Tod Wodicka


Tod Wodicka (1976) werd geboren in Glens Falls, New York, en woont nu in Berlijn. Zijn debuutroman All Shall Be Well ; And All Shall Be Well ; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well verscheen in het Nederlands als Alles komt goed en alles komt goed en alle dingen komen(2007). Wodicka speelde als writer in residence van Het beschrijf ook een rol in het Kunstenfestivaldesarts 2008. Hij schreef een feuilleton dat zich in en rond zijn residentieplek afspeelde en in drie filmpjes werd vertoond. Daarnaast werkte hij aan een nieuwe roman met als werktitel The Household Spirit.



The Brussels Letters Transcript

Good-evening, people of Brussels. My name is Tod Wodicka and I'll be your big-screen, Orwellian ‘Big Brother' tonight.

I'm reporting now live from Villa Hellebosch, in Vollezele, Flanders, on the linguistic border of Belgium. And if it seems like there's maybe a little too much sunlight here, well, that's one of the more positive features of Flanders: the farmers here, I'm told, call it the ‘Flemish Midnight Sun'.

‘OBEY' written on wall behind me.

So. Who am I and why should you obey me? I'm a Berlin-based American writer currently working on my second novel here at the Writer's Residency organized by Het beschrijf. It's my first time in Belgium and a great honor to be here. When the Kunstenfestivaldesarts asked me to do three Late Night With Tod Wodicka webcam reports from Flanders, I thought, ‘Sure, great,' then I thought, ‘Um, what the hell am I going to talk about?'

The writer's life, when working on a book, is a wildly internal one, a hall of mirrors, and doesn't make for particularly riveting reporting. I made a sandwich earlier. I drank some tea. I put milk in the tea - the milk had gone bad and so I had to dump the entire cup of tea out and make another one. I stared out the window. I stared out another window. While on a walk in the countryside I found some cows, some farmers with extraordinarily expensive cars, many trees with and without birds, lots of purple flowers, a headless rabbit (which was dead), some horses, something that looked like horse but might have been a pony or donkey or some kind of new Flemish species of animal ... and more trees. There are fields covered in cow shit and I'm beginning to enjoy the smell. It's sweet and sometimes reminds me of buttered pop-corn. I've been drinking a fantastic amount of beer. Meanwhile, in my head, I'm trying to write a novel and suffering the birth pangs of creating this new world from scratch. And I've never been happier.

So, obviously, not the most interesting stuff to report. Until yesterday.

While on my walk down the field from the Villa Hellebosch to the local pub I came upon a skinny, rather lost looking man wheeling a giant suitcase. From half a kilometer away he begin waving to me, flagging me down as if drowning in the idyllic rural scene that surrounded him. He was about 65 years-old, I guessed, with either a head of very curly white hair or a very odd fur hat. Perhaps he was Russian. My first thought was that he was being attacked by bees, possibly Killer Bees, and I considered turning the other way and going home. I don't like bees and there's really nothing I could have done if he was being attacked by them. But, curiosity getting the better of me, I approached. There was something too casual about his clothing, and he had that sad, shop-window mannequin look of someone who is no longer permitted to dress himself. He wore a very yellow sweater and what appeared to be very comfortable trousers. He looked as domesticated as a small, toy poodle. Here was a ‘pet husband' and I couldn't help think that maybe he was trying to escape, that he'd been dressed by his wife for the last time, god-damnit, and so he tossed some clothes into a suitcase and was now, after maybe 40 years of excruciating marriage, running away to some fantastical country where husbands are still permitted to dress themselves.

I was wrong.

‘Je cherche la Grande Place' he said in a language that might have been French.

I recognized ‘The Grande Place', of course. Maybe you have heard of it. It is in the city Brussels, your city, some thirty kilometers away. A long walk even if you're not over sixty and carrying a large, wheeled suitcase. Now, it might not surprise you that I don't speak Dutch or French or Russian or Scottish or anything but my own special brand of American English. I am, however, quite good at smiling, so I proceeded to do that. I smiled and I nodded and I made a gesture with my hands to indicate that I couldn't possibly be of any help to the poor escapee. This kind of thing normally works. But he tried again.

‘j'ai très faim,' he said.

