Saturday, January 29, 2011


To Sevgi, Katherina and Ivan...

"If the world was only one country, Istanbul would be its capital"

Cured slabs of fatback or pork belly, that is what we used to eat at the monastery in the beginning of that last winter, not unusually colder but somewhat more transparent, as if made out of glass rather than water and rain. The friar would haunt the markets at the earliest hour after the sunset, hunting for the precious cured skins that used to be wrapped in old paper and hung for a few days at the basement, as a purification ritual of sorts, probably learnt from the Cossacks in the steppes of the Caucasus and brought to the Orient by the Christian travellers that settled there hundreds of years before our own time. Finding the skins at the market was also something for which much precaution was needed because in the Orient, anything can ignite the fire of a war, not only the worship of one God or another but also something simpler like the skin of an animal not thought as pure in the Scripture, in a stall at the market. God, he only watched silently, as the laws of men, argued each other, with a finger up, but also with a sword.

One might think that it would be possible at first sight to find the cured skins of the pig at the large open markets in Mahane Yehuda, in between Jaffa Road - Jerusalem's main road and the favourite scenario of prayers, revolutions and bombings, built in 1861 under the Ottoman Empire and that made it possible for Jerusalem to flourish outside the walls of the Old City, and some neighbourhoods that still exist today, the Russian Compound, Nahalat Shiva, Mahane Yehuda; at the time the traffic consisted originally of mules and camels but the road was eventually improved enough to allow for carriages drawn by horses. The German Templars, who were established there (and founded the German colony, their cemetery, along the Emek Rephaim Road, still stands there) began the first regular carriage service along the new Jaffa Road -, and Agripas Street, that surrounded the Bohemian quarters of Nachlaot and named in honor of Agrippa I, "King of the Jews" - a grandson of Herod the Great and son of Aristobulus IV; Agrippa was depicted by the New Testament as a cruel and heartless king that persecuted the Jerusalem church - "...Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some of the church in order to mistreat them. And he did away with James, the brother of John, with the sword..." (Acts 12:1-2).

Then it seems, that Jerusalem, has always been under the spell of one or another sword. "...Now he was furious with the Tyrians and the Sidonians. And they came to him with one accord; and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country was fed from the king's country. And on an appointed day Herod arrayed himself in royal clothing and sat on the judgment seat; and he delivered a public address to them. And the populace cried out, The voice of a God and not of a man! And instantly an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God; and he was eaten by worms and expired..." (Acts 12:20-23). The Jews however, including the historian Josephus, had thought differently of Agrippa, who governed in Judea to the satisfaction of the Jews and who expressed a zeal for Judaism in private and in public.

The Mishna itself reads, in tractate Sotah 7:8 (the tractate dealing with the laws relating to the woman suspected of adultery) "...What was the procedure in connection with the portion (of the Torah) read by a King? At the conclusion of the first day of the festival of the Tabernacles in the eighth, i.e., the end of the seventh, they erect a wooden dais in the temple court, upon which, he sits; as it is said, at the end of every seven years, in the set time, etc. The synagogue-attendant takes a Torah scroll and hands it to the synagogue-president, and the synagogue-president hands it to the high priest deputy. He hands it to the king. The king stands and receives it, but reads sitting. King Agrippa stood and received it and read standing, for which act the sages praised him. When he reached, thou mayesy not put a foreigner over thee, his eyes ran with tears. They said to him, "Fear nor, Agrippa, thou are our brother!" The king reads from the beginning of Deuteronomy up to the "Shema", the Shema, and it shall come to pass if ye hearken, thou shalt surely tithe, when thou hast made an end of tithing, the portion of the king, and the blessings and curses, until he finishes all the section. The king pronounces the same benedictions as the high priest, except that he substitutes one for the festivals instead of one for the pardon of sin...".

