Lecture “Azart” – The Ship of Fools
2020, 5 Febr (Eind van de Wereld), 8 Febr (Book Shop Pampus),
9 Febr (Mezrab), 10 Febr (Church Ruigoord), 13 Febr (Dok Galerij)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Cover-1024x344.jpg
ISBN 9789090325613    248 Pagina’s     16.7×24.5 cm      25.00 €

It all started with “The Guild of the Blue Barge”, a sermon, a book of six hundred years old. That begins like this:

And To All The Companions of Wild manners – We greet with greeting and salute
To come in the Blue Barge – And in the Guild of the Blue Barge.

So – Welcome You Companions of the Blue Barge.
Welcome You Companions of the Wild Manners.
You receive your membership (BLUE CLOG) by buying the book
You leave this place as an Initiated In Folly (that is the last line of In Praise of Folly)

The book “Daß Narrenschiff Ad Narragoniam” or The Ship of Fools On the Way to Narragonia was printed in 1494.
Five hundred years later we called ourselves “Ship of Fools.
It describes 111 vices. Many of us have a lot of them. In the 112th and very last chapter, on the other hand, “the wise man” is described.
That roughly amounts to this:
> The sage has nothing of a mysticist or holy seeer..
> He lives in the middle of the world, with a practical mind and a sound sense of reality.
> He is free from passions and emotions, keeps a cool head, and does only what is possible – and useful.
> He is averse to excesses and is looking for the right measure everywhere.
> He is not too selfish and not too concerned with the fate of others.
> He is not stingy or wasteful, not too cheerful or serious, not too critical or tolerant.
> He hates laziness but also too much work.
> He is a good friend, husband, head of household or business partner who always has his administration in order.
> He is always in line with his conscience and society.
> He works for the common good and society rewards him with respect that he is happy with.

Well, I fully identify myself with the description of the wise
After all, in order to be able to run a Ship of Fools for thirty years, you can’t be a fool at all..
This description actually is a hymn of mediocrity. And the lifestyle of the fool is quite the opposite: that is his unstable, dangerous and vulnerable existence. I’m afraid this is a much better reflection of reality. .

Well, you better follow the wisdom of a good sailor who cannot sail without a sound dosis of opportunisme. Dutch maritime lingo illustrates this splendidly.

That starts with a seemingly innocent but basic and brave maritime practice of “laveren”, that means to zigzag or to beat up against the wind, implying to steer a middle course. That is something like to find your own way amid the difficulties. One single of this actions is “overstag gaan”, an essential nautical manoeuvre to be translated as to tack or to reverse direction just before hitting the obstacle. This actually got the meaning of to give in, to change your mind or to give up your objections. That’s already quite an art.

But there is an even wiser nautical maneuver that solves the entire problem. That is the very sensible routine of “omzeilen”, translated as to sail around and meaning something like to fight shy of any problem or conflict. This very much reminds the manoeuvre to circumvent. The Dutch expression “met de winden meewaaien” or to blow with the winds, is another analogous sound nautical principle, something like to swim with the tide or to go with the flow. In our case, the winds blow from Northern Europe all the way to Australia. Are we Fools?

The word “Schipperen” describes the pinnacle of the art of living. Said among us, that word teaches more than my small boat license. For that ship license you had to memorize four hundred questions on the disk of the All Dutch Automobile Club – and forget them. Even now I have to hurry to look at the papers to know if you are entering the port with greenery on starboard or port – although they seem to do so the other way around on this continent. So – You now get a crash course in sailor life lessons with which you, the initiated, can safely cross the Seven Seas.

Well, “Schipperen” is basically >> To control a ship or to show good seamanship.
That actually means >> To act along the circumstances..
This often implies >> To negotiate, to give & take, to compromise, to avoid conflicts.
Sometimes that means >> To hesitate or to be thrown back and forth.
All too often it implies >> To make a mess.
Sometimes it smells like >> To have no principles.
It certainly invites you to >> To circumvent the rules if needed.
It also suggests >> To achieve tangible results.
But it also always demands >> To keeping an eye in the Sail.

There’s a befitting, 18th century paraphrase of “schipperen” that quotes: “Ik schijn altoos te wijken, toe te geven, maar bewaar mijn grond, en geef nooit toe”. It seems I always waver, but I keep my ground and never give up. Never to give up. The principle is to be principled and stay loyal to the set course. The set course is a pilgrimage in praise of folly.

That has been going on for 30 years – and many of the secrets are revealed in the book. But it remains a mystery that the ship still is sailing at all.
It is also always a journey full of surprises. Because what questions are asked?

The most frequently asked question is: How do you get here? Really, there are plenty of people who, with genuine surprise, cannot imagine that the ship is actually sailing. I have one answer to this: “By Helicopter”. The fact is that only the Americans and the Russians have a helicopter that can lift the ship. You have to have two, so we’re waiting for another thaw in international relations.

A good second question is (sometimes also asked by young journalists): What is the Very Very most interesting thing you ever have experienced? This is like having a big blow to your face and a mouth full of teeth. That’s why I started writing this book.