‘Ah-ha,' I said, nodding my head with emotional gravity, hoping I could pass him and be on my way. I could see my destination, the pub in the distance. And I began to feel like Odysseus trying to get back home. Well, if Odysseus was an alcoholic.

‘Croissant?' he said.

Now, ‘Croissant'. This word I knew. I showed him my empty pockets and made a sad face - I didn't have any croissants for him. Maybe, I thought, in Flanders everyone carries with them Croissants to give to confused, wandering old men. Maybe it was tradition. ‘I'm sorry,' I said, in English. ‘No croissants!'

‘You speak English?' He said it loud and slowly, as if speaking to a small, deaf child.

‘I only speak English,' I replied.

The man grabbed my hand and started shaking it.

‘Are you American?'

‘Sort of,' I said, ‘I'm kind of a non-practicing American.' I've been living in Europe for about ten years now. This was my usual reply.

‘A non-what?' he said, and looked at me strangely. ‘What, like a Canadian?'

And so standing out there in the Flemish field he told me his story. His name was Sandy Harmon, and Sandy Harmon was lost. He'd arrived in Brussels late last night, from somewhere in upstate New York, I don't remember where, and he had taken a hilariously expensive taxi to his hotel here in Vollezele. He'd come to Brussels to see his granddaughter, Joan, who surprisingly enough has something to do with this festival. Maybe you're in the audience tonight, Joan. If so, your grandfather is lost. Anyway, it was a surprise visit. He'd found a cheap hotel here online with the help of another of his grandchildren, the seven year old, Arnold (I was shown a picture of Arnold), and fully believed that he was indeed in Brussels right now.

He said, ‘This is like Central Park or something, right?'

I thought he was joking at first, and went along with it. I said, ‘Yeah, Brussels has the biggest park in the world directly in the center of the city. It almost looks like the countryside, right?'

He didn't laugh. He said, ‘It's like Disney World. The detail. Amazing. They really put a lot of detail into this park, the Belgians.'

We both looked at the cows, the fields, the lovely old farm houses. It dawned on me that the man really wasn't joking. He, or his seven year old grandson, Arnold, had made the hotel reservation here thinking that because it was only 30 km from the center of Brussels, it must still be in Brussels. Now, I'm not necessarily a cruel man, but I couldn't help what I said next:

‘Yes,' I said. ‘Belgian ingenuity. Those cows - those cows are actually robots.'

Sandy Harmon looked over at them. He nodded. ‘Huh,' he said. ‘I thought so. That's what I was thinking. You can tell because they don't seem to move around too much. Not like real cows.'

‘Uh, right,' I said, feeling very ashamed of myself.

Sandy Harmon said, ‘Is there a subway nearby?'

Trying to be helpful now, I said, ‘Look, I think you'll have to take a taxi. You should go back to your hotel and have them call one for you. They don't speak English there? Maybe you should talk to someone there.'

Sandy Harmon whispered now, ‘I don't know what they speak. I spent two weeks learning some French but, boy, they don't seem to understand a single word of it. I asked for breakfast but they gave me lunch - some bread and meat and cheese. I don't know. Maybe they speak a special kind of French. Sounds almost like German.'

It was his first time in Europe - but, he said, he'd been to Mexico once and got real sick drinking the water. He asked me if you could drink the water in Europe. ‘In Mexico,' he said, ‘you're only allowed to drink Pepsi.'

I said, ‘Well, it's better to drink the beer here. You never know with European water.'

Sandy Harmon looked sadly at the robot cows.

I asked him, finally, ‘Well, uh, what's in the suitcase?'

He brightened up a little. He said, ‘Gifts for my granddaughter! Haven't seen her in a couple years and so I brought her some Christmas presents and birthday presents and some other little things. You know. Warm clothes and some American peanut butter.'

At that we parted ways, though I told him that I could be found at the local pub most evenings if he needed anything. He said he looked forward to seeing me again. But before leaving he gave me these two postcards and asked me if I wouldn't mind mailing them for him. He had no idea how the Belgian postal system operated. Did it use stamps? Was everything internet electronic?

And I will send them, I promise, but I don't think Sandy will mind if I share them with you first:


‘Dear Becky,

Becky I think is his wife.

