Illegal American in Amsterdam — Seraphina Madsen

Amsterdam, 1998

(It must be noted that my recollection of events, being as they took place so long ago, has been altered from the reality in ways I can only begin to imagine in the retelling of it. The following is an approximation of the truth.)

I arrived in Amsterdam’s medieval, canal laden city center on a clear, cold day that had begun with snowfall. My only contact was a Dutchman I’d met in Germany through my former Swedish boyfriend’s manager. The Dutchman was a low-key drug dealer who smuggled high quality hashish to the group of people who ran the small record label and promoting agency my boyfriend and I had been staying with in Germany. The Dutchman didn’t smoke or take drugs himself but was deeply entrenched, body and soul, in the underground rave scene. I found a payphone and dialed his number. Luckily, he was home and it was a convenient time for me to visit.

The tram I took to his house looked like it had been in operation since the sixties with rounded lines, chrome and retro patterned upholstered seats. I kept an eye on the stops out the window as we headed east. When I arrived at the address I was buzzed in, climbed the stairwell, and met the Dutchman waiting at his doorway simply and elegantly dressed in black, with a Beat Generation vibe. He welcomed me into his clean, sparsely decorated seventies build apartment with dark wood and a sunken lounge. We spent the evening smoking spliffs and listening to music with mostly me recounting what had happened since the Swede and I left Germany for Ibiza. He said the Swede was an asshole and it was lucky for me that I was no longer with him. I told him I needed to find work as soon as possible, that I had enough for a little while, but that if he thought or heard of something, I would be grateful. He suggested I try the smart shops, they always seemed to be looking for people to hand out flyers. I asked him about the squat and said I was hoping I could stay at the hostel they were running. He seemed to think it was a possibility, but not easy. The hostel practically had a waiting list and the only other way was to be invited as a guest by one of the house members which meant that they would have to be willing to live with you in their room. It would help that I knew a few people who were residents, as we had a couple of mutual friends he confirmed were there, and also that I knew him because he was close with most of the founders. There was a chance someone would take me in, but he didn’t want me to get my hopes up.

The next afternoon we got onto his motorcycle, braved the icy wind and made our way to the squat, among the largest in the city’s history since the phenomenon began with the housing crisis in the seventies when much blood was spilt in violent clashes between the police and squatters. We rode past Vöndel Park moving westward, down Amsterdam’s romantic cobbled streets with 13th century architecture that gave way to the ages, to the turn of the century and finally to modernity where we hit an area made up of industrial buildings and residential blocks. A group of people who looked like they had come from a trance party in futuristic, tribal, thrift shop, home-made garb walked in a group on the wide sidewalk, one among them with matted hair made to look like dreadlocks. When we came to the end of a street and turned a corner the Dutchman pointed to a large building block where a pirate flag flew from the roof and nodded his head. The structure was imposing, made of glass and concrete in the Brutalist style. Large trees lined the road and shaded the building with leaves and branches brushing up against the windows. We parked out front and followed a concrete path flanked with bike racks at the entrance which led to sprawling, white stone steps where at the top massive automatic glass doors slid open and let us into the lobby decorated with mobiles, some made of metal in the style of Jean Tinguely’s kinetic sculptures, others concocted out of string, wire and electrical tape, with tin foil and cardboard clouds, rainbows, planets, wind chimes, cellophane jellyfish, alien figures, toy figurines, and mandalas. Wooden sculptures like totems stood in two of the corners and a gnome figure, three feet tall, sat by the window with its hand on a keg of beer. Signs forbidding hard drugs on the premises were in plain view. The Dutchman led me to the front desk and bantered with everyone, introduced me, explained I was staying with him, and said we were going to see who was around. They asked me to sign the register.