But it was not along the street of righteous King Agrippa where the skins would be found by the friars, and anyway there was no point in looking for anyone there, for it is said that Agrippa was no longer there, it had been said already in the Book of Acts that he had died eaten by worms, what might have been possibly Fournier's gangrene, the same disease that had killed his grandfather Herod the Great. At the market in Mahane Yehuda, the most strict dietary laws as prescribed by the rabbis were kept with zeal, and every day of the week, but particularly on Friday morning, it was possible to see herds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in all possible versions of black and grey shopping for the Holy Sabbath; "challes", the sweet and salty bread in the form of the braids of a maiden, all freshly baked, "beygelach" and "rugelach", simple pastries imported from the bitter cold of Eastern Europe, but magically turned into suculent delicious exotic delicacies from far away lands at the hands of the experienced and volatile-tempered bakers of Jerusalem; trays of chickens properly slaughtered according to the ancient ritual - livers, breasts, legs, wings, everything spotlessly clean from the inside and the outside, ready to jump into the caldron that boils for hours the traditional chicken soup that the Jews are also known for using to cure not only a bad cold but also the after effect of drunkenness after a Tisch - a night in which an Admor, the Rebbe of a Chassidic clan hosts a meal during which the soul is flooded with singing and dancing, sharing some pieces of food, most often potato kugel or simple cakes, while the bottles of vodka and prune liquor pass from hand to hand back and forth in between the ecstasic audience.

The market is also carpeted all along by rows of pickled herring, beets, peas and beans in manifold textures staring into the passers from a glass jar, waiting to be finally raptured by a hand, perhaps parfumed with garlic and thyme, that together with mint and rosemary and hibiscus and basil dance freely atop a shopping basket and gleefully blink an eye to the unknowing tourists and at last long then also the most colourful fruits coming directly from the Galilee and from the small green settlements along the Judean desert and southwards almost peeping into Egypt and Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Mount Sinai desert, whose real name is "The Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai", known for possessing some of the world's oldest painted icons and being in itself perhaps the second oldest working Christian monastery in the world, consecrated as a place of pilgrimage after the remnants of Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian martyr, were purported to have been transported there by the angels and found by the monks. In times of Muhammed, a Fatimid mosque was built inside the monastery walls but was never used because it seems to not have been correctly oriented towards Mecca, which happened at a time during which the monastery was empty after the isolated Christian anchorites of Sinai were murdered in the 7th century although ever since the First Crusade that reached Sinai in 1270, the monastery has been occupied by European Christians and is now under the autonomous control of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.

Our monastery, so small and modest, without any of the grandeur of Catherine of Alexandria, well-sited in a street named after a great modern rabbi, stood not far away from the Street of the Prophets along which one or another Chassidic Tisch might be found in more than one place, every Friday of the year at night, with the only exception of the rare cases in which the Day of the Atonement, the holiest in the Hebrew calendar after the Sabbath, falls on a Friday, the worlds that separated the Franciscan house of St. Simeon and Anna and the Chassidic palaces, loomed larger than twice the distance of the Equator, and I dare call them palaces because I was once invited for lunch of the Sabbath morning to the house of a stranger, in a Chassidic neighbourhood, that seemed not particularly beautiful or pleasing from the outside - it resembled more one of those large apartment blocks in which immigrants are crowded outside European capitals more than the beautiful Mediterranean houses whose balconies are full living rooms protruding with flowers, ashtrays, old chairs and fresh newspapers, but I was instead welcome in the inside by this old Jewish family from Vienna, that had brought along with them, into the scorching sun of the Orient, the dead elegance of the Imperial city, back from the times when the Romans founded the settlement of Vindobona on the banks on the Danube, in the year 15 BC, as a fortified city to guard the empire against the Germanic tribes from the north.

It was really so, that one might have the idea that nothing had changed since then and had been transported to Jerusalem without further ado, the ivory floors that resembled ancient palaces and the artful cornices of plaster that timidly imitated some of the eternity of Doric and Ionian capitals within the houses of the old nobility; then there were the elegant glass lamps hanging down from the imperial ceilings like a shy drizzle of crystal, so that one might have been then at the same time in one of those sumptuous classrooms at the Mozarteum that were at the same time libraries, music halls and galleries, what might have been also said of the old Talmudic academies in Vilnius and Riga, or closer to Vienna even, in Brisk and Slobodka, Novardok and Ponevech, all of which were destroyed in between the wars and some of which later were re-opened in rather shabby buildings in Jerusalem and Bnei Barak, with nothing else but the old spiritual grandeur; once I took a class at Slobodka with an American young "talmid chochom" (student of wisdom, the Hebrew term for a very devoted student of the Law), it was the first time I opened a tractate of Talmud, on a winter night, many summers ago; if I still remember correctly, it was the twenty-something page of tractate Bava Kamma, dealing with damages and torts, it might have been something about a fire extending into the property of a third person or something about a vessel that broke, I can't quite remember exactly.

