Yesterday, I had a space-cake; I spent my day in an exploding kaleidoscope. Now I’m standing in front of Van Gogh’s best work. It’s a dizzy whirl of colours and emotions, pain and joy, each cut, stabbed, smudged and gently kissed by a stroke of his brush. The space-cake was fine, but this is what I guess they call a real high.
Amsterdam, July 2011
I’ve taken to writing (myself) postcards when travelling. I’ve this image in my head, of me, thirty-forty years down the line, going through stacks of yellowing postcards, and thinking about the good old days, a cup of hot chai in hand.
It must take him hours to get ready for work. I imagine myself in his shoes: first some protective ointment – a lotion or skin cream, followed by the costume, a metallic skirt, the false chest and boots. Then the layers of paint; the green is the colour of evil intentions, but it’s the yellow and black that brings this character to life. The look is completed with a circular shield and the green-gold helmet. I’m already exhausted and yet this is just the start to his working day.
He works in a competitive field. He has to outshine the Star Wars characters, the Marvel comic heroes and villain and a host of magical beings. It means he has to get to the square in good time no matter what the weather. It’s the only way to find the right spot, one that enjoys the best tourist foot-falls, and set up. He also needs to have his papers in order. More than once the cops come rolling by, on their government issued cycles, and demand to see paperwork. If they are satisfied they roll on. If they aren’t, they shut the act down.
He is an artist, but also a businessman. His work – hours and hours of posing – can be enjoyed for a price. For the camera-wielding tourists who want his picture but don’t want to part with their coins, he lifts his shield and covers his elaborate make-up in one practiced swoop, blocking the shot. If you drop the coin in his hat, he poses for you and your camera, playing it up for all your money’s worth.
He stands, usually pretty still, for hours during the day. But every now and then you realize he is just another bloke trying to make a living. I’m lucky to be around for one such moment. When a cluster of kids leave, waving lingering goodbyes, he puts down the shield and pulls off his helmet. He reaches into his black trunk for a juice box and what looks like a sandwich. He takes a bite and a sip, and then he turns to Darth Vader, who stands a few steps behind, and makes a comment. They both laugh. They laugh for a while.