We made our way to the chai shop, accessed by a central flight of stairs made of metal, wood and rock, in keeping with the Brutalist exterior. On the first floor was the restaurant based on donations to a “magic” hat. The building housed an industrial kitchen and a canteen with light pouring in through the immense windows that made up the eastern and southern walls. The northern wall and all of the columns had been decorated with fluorescent paint, some of it abstract, some primitive, but mostly psychedelic. On the first floor was also an art atelier. The Dutchman led me down the corridor and into an enormous well-lit room with at least a dozen artists working on canvases the size of Monet’s Water Lilies while others sculpted in clay, wood and rock. (In the courtyard metalworking took place.) There had been a bar on the first floor as well but too many violent incidents led to its being voted out. The building was enormous. Floor upon floor of private rooms, grow rooms, music studios, corridors, galleries, so many doors and secret places hidden in the whirring, murmuring, bohemian labyrinth.

The chai shop was on the top floor, accessed through a narrow hallway and a cloakroom that opened into a bright, airy space giving the impression of being made entirely of wood and glass with large windows looking out to the skyline and relatively low ceilings. The scent of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, milk and honey from the brewing chai wafted from the bar that sat immediately to the left and ran the length of the room to a wall of glass with an open door that led to a terrace where there were couches and marijuana plants in pots. Someone was DJing experimental hip-hop. The pungent spice of cannabis smoke filled the air and seemed to take on a life of its own in the beams of sunshine. People were dancing. Others sat on cushions at low tables, some made of industrial wooden spools. Much smoking went on with chillum circles dedicated to Shiva. Spliffs smoldered. A man in white robes began to play the flute with the hip-hop while two young men played goblet drums. In the western corner a great wooden child-like Buddha sat on an altar with candles lit around it and offerings of flowers and semi-precious stones, most of which were quartz crystals. Another altar had been made to Shiva in the form of Nataraja, Lord of dance – creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe, dancing inside the circle of the never ending cycle of time. Incense burned, girls danced with incense sticks.

On the far wall was painted an intricate, psychedelic, hallucinatory mural with figures, landscapes and Mayan symbols that seemed to play out some sacred mystery or dream. The ceiling tiles had been decorated in fluorescent paint, ink and marker, with images of magic mushrooms, sacred geometry, magical symbols such as runes, representations of Hindu gods and goddesses, the Buddha, Mayan glyphs, and all else psychedelic, with many still left blank for anyone to take down and draw on. I bought three grams of a sticky, blonde Moroccan as well as a homemade chai. The Dutchman took a tea and we sat down. He didn’t smoke so I rolled a spliff and smoked it myself. Somehow, I had made it. I’d hitchhiked on my own and found the way there.

I didn’t realize it then, but I had already been taken by a mysterious force, chemical imbalance, or transformed from my own inner doing or undoing, with the shift occurring so naturally and fluidly, it was weeks before I began to theorize about the new condition. I was exalted.

In a sense, the change had to do with the many worlds interpretation, or MWI as it’s now commonly known, originated by the American physicist Hugh Everett in 1957. After much thought Everett came to the conclusion that everything which can possibly happen does happen and there are an infinite number of copies of him and everyone else. What is more, due to this, he believed he was in effect creating everything he was seeing simply by observing and that included people and their problems. Many people that didn’t know about his theory and interacted with him would say they got a cold chilly vibe in is presence or even felt like they weren’t real and, or didn’t exist. Some of them asked about him and when they were told his theory, they would say words to the effect of, “Right, that explains it”.

I don’t believe Everett was consciously trying to control his movements, speeds, vocal intonations, facial expressions, in order to have that effect. It was his internal viewpoints modulating all of those things naturally, causing that effect on people. In fact, I speculate he wouldn’t have even been interested in having a cold chilly vibe but that it was just the collateral damage of his beliefs. And this, much later, was one of the theories I had in the quest to find out what was happening to me.

My viewpoints and my effect on the world outside, or other worlds, was changing the way I appeared to those around me and produced similar effects to Everett’s, the feeling of no longer existing, of nothing being real, as well as the intermittent ability to become invisible, and a heat or a chill. I wasn’t the only one who developed it at the squat and it seemed that whatever it was it took many faces, it came and it went, it created and destroyed and did things beyond comprehension like temporarily turning myself and my boyfriend into holograms witnessed by three individuals. My boyfriend and I had no idea that anything had changed, we saw and experienced nothing out of the ordinary. I can’t say I’m any good at putting this type of information to use but I’ve no doubt there are people out there who can engineer a lot of unconscious communication in this way. It’s a weird type of psycho-supernatural magic. Everything had seemed amplified and transformed from the moment I’d stepped through the front glass doors and into the interior of the commune. Whether it was for reasons alluded to above, or to my own psychological disturbance, a period of mania, if you will, I couldn’t say.

