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We visited Paris a few months ago. As soon as we left the train and the station, we met a beggar, and a few streets on the next one… and then the next one. How to deal with this as a tourist? Emotionally, we wanted to give money, rationally we hesitated: would the Parisians be pleased if millions of tourists start funding beggars, potentially increasing their numbers ? What will an individual beggar do with the donation? Buy food, finance a roof for the night, or god forbid buy drugs? Or is the beggar part of a commercial enterprise? Shockingly, there were couples getting ready for a night on the street with small babies. Should that be supported that?
Just like tipping and charity, giving money to homeless people has a bad side to it. It crowds out community and state involvement. A minimum existence should not be left to the whims of tourists. Shouldn’t it be something that we collectively decide to guarantee for everyone? In the perfect society, there ought to be no need to beg, there shouldn’t be a need to rely on the irregular kindness of passing people.
A dilemma. In the end we think we found a way out of this. We started counting the number of beggars that we met. We tripled that number and after we returned home we searched and found a charity in Paris that supports homeless people. We donated the calculated sum to that organization. Not the best solution, but workable.
Tsk tsk tsk! Indeed, only a few minutes later, an elderly lady slipped on this banana peel and badly hurt herself! I continued to observe the situation for half an hour, but luckily enough no further accidents occurred. Clean up your garbage, folks! This isn’t a third world country.
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Shocking secrets hide within a simple cover
Vance descended into the cellar. He found the light switch. They entered the space where the Biedermeier desk had stood. Quickly, he walked into to the wine cellar. He passed by the empty barrels. His hand searched for the handle behind the paintings. He pulled it and the hidden door opened with a click. Fumbling in the semidarkness, he made sure that the lever remained hidden behind the old paintings. He switched on the light in the secret room. He retraced his steps and made sure that he hadn’t left any footprints in the dirt of the wine cellar. He turned off the basement light, reentered the room, and pushed the door shut behind him. After hastily opening the cans of food, he switched off the light in this room too, as he was afraid that it might spill into the night through some hidden shaft. Vance drank first and then allowed the hound to drink. They ate their food in the darkness, the dog wolfing it down hurriedly. Vance ate a can of cold peas, which was not very tasty but at least rich in calories.
After that, they stretched out on the damp sand. Vance was exhausted and he shivered uncontrollably. Obviously his body was trying to get rid of some substance, some poison – a drug. He tried to recall how to combat withdrawal symptoms, but under the circumstances, he could only think of drinking a lot of water. In a way, he had been lucky. His stomach had been upset the last few days and due to that, he hadn’t eaten much and had mostly turned to drinking plain tap water. The amount of drugs in his bloodstream must have gone down and as a result, his head had slowly cleared.
The pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. He began to realize that the occurrences of the last weeks were all interconnected. The rococo table, Darwin’s letter, this mansion, the religious sect, Enrique and the fake heaven – they were all interrelated like threads that stick out of a ball of wool. He felt that if he would follow just one of those threads, he would arrive at the core of the ball. Again he imagined that an instigator was waiting there, waiting for him. An individual, pulling all the ropes, manipulating the lives of many people, the perpetrator that had organized Vance’s ordeal.
Who had been in the car that had driven away as he had arrived at the house? What had this visitor been up to at this mansion? He was almost certain that this person had seen him, possibly even recognized him. Had this been the mastermind behind the entire affair?
With that question in his mind, he fell asleep, exhausted.
His sleep was filled with nightmares. He was hunted by wild animals, lions, and tigers. He tried to escape by climbing up a tree, but its bark was wet and slippery and his hands could not get a hold. A male lion came closer and closer, staring at him, both evilly and indifferent.
Eugene woke him up. The dog trembled and growled softly and Vance quickly put his hand on the animal’s snout. They listened. After a while, Vance could hear sounds. As he had suspected there was a shaft or a pipe leading from the ground level down into the cellar. It ensured that fresh air could reach this hideout, even when the door was closed. Now, that shaft transported the sounds from the outside world down to him. A car approached slowly, its wheels grinding on the gravel of the driveway. The engine was almost inaudible. Vance imagined that it was a big vehicle.
Was this the same car that he had seen departing earlier? The car stopped and the engine was switched off. Absolute silence followed, only interrupted by the ticking sounds of the cooling motor. Then several doors opened. Feet stepped onto the small stones. After a few seconds, three doors closed softly. Vance strained his ears. Slow footsteps approached, toiling on the gravel.
With his eyes closed, Vance imagined three, perhaps four men. He imagined that they were going towards the back door. Suddenly it was silent again. Eugene stirred. Vance stroked the animal’s head and went sssh. They waited. It remained silent for a long time. Vance thought that half the world must be able to hear his breathing. He opened his mouth wide to reduce the sound as much as possible.
A man’s voice could be heard, whispering, but unexpectedly clear. They must have stopped very close to the exit of the shaft.
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Turning of the heating, water leaks, loud music, or putting a blaring baby in the guest room: we all have our own favorite way to get rid of unwanted guests. As the international press has just reported, Julian Assange is becoming a bit of a nuisance. How can Perdí Miscanicas, the current Ecuadorian Ambassador to London be helped? Should he…
- Pack everything into cardboard boxes, and move the embassy to a new building, without telling Julian Assange?
- It is no secret that Julian Assange loves frozen yoghurt. Julian will come running out of the building if a dairy van parks in front of the embassy and starts advertising a new flavor, for instance strawberry, vanilla, chia and goji berry.
- Change the diet of all embassy personnel to include copious amounts of onions, beans, cabbage and other flatulent foodstuffs, naturally topped with garlic, at the same time closing all the windows.
I continuously confuse Julian Assange with Nigel Farrage (in fact, the former was visited by the British Donald not too long ago), and initially I thought this was because of the (slight) similarity in their names. But now I know that it is the dystopian gleam in their eyes that causes my nomenclature confusion.
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Arguably, Tokyo is the largest city in the world, with 36 million inhabitants (daytime numbers, 22 million at night). It is impressive how this city runs so smoothly with that many inhabitants. What would happen should it come to a standstill? The opening chapters of Two Journeys describe how this mega city comes to a shocking standstill.
Below some pictures that I took in Tokyo during past visits and that have inspired me to place my postapocalyptic work in Japan.
Highrises in Tokyo. The sheer bulk of these buildings is overwhelming.
Alan, the hero of Two Journeys visits Tokyo around Christmas time.Should an epidemic of the proportions described in Two Journeys strike, the lights (above) would extinguish rapidly, the trains such as the one below (famously overfilled) would halt.