But anyway, that's how my idea of the palace conjured up, something between the Mozarteum and the yeshiva. There was something about the beautiful spotless red almost turned purple wig of the lady in the house, and about the moustache and fur hat -both of them carefully trimmed, of her son, the young Rabbi, about the portrait frames with the ageing black and white pictures on the sideboard and about the stunning China, adorned with lines of gold, something so perfectly clean and aesthetic that it already borders on melancholy and on the temptation of death. This something, with the smell of a Viennese dialect, all too recognizable not so much from the words as from the gestures of the hand and the shoulder, would infinitely contrast with the words of Torah spoken at the table, with the fresh air of the city, with the immortal breeze, with the kindness of these men. Almost across the street from their oasis of Roman eternity, lied the entrance to the markets inside the Old City, which had survived all of Jerusalem's suicide attempts, either through the Jaffa Gate or Damascus Gate, you would find yourself quickly after the churches, the Stations of the Cross, the German and Austrian hospices and some old Templar pilgrimage guest houses (now used for expensive clerical soirees and for accomodating the emissaries of the Kingdom of God while travelling through the Holy Land), inside the Arab market, where the Muslims and the Christians would amalgamate into one single bundle of stalls, colours and smells; baklavas and frankincense, souvenirs and chickpeas, keffyiehs and groceries imported from the Gulf countries.

But there inside the darkest passages, as if in the lost pieces of a mystery in the scriptures, written in extinct and forgotten languages, the friars could run all their shopping errands unmolested, unlike in Mahane Yehuda or the shops in the Armenian quarter, coming out of the Jewish neighbourhoods where they would be often spat on by the small children of the religious families. In some of these passages, above of which water leaked from the age-old stone concave ceilings, the trays of fish would look up into the whole bodies of calves and pigs hanging from a sharp hook, out of which the skin would be ripped with knives and placed again atop larger trays bedded with thawing ice. The felicitious sale of pork meat would immediately signal the ownership of the meatshop by a Christian or by an infidel Muslim, in an all too impopular business transaction. At least here, the status quo of the theological mischief would be maintained at the expense of threatening eyes and imprecations, rather than having the places burnt down as it had been the cases in many Jewish settlements, like in the mystical town of Safed, where the shop and the house of a Russian woman who had converted to Christianity, had been torched by zealous Chassidim. I heard there were other markets too, in Kurdish and Georgian neighbourhoods, where I had never been and whose language I didn't understand, but I did know full well that the slabs of fatback were to be found at least in those Christian meatshops at the Arab market.

Friar Ivan would bring the slabs to the monastery for preparing large supplies of "Salo", a typical Ukrainian food, that consisted of curing the slabs with salt and aged in a cold place, so that it would last for a year or more, adding thick layers of minced garlic, black pepper and a yellow paprika that in my ignorance, reminded me of an ochre-colored curry imported from Iraq that was often added to the meat slices roasting on the rotisserie, though it was not common, I had tried it before to much distaste at a famous shwarma stand along Jabotinsky Road, when I had lived in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, in a small place called Ramat Gan. As in the traditional way, we used to thin-slice the salo and eat it on rye-bread to accompany small glasses of vodka or sometimes the traditional Ukrainian horilka, a strong liquor made from distelling grain, potatoes and beets; although more often I would prefer the so-called "perzivka", which is nothing but horilka with chilli peppers. When Father Apolinare, the Polish priest and dean of the monastery would be on leave, we would invite in Sergei and Vlado, two friar friends from Russia and Croatia, who lived at the time in another monastery inside the walls of the Old City, where Ivan and me had been some years before. On the rest of the days when some silence and discipline was required in the house, we would go by with a few classes of red wine from Mount Tabor, that was made also by Christian monks and shipped to all the monasteries all over the country for everyday use.