As the sun set a group of people came into the chai shop carrying analogue equipment for making electronic music and started to set up while the DJ spun his records until the analogue machines came to life with a sound that I can only describe as some kind of fusion of acid jazz, funk, folk, soul, techno and house. A man with white hair began to play a harp. A young man and a teenage girl beat out rhythms on jam bays and another man joined in on a violin with a twenty-something woman on a clarinet. The people with the live instruments continued to play and the effect with the electronic music was otherworldly and sublime, holding everyone in different stages of rapture as they danced, smoked, meditated, conversed, seduced, and consumed chai and charas.

Later, long after the sun had gone down, my Dutch friend introduced me to the elected chairman of the squat, or E.L.F. foundation. The Chairman was also Dutch. He’d arrived in Amsterdam in 1989 at the peak of the riot period. Before that he’d been squatting in his home town with a group of punk friends who organised mescal and weed parties. In 1990 the internal squat wars began. One side of the squat movement was forced to violently eliminate an extremist faction of squatters who were going around kidnapping and torturing suspected infiltrators and informants of the Dutch secret service. The service was hunting for an extreme left squatter group called Rara, which was blowing up Shell gas stations, and a group of squatters were called upon to find and execute the infiltrators and informers. The story climaxed one night, when a battle team of the movement clashed with the group, destroyed their vehicles, and laid out their leaders in hospital for a long time. The Chairman had taken part in the formation of the battle team and had been in the front line of the clash.

From the start, when I first looked into his face, a deep intelligence was immediately apparent, which he wore with a steady, laid back quality and keen, penetrating eyes in which many different fires raged. He was the physical doppelgänger of a young Ray Liotta with Travis Fimmel’s Ragnar Lothbrok character in the eyes. It was clear the Chairman was formidable and charismatic, a natural born leader. He explained how, after several weeks of occupation the E.L.F foundation was officially registered by himself and two Dutchmen in the corps of twenty-two people who had originally seized and held the building at 11 Vlaardingenlaan. They had all embarked on the project to “facilitate the powers of love and light in the broadest sense of the word…to host social, cultural and art activities and to throw fat parties.” The Chairman had come up with the name, which had many meanings. Eleven, the squat’s address, was also pronounced “elf” in Dutch. The E stood for exploration and evolution (the purpose of the experiment), the L stood for love and light (the central, mystical, philosophical driving force) and the F standing for Filaments and Frequencies (the means by which the force is spread). But it could also be the Eternal Light Family, or the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace, or whatever else one could come up with that was appropriate. Like everything in the universe, the name was in flux.

In numerology the ultimate symbolic power of the number eleven is in its potential to go beyond the limits of human existence and enter into the highest realms of spiritual perception. This idea also held to the group’s ideals. It’s safe to say that the majority believed that ultimately all in the universe was connected, that everything was one. People meditated, took LSD, peyote, and other hallucinogens in order to surpass the limits of everyday reality and enter into the spiritual realms. A medicine man from the United States, a member of the Native American Church, had half of a wing for his quarters where he performed peyote, ayahuasca, and other ceremonies in which people would sing, play instruments and talk to spirits. The number eleven contains the potential for greater intuition, and is associated with psychics. Numerologists also note that the number is highly energized and dynamic, bringing with it idealism, illumination and revolution but without a purpose and a strong, benevolent leader, it will devour itself. The commune eventually went through all of these stages and more. Little did I know then, the tragedy that would be a catalyst to its dissolution would take place in that very room, where we sat and smoked and I had first met the Chairman.

I didn’t want to impose on my Dutch friend any longer so I took up an offer from an American man with a Midwestern accent I met the first night in the chai shop to stay with him in the squat as his guest and returned the next day with my belongings. I think he said he was from Colorado. He knew some of the people I knew and confirmed that quite a few of them were there. Later he told me he had been raised by wolves, that he was taken as a child and found years later in the woods. He and his son had lived in the south of France as goatherds and left six months previously, when the squat had begun. I slept on a mattress on the floor, curtained off from his corner and his son’s in the sizable conference room with pillars, high ceilings and tall windows. His son was perhaps ten years old. I don’t recall where his mother was. She may have died.