I'm in the Brussels airport and it's very late. It's a very nice airport. The airplane trip was nice. I just bought some of these famous Belgium waffles from a vending machine. They were cold and wrapped in plastic and didn't come with butter or syrup or strawberries. Perhaps that's the way they like them here.




Dear Arnold,

Now here's something I thought you'd like! In Europe, they've got these statues that pee into fountains, though I haven't found one yet. Don't show you're mother. She'll kill me!


Grampa Sandy'

And here, at the bottom of the postcard, he quickly wrote a final message to his grandson before handing it to me:


More from the Flanders next Saturday. Thanks and goodnight.



Good-evening, people of Brussels. My name is Tod Wodicka and I'm reporting now live - totally 100% live - from the lovely Villa Hellebosch, in Vollezele, Flanders, on the linguistic border of Belgium.

I'm a Berlin-based American writer. And I'm currently pretending to work on my second novel here at the Writer's Residency organized by a wonderful organization which I'm not even going to try and pronounce...

(Hold up sign that says, ‘THANK YOU, HET BESCHRIJF!')

Last week I spoke a little about what a writer's life is like in the Flemish countryside. To briefly recap: I drink a lot of tea, I look out the window a lot, I go for walks, I hit my head against the wall once and a while - that wall there - hoping to knock some good ideas out, and ... sometimes I actually write.

I also take daily trips to the local pub. It was on one of those pub runs last week that I ran into Sandy Harmon. Sandy Harmon is an American, I'm guessing in his mid-60s, and he'd come to Europe for the very first time to visit his granddaughter who is involved with this festival. It's a surprise visit. The biggest surprise being that his hotel was not actually in Brussels. In fact, when I met him, he was wandering around the Flemish countryside, totally lost, looking for a subway station. Like many of us, he has no idea where he actually is.

So - a few days ago as I sat enjoying another beer at the pub. I was pretending to take notes for my new novel but really I was trying to figure out just how many dogs were in this pub, what kind of dogs they were, if they were dogs, and who they belonged to. Now, these were very, very small dogs, like hallucinations or some genetic experiment gone wrong - one of them, I thought, might have been a cat. They were constantly moving, skipping, and jumping on each other, so it would be hard for me to count them, to take a proper census, even if I hadn't been drinking so much beer. At one point I counted six - but then, looking again, there seemed to be four, and then, a few minutes later: there were five. Then three. It was disturbing, to say the least. Anyway, into this metaphysical pet-store walked Sandy Harmon. A few days in Europe had changed him. His very yellow shirt was untucked and filthy and his shoes would have been untied, I imagine, if he had been wearing shoes. He was barefoot. He hadn't shaved and seemed to be in a hurry.

He also seemed to be very afraid of the animals. He whispered to himself, ‘Are these dogs?' and then, as they surrounded his bare feet and began yapping and pulling at his trousers he said, quite firmly, ‘No, no, no, no, these aren't dogs.'

I wondered what he thought they were. I waved to him.

He called out, ‘Hey, Tod, it's me, Sandy Harmon! I'm so happy I found you! I've gotta run, I'm late, but I was wondering if you could maybe mail these for me - ?'

Not taking a step further into the pub, he placed an envelope - this - on the nearest table.

I told him it wouldn't be a problem, I asked him to come in and have a beer with me, I asked him if he was OK and what had happened to his shoes.

He looked down at his feet. I did too. Sandy's toes were stumpy; and they looked like they had once been much, much longer. They were old looking, unloved - like tiny chunks of food that had gone off. I felt very bad for his toes.

‘Your shoes, Sandy?' I asked again.

‘I need to get new ones,' he only said, and, like that, disappeared back out into the Flemish afternoon.

Sandy's letter reads:

Dear Becky,

Becky is his wife, I'm guessing.