A very popular and sensible question is: How do you pay for it all? I still owe the answer. But to give some indications I have devoted a very large chapter to it, called “The Secrets Of The Tramp Trade”. As you all know, a “Tramp” is a freighter ship, one that accepts loose cargo wherever it is found. 

How do you get the idea? Then you are in a small portuguese coastal town and you stroll between your cheap guesthouse and a terrace. You are cheated for a miserable five guilders for a piece of hashish and you think What am I doing here? You feel yourself a walking ATM. You want a platform for a real contact with the people. Later you are in a South Indian coastal town and see a church exactly like the Amsterdam Oosterkerk in my neighbourhood. On the gravestones you see old Dutch names like “Elizabeth”, exactly as your niece who was just born or as the name of the herring logger that later you would rebaptize in “Azart”. If you turn the nameplate “Azart” you find her. You want to return to those colonial destinations with an Amsterdam ship, but this time you want a platform for a real contact with the people. To heal and not steal.

And then you see a wrecked ship in Amsterdam Noord with the romantic scent of the best years of Captain Haddock. This ship would later be refurbished and serve as a royal yacht in Amsterdam the day that Willem became king. Ridiculously, the Azartplein was designated that day as one of the few places where you could legally protest against the coronation. But the royal yacht turned around 800 meters earlier, so not as to witness the total indifference that prevailed on the square.

There is a question I ask myself: Why are you doing it anyway? My brother-in-law, a very cool accountant, once told me: don’t tell me that you have great ideals, you do this for your pleasure.  And of course I could not deny this. You want to travel, meet people and cultures, make theater, create images. You actually want to investigate how from nothing can make something beautiful and HOW FAR you can go with it. You hope to inspire people with that. Without really wanting or being able to, you become a skipper, a comedian, a writer. You are completely perplexed that the ship still is sailing. You are the cow that constantly has to catch a hare, as Professor Doctor Herman Pleij rightly states in the preface. The greatest luxury is that you can avoid the entire ritual of twelve items of clothing each morning and just dress a loin cloth. But paradise, alas, does not exist. The nightmare turned out to be true. You finally are in the tropics and STILL you’re sitting with your laptop under the palm tree

Other questions are:

Why do others actually participate? This question is closely related to What do you need to persist? To this, there’s also a chapter devoted but here, I keep silent.

Who is actually going with it? We are only three now! We will soon open a recruitment office to embark you. Otherwise we will get you drunk in the best Dutch traditions!

Where is the journey going to? We are NOT AT ALL interested in going to Australia at all. Disrespectfully speaking (and not quite true), it is a small, racist, sexist and carbon-addicted country. We are going to the Australian continent for the apotheosis of the millennial history of the Ship of Fools. But later, the course is to a small island. We drive the ship with full force on a beach with high tide and with a strong breeze and there we open a chirinquito, a beach bar and debating club.

I want to ask one last question: What is it all about?

The project is conceived as an Amsterdam project, a tribute to her maritime traditions and to her spirit of freedom and resistance. We hope to be able to pass on these traditions, although they are under considerable pressure in today’s amusement park Amsterdam. And those so-called maritime traditions also have a black mourning edge that the ship tries to heal at its destination. To heal and not to steal.

It is also the European humanistic tradition of equality between persons and between peoples that drives the ship and that is the only condition for a harmonious survival of humanity. The Fool is a king – the man is a woman. Homo Ludens – The Playing Man. The World Upside Down.

The Aborigine tribal leaders of the Southern Northern Territory, who, among other things, manage the Uluru mountain, have invited the ship for a symbolic visit to their sacred mountain. The ship there serves as a platform for a corroboree, a festival of Aboriginals and involved Australians to remake the official “celebration” of the 250-year “discovery” of the Australian continent by James Cook. This so-called discovery has destroyed a culture that has managed the continent for fifty thousand years in a sustainable manner. It is destroying a continent.

“The Ship of Fools” itself is an exuberant spring ritual that stems from the deepest instincts of European civilization itself and that are soaked in beer. In that history it became the craziest cart in the carnival parade, a barge always on wheels, that became the symbol of society that is adrift, of humanity that has lost its course. And this brings us to the corroboree in Australia. We came, we thought in all innocence, to invite the lost Aboriginal tribes into the ship as symbolic fellow travelers. The recent bushfires of the continent show that it is high time to invite all mankind on board! We’re all in the same ship!

The Ship of Fools has been for centuries a source of inspiration for artists that is exuberantly depicted in sculptures, installations, books, book covers, science fiction, films, cartoons or songs. This iconographic tradition was started by the woodcuts by Albrecht Durer and the five compositions that Jeroen Bosch devoted to the theme. This iconography was recently enriched by the paintings of Maxim Kantor who, among other things, completed a giant 3×1.6 meter mural in the Pembrooke Chapel of the University of Oxford.

Our Ship of Fools tries to make her own contribution to this colorful history of images, through this book but also with the countless images that the journey produces. The journey itself is a work of art, a Gesamtkunstwerk, because it has only been possible and still is possible thanks to the contributions of the countless companions of the blue barge. Eternal thanks for that.