The American was in charge of running the chai shop and put me to work straight away. It wasn’t long before I was reunited with friends from Germany and others I’d met in South Africa, as well as Europeans and Israelis on the global party circuit. At first I worked in the chai shop every day, seven days a week until the American brought more people in and I was freer to roam, to help in the kitchen and at the front desk, to visit with friends in their bedroom music studios, and art ateliers. Later I was allowed into the grow rooms to help with a few of the harvests. By that time, I was staying as the guest of Belgian sisters who were models. The Swede eventually showed up and one of the sisters fell immediately under his hypnotic spell which was one of the last things I would have wanted to happen but that was perhaps inevitable. It was as though staying longer on Ibiza had imbued him with even more sexual energy which risked consuming him. He was clearly on the edge of madness.

My Belgian friend and roommate doted on him and gave into being fucked within eye and earshot of anyone in the room, in the Swede’s attempt to begin an orgy. Her sister refused to live in such conditions and left for Belgium.

I moved in with an American guy I’d become close to who spent most of his time spinning vinyl and painting in his room, and the rest helping to organize the parties every week in the Skylab. He hadn’t stepped out of the ELF for the previous six months; everything he needed was contained within the walls of the commune. After a while it became clear his feelings for me had turned romantic. At the time I was in the rapture of a sexless, transcendent love that felt like a beatific vision and was incapable of thinking of any person romantically. The condition was either a byproduct of mania, or some other force playing on me, or even my true self, as I was at the time convinced it was. Somewhere along the line I’d crossed a threshold and began to operate and experience reality on another plane that bypassed any desire for sex. I had more empathy than I had ever known, it was like a fire that burned in me. The boundaries between myself and others, nature, even inanimate objects blurred dramatically. I wanted to learn everything that was possible from everyone and nature.

The American said his desire for me had become a problem so he’d posed a vote to the house whether or not to give me a room and I been accepted. It was such a great gift and had landed at my feet completely unexpected. I was beside myself. The American gave me a key, took me to my new room on the floor above his at the front of the building and told me not to be a stranger. From that point onward, as long as I held a room and a key I had a vote in official decision making. It was enormous. I was officially part of the core family. (Soon after the American met a beautiful Danish girl who was also a fine artist and DJ and much better for him than I ever could have been. In the end, he even came to hate me.)

I found a part time job in a smart shop as a warehouse assistant. The owner, an unkempt, handsome Dutchman, a man of many talents, among them sailing. He’d sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean more than once and been stranded on an island for several weeks before he was rescued. He also collected swords and had an arm ring from a Viking horde on display in his apartment. His personal assistant was a keenly intelligent, glossy, elegant Australian, easily Victoria’s Secret model material. I was to be the dog walker, psilocybin mushroom drying technician, mushroom sorter and packager, as well as an assistant to the shady weed and mushroom deals he made in the warehouse. Sometimes I delivered these illegal quantities to the buyer on street corners. My boss’ permit allowed him to sell a restricted amount of psychedelic mushrooms per person through his shop, anything over a certain amount was prohibited by law. He was being taxed at sixty percent so he had to maintain a few illegal activities in order to keep up his modest lifestyle.

Hidden in a storage area accessed through a discreet door at the back of the basement was a primitive mushroom drying facility which had to be heavily monitored to achieve the delicate balance needed for the mushrooms to dry properly. The space was narrow, made with concrete and felt like a tomb. There were racks of mushrooms with heat lamps above them. An extractor fan hummed at the back end along with floor fans, turning on their stands. I spent hours inspecting the mushrooms and turning them over until they were ready to be collected, sorted, weighed and put into bags for sale. There were Mexican mushrooms and Liberty caps, which required different drying times and methods. I didn’t wear gloves during these operations, but did make sure that my hands were always clean and touched nothing but the mushrooms. After hours of this, at the end of the day I began to feel the warmth of the psilocybin reach my bloodstream and was mildly hallucinating. Colors were brighter and more varied, everything seemed charged with a subtle energy. My ideas became more and more connected and far-fetched. Everything became much clearer. I began to think the warehouse should produce peyote wafers out of dried peyote paste and water so that they were like communion wafers. They could be packaged as such, or even as water crackers and distributed all over Europe, in the fields and festivals of the summer parties. No matter how many times I tried to convince my boss, he never thought it was a good idea. I showed him a drawing for an umbrella that was transparent and looked like a magic mushroom with white reflective spots. He wasn’t interested in that one either.