How are you? I'm very good. Right now it is very, very late and I can't sleep because of jetlag and I'm watching a European TV show that contains very strong Adult Content. I don't know what they're saying but they keep taking their clothes off, especially the women, so it's probably a romantic film of some sort. Maybe they can't decide what they want to wear. They're very stylish, these Europeans, and didn't John and Paula say that the Europeans are always taking off their clothes whenever they get a chance? I think it must be true. They probably can't help it. I will change the channel soon, so don't worry. I'm curious to see how this movie ends. It's good to learn more about strange cultures. Brussels is a very nice place but not what I expected at all. For one thing, they don't speak French, so the guidebooks must have made a mistake. Did we get the right guidebook? Maybe it was an old one. Maybe after the war they had to stop speaking French, I don't know. The language everyone speaks here sounds like a weird kind of German. It sounds a little like coughing. Anyway, this part of Brussels is very pretty and not

Here he underlined NOT three times

like any city I've ever been to in the US. It's almost like I'm in the countryside. But I've been told it's like a really, really big Central Park. It's very well maintained and very pretty but a little confusing if you don't speak Weird German and I think they might have gone a little too far with it - this park is so big that I can't see any of the Brussels buildings, or any subways or any of the famous historical things we looked at in the guidebook. I'm sure the Grand Place must be nearby, but where?

I arrived late at night from the airport and it took the taxi about forty minutes to find the small hotel I'm staying at. The taxi driver was a very well dressed black man from someplace in Africa called Ghent - he spoke some English and we talked about the African country of Ghent a little bit. I asked him if he'd ever seen a lion and he laughed but didn't say yes or no. When I asked him again he said that he didn't come from a zoo and seemed to get a little angry with me when all I was trying to do was make nice conversation and learn something about the African country of Ghent ... so after that I refused to answer his questions about the Grand Canyon and if I knew Kevin Costner and I also refused to tip him. If you can't ask an African taxi driver about lions what on earth can you ask him about?

The hotel is pretty nice but not really a hotel like we have in America. There are only a few rooms, most of the things are made of wood and the roof is made of straw, there's no big HOTEL sign, it looks like something from that stupid movie Arnold is always watching, the one with the Hobbits. Again, this part of Brussels is much like Disney World or that Wild West Theme Park we used to take the kids to. Except here people pretend to be farmers who speak Weird German. There are no other guests. So it seems like I'm staying in a farm house with a farm family but really they're just actors, probably employed by the Brussels Park Commission or something. For example, I went down for breakfast this morning and sat with them all around a small wooden table. They pretended to be unhappy about this and tried to get me to leave and spoke to me in Weird German and finally asked me to take off my shoes. It must be breakfast tradition. Maybe you can only put your shoes on after you've had a healthy breakfast. So I took off my shoes but they still pretended to seem unhappy that I was sitting at the breakfast table with them so I smiled and clapped my hands and said they were doing a very good job pretending to be an unhappy peasant family. They were very realistic. Eventually they gave me some bread and cheese but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat the bread and cheese or pretend to eat the bread and cheese and wait for a proper breakfast of Belgian waffles or pancakes. Eventually they all left the table and after a half hour or so I did too. Next time maybe I shouldn't have little Arnold make the hotel reservation over the computer - you really don't know what you're going to get with that electronic mail stuff. I still don't know where they put my shoes, for example. I'm sure it's all in good fun but what in hell am I supposed to do without shoes, Becky?

It's the morning now and I'm sitting in bed. Good morning, Becky! It's a very nice day, I think. Today I'm going to try and find the main part of Brussels again. I've tried for three days now but I always walk in the wrong direction.

The other day I did meet another American! His name was Tod and he said he was some kind of writer. I think he was lost too. He's obviously from the city because he told me, in all seriousness, that some of the animals around here are actually robots. Well, what was I supposed to say to that! I didn't want to offend him or make him angry - he looked as if he'd been drinking, to be honest, or maybe doing some other kind of hallucinogenic drug like crack or whatever the writers do in the big cities - so I went along with his weird ideas and tried to politely be on my way. He looked very unwell, to be honest. However, he did promise to help me mail you these postcards and letters, so he's probably not all bad. He also warned me about drinking the European water, which is good advice. Remember what happened in Mexico - I didn't get off the toilet for three days! Ouch! Tod said to drink beer or Pepsi, so that's what I'm doing - only I can't find Pepsi anywhere so I'm only drinking beer. But not too much, Becky, don't you worry! I'm drinking just enough so I don't dehydrate.