I don't remember exactly how I ended up living in a monastery, being as godless as I had always been, but those days I remember with a certain glee of happiness; rising early in the morning to scrub the floors and tidy the small TV room, enjoying the breakfast prepared sometimes by Rimona, the house keeper, and other times, by ourselves; spending the day in the small library next to the chapel and oftentimes going into the city, hauntings the cafes and the thrills of people, only a few streets away from home. Oftentimes too we would stay for the Holy Mass and would prepare the chapel during the afternoon hours, tidying up everything, bringing each day fresh linen cloth for the altar and preparing everything so that sacraments could be delivered at the hour. For so long, I had been so not in control of my life and depended almost exclusively on the charity of other people, particularly on Christian charity because my soul was already too tired to pray to the Jewish God and I spent most of my hours walking through the Christian churches in the East, trying to find shelter from life in the renunciation of a contemplative stance for which I never had any loyalty whatsoever, being in such constant urgency to become one with the edges of risk. Not for one moment I thought of myself as a Christian, but I did feel constantly that whatever had held any power to subject me to the Law, had lost all its validity in the course of universal history, that there could be no solace, no relief, no atonement.

And I remember the monastery because it was there that I heard about Istanbul for the first time; on a certain afternoon of salo and horilka, I had heard together with Ivan a story told in Italian about a certain Roman lady, who had divorced a man and then fled to Istanbul, having felt at the moment of her arrival that so much had been wasted in her life, so much time, only in order to come at long last to the capital of the world, that has had more names in the past than religions in the present, and once in the city she had been the lover of a famous poet and the muse of many others, then later in life she bought a Hamam, a Turkish bath, and re-did it all by herself opening again to the public at a time when the Hamam was no longer fashionable, becoming an institution in itself with people coming from everywhere just to get a glimpse of Madam Anita, who was as eccentric as she was a mysterious character. After many years of illness, the Hamam closed down when Madam could no longer run the place, even though the stories were still heard from one end to another of the Bosphorous, and when she ultimately died, the Hamam was inherited by her nephew Francesco, a Roman architect trapped in a very simple little life of banality and pleasure.

Francesco then travels for the first time to Istanbul to try and sell the property quickly and return to run his business in Rome but after having experienced for the first time not only the secrets of the Hamam but also the sense of urgency and life that comes to all of those who come to Istanbul for the first time. He decides not to sell the Hamam and to invest in the difficult work of opening the Hamam again, developing a very close friendship with the Turkish family that took care of Madam during the long years of her exile in Istanbul (or it is true that perhaps she had been exiled in Rome and then free in Istanbul...) and a passionate Romance with Mehmet, the young son of the family. In the meanwhile his wife Martha in Rome, is known to have had a long Romantic affair with Paolo, their business associate and flies to Istanbul in order to get divorced from Francesco who is apparently set on his mind to stay behind the Hamam. To Martha's dismay, she encountered a totally different Francesco and realized how she was still in love with him until she discovered one night at the Hamam, the dreamland of love that flourished between Francesco and Mehmet. Eventually at the engagement party of Mehmet's sister, Fusun, she storms up the moment with an open confession of her infidelity and in the end of that tragic night, Francesco signs the papers for the divorce and Martha leaves for a hotel in the city in order to fly back to Rome the next day.

As the next day approaches, both Martha and Francesco are freed from each other and Martha sits on a cafe to read the letters that Madam had written and never sent to her sister, Francesco's mother, then she goes on to visit a friend of Madam Anita trying to find answers for herself in all what has happened, or perhaps not answers, but to enable herself to ask the right questions - An affair with Paolo, leaving Francesco, loving Francesco again, his turbulent love for Mehmet, and while she's visiting this old Italian man who like Anita, had exiled himself forever in the beautiful turned upside down skies of Istanbul, and while there, she learns that Francesco has been murdered by a gunman that the Turkish mafia that had wanted to buy his property had summoned, because they had wanted to turn the whole neighbourhood into a modern commercial complex and the refusal of Francesco to comply with the sales, had put the project to halt. That story I had heard during my last weeks at the monastery, as Ivan and I listened to attentively trying not to miss one single detail, even though we were still occupied with the chores of the house and the tasks given to us by the Kingdom of God on earth, but the story I never forgot.