My route home took me through the red light district where among the prostitutes behind glass and the tourists were the junkies scouring the floor for drugs and cigarette ends. An old woman with a grey, powdered face, and smudged lipstick was often around, picking at every piece of tinfoil she saw and throwing it back onto the ground. It wasn’t uncommon to see young women desperately running through alleyways, calling to a drug dealer to exchange drugs for sex. After the canals and winding cobbled roads and narrow sidewalks came Vöndel Park where groups of the hippies congregated on the grass smoking weed, playing drums and didgeridoos, meditating, doing yoga, and dancing.

The routine continued with my part time work in the warehouse, the bohemian existence at the commune, and the subtle and consistent being turned away from helping in the kitchen or the chai shop. I came to know and admire a Dutch painter who worked on enormous canvasses and spent time in one of the communal art ateliers, talking with him, watching him work. He was in the process of completing an MA at the Amsterdam University of the Arts and painted in the pointillist style, so that when you stepped back the colors seemed to twinkle and bounce between one another in a play of light and optical blending. He was constantly moving in front of the canvas, back and forth and side to side in a tango with the image. It seemed only a matter of time before he became well known and had exhibitions in galleries. I told him I thought he was good enough to show all over – Japan, London, New York, Paris – and be the next Jean-Michel Basquiat, enfant terrible, celebrated throughout the art world. He said he wasn’t interested in that. His art was meant to hang in parties, to be a part of the mood and atmosphere, to inspire the imagination of the partygoers, to burn and tear and be made love up against if necessary. He wanted them to live full lives. The Dutch painter was one of the people everyone loved, who gave everything to the squat, always fixing things and transporting people and equipment all over town. Later, after I left and the squat had collapsed, I learned he had been stabbed and killed on New Year’s Eve along with another member of the ELF in a knife fight outside a hotel by people no one has been able to identify.

Around the time I met the painter, I began working on an epic poem I was to spend three years writing and which, in the end was nearly a thousand handwritten pages, the ravings of a lunatic, as can be seen from a scrap that remains:

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 13.30.36

It was truly awful. I spent three years of my life writing convoluted gibberish like this woven into the sentimentally told tale of a teenage girl who hitch-hikes barefoot around Europe after she’s been spurned by her lover and the ecstasy and horror that follows in the situations and encounters she has. I struggle to recognize the person who wrote it and I’m glad I burned the rest of it in a fire.

Insofar as the running of the squat, regular meetings were held and a great effort was made to find everyone, it was paramount no one was missing. Members came together in one of the conference rooms and formed a circle so that the convocation could begin. A feather was used to denote who the speaker was. Usually the Chairman would start with an announcement, perhaps a joke, a cryptic message, a declaration of love for everyone and the project, or an observation, something like “We’ve all got to be like the Native American Indians who left nothing behind when they moved…like Che Guevera and the revolutionary soldiers who did not leave one scrap of evidence behind, not one scrap of paper from rolling their cigarettes or the peels of their fruits. Thank you.” He would pass the feather to the Treasurer who gave an account of the funds coming in and out and the amount of savings accrued. The squat had been making money with the budget dormitory, the club, and the chai shop, while also collecting rent for each room. The utility bills had been set up in two of the founder’s names and was covered by the rent. Anything that fell over was taken from the squat’s profits.