Finally, you're probably wondering about Joan. Well, I'm getting to that. The thing to do is find a taxi to take me to the normal part of Brussels, where they speak French and have subways. Maybe I'll ask the pretend peasant family to call me a taxi. I'll draw a picture of a taxi and a picture of a phone and I'll show it to them and say PLEASE I WANT A TAXI. That should work. Once there I'll call Joan and surprise her. I'll also have to buy new shoes.

I miss you a lot, honey, and I can't wait to see you again. I hope your hip is OK. I hope you remembered to feed Mr. Mongles. As promised, I've enclosed in this envelope three special things for your collection:

1. A small European rock
2. A European leaf


3. An all American kiss which I blew into the envelope and sealed up and I hope finds you well, my darling.

Your loving husband,


Good-evening, people of Brussels. My name is Tod Wodicka and I'm reporting now live - totally 100% live - from the lovely Villa Hellebosch, in Vollezele, Flanders, on the linguistic border of Belgium.

I'm a Berlin-based American writer. And, thanks to something I can't pronounce -


I'm here in Flanders working on my second novel. This is my third and final live webcast.


Dear Becky,

This has been a very few weeks - so much to tell you! I tried calling you from Brussels but couldn't figure out how to use the public phone. It kept beeping and yelling at me in French. Maybe it was broken. Maybe they were telling me to go and buy a cell phone, as everyone here seems to have one. I'll try another phone soon but, to tell you the truth, I'm a little frightened of these European phones. They don't seem to like me very much.

Anyway, where to start? For one, I finally found the city of Brussels and with it our gorgeous granddaughter! It turns out that that American writer I met, Tod Wodicka, must have a more severe drug problem than I thought: he's either very stupid or he lied to me, because my hotel is not, I repeat not, in giant park in Brussels at all but in the real countryside of Flanders! They're not speaking Weird German here but something called Flemish, which, I guess, is more like a Weird Dutch. I feel pretty embarrassed, to tell you the truth.

But let me start at the beginning. So I was finally able to get a taxi to Brussels. This taxi driver spoke a little English and told me all about the differences between Flanders and Brussels. He said that I was a very funny man. He kept laughing and saying, ‘No subway in Flanders! American thinks there is subway in Flanders! Ha Ha Ha!' and then he called one of his friends on the phone and said the same thing and laughed some more. I'm happy I could bring such joy into his life. He was even kind enough to drop me off at a shoe store where I could buy some new European shoes and socks. He said it was illegal for Americans in Europe to walk around without shoes and I told him that that was a good, hygienic law. I told him that the people at the hotel probably stole my shoes, and that made him laugh even more. He said the Flemish are always stealing shoes. I asked if this was because they wore wooden shoes, like the Dutch apparently do. He laughed even more and said, yes, of course, wooden shoes are uncomfortable so they often try and steal plastic American shoes.

Brussels is a very interesting city! I took many photographs and I'll show you these when I return. I've enclosed a postcard of a strange Belgian space station that didn't work so they left it on the ground; it is the most interesting thing in a city full of interesting things.

(Show postcard of the Atom of Iron.)

More importantly, I found Joan! She is very well, and these last few years in Europe have seen her blossom her into a very beautiful young lady, just like her grandmother! You'd be so pleased. Seriously, Becky, she is almost the very picture of you when we met and fell in love all those years ago - it brought a tear to my eye to see it. I feel at once very old and very young. I really miss you, my darling.

Joan is not actually performing in the big arts festival; though let's keep that between the two of us. She started crying when I told her I'd come all this way to see her dance. She's very ashamed of herself for lying to us, but she said she just wanted us to be proud of her. She's still trying to become a world famous dancer, she said, but all she's doing at the festival is serving drinks at the festival bar. I told her I'd be proud no matter what and that I'd happily have flown a few hundred miles for her to serve me drinks. Nothing could make me happier.

The other night Joan got me tickets to the festival's opening night. She was serving drinks at the bar, so couldn't attend the musical theater with me. I dressed up in my best suit. Boy, was that ever a mistake! It's the first show I've seen since we took the kids to see PETER PAN on Broadway back in the 70s, so lots has changed in musical theater, that's for damn sure. There were young people with tattoos, dreadlocks; some young women went to the performance wearing almost no clothing at all - just small skirts and bras. I sat next to a young lady who appeared to be wearing her pajamas. I felt very out of place.

