High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Leonore Spee: Sleeping In State
© Marianne Hommersom / © Rijksmuseum
© Marianne Hommersom / © Rijksmuseum © Marianne Hommersom / © Rijksmuseum

Leonore Spee: Sleeping In State

Eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors have taken inspiration from seventeenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum. Looking at these objects, what eureka moments do they see? Leonore Spee took her inspiration for a short story from the model of a life-size marble statue of William of Orange lying in state, made by Hendrick de Keyser (I). to his horror he sees that he’s still wearing his nightcap.’

Sleeping In State

He lies down for a moment. On this bed. Sleeping at his feet is a dog that belongs to him. The dog breathes slowly, rhythmically, her belly caressing the soles of his feet with each inhalation. It’s making him sleepy. He observes his thoughts, sees them slowly change shape: a screaming crowd below his window – ossifying – statues – falling apart – a heap of rubble – body parts – dancing figures in stained glass. He hears the church bells ring in the background, duller and duller, as the sound of his breathing slows and takes him to another place.

It’s overcast in the room he enters. He looks down, recognises his own feet in the mist. They appear to have shrunk. He really needs to do something about those long toenails. Like a tightrope walker, he moves to the other side of the room, where a wooden doorframe gives way to an extensive valley.

He has no idea how he managed to get down, but here he is, at the foot of a small stream that appears to discharge into a lake far off in the distance. A flock of birds skims over his head. He ducks instinctively and it occurs to him that he has never felt this free before. Maybe that one Sunday when he was five and he had a temperature. When he was allowed to stay home during Sunday mass. When his father came back and with a cheeky grin on his face emptied his bulging trouser pockets onto a porcelain plate, and during lunch they pretended to be two saints who could make the host taste of butter, cheese, waffles, oysters and pie.

He’s standing at the edge of the lake. Before his eyes, a rocky outcrop rises up out of the water, a nude male body ascends it like a staircase. Once on top of the tallest rock, the man stretches, flexing the muscles in his upper body so the skin is pulled tight. With his feet in the water, he watches as the man beats his chest and loudly propels his name into the valley via the water: Alvaman! Alvaman! He casts a quick glance at his own reflection in the water; to his horror he sees that he’s still wearing his nightcap. He pulls the thing off his head, slips out of his tabard, rips off the arming doublet and commences the ascent.

Somewhere on a grass-covered hill beside the water stands a chapel. The church bell ushers in the evening, chiming ding-dong six times. Where two male bodies in a tight embrace were slowly absorbed by the earth, only a small pile of rocks remains. A passer-by pauses, takes a few big gulps from the water bottle that dangles from her rucksack as she walks. Behind the chapel the setting sun fills the sky with colour. Orange on top, dark red with a purple glow below.

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