After the finance report the Treasurer passed the feather to either his right or left and the person could speak or pass the feather on. This method worked until the topics of conversation became too heated and everyone talked at once, resulting in chaos until someone with the feather eventually overpowered everyone else with their insistence, gained center stage, and a calmer atmosphere prevailed. The main topic of grief centered on the cleanliness and maintenance of the building. Dogs had been banned in the early half of the first year after too many incidents of dog fouling. A couple of people were permitted to keep their dogs but no others were allowed in. It was difficult to keep a six-floor office building party house clean with hundreds of people roaming around inside. Two cleaning teams had been assembled and I had been on one of them for a year or more and still spent hours walking around, cleaning, as did many others, in the end, a guerrilla maintenance developed. This, however, wasn’t enough to keep up with the demands.

Also, at these meetings new projects were announced, people gave progress reports on community outreach programs, grievances were addressed, good news was shared as well as prayers, words of wisdom, and anything anyone thought was appropriate. Eventually, the idea arose that if parties were held in the Skylab every week end there would be no need for rent. This, combined with the chai shop revenue could subsidize the running of the squat.

One day thirty of the residents held a meeting and decided the monthly rent would be abolished in favor of the Skylab and chai shop funding the entire project. No one knew if the wing on the fifth floor that housed a cannabis plantation was being funded by the grower, or the residents. They thought it odd that this point hadn’t ever been brought up before. Surely the electricity for the miniature plantation was sizable? Had everyone been subsidizing its electricity with their rent? Who exactly was making a profit from its sale? People in the meeting began to demand the ELF organization’s safe be opened. The head of finance was out of the country for a week so the Chairman, who was the only one in possession of the key, handed it over, explaining that he wouldn’t fight his own friends and housemates. From that moment on, the Dutch people who had begun the foundation felt any control they’d had in the experiment was slipping away. They stepped back and began to push the people of the house to start a union that could take over all the bills. But although the unity in squatting the safe was strong, it took the same group of people close to a year to start their union.

Bills taken on by members of the union-to-be went unpaid. An organization the Dutch people had contacted to aid in receiving government subsidies stepped away when they realized many of the residents were living there illegally, with little source of income. The building itself began to deteriorate. Certain members of the house put up a good fight in regards to repair but there were far too few of them, and not enough funds to maintain such an enormous building. Amidst all of this, the experiment played on. There was a rave every Friday that lasted over the weekend into Monday and sometimes ended midweek. Residents gave yoga classes to the community. The children were homeschooled.

Art installations came and went in the rooms that were glassed in off the corridors, so that passersby could view them. Native American healers came and spoke. Reiki and meditation classes were given. There were rumors of an ecstasy and LSD factory. Despite the political machinations, the threat of the dissolution as well as and structural and hygienic problems in the building, everything seemed to be running more or less smoothly. I practically became a hermit, free falling into a depression, hardly venturing into the chai shop or the restaurant. I lived off of beet juice, a vegan meat substitute which came in a jar, and biscuits. I continued to work part time for the smart shop owner and went to a party now and again. Sometimes I found myself with three or so other people, in a friend’s bedroom late at night, and there is one night like this I will never forget.

I met the petite, doe-eyed young woman from Malta when she first came to the squat, not long after I’d arrived. There was an instant bond between us, a deep connection. We spent the night opening our hearts to one another, mapping out our thoughts and dreams. We danced and stayed awake and partied till well after dawn and into the afternoon with all of the others. Soon after she left to go back to Malta, as she had just been visiting Amsterdam on holiday. Months later, the Maltese returned with her two children amidst a separation with her husband. The squat was so large, and there were so many people that it was possible to go for months without seeing someone who also lived there. She and the Chairman became an item, moved in together with her children, and appeared very much in love. The Maltese spent most of her time tending to her two small children with other parents who had formed a day care and a school. I moved in different circles but bumped into her on occasions and gathered things were difficult for her but didn’t know what to do to help, except to offer my emotional support. I was also facing adversity, having gotten to a point of suicidal depression which eating a peyote button had cured me of and instead sent me into a manic, PTSD, disorientated phase. I knew something was wrong with me and this is why I didn’t take the LSD that the Brazilian DJ offered to the Maltese and me that night.

Our Brazilian friend spun records and eventually played a mix from a DAT player when he grew tired and sat down with us and smoked a spliff. The Maltese wanted me to stay and take the LSD with them but I knew it wasn’t a good time for me to embark on that kind of a journey. I told them I was exhausted and going to bed. Her doe eyes made me promise I would go to the chai shop later in the morning to meet her there. I said good night to them both and went off to bed. It was the last time I saw her.

