My name is Gabriël Depauw. I was born in 1960. Since 1990 I work as a freelance writer, editor and translator. This site combines my three passions: language, nature and photography.
Who am I?

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You'd better ask someone else. I haven't got a clue. I guess, I could go out and look for myself. That's all the fashion. But what if I find I can't stand myself? To be honest, I'd rather stay in the dark. I really don't feel the need to know myself. So to hell with Socrates.


Accomplished facts

I was born and raised in Beernem, a Belgian village between Ghent and Bruges in the province of West Flanders. I struggle my way through the last year of primary school and the first four years of secondary school at Saint Leo College in Bruges. After that, I go to the Royal Athenaeum, a state school, and in 1979 I go to study the history of philosophy at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). Four years later, I graduate. Now what? Nothing. I read, write and live on the dole. I am a parasite. I consider taking a doctoral degree, but drop that plan after a three-month assignment at the university. I'm not cut out for an academic career. Too much talk, too little action.


My friend, study and roommate Arnout Hostens buys a house in Schaarbeek (Brussels). We share it until 1989.
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Then I move in with my partner of seven years, Marleen, in Ghent. I do the housekeeping and take care of the kids. Koen and Marijke are 19 and 16. Six years later, on 15 September 1995, they witness our marriage.
Meanwhile, Arnout has obtained a PhD on a thesis about Nietzsche. In 1998 he publishes Friedrich Nietzsche – kind van zijn tijd, a book that really nails some long-overlooked facts about 'the philosopher with the hammer'. By then, Marleen and I already live in Geraardsbergen.

Friday 13 March 1998. That night, for the first time in my life, I go to bed with a grandmother. It takes some
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getting used to, but I can only recommend it. Of course, it's all Marijke's fault. I can't explain it, but from the very start Stijn and I get along like a house on fire. I don't even mind the brat calling me an old bastard with such evident joy. It is, after all, a pretty accurate description, even though this old bastard can still run and bike a lot faster than that urchin with his Nintendo thumb.

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On 30 December 1999, Stijn gets a baby sister. Today, Naomi is a fine young lady that adores horses, Jelle Cleymans and granddad's mixed salads. She's my princess. I already loathe all the pimply frogs she'll soon be kissing.

For some years now, Arnout and his partner, Siska, run the
Villa Garbald, a Denklabor of the University of Zürich, in Castasegna (Switzerland). Koen is living together with Begga and Marijke has a new friend, Wouter. They all live in Ghent. Dirk, the father of our grandchildren, lives with Greta and her daughter in Zelzate. Stijn and Naomi spend their weekends there. Me? I still live with Marleen at 37 Heuvelstraat in Geraardsbergen. Who could ask for more?

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What do I do?

My standard answer to that standard question is: as little as possible. It's more than just a quip. I'm a freelance writer, editor and translator. I like doing most of my assignments, but I always try to set aside sufficient time for myself. Even so, deadlines sometimes follow each other at breathtaking speed. At other times, however, things are far too quiet. All in all, I make a fairly good living. Good enough to pay the mortgage, insurance and health care premiums, and all other costs. Usually there's even enough money left to lead a decent life. I'm not complaining. At least not all the time.

Institutional communication

Even though I sometimes work for private individuals and companies, my end clients are mainly public authorities, pure and mixed intermunicipals, and other public organizations. When you live in Flanders, chances are you've already read at least one leaflet, newsletter, article or brochure I wrote or revised, more often than not on behalf of an advertising or communications agency. These days, I rarely do translation work from French, English or German to Dutch. Since I'm pretty fluent in the language, however, I like writing in English almost as much as I love writing in Dutch.
Environment, mobility and energy

He taught his people how to recycle. Exaggerated, of course, but then these epitaphs always are. In any case, when glancing through the list of my assignments of the past twenty years, it's immediately clear how much I've written about environmental issues, urban planning, inland navigation, water management, renewable energy, sustainable building and related topics. By now, I think I can call myself an expert.

References

All things considered, this site is a reference too. Still, there's a world of difference between writing your own stuff and writing for a client. What matters is the client's message and the way he or she wants to communicate it. Of course, I don't write no matter what for no matter whom. The two PDF files should give you a good idea of my professional activities, know-how and experience.
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I like my job. But make no mistake: If by some miracle I were to become filthy rich – one of these days, I really must buy a lottery ticket – I'd stop working. I have better things to do.