Later that year when I had abandoned the monastery and also the city of Jerusalem, being too drunk on wine to cry at all, I received a letter from the painter Katherina, a belovedmost friend from another life, in an ancestral city of stone, a person different in every way from Catherina of Alexandria, even though they had both been in Istanbul, which is where Katherina's letter had been sent from. Since at the time I didn't have any stories to tell myself, or at least I thought I didn't - it is impossible not to be disciplined as an storyteller! I remember very well the letter, that also contained some train tickets and a box of Turkish cigarettes that traveled with me all the way to another continent, it was a letter about a journey, in which the painter had met a Turkish writer exiled in Switzerland and writing theatre in the German language; they had spent a beautiful night at a bar, which later I learnt, must be somewhere in the Taksim quarter, around the French street which now for political reasons has been renamed Algeria Street, or so I heard from Faruk, a Kurdish friend who still awaits for me somewhere around there and who has lived for over ten years in Istanbul waiting for a friend to arrive. Katherina had spent a beautiful night of truth and wonder with her Turkish friend, whose name I never learnt, after which they had agreed to meet at the airport before their flights back to Europe but out of some deceitful trick of the times, Katherina had been late and missed the writer for one a few moments, so that she had already crossed the gate that divided the world of those merely waiting from the world of those already departing.

She could only glimpse into her long beautiful hair and the motions of her shoulders, and was left there, in the other side, with this deep sense of abandonment, of having been stolen out of a crucial moment of life, glancing into a friend, into a network of moments of life, now lost forever and only a few meters ahead, yet already infinitely distant. Katherina made pictures of her through the glass but the airport security made her delete all the pictures and so she was left there, with nothing but a moment, a moment lost that could irreparably change the course of the hours and the years. I have felt this so many times, like that day when I was invited by a stranger to a party given in honor of a young writer I had never met, and in whose hands and eyes I encountered a certain fondness that has never abandoned me, whom I had described in my own writing as an "airport love", even though I saw him one next time, sitting in his room and staring into the Andean mountains, having one Last Supper, knowing full well that I should have met this person so many years before in life, and living with the burdensome awareness that it's now lost, for the day after our fateful encounter he was already on a plane that took him to the Siberian esteep, living next to a lake in a beautiful but shabby house, with students from Iran and Uzbekistan, not speaking one word of the language, writing me a poem, sometimes a shot letter that I never responded to, trying to ameliorate my sense of loss.

There was also a young man with a Biblical name, that I met during a journey, and who himself was a wayfarer exiled in a distant foreign land, a young man whose fullness of embodiment on earth I loved since the very first minute I encountered him, and who had told me once, in a letter, some weeks before I met his beautiful countenance, that one day we should meet at the local airport with a bottle of spirits and just sit around somewhere, looking into people, into coming, into going, trying to pierce through the leaks in the possible lost time. However, after one night of despair, when I had no choice but to show him my pain, my colourful and transient sorrow, he shun me off from his sight forever and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't come visit the shore of the palm of his hand ever again, no matter how much I had loved the space in which he existed, the words that he offered me and the fresh water of his fingertips. The day he was supposed to leave, I turned up at the airport with the long-promised bottle of spirits, trying to catch a glimpse of him, a last souvenir, something, anything, an image, a number on a napkin, a smell around the neck, and no matter how many hours, how many hours I wandered about, inspecting each and every face, every and every fingertip, each lover in a lonely table, every word of silent conversation between one traveler and another, I was left without the simplest tangible memory of having ever wrapped my arms around his broad shoulders, it could have been a lie, I could have imagined it all, there's absolutely no way I can prove it. That's why Katherina's letter has stayed fixed in my mind like a cross, even though on the first night of a certain journey, I was assaulted in the street and my handbag was lost with her letter and also with a small drawing of a garden we had both seen, that she had sent me with a friend from Vienna all the way to the fresh breezes of Tel Aviv. My sense of loss is so enormous, that I just can't let go of it.