The musical show that I saw wasn't really much of a musical. In fact, I have no idea what the hell it was. It was Japanese, I think. Or maybe Chinese. It's hard to tell. I think it was called IT IS WRITTEN THERE. They gave us all a very large book with that printed on the cover. It started with a well-dressed Japanese man speaking for a very long time in Japanese. Or maybe Chinese. On the screen behind him this was translated into Flemish and French, so it was hard for me to understand. I think he might have been some kind of comedian. He seemed to be telling us to open the book to certain pages, but many of these pages had nothing on them. I think maybe my book was misprinted. Later on, three or four Japanese women came out and did strange dances for what seemed like five or six hours. They just wouldn't stop. The Japanese man with the suit would shout out numbers and we in the audience would have to turn to that page and then the women would do a dance about what was on the page. Very odd. There were no songs and no story - the book didn't make much sense, to be honest. For example, we would turn to a page that said SLAPPING THIGHS and the women on stage would slap their thighs. Or we would turn to a page that said BOMBS FROM THE SKY AND KICK AGAIN and one of the women would jump around the stage as if she were a insane person or someone getting blown up by a bomb. Very unpleasant. Later on, the well-dressed Japanese man with the microphone started screaming about his mother very loudly in English for some reason, and then two of the dancers had a very long conversation in Japanese as if they had forgotten that they were supposed to be entertaining us with their dancing. They just wouldn't stop talking. It was certainly something different, I suppose, but remind me never to go see a Japanese or Chinese musical again. Maybe I'm too old for this sort of thing - I like something with nice tunes that you can hum and a good story, you know? If there was any story to this performance it was that I'm a very, very long way from home.

After the show was nice though. I sat at the bar and Joan served me many drinks and, when she had time, she introduced me to some of her very nice European friends. They invited me out to go disco dancing with them later but if dancing is Europe is anything like it seems to be in Japan, I thought it was wiser to say no thank you. It's no fun, I think, to dance as if you are being hit by bombs. Oh, and there was a woman walking around the bar who wore a dress made of paper! I took a picture of her and you can see them when I get home. It was a very nice paper dress but I wonder how she washes it, or if she only gets to wear it once. European fashion, I guess. I wonder if it's like the wooden shoes that the Dutch and maybe the Flemish wear. How strange this country is!

OK, I'll be coming home soon. Just one more week! Maybe you'll see me before you this letter arrives. If not, know that I miss you very much and I look forward to coming home. I will bring a lot of chocolate, don't worry. Joan sends all her love and she hopes you hip is healing. She says she might come visit us this summer, wouldn't that be wonderful?


And here's one more letter, this was dropped off at the pub a few days after the last one. It's another one addressed to his wife, Becky.

(I open the letter - it's not to Becky.)

Dear American Writer Tod Wodicka,

That's right, this letter's for you, you drug-addict, chubby, criminal bastard. Excuse the language, but how long did you think you could get away with opening my mail in public? How dare you. I trusted you. How long did you plan on making a fool of me? You must be stupider than you look, that's what I think. The other night my granddaughter called me crying from the festival and said there was some fat fool on TV reading my private letters as if they were some kind of joke! Does it make you feel good to laugh at me, smart guy? I know for a fact that you changed a lot of my letters too, you tried to make me sound stupid, and all for what? Anyway, I did a little internet search and I know all about you and I know where you live and I know everything. I've enclosed a piece of European glass in this envelope. Please feel free to use it to open your wrists or, if that doesn't work, trying swallowing it down with some beer. I'll be seeing you soon, Tod Wodicka not-so-famous American Writer, and I'll be bringing some of my daughter's friends, too. We'll all have a nice little chat. Enjoy the rest of your stay in Belgium, asshole.

Sandy Harmon



Nederlandse vertaling opgenomen in Aankomen in Brussel. Schrijvers op bezoek, cahier van Het beschrijf verkrijgbaar in de boekhandel.

Villa Hellebosch
14.04.08 > 2.06.08
Passa Porta
1.02.11 > 28.02.11

Bookmark and Share Terug