Basically, to me working boils down to selling some of the short time allotted me on this globe. The rest of that time, I much rather spend on the people that are dear to me and on reading, learning, gardening, photographing, cooking, tinkering and wrestling with existential questions. Hopeless, I know. Of course it feels good when my work is appreciated. I'm human, after all. Nevertheless, I get a lot more satisfaction out of a good conversation, a lively discussion, the first newt or swallow of the year, a pleasant meal, a beautiful head of organic radicchio from my kitchen garden, an abundant crop of jostaberries or the discovery of a new species of hoverfly on the flowers of the oregano in the herb garden. Yes, people starve. Yes, children die. Yes, deluded puppets blow themselves and (mostly) innocent bystanders up in the name of some fabricated idol. Yes, it's all the fault of the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese, the European Union, the free market, big business, multinationals, deforestation, the media, the Mafia, arms traffic, the pill, Bill Gates, the pope, Muhammad or
the thingy on the whatsit of that thingamajig. It used to make my blood boil, but now it only makes me sad and gloomy. Outrage turned into resignation. I'm not proud of it. But that's the way it is.

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In spite of appearances, I am not a nature or animal lover. Animals fascinate me and I usually feel more at home in a forest than in a city. But a lover? I'm far too level-headed for that.

I'm not the type that hugs trees. When I'm ill, I prefer taking perfectly dosed synthetic medicine to some herbal concoction of doubtful origin. I love eating meat. Preferably from animals I've raised and slaughtered myself, but I'm certainly not averse to a juicy supermarket steak. I don't have any fundamental objections to genetically modified organisms or other products of the food industry, but I prefer our homegrown fresh vegetables and heritage fruits. Unquestionably not always healthier, but they simply taste better. Chances are the eggs of our free-range chickens contain far more dioxins or salmonella than those of battery hens, but they are still perfect for a nice pan of perfectly cooked fried eggs. Of course I don't use chemical pesticides or artificial fertilizers in my garden. There's no need for them, so that would be plain stupid. I compost everything that is compostable and I'm proud to say our garden doesn't produce any waste at all. Quite the reverse: we even recycle some of the organic waste of our neighbours. But I am definitely not a romantic, sentimental environmentalist. My passion for animals has nothing to do with animal love and popular adjectives like 'natural' or 'organic' do not impress me at all. Green isn't better than blue or red. If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I'd vote for transparency.

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Who was I?

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I was born in a prison. Not really, but it sounds rather cool. Today, the former maternity hospital of Beernem is a correctional institute for underage girls. A prison-like reformatory. The fact that it exists at all, should make us think. Surely, we can do better.


1960-1971: The wonder years of a scallywag

I have three elder brothers: Guido, Ivan and Geert. Mother and I save small change for a baby sister. In April 1963 we buy Lutgart. Dad works as an electrician for a local furniture factory. Mum keeps a small electrical shop. She mainly sells plugs, cables, light bulbs, and – honestly, I swear on my life – washing-up liquid and bath foam. Customers bring their empty bottles back to the shop and mom refills them. Waste has yet to be invented. But not for much longer.
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We live at Wingenesteenweg, nearby the bridge over the E40 highway, still called the E5 in those days. On sunny summer days, sometimes there's a traffic jam to the coast. The whole village gathers on the bridge to watch it. A traffic jam is an event. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is a Catholic and goes to church on Sundays. Nobody is unemployed. These are golden times, at least in my memory. Catching cockchafers, building camps, playing cowboys and indians: Life is an endless vacation. At school, I'm by no means the most well-behaved, but certainly the brightest boy in my class. I excel in everything, except for obedience, discipline and neatness. Even then. The woods and fields between the E5 and the railway line Ghent-Bruges are my playground. NO TRESPASSING! MAN TRAPS AND SPRING GUNS! No sign, barbed wire or gamekeeper can stop me. I only come home to eat and sleep. My head full of wild plans. My legs and arms full of scratches. And rarely or never on time.
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Nature fascinates me. Guido has a subscription to Hamster (1961-1976), a bimonthly Magazine for young people about everything living and growing or interesting in nature. I devour every issue. When I grow up, I want to become a biologist or, as I call it then, a 'naturologist'. The great diving beetle, the weasel, the alpine newt, the southern hawker, the slow worm, the red admiral, the jay: I know them all by name. I catch lizards, raise tadpoles, stuff dragonflies and start an egg collection. Times are different. Nest robbing is not yet a crime and bird trapping isn't illegal until 1972. Each winter we catch starlings in the garden. Tasty! Meanwhile, however, ponds become polluted and forests disappear. Age-old watercourses change into rat-infested open sewers. The stench of the canal between Ghent and Bruges is obnoxious. Everywhere you look there's building going on and traffic on Wingenesteenweg is rapidly increasing. The narrow, beech-lined cobbled street becomes a broad, asphalted road with cycle lanes, parking lanes and pavements. My playground is rapidly turning into a gigantic building site. We play hide-and-seek in unfinished housing estates. We build intricate marble circuits on the mountains of river and building sand and load our slingshots with pebbles. Glaziers make a good living.

