Have I already told you I’ve got a new friend? We went to the new café in the park yesterday, that concrete circle with windows all around, windows that at that moment were separating us from or opposing us to the subject that we, without any decision or purpose, found ourselves discussing: what we could see through them. When that came to nothing because our words failed to capture what, to both of us, suddenly seemed so very full, we discussed the act of looking itself. It was already the fourth time in two weeks that we had met up. Ok sorry so Julio’s American and he ended up in my city on a romantic off-chance, because he wanted to leave his country, I suspect because of the political situation but I haven’t asked, and also because he loved Flemish painters. When I first met him, he was fumbling about with a map of the city, a target for my helpfulness, form for my desire, anticyclone to my depression – is this melodramatic? He told me why he’d come to Belgium and I found it so touching and an unexpected shiver of openness and disintegration went through me, the sort of pain that tickles more than really hurting. He lived in Massachusetts. At the end of our conversation, I said: my friend Farid left for a year in Brazil last week, just send me a message if you want to go for a walk one day, there’s no need to be shy, and sometimes you just have to invite a stranger into your life, don’t you? Julio’s a big guy, twenty-seven, which makes him ten years younger than me, his father’s Dutch, his mother’s Colombian. But he doesn’t speak any Dutch. He’s gentle, friendly, and awkward when it comes to grand gestures, but he’s very good at drawing. He looks like Pete Sampras, and a bit like Javier Bardem too. His mother’s a flamenco dancer, he told me, and she has a temper, when she was afraid her husband was sick, she said: I should chop off both my hands because I never used them to stop you from smoking. I find it disarming how seriously Julio takes identity, I believe he sees Belgium as a form for his displacement and division, but I haven’t asked him yet what he thinks about that. So you’ve been to Middelheim Park then, I asked him when we were at the café, staring powerless and overwhelmed at autumn colours so fleeting you’d swear you can see them changing. Have you seen Dan Graham’s pavilion? I mean that glass semicircle, Graham’s special glass that’s both transparent and reflective, so you see yourself as if in a curved mirror, within the very spacious, stretched environment you’re walking around in, but also in the world beyond the reflection, along with other people, some of them actually somewhere on the other side of that glass and some of them behind or beside you, distorted. It’s always a pleasure to walk around that work of art, I don’t know why. I mean it’s something I feel rather than know. No I haven’t seen it before, said Julio. Now peering out at bushes through a normal window, we were both visibly disoriented. Neither words, I said, nor images, Julio concurred, can ever match up to the sensation of being touched by the abundance of what you see. Yes so I don’t want to depict things, said Julio, but to translate them into hand movements. We are talking about looking now, I said, we cannot recreate what we see. And yet, without this window, there would be no view like the one we have now. Then a pounding sense of self-awareness suddenly made me vulnerable and light-headed, I seemed to feel very clearly that I was not just occupying this body, that in one single movement a budding friendship like that opens you up and sets limits, that it provides anchor points on a simultaneously unfolding continuum of identities, from handshakes to hugs and sex. You can feel yourself being born. Julio touched my upper arm and said: I like you, Koen. ‘The personality is changed, one might almost say exchanged under the skin for a less idiosyncratic one: instead of I, the first beginning of a We is there, distinctly uncomfortable and a diminution but still irresistible.’ That is what Robert Musil wrote about budding friendship, in a chapter with the title of ‘A Family of Two’ in The Man Without Qualities, which I have in my rucksack, but I didn’t dare take it out then to read aloud. But I want to ask you: do you know what that feels like, when you begin to analyse the structure and the conditions of an intimate conversation too frankly and self-consciously, and you suddenly feel as if you have left your body, as if you are everywhere and nowhere, and that feeling makes you tremble, it’s almost panic but somehow it’s also pleasure. Did you know that Rinus and I, when we used to walk along the street together, as a joke would sometimes let our fingers float and then briefly touch? For just a moment, we were almost a couple walking hand in hand and that was a line and that was how we became the men we were. Do you remember after that wild party when the two of us were blind drunk and slept in the same bed and I climbed on top of you, and you said my name, louder and sharper it penetrated into that other dimension where I seemed to be. ‘Koen!’ you said, ‘Koen! Koen! It’s me!’, and I didn’t stop but replied ‘I know’, apparently that’s what I said, because I didn’t remember, not really, you told me over coffee, and I felt a bit weird. ‘Because it was him, because it was me,’ Montaigne once wrote about his friend. We no longer have that language or those feelings. I’m going to the Netherlands for a week now and I have to return to the States in December, Julio said when he left, something to do with his green card. And although I believe I’m well protected against whatever childishness remains within me, my face inevitably yet unmistakably as pleasure at being touched gave away that I thought this was dreadful, and I was sure I had not become attached but I noticed that my eyes, lips and shoulders, independently of me, were expressing disappointment.