15:00 exactly, the only thing that was difficult was arranging for the repatriation of her body to the Netherlands.
One of the things she had been rather adamant about was the choice in music she wanted to have played to the attendants of her cremation. Each song was beautiful in itself and I thought they were good picks she had made, but only with time do I start to understand the message that she's leaving me. It rings so clear in each of those songs, what she was trying to leave us with and for who she meant each of them.
One song, she left to her children. It rings out so clear it's making the Machiavellian thought behind it almost overwhelming. Win by David Bowie is a song about perseverance, hard work and success. She wants us to succeed in whatever we choose to apply ourselves. She never had any real outspoken demands of us. She supported her children the best way she knew how. Slow down, let someone love you. She had so much love and she wanted us to experience that for ourselves. Wear your wound with honour, make someone proud. It's okay to make mistakes, it's life, you learn your lessons and you become a better person. Somebody lied, but I say it's hip to be alive. Live! Live your life with all the ups and downs and keep on living it.
One song, she left to her lover. She had been separated for a long while, but she still had a tremendous amount of love for the man who had been like a father to my sister and I and was the father of my brother. It had been a deep and tempestuous relationship that ultimately wouldn't last but I don't think either of them would've had it any other way. They cared so deeply for one another. Wild is the Wind by David Bowie describes the passion and deep connection that they shared.
Three years ago this was the song that I clung to when I was struggling with the loss of my mother. If my father hadn't died a year before, I probably would've clung to him, but instead, I seemed drawn to this song. Only really for one reason, one line; With your kiss my life begins, you're spring to me, all things to me. To me it became to mean how she had given birth to me, how her love nourished me to life and how it all started with her and that she was responsible for everything. Now, with time, I know that this song wasn't meant for me and that considering it as such is a little strange, but I can't help but be deeply moved still by this song and by that line, particularly.
Then there was the song that was for herself. Or rather, for everyone. No More Drama by Mary J. Blige is a song about being free of pain, problems and the weight of life. The weight of the disease that in 18 months had turned her from a vibrant and beautiful woman into an old woman. No more pain. God knows, she was so strong as she struggled with an unbearable amount of pain for well over a year. Surprisingly, the medication that allowed her to endure the pain (and the medication that allowed her to endure the medication) didn't diminish her somehow. But I know that when the time came, she was so tired. She had been strong in life and she was going to be strong in death. She was ready.
In de maneschijn, in de maneschijn,
klom ik op een trapje door het raamkozijn.
Maar je waagt het niet, maar je waagt het niet.
Zo doet de vogel en zo doet de vis,
zo doet een duizendpoot, die schoenenpoetser is.
en dat is één en dat is twee
en dat is dikke, dikke, dikke tante Gree.
En dat is recht en dat is krom,
en zo draaien wij het wieletje nog eens om.
A month or two ago Frank called me and asked me if I was up for a daytrip to Geneva, Switzerland in order to visit the organisation europeenne pour la recherche nucléaire, or CERN as it's more commonly known as. It's the home of some three thousand researchers and the worlds largest hadron collider, the LHC. The campus straddles the border of Switzerland and France, which is symbolic for the multi-national effort towards the advancement of science and our understanding of the universe.
Did I need long to decide to come along? No.
The plan was hatched as a birthday present to Frank's good friend Roger, but Frank knew there'd be more geeks and nerds ready and willing. So I was called. Kevin, Roger's brother, was called. And we called my good buddy Dennis. We all chipped in and split the cost for Roger's flight and hotel room between the four of us.
The five of us took a flight on wednesday, June 29th, arriving at our hotel at around 23:30. We checked in; Roger had his own room. Kevin and Frank shared a room, and the Dennii shared a room. When I came out of the bathroom after freshning up a little bit, Dennis was on the phone with an acquaintance he knows that lives in Geneva and he decided to go and have a drink, leaving us to fend for ourselves. (Many times during the trip we commented that the only reason that we took Dennis along is because he spoke French, on account of having lived in Paris for a while.) The four of us went to explore the city, which was beautiful and largely deserted.
Like most of Switzerland, there's a lot of money and it shows. Beautiful buildings, healthy people, shiny cars and all set in the most amazing countryside you can imagine. Unfortunately it didn't seem like many of Geneva's residents liked to go out late at night for a drink. Even counting the fact that it was a wednesday evening, the place was pretty deserted. (Or should I say pretty and deserted?) We finally found a place that was serving drinks around midnight, along the Rhone. The place was horridly expensive and it seemed like we arrived at the tail end of a party of expats. The ones that remained were pretty toasted and not really the kind of toasted that made me jump up and introduce myself while stone cold sober. Two rounds of drinks later and we were out of money (I told you it was expensive) and we decided to leave.