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My parents never take photos. We don't even own a camera. Hardly anybody does. At a village fun fair, I win a plastic box with a lens, viewfinder and shutter. A toy, but it takes real film. Twelve exposures per roll. My sister is responsible for one of the very few just passable photos ever made with it: Me and my guitar. I have a good ear and a good voice. I prefer folk and chanson to pop music or rock & roll. I know the works of Boudewijn de Groot, Jan De Wilde, Willem Vermandere, Zjef Vanuytsel, Miek & Roel and other Dutch and Flemish singer-songwriters by heart. I'm too young to understand everything they are on about, but I'm impressed by their social and political criticism. There's something in the air. Beernem is not the centre of the world. Parents, teachers and the clergy do not have a monopoly on wisdom. The Times They Are a-Changin. Better times. Liberal times. I feel involved and let my hair grow long. That makes 'the system' shake to its foundations!

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1971-1976: The awkward years of a wise guy

In the broad vicinity of Bruges, priests from Saint Leo College recruit all the brightest boys. Parents are told their kids will do better in college when they attend the final year of elementary school there. That way, they get used to 'big school'. Of course, it's a marketing trick, aimed at customer bonding. My brothers have gone before me and their tall stories make me long for boarding school. It's a disaster. I'm bored to death and miserable from dawn to dusk. At the time of my confirmation, when I am twelve, I earnestly consider suicide. I'm an alley cat under house arrest. Boarding school makes me feel as rotten as the intestines of a pharaoh in their Canopic jars. The only bright spot are my diction, declamation and acting courses at the Public Conservatory. I have talent. Perhaps I should do something with it? My love of science is nipped in the bud by tedious biology, physics and chemistry
teachers. By now, I only read fiction and try my hand at poetry. I revolt and play the classroom clown. In my fourth year, things go from bad to worse. Gerard Soete, one of my foreign language teachers, is an ex-colonialist with far-right sympathies. The former Chief of Police of Katanga soon inspires me with an almost physical aversion. I don't trust him. Years later he claims that he and his brother dug up the corpses of Patrice Lumumba, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, chopped them up and dissolved them in sulphuric acid. Two gold plated incisors he extracted from Lumumba's jawbone are all that's left of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. He eventually casts them into the North Sea. A cock-and-bull story? Probably, but my intuition hasn't failed me. The man's a skunk of the most obnoxious kind. I challenge him. I question him. I do everything in my power to make his blood boil. When he loses self-control, he shows his true nature. "I'll wring your neck, Depauw!" The conflict escalates and I am expelled. My college days are over. Hurrah!


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1976 to present: The years of discretion

From September 1976 to June 1979, I commute every school day between Beernem and Bruges, where I now study Modern Languages at the Royal Athenaeum. I lie low and try to stay out of trouble. I look like a hippie, but I'm nothing of the sort. I just hate barbers and shopping for clothes. I still play the guitar and from time to time I perform. I have issues, but stage fright is not one of them. I play my own songs and songs by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Herman Van Veen, a Dutch singer-songwriter. But I have no ambitions to become a performing artist. Most of the time I keep to myself. At home, in my attic room, I brood and chuck out the God of my childhood. One last time, I blow the dust off of my illusions and lock them safely away in the showcase of my lost innocence. I am seventeen. My youth is over. I feel liberated. Almost happy. I move to Brussels to study philosophy. I'm particularly impressed and highly influenced by the lectures and books of professor Leopold Flam. Four years on, however, I've come to the conclusion that twenty-five centuries of philosophy have given us little more than heaps of sometimes tedious and often all but original variations on a handful of themes that are unintelligible anyway. I have nothing to add to it. My 'philosophical head' – a qualification awarded by Flam – is a dinosaur. Up until the end of the 19th century, I could have done something with it. But contemporary philosophy obscures more than it enlightens, a symptom characteristic of a discipline that's outlived itself.
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A Master of Philosophy, I stay on in Brussels. I study the works of Sigmund Freud and those of well and less well-known French Enlightenment philosophers. Freud is fun to read, but his psychoanalysis is coke-induced balderdash. Condorcet, Diderot, Helvétius, La Mettrie, Rousseau, Sade and Voltaire stimulate me to start reading science books again. Step by step, I rediscover my first great love: biology. I read everything I can find by authors such as Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould, Steve Jones, David Quammen, Matt Ridley, Edward O. Wilson and, of course, Charles Darwin. Home at last!