In a letter I wrote once to Jonathan, the man with the Biblical name, the man that vanished as swiftly as he had become an epiphany before, I explained it to the best of my knowledge, without knowing full well how important that best knowledge would become only shortly thereafter: "It is like the metaphor of loving someone at the airport, through the window panes that separate the different waiting rooms; imagining scenes of suffering from one to the next station of the Cross, out of the simplest glass of whiskey held by the hand, out of the watch missing from the wrist or the ring from the finger, thinking that maybe it was stolen by a lover or asked to be turned in after a sentimental disaster. This is a rather voyeuristic price to pay, that of the artist or the writer, the infinitely aesthetic pleasure of experiencing love and desire from the vantage point of the most absolute and impossible distance, there is no pity and no mercy in this loving contemplationm it is riddled by the most objective form of cruelty. The unwillingness to interfere in the slow lane of biological processes, avoiding the nearness of the lips with the only intention to avoid not a bad aftertaste but with the firm resolution to supress and surpass all guilt. Guilt must be supressed insofar as it is rememeberable."

And so I remembered always this letter from Istanbul, without going into the particular details of architectural importance, because it was to me more of a cycle of legends that had begun with Catherina of Alexandria, passing through the most intangible losses and winding up into the real Katherina, the evening painter, about fifteen centuries later. I never thought that I would see Istanbul again until that morning when out of my desperate need for conversation I went up the very steep hill into that balcony from which one could see a beautiful city far away in the distance, and though that city was not Istanbul, the balcony itself contained the city, with the stories of loss, spanning from the Christian martyr to the godless painter, and it was not because the balcony resembled the city in anyway but only because she, my muse, Sevgi, contained all the eyes of the city into her own two eyes - no more space was needed. That early morning, as we sat in the sun and devoured all the possibilities afforded by the language of human beings, I picked back the thread left somewhere in a boat along the Bosphorous those many years ago and retrieved its full power with the conviction that never again would I let go of such power to entice. It was as if a whole life could be crowded into one single day of happiness without losing one single moment, without losing one single moment of fidelity with the past and with the present. Any person who would have seen Sevgi that morning would make sure to think that she's perhaps the most beautiful of all women, or rather, the most beautiful female, the endless recognition of the instinct of life, the edges and the risk and the breeze and the oxygen and the air and the absence of the air, everything in one single creature.

I had been completely uncertain the night before whether I should in fact ascend that mountain in order to come to her like a prince is coming to the rescue of a maiden, and whether I had been truly asked to come to Istanbul in the middle of the sunny breeze of a deserted January; and it wasn't because I had no trust in the power that the words of truth have to give people power to move freely in the world and of their own accord, but it had to do with the endless sense of loss that I had grown into for a long time now in which the only firm resolution ever made possible to fight against the triviliaties of life and the lies of dead time was the solitude of the philosopher in his writing desk, having lost, along the biffurcating paths of the journey, all possible skills for living, having renounced the world even in spite of the consistent knowledge that there could be no better world than this, no better life than this, but for the others, as pieces in a puzzle, as characters in a novel, but yet nothing that could touch you so immediately and unmediatedly that you would lose yourself in somebody else only in order to find the clarity to offer a single moment of uninterested love. All my conversations were solitary, sollipsistic even, poorly poetical and though very loyal to myself, they were also in the highest level of inflicted self-damage. But when I arrived in Istanbul, looking into the foreign city, that though beautiful, resembled more a post card than a reality I had any wish to live in, because the beauty was not made out of the pressure of time against our chest but rather out of completely dead matter; bricks, banks, concrete, glass, crystal, metal, but not one single word, not one single story, not the slightest clue of what it means to build a world together; so Istanbul yes, upon my arrival, I was welcome with the freshest light that was ever casted on an eye human, and for several hours I couldn't let go of the feeling that I was dying or that I was going to die.

I don't want to be misunderstood, this is not because I felt unhappy, but rather because never before, since I had lived once so fully and so intensely, it hadn't been possible to feel so many things at once, and so overwhelmed I was that every second I went through the most unbearable fear that the moments that bound together the seconds and the minutes and the hours would come to an end; I inspected my body carefully, inspected it searching for blotches in the skin or for any possibly lethal bleeding or mortal wounds, because that would explain the terrible unease caused by the recognition of being yet so far away, the Angst and the fear, the fear of yet losing her once again, like Katherina's friend was lost