On October 27th, the award-winning Dutch novelist, poet, and journalist, Cees Nooteboom was in Brussels and spoke with Margot Dijkgraaf about his life as a traveler and observer. The event took place within the realm of the cultural cycle Les Deutschlands at Flagey.
Since a young age, Noteboom was eager to be in the center of world affairs. He saw the Velvet Revolution in Budapest, the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile, the fall of the Berlin wall, and he has written about them in great detail.
A recipient of the renowned peace prize, the Pegasus Prize, the Anne Frank Prize, the Aristeion Prize, and multiple other literary prizes, Nooteboom let the audience come along with him on some of his life adventures and journeys as he read various excerpts from his work.
Travel has offered him the possibility to participate in many monumental, life evolving events. It has also given him the freedom to create new identities: “When I travel, I can have more lives than just the one, more identities, more stories. Traveling is like meditating. In the moment, one doesn’t belong to anything, and traveling becomes a commute between two worlds.”
He described the expression Das ewige Pilger des fehlendes which could be translated as forever being the pilgrim that misses one of the worlds. At the same time, he continued, if he were to remain in one place, he would sense a fracture if staying at home.
Known to be playful with his writing, Nooteboom has described the existence of mountains in the Netherlands – a notoriously flat terrain. But because the Netherlands is a small country, he has extended his story telling from the Netherlands on to the Alps, to Greece, Spain, and to many other destinations. He now divides his time between Amsterdam, Menorca, a winter escape in Germany, as well as Venice, a place he associates with the abundance of art.
“The old power behind Venice has disappeared except for traces of it in the buildings, the architecture,” he said. In Venice, where cars are not allowed and there are few bikes, “walking is like thinking. One has to think and one has to walk. It’s quite simple. In Venice, it is possible to dive into art and just disappear, escape in the beauty and mesmerizing of seeing. Art moves us forward.”
He also spoke affectionately of the Belgian writer Hugo Claus, a friend whose contributions spanned the genres of poetry, drama, the novel, as well as of painting and film directing, and who chose to die by euthanasia.
Nooteboom described him as someone who remained true to himself until the very end, as “someone who lived with unyielding self-confidence – perfect self-assurance”. Noteboom recalled the festive yet melancholic atmosphere at Claus’s home the last week of his life. “We drank glass after glass of champagne while he was dying. The drama was underneath the surface of that joy.” But it was Claus’s humor, his knowledge, the traits that stayed on and inspired Noteboom as a writer.
In Spain he looks at the sky and he likes to believe he has bought a parcel in the sky. “I never stop to be amazed. At every single aspect in the universe. That’s how I like to observe the world.”
Flagey, Goethe-Institut Belgien, De Bezige Bij, Tropismes, Paard Van Troje, Buchfink