My years in Brussels are also years of friendship and love. I have almost nothing but fond memories of them. But I don't like the city. Too hectic. Too big. Too dirty. In 1989, when I move in with my future wife Marleen in Ghent, I have no regrets about leaving the capital. Marleen is visually impaired, so we buy a tandem. In the weekends and on holidays, we explore the Zwalm region and the Flemish Ardennes. We'd love to live there. We go house hunting, but at the end of 1995 we buy a building plot in Moerbeke, a village that is part of the city of Geraardsbergen. Pierre Hollevoet, our architect from Eeklo, designs our home and Piramide, our contractor from Zingem, sees to it that in June 1997 we can move in. We've not regretted it for a second.

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What do I want?

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I want it all! Too much to ask for? In that case, I'd settle for peace on Earth to all mankind, including and even especially men of bad will. But that probably won't happen either.


How I loved to hear the birds sing

Those were, allegedly, the dying words of Guido Gezelle, a famous Flemish poet. I love to hear the birds sing too, but I won't hear them for much longer. I have otosclerosis. I am growing deaf. Thanks to a stapedectomy, my right ear picks up human voices and low tones reasonably well. But no cheeping or chirping. My left ear still picks up some high-pitched sounds, just enough to make me postpone surgery on that side too. I never listen to music anymore. It all sounds muffled, cacophonic and out of tune. In a corner of my study, my guitar is gathering dust. Imagine the disaster if I'd become a musician, a singer or an actor. Oh well, sometimes all you need is a bit of luck.


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I hope I'm terribly wrong

I am not a worrywart, a defeatist or a doomsayer. But I'm not ingenuous either. In elementary school, I learn there are 3.7 billion people on Earth. Today, Stijn and Naomi learn there are 6.9 billion. By 2050, when they are as old as granddad is today, according to a cautious UN prediction, they'll have to share the planet with almost 9.2 billion people. That's just asking for trouble. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that current conflicts in Central Africa, Afghanistan, the Middle East and other parts of the world are only the prelude to a global, exceptionally savage slaughter. We are apes. Sharing is in our genes, but not with just anyone and only without depriving ourselves. This insight could help us safeguard the planet against humanity and humanity against itself. But we just don't want to know. In spite of all bestialities in the past centuries, we still much rather think of ourselves as semi angels than downright beasts. In the past, this self-delusion's cost us dearly many times. In all likelihood, the worst is yet to come.


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Together with Marleen, I want to grow dreadfully old

In November 2004, my eldest brother, Guido, dies. Cancer of the stomach. He is 51. A few months later, a benign but paralysing and ultimately deadly tumour is successfully removed from the marrow of one of Marleen's cervical vertebra. Food for thought. The future may look bleak, but I still want to experience it. Isn't it terribly sad I'll never know with absolute certainty whether or not global warming is caused by human activities? Do we become extinct or do we manage to leave our cradle and colonize other star systems? Perhaps a giant meteorite will wipe us out in a fraction of a second. I'd love to live a hundred years or more. Two hundred, if at all possible. A thousand would be nice too. But I'll be lucky to reach eighty. Some thirty years to go. Sounds like a lot when you are eighteen. But the older you get, the faster the years fly by. Time doesn't tick. It rattles and whizzes by. It accelerates like a cannon ball dropped from a tower and wipes you off the face of the Earth just like that. I want to spend the time that's left me well and accomplish at least one of my projects: a website about biodiversity in our garden at 37 Heuvelstraat. I have no further ambitions. Growing dreadfully old, together with Marleen, would be wonderful. I guess we really should quit smoking.

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Geraardsbergen, 25 November 2010.
Latest revision: 12 March 2015.