For a long time I have had the fantasy of living on a boat, preferably a sailing boat, just small enough for me and my books. I admit that it would not be impossible to realize this dream, except then it wouldn’t be a dream anymore but cold, damp reality. Other childhood fantasies I have left behind, such as the wish to turn my bed into a car or an aeroplane. What remains is the desire to be contained in a small, safe space and yet to move freely in the world, simultaneously inside and outside, carried by an undulating movement that could be time itself or the womb.

Atrahasis must have thought something comparable when he dreamt of turning his thatched house into a quppa, which is a round boat or coracle that until recently - the beginning of the last century - was still being used in the marshlands of sourthern Iraq. The coracle was typically made of reed or willow branches bound in skins, and patched on both sides with bitumen to make it waterproof. In the larger versions, which would fit up to thirty men and even some donkeys, one could descend down the river in relative comfort; then, according to Herodotus, the boat would be dismantled and carried back up on the backs of the donkeys. From this history I derive the element Donkey, which was still missing from my dream.

With such dreams, as with all dreams, it is essential never to tell anybody anything. As soon as you start spreading the word, people will generously bestow their advice on you, even good advice if you’re unlucky, and then you’re in their debt. You cannot leave them or their animals alone anymore; you need a bigger boat, with more branches and more skin and more bitumen; in short, you’re in more debt, and before you know it you’re sailing down the river with the whole town and its zoo in a cruise ship where, crawled away into a corner of the lower deck, you dream of a Deluge as a Great Excuse to escape into one of the coracle life boats tied to the side.

© 2009–2024, Martijn Wallage