On the way back to the hotel Frank intimated to me that he was up for some more adventure. Kevin and Roger; not so much. At the hotel we asked the bartender if he was still serving, he wasn't. He told us that a club called Velvet was probably still serving, so off Frank and I went. Velvet turned out to be a very, very swank club, completely deserted with the exception of about a dozen stunning eastern European women who offered us things we couldn't afford. The drinks were good but expensive, and Frank and I wisely stayed away from anything too exotic, although I was tempted to find out what a 9,000 euro bottle of Roederer tasted like.
We talked until 4:30 in the morning, drinking our drinks and enjoying the women, about all kinds of different things, but mostly about life and about death. It was a very good conversation, and even though the sun was almost coming up by the time we left the club with the girls whose shift had ended, it was worth the sleep deprivation. Frank and I asked directions to the lake, which we got, and we slowly sobered up. Again, it struck me just how incredibly beautiful that country is.
Once the sun was up we looked for some food as we searched for our hotel. 5:30 am sandwiches straight from the baker's oven are heavenly. When we arrived at the hotel we had the chance to take a shower and change clothes before we met Roger and Kevin for breakfast. Then we were off to CERN.
I wasn't really sure what to expect. I knew it was a tax-payer funded operation (did I mention that the tour was free of charge?) and therefore I didn't expect any secrecy, but the openness that we found there was quite surprising. Sure, we weren't allowed to go everwhere, which we found out pretty quickly when we approached a gate in order to take a look at a big map of the campus to figure out where to go and a security officer, afraid that we were going to walk into the gate without permission, almost stumbled over his legs trying to stop us, but everyone was friendly, you could see everything, if from a distance. No Area 51 type antics here.
We waited in front of the visitor's building for the tour to start and were joined by Dennis, who had made his way over to CERN from where he'd spent the night. When the tour started, we first got an introductory film about how CERN came to be. Right before the end of that film, in which I nodded off about a half a dozen times, not because it was boring but because the adrenaline of the night out was finally dying down, a man walked in and I saw Kevin and Roger getting visibly excited. They obviously recognised the guy in a way where I was left wondering if I should have recognised him, too. It turned out to be Bill Murray (not the actor), who heads the ATLAS project, the primary project looking for the Higgs-boson. He was the man that was going to give us the tour of the premises and he'd been a bit late because his daughter had lost her passport on the tram that morning. It struck me as odd that a man of his importance was going to give the tour. I asked him if he had lost a bet, but it turned out he liked doing it and he did it about once a month. Truly our luck that we got to get such an esteemed and incredibly bright and knowledgable man to give the tour.
Because of an important conference at the end of July, the LHC was running at maximum intensity and we weren't allowed in the tunnels, but... to be honest... I'm not sure if that was such a bad thing. The tunnels is all anyone ever remembers about CERN and there's really nothing to see. Instead, we got to go to the ATLAS control room, where all the data is collected and analysed before it's either discarded or prepared for storage and distribution to the various institutes all over the globe. Now that was interesting! And impressive!
You know how Newton had to come up with brand new methods of calculus in order to found his theorems? Well, these dudes have the same thing. They have to invent new machines, particle detectors, radiation resistent glues, you name it, just to do their research. The information density of that tour was pretty high, and I certainly don't want to recall all of it in this post, but if you're interested, we can sit down and talk about it over drinks. :)
One of the things I really think I should mention is how inspiring that place was. For some reason they designed the entire campus in such a way that most of the technology blends into the countryside really well. The countryside itself is beautiful and inspiring with the Mont Blanc within visual range and the Jura mountains so close by it looks like that scene from Inception, where the young girl folds the ground in on itself. You look over to the left and you stare up against a completely green, vibrant mountain looming over you. Perhaps I was so impressed by it all is because I'm Dutch and we have, like, no mountains whatsoever. But all that technological might blended so wonderfully with all that natural glory... It makes you want to be part of that. Everyone that works there is smart and they do all this amazing work and on top of that it's so beautiful... Who doesn't want that?
I think that after three years I've managed to galvanize the pain, sadness and longing to sit across from him and just talk, into a bittersweet happiness of having known him and be raised by him. I still miss him, though.