Since my last chronicle came out, I’ve had a call from my mum to say it was a joke. The thing about the suitcase. She’d been joking. I’ve also left Madrid, and woken up in Amsterdam for the first time in twelve years. Before going out for breakfast, I googled best coffee shops in Amsterdam. Schoolboy error. And I’ve survived the bicycles. Which is no mean feat when you’re walking around not looking where you’re going because your eyes are glued to first one window and then the next one and then the next.
But my voyeurism (and yours, all of you) is miniscule compared to the multimillion-dollar multimillion-awaited glimpse we caught of Comet 67P after Philae the robot landed there yesterday – more than 500 million kilometres away from where we are. They say the robot bounced three times before lodging itself under a cliff.
The scientists aren’t happy about the cliff because the shadow it casts might spoil the photos. But maybe Philae feels more protected there. If I was going to spend the rest of my days 500 million kilometres away from the earth, I’d want a bit of shelter, I think, rather than being out in the open at the mercy of all that cosmic dust. Especially after today, in the Border Sessions, when I learnt that the dust in outer space is spiky and vicious.
The Border Sessions were two days of talks about technology before the start of Crossing Border festival. I managed to catch three of the fifty that took place. One was about the new spacesuit NASA are designing. Another was about in vitro meat. The third was about the contemporary renaissance man (or something like that).
In a video, an astronaut on the moon is struggling. He tries not to fall over, he bounces, his movements are clumsy. Eventually, the speaker tells us what’s going on: he’s dropped something. That’s all. He’s dropped a bag and now he’s spending all these minutes trying to pick it up again. Mobility is something you didn’t get much of with the Apollo 16 spacesuits. To improve them, they’re making new materials, lighter and more resistant. The mass needs to be reduced. For every kilo you send into space, with fuel and everything else you have to put twenty kilos into orbit, and invest many many thousands of dollars. Every gram counts.
But if space isn’t to your tastes, perhaps you’d like to consider some in vitro meat. It’s already being made. It isn’t quite steak yet, but it does taste more like beef than tofu. And here, too, every gram is extremely expensive. The first hamburger took two years to make and cost 250,000 euros. Yesterday, Koert van Mensvoort showed us his inventive In Vitro Cookbook, with recipes for 45 dishes that can’t yet be made.
From the renaissance session, something Auke Ferwerda said stuck with me: The only sensible outcome of data is insight. My inner grandmother loved this. What a sensitive young man, she said to me. And then: Shouldn’t you ask the same from your work?
No. I don’t know. I hope not. Maybe? It would be paralysing, writing with the ambition of revealing something.
There’s no word in Spanish for insight. In Dutch it’s inzicht. Zicht is sight. In-zicht: seeing in. Well, maybe in that case, Grandma. Maybe then. Writing out of voyeurism. With the only aim being to paint for other people a series of foreign windows, without curtains, that they can’t resist peering through.
The NASA expert assured us that we don’t send people into space to make them work, but rather to expand our sense of the possible. Maybe that’s true. But isn’t it also just that we’re gossips? Checking out Philae’s selfies. Because we all want to peer in, to spy, to compare? We want to see. To see more. Maybe we should get that tattooed: zicht gezocht.