Alberto García del Castillo, the singer Steev Lemercier, Chanel and Dolce have travelled along the Belgian inland canals, like a queer and surrealist version of Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), the book wrote by Jerome K. Jerome. Merman is a nonfiction book about the adventures of this four travel fellows, which explores not only the waterways between Antwerp and Mechelen, but also the different narrative and historical uses of them. The journey is a sort of private performance, as defined by Alberto García del Castillo in the preface, and the book works as a record of this experience. 
The story is accompanied by a series of pictures in which the author, the merman Steev Lemercier, and his animal companions are portrayed by César Segarra during the daily life on the boat. The styling of the photos has been realized in collaboration with Alejandro Gómez Palomo (featured in METAL Nº36), designer and founder of the emerging and exuberant fashion label Palomo Spain, which is on the forefront of the contemporary queer aesthetic. The book, published by Shelter Press, will be launched this next Sunday 14th May at the Etablissement d’en face in Brussels, where Alberto García del Castillo and Steev Lemercier will do a reading and singing performance.
How did you come up with the idea of writing a queer travelogue?
I live in front of the Brussels-Charleroi canal in Brussels, Belgium. On the International Workers’ day in 2015 I was looking through the window and saw leisure yachts and canoes instead of the cargo barges that regularly transit this inland waterway. This canal, and others around are technologies of the industrial revolutions in Western Europe, rooted in colonialism; they are also leisure sceneries since the proliferation of recreational navigation and contemporary gentrification areas.
In September 2015, I met Steev Lemercier, who is a merman and a singer, on a roof terrace in Istanbul, Turkey. He was performing within a series of soirées coinciding with the opening of the Istanbul Biennial but organised by the arts festival Pane Per Poveri. A campy mythological-animal-impersonator like Steev, I thought, could very well give a good shake up to those symbols when navigating on the canals. And I invited him to join me on a boating travel in Belgium: from Antwerp to Leuven, past Brussels, Vilvoorde, Klein Willebroek and Mechelen.
One night in the middle of our tour, before going to sleep in our berths inside the boat, we watched The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: in the movie, three friends, two drag queens and a transgender woman, journey across the Australian Outback from Sydney to Alice Springs. At a certain point in the movie, Bernadette says, “That’s just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.” After that night, we resumed our voyage along the Leuven-Dijle canal.
You travelled with Steev, and with Chanel and Dolce, who are a cat and a dog. Why and how did you put together such travel companions?
Steev has shared his life with Chanel and Dolce for several years and I met them both when I first visited Steev in Berlin, Germany, where he lives. There are cat people and dog people; there are also some cat-dog people; Steev is a cat-dog merman.
Chanel and Dolce are quite fabulous, so it became evident that the best choice was to invite them to travel with us. “Chanel is a Persian cat. She has mostly white fur with some brownish and greyish spots here and there. She flaunts a ‘lion haircut’ with a pompom at the very end of her tail. She very often wears plastic white pearl necklaces. Her face is very flat: her nose ends before her eyeballs. That is why she sometimes struggles to breathe deeply, gets angry and smokes. ‘Fuck the breeders,’ she says, ‘I love my Luckies.’”
And Dolce loves to play actors in movies; like Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Jack Dawson, playing rich in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic.
At the beginning of the book you say that Steev was the first merman you ever met. How did you acknowledge that he was one? Have you met any other merpeople after him?
He presented himself as so.
That was all I needed to know.
Are you a merperson?
You talk about merpeople. What does it mean for you to be a merperson?
I am not a merperson myself, but I have a great admiration for cosplayers, thespians and performers who are dedicated to the practice of mermaiding and mermaning. At a certain moment in the book, a song that is attributed to a fancy duck speaks about this:

“In Florida, merpeople have performed every day since 1947
In the Weeki Wachee Springs underwater theatre
They wear dark raw denim during riots
They dye the water so dark that
The public can’t see a thing
They can’t see merpeople
They can’t see no fucking merpeople
The mercommunity copes no more with
The shitty pay and sleeping in bunk beds
They don’t freelance and want to be paid well. Merpeople shape
The Weeki Wachee river ecosystem
They’ve got
The world by the tail
Merpeople shape
The Weeki Wachee river ecosystem
They’ve got
The world by the tail”
Mermaids have been described sometimes as beautiful and graceful, and other times as horrifying and cruel. How would you describe Steev?