I broke my word. Instead, I woke up late, panicked and rushed off to the smart shop warehouse. On the way back to the squat on the tram after working for a few hours, I met a man who was the second American to tell me he had been raised by wolves. He sat opposite me and asked me where the Dutch Embassy was so that he could exchange his US passport for a Dutch one, as he never wanted to return to the United States, and would prefer to live in Holland. He also told me he had a millions dollars in the US and was waiting for his ex-wife to send it on to him and then said he wanted to marry me. I didn’t know what to do. He was clearly mentally unbalanced. Physically, he looked fine. I told him I couldn’t marry him because I was in love with someone else. He protested a bit but then agreed to leave me alone. The encounter set me on edge.

As I approached the ELF I saw a paramedic van and began to run to the entrance. Inside, heads were hung low, people were crying. A couple of policemen stood in the lobby. I went to the front desk and asked the first person I knew what had happened. My Maltese friend had taken a running leap from the roof. She was dead. I broke down crying and went to the stairs where three girls led her children down and out of the building. They had been in chai shop when she jumped. I climbed flights of stairs and wandered through hallways until I came to the place called the Temple of All Religions where countless people stood among the altars, flowers and candles with a few police taking down statements, and went to the window, still crying, struggling to breathe and had a panic attack in the corner. A policeman looked at me out of the corner of the eye as he listened to one of the residents and took notes. I felt like I could read his mind.

The building fell into mourning with crushing grief and guilt making us all shell-shocked. Not long after, I left for a festival in Portugal only to return briefly once, in the months before the squat’s dissolution. I could not stop directing my thoughts to my Maltese friend, believing she was out there and that I could communicate with her. She seemed to send signals through the stars and the wind, and then in other ways, when things happened that I took as signs. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt transmissions from people who had died. Otherworldly entities and poltergeists had visited me in childhood. Either that or I was delusional. My contact with her felt to me as being more real than contact with the living at times. I had found myself in the south of France, in the foothills of the Alps in a small village with my boyfriend and his family where I would wander the forests and meadows filled with jackrabbits, through unkempt cherry, apple, and olive groves, past stands of mimosas along the clear blue fords. Pathways led to medieval hillside villages with vistas of white capped alpine peaks against the sky and on the other side, views of the cliffs and valley that gave way to the Mediterranean. I felt that my Maltese friend had led me there, to the splendor of that place, and that she was watching over me.

I did well for a time but couldn’t escape myself, my shortcomings, and the drama I created, so that I ended up leaving on bad terms with the people who had been so kind to me, standing by the roadside with my thumb out, headed to Le Mans where I was to meet my future husband and finally realize how incomprehensible and cringe-inducing the epic poem was, burn it, and begin a novel. I felt the presence of my Maltese friend for a long time, until the day I no longer sensed her, a day that turned into weeks and months while I wondered what I had done, whether the fault was mine or if she had simply passed on to a place I couldn’t reach. I hadn’t forgotten her, she had vanished – her spirit no longer discernable to me. And so, another loss was mine. Another point of contact withdrawn, just as one was about to be made with my future husband, the squat and the communal life well behind me.

In its place was a similar strain of anarchy centered around music, made up of various, small tribes across France who made illegal raves in abandoned warehouses forests, and fields, dancing to the music that brought illumination and ecstasy, as perhaps Wagner’s music had brought illumination and ecstasy to Nietzsche and led him to support the purpose in life having more to do with Bacchus than Apollo – more to do with ritual madness and ecstasy, everything which escapes human reason, beauty, creativity and art, rather than to pure reason. Maybe it was also this that bound us.


Seraphina Madsen was born in San Rafael, California and grew up on both the East and West Coasts of the United States. She taught English in France for four years and has lived in Germany, The Netherlands, and Sweden involved in the Electronic Dance Music industry. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University, London. She resides in the UK.

Image: Black Party Amsterdam, Laauwen Media, Creative Commons

Author bio courtesy of Dodo Ink.