Invisible Civilisation - The Hosts

"Others enjoy stories from the road"

Their doors are as big as fortress gates. They guard a life carved in binary calendars and fridge note magnets. But not a single arrow was shot today. This year. Or the next. And these doors are special. For whomever can push them gently, they’ll open the road to the castle’s beds. They’ll guide the traveller to the living room and next to the chimney. This castle isn’t fighting the world. It’s waiting for the scent of the road and the wind of the horses to blow through its doors and fill its chambers.

They haven’t travelled for years. But the smell of my hair makes them dream. The look in my eyes takes them to India. The sand in my nails enchants them. And my beard is an ocean of adventures and the promise of a thousand stories. The women, the women and the mysteries. The secrets only travel uncovers. The things you can only see when you put on your foreign eyes and you stranger gaze. They look mesmerised and bemused. Bemused because they’ve touched what I’ve touched. They saw as well. And my walk is a sweet virus that awakens their own.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 14.54.40.png

"But it’s not just the surfers who benefit. Being a host can be tremendously rewarding, as well. For instance, my hosts in Morocco, Vietnam, and Brazil all use CouchSurfing as a means to improve their English. Others simply enjoy meeting new people and hearing interesting stories from the road."

I sit down and I look into his right eye. Blue. Like the flag I stole from a bar in Budapest. Blue. Like the drink I gulped in the streets of Bruxelles. Blue. Like the sign above my London hotel. Blue like your eyes my love. My king with open arms and world-wide smile. My stories are yours. You’ll play a part in one. If you’ve not conquered that chapter already.

Invisible Civilisation - N° 1 Person Of The Year

You're a form of sunshine
And if i had my word to say
You'd be a song I've heard before
But not in the same way

It's melody and chime I hear
This thing you do with your mouth
Just ridicules the word “Smile”
You’re a trip to Nicaragua
On the back of an elephant

You’re the choice of wild
A jet looping in the sky
The promise of happiness
Made flesh and hair
Raw, naked goddess of wind

How did I dare touch your lips?
How did I survive?
How long has it been
Since a plane last crashed on my doorstep?

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 15.00.31.png

Invisible Civilisation - Suspended Policeman

He walks the walk of the sherif in town. He lost his job due to violence. His own. Unforgiving, unapologetic. He would have beaten up that man again had he seen him in the streets. His streets. His town. His country. A sense of possession not akin to attachment but to a form of fatherly tenderness. You could see him look the city in the eye and say “don’t stay up too late”. Or take a residential building by the arm and firmly affirm “stay out of trouble”. He saw the windows breaking week after week. He saw the litter piling up on the side of the street. And here is a man to whom life is not a nod in front of a darker reality. To whom the number of alternative things to do is too little to ignore his single most pressing task. Nothing else can occupy the time of his mind. The space of his breath.

The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.
— Philip K. Dick, What Heroism Is

Here is the man who won’t stand still. The policeman who'll keep an eye on the town despite his suspension. The best policeman. "You can’t buy a man who’s sold on his town” he says. And the barman smiles as he pours a 12 year old Chivas Regal in his glass.

Invisible Civilisation - Chapter 3

This is a series about the people we don’t see


I had a recurring nightmare when I was a kid. I used to call it 70,000. After I slept, I would dream of the world as it would look like in 70,000 years. Effectively it was as if time was inflating. It was a future of a size I couldn’t fathom and so, fearful in front of what I couldn’t understand, I’d tremble. I remember calling my mum once. Crying. On that day I made clear the core of my fear. The reason why ’70,000’ robbed me of my sleep each time I had it. My mum smiled. And hugged me.

100 years is a big chunk of time. 10 years we can figure out from the differences between two pictures of ourselves. Our hair, the wrinkles next to our eyes. We can even project ourselves in 10 years. Imagine what our lives will be like. In a 10-year span, if we wonder long enough, some key events will emerge. We’ll pinpoint the turning points in our thinking and being. 100 years is history. It’s not life anymore. We leave the job to academia and books, old newspapers and encyclopaedia articles. And these usually pick out some heroes. People who managed to change things. 1000 years and the heroes of 900 years ago are already complete mysteries. 10,000 years and one wonders who the hell was Demosthenes. Demosthenes. Who are you ? So what about 70,000 years. The limit of humanity as we know it. Everything vanishes out of memory.

And I cried that day because in 70,000 years I wouldn’t be around. And for the first time, I had understood the world would be. Only without me. Old heroes are the persons whose names get given to streets. As if we give these grand conquerors a feel-good prize now that they can’t wield a sword and cut through frontiers anymore. As if they keep conquering even after their death. They took on every relevant square and every relevant street name. Every award, library and cultural centre. Their names become values. Concepts. They’ve transcended the human condition to live in the realm of ideas. And they've left no place for the new heroes. Who wait. There. Vivid yet vividly forgotten and subdued. As if the past leased the future for a long while more.


So  you’re already ugly right ? Why do you add oil to fire ? Why do you play bitchy as well ? You’re sucking the air out of the room. I basically can’t say anything here. If I try and block your heavy jokes, I’m the guy harassing the fat girl. If I ignore you, I’m the discriminating shallow guy that people will choose to slowly ignore. If I just tell you you’re ugly and fat and glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks and criticise people on the dance floor, I’m socially dead. Imagine? You’ll bad mouth my guts out to the universe won’t you? So what do I do? What do I do?

I look at your eyes, I look you in the eyes, I look at your stares, I look at your iris, I look at your mouth, I observe the expression, I look at your skin, its colour, your ears, your eyelashes, the movement of your lips. And I look at my unease. I see the way I’m judging your being. And slowly the thoughts slow down. My shoulders drop. My belly relaxes. Slowly I merge in you. I become your mouth, I become your eyes. Your lips. Your chin and the skin of your neck. I am you. I am you. Now, I am you. And I pour myself into you. All my attention is yours. You are the centre of my universe. Everything I am is here for you. No one will ever give you as much as I give you right now.

It’s beyond acceptance, beyond attention, beyond presence. I love you. I really love you.


I systematically point the wrong way when tourists ask me for directions. The following is a manifesto for locals who have understood the importance of misguiding tourists:

I, local, give a wrong direction each time a tourist asks me for one
The Eiffel tower can be seen from where I stand, yet I point to the Pantheon
The Louvre hasn’t moved for ages, yet I lead them East
This is not Sadism
This isn’t a game
It’s fun yet entertainment isn’t the point
This is a statement
Against beaten path, guided tours and group travels of all kind
Be it a pub crawl or a Jacques Tati inspired tour of the 5th precinct
Any form of organised trip through a new country is a target

I am here to tell you your destination is shadowing the journey
I am here to state your guides are misleading you
I am here to get you lost
As you should be
In a place you don’t know
I am here to open your eyes
To pluck open what travel has always meant
A deep, effective, disorientation, in an unfamiliar place

Who said travel is supposed to be a breeze?
Who spoiled maps with a pic-art over every 100+ year old monument.
When did we stop noticing the braces of the 18 year old french girl?
When did the bus system stop being an attraction?
When did the outskirts of Paris become no man’s land ?
I will lead you to what you haven’t seen
Caus’ this is your chance to see it
Your moment to get it
Once and for all
That travel is not travel
It’s a mere reminder that you are a stranger wherever you live
Until you start seeing life

When in doubt always go right. No, left. Go left. Always. Sorry.

Invisible Civilisation - Chapter 2


There’s a man that lives near the Pantheon. You might see him near the fountain on Rue Mouffetard or at the Postal bank on the Rue d’Ulm. He used to sleep at the entrance of a building next to a bar called Le Pantalon. But the inhabitants of the building built a small garden on the stairs so that he couldn’t sleep there anymore. I remember him painting hebrew words on the wall. I saw him shouting at a teller at the Postal bank once. Not in an angry way though. Rather like a man holding his anger, like a kid would hold his tears. I called him Milito because the words he put on the wall once had something belligerent about them and once I hear him say the word Mossad.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.11.23.png

I used to smile at him and say hi and slowly our relationship evolved to some awkward looks as I stopped living permanently in Paris and din’t see him on a regular basis. Milito stopped smiling a long while ago as well. Back in the time where he used to paint walls and pee in the street, I’d often see him smile. Now he stopped. He wears glasses sometimes and hangs around with some other long-time hobos. One of them has dread locks. But contrary to the latter, you won’t find Milito each time you walk in the streets near the Pantheon. He’s a hard catch. Maybe he found a new place. Maybe he has a place. Maybe he lives in an apartment but just likes to hang out in the streets like some people hang our in bars.

At first sight, there’s something deeply about the lives of long time hobos. I remember the black smiling woman in the sun and the drunk smiling man hand laid on her back smiling near Bastille. I remember thinking the two had no plans for the day. I wondered if they stressed. Ever. I wondered if they had obligations. I wondered if their smile was that of the urban pilgrims. The ones who’ve crossed the world on foot to now sit down as they’ve understood the lessons of life. There is nothing but this sun. Nothing but this hand. Only this moment. And I walk away from Milito, the dread lock man, the black woman and her friend with his hand on her back, thinking : Maybe. Maybe the streets and the city gave them the peace they took away from us. Just a smile and the distant threat of sadness.


There’s a feeling first world citizens will never know. And it’s better in a way. To feel you have the exclusivity on an emotion. Only you can describe. Second-world citizens are the people who come from non-western yet non-third world countries. These are countries with democratic systems, the Internet, theatre, museums yet no solid infrastructure. Electricity might default one day. Health care coverage isn’t where it should be. Yade Yade Yade. Lebanon, as it happens, qualifies quite well.

And the exclusive feeling I mentioned is the one that occurs near borders. It’s amazing. You might have a visa for a given country, your passport in check, your papers all clean and tidy. Yet you’ll still feel like you’re smuggling cocaine. It's a thrill. You’re waiting in line and of all the dodgy-looking people, deep inside you feel like the only fraud. If you take a step back, obviously you’re fine and well. Border control wot say a single word. But the mounting noise of your mind simulating a run or a sprint towards some safe haven, away from your trackers, cannot be stopped. The weight of the controller’s stare is such that you feel your soul being scanned. It’s as if every single questionable document you’ve slipped in your paper applications is now displayed on his monitor. Lord.

You get a question or two. You answer with a relative confidence. But you’re overanalysing to such an extent that you’re already handing yourself in when all the police woman’s inquiring about is the purpose of your trip. Lord.

The second you cross that control, you feel you've out-canned the entire world. The system. You found to weak link. You've out-smarted them all. And it probably stems from that rejection from a country is the ultimate fear. It means your projects are sinking, your life on hold and all because ... you were born in the wrong part of the world. Put aside the feeling of unfairness. It’s rather the fact you adapt, familiarise and eventually adopt that feeling and status. One that entails a different form of identity. A different species. The one that breaks through and slips on.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.11.10.png


The Great Gatsby and Stefan Zweig's professor from "the confusion of feelings” have something in common. They both held inside an ever-growing emotion and let it burst one day. There’s greatness to this Atlasssian task. You’re carrying the weight of world in silence. For both however, the stand had to lead to a step. These two Atlas were not going to stand eternally. Professor X made his move and so did the Great Gatsby. And what’s similar in their respective steps is that they’re inherently strange. Be it X who kisses his apprentice or GG who declares his love, as mundane as these initiatives would’ve been in any other situation, the strangeness is infatuated by the very secrecy that surrounded them a moment ago. The falling veil falls so suddenly, the evaporating mystery reverse-sublimates (goes from solid to gas) so rapidly that both events feel like aberrations of reality. The murky, sticky strangeness comes out of its chrysalid like an alien butterfly.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.10.57.png

What's life like for a hype man ? That’s the guy you hear making noises on stage next to the main rapper. That is the eternal side kick. Obviously there’s a kind of recognition in that you’re assisting a great artist. But you’re not making art. You’re merely decorating it. And I wonder. What grows in the heart of the hype man. What is it he feels when he gets off the stage. What butterfly is itching to escape ? Every shout, every scream, every time he echoes the main rapper's lyrics, where's his soul ? Where's his mind ? What are his eyes looking at ? Is he staring at the stares that are following the eyes of the main man ? What's life like for a hype man ?

Invisible Civilisation - Chapter 1


Just jumped in the train. Just walked in the park. Just entered the room. Here he is. As if he’s been waiting. You’ve never met before. You’ve never seen him. You’ve never talked and you most probably have no friends or acquaintances in common. But he’s been waiting. Here. For you. The second you board the train, his eye lands on yours. Bullseye. He was aiming at your fovea, your iris. And here you are. Both. Looking into each others’ eyes for no reason and with no goal. Thoughts race through your head : Gay, weirdo, artist, old friend, idiot, provocateur, bully … But none. None nails it as he is nailing your eye. You won’t take your eye off. You know it. You can play this game until the last stop. And slowly. Slowly, it daunts on you. That you’re not playing. We’re not playing. We’ve just met. I wasn’t looking for your eye and this is not a challenge or a daring tour de force. Nobody’s winning here. And slowly you’re getting it : I Enjoy your eyes and your look. I like this moment. How we’re creating it, together, here. As if we were the only two humans who could make it possible. The awkwardness fading away. And a smile in its place. Until one of our stops. Though none of us stops. Until the meeting ends. Until we meet our ends. Brother. Highbury and Islington.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 10.48.54.png


In one of the most disappointing movies of the year 2013, Sean Penn aims his camera at a Snow Leopard. This 2 minute scene could’ve saved the movie had it not been for the lousiness of the other 90 minutes. The Snow Leopard is one of the toughest creatures to take a picture of and Sean has been waiting for weeks. He calls it the ghost cat. Now, finally, it’s here. In his lens. Still though, he doesn’t shoot it. He stops, looks, lets his companion watch then lets it slip away. "Beautiful things don't ask for attention”. The Snow Leopard leaves the scenery. Like she just did.

There’s something in this walk of yours that’s reminiscent of ghost cats. It’s the way you put a foot in front of the other. Not to walk but to mark the moment. To draw a stand. It’s a pose. Certainly. Only it’s not one you do. This isn’t an effort you exert. This Is your foot. This stand is as much a part of you as your hand or your hair are. This un-complication of your being leaves me staring at the invisible trail you leave. As if beauty had the features of a breath : Seemingly easy. Doesn’t everyone breathe ? Yet breathing reveals its beauty only to the ones who bothered mastering it. Such was your stand today. Made historic to the quiet photographer probably because you’ve come to master it but even more so because of the way you let it slip away. Between the feet of reality. As if it was another lost kid no one needs to pay attention to.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 10.47.27.png

"Beautiful things don't ask for attention”. The Snow Leopard never asked to be filmed. And it never will. It exists in its outrageous beauty whether eyes are looking or not. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" is actually a philosophical thought experiment questioning observation and the knowledge of reality. Is the Leopard still beautiful once eclipsed by these rocks, does the tree make a sound in the depth of the jungle, are you still a standing goddess if I miss your sight for the sake of my book ? There’s this resilience to the beauty of existence that just tells me I’d never be so silly.


“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road. These are the ones you cross laughing out loud in transports. These are the rare cats of the city. These are the Youtube stars, the crazy ones, the mad ones, the impossibles, the freaks.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 10.47.36.png

Really crazy people don't try to be crazy. David Foekinos wrote about swedish Markus in “La Délicatesse” saying “he wanted to do something mad, which was proof to the fact that he wasn’t”. For the mad ones are just what they are : Mad. This is not a show. This is not a performance. This is reality. It is as much a trait of their being as the curls in their hair or the brown of their eyes.

And you can spot them from afar. They are glitches in reality and just as Neo spots a déjà-vu when the agents get closer to the Nebuchadnezzar clique, you can sense shit’s down and happening when they’re near. It’s a specific feeling. A bright thread in the fabric of reality. If you put your ear against the wall of the universe. There and then, you can hear a distorsion. The freaks are here. The freaks are here. The freaks are here. And though it's fear you think you sense. Don't get mixed up. This heart is yours to steer. And the beats of scare are the same as excitement. Giddy up. Giddy up. The freaks are here. The freaks are here.