This is what I saw at our first encounter:
“Steev was sitting on a bench in front of me, and the rest of the audience, with a tiny lamp by his side and seagulls spinning around his head. His tail was like that of a fish and it was blue, and his fin was resting on the floor, sometimes rhythmically tapping to the beat of the music. On his head he wore a blue and purple wig topped with a crown of paper flowers and he was also wearing very heavy make-up; but rather than looking neat it made him resemble a singer from a rock band. Steev has a dark beard and a single, elongated eyebrow that crosses the bridge of his nose, which gives him the air of a distinctive character.
His tail started to swing as he sang beautiful songs over a pre-recorded melody that was playing from his laptop. The lyrics narrated stories about sailors, the sea, the waves, a submariner and a lighthouse. Sometimes he was using a vocal reverb pedal, which is a little metallic electric gadget, to modulate his voice. The concert lasted for around half an hour and I stared at Steev at all times. From where I was standing the vista was broad and I could feel the city all around me.”
Reading your book there is a feeling that the story is the result of a combination between fiction and reality, like a modern fairy tale that brings together these two elements. What is real and what is fiction in your Merman?
The story in Merman is nonfiction. We did sojourn at the Royers lock-keeper’s house in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, and we did travel on board Buratinas: a 3.8-metre-long boat that was brought to Brussels in 2010 by three Lithuanian artists and later transformed into an electric solar-powered boat.
Surely not everything that we lived together appears in the book. Instead, the narration juxtaposes the memoirs of Steev as a musician, the lyrics of the songs included in his album Merman Tales, multiple anecdotes of the time we spent together – also with Chanel and Dolce – and certain historical and technical descriptions of the canals and their environment.
As you explain in the book, there is an extensive tradition of travelogue and boating manual writing. What role is your book going to play within this context? 
There is a vast multiplicity of modes of writing geography, history and portrayal. In Merman one could read these verses reflecting on canal and river societies: “Imagine that a group of people, who might have gathered sometime around the 1990s to restore a canal network and turn it into a holiday destination for romantics, got bored and demanded to take care of a national fleet of spaceships / Well, that might have happened and gone unnoticed.”
Or a list of boat names that illustrate canal style: “‘n Joy, Alrimona, Amamos, Anna Adriana, Atlantis, Axel P, Big Boozer, Big Bopper, Bora Bora, Calimero, Carpe Diem, Challenger, Charris, Cristal, David, Dolfijn, Donky, Elissar, Fulmonte, Genepy, Jamy, Karma, Lean, Lorelei, Marc, Margotje, Mistral, Mivena, Nomad II, Panda, Paulien, Pearl, Pepito, Riverdance, Rupelboys, Scorpio, Siesta, Spes, Stelvio, Sunstar, Three Ladies, Tina, Vega IV, Wase Vosje, Wasela, White Crusader and Yajoma.”
Or Steev’s song “The Pearl”: “I woke up today and I recalled / The broken is hard to fix / Not all deep eyes has it’s own dreams / Not all long ways has it’s own shades / Every blue ocean is full of pearls. As for / Every dark sky is full of stars / So, I opened wider my darkening eyes and I looked at the world / Like an open-air oyster where I found my own pearl as a priceless new day.”
And there is one photograph of the iconic Buda vertical-lift bridge over the Brussels-Scheldt maritime canal printed on a double page in the middle of the publication. On the picture, the very centre of the bridge coincides with the spine of the book.
Alejandro Gómez Palomo worked with you for the styling of the pictures. Just like you, he also plays with gender stereotypes. Can you tell us a little bit about this collaboration?
Alejandro joined us in Antwerp and we got some pictures styled by him and shot by César Segarra – James Bush did the make up. The work of Alejandro is highly theatrical and references the traditions of camp and transvestism within a contemporary queer panorama. I believe that exaggeration is a great art: it is whimsical and reveals the paraphernalia of social constructs, such as those of gender.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is an LGBT activist group founded in 1979 in San Francisco, USA, but currently active in many countries: they are female-and-male-to-nun transvestites. One sister and friend of mine in the Couvent du Nord in Lille, France, once told me that “whenever you think that you are too made up, simply add some more make-up.”
I carry her advice in my deepest insides.
You’ll be presenting the book at Etablissement d’en face in Brussels this Sunday. What can the audience expect?
Steev will be singing and I will be reading from the book in the basement of the art center and under intense blue light. During this underwater cabaret we will perform a series of acts: an introduction, a song, a spoken song, then a second song… He will be wearing some plastic shells on his wig and I will change position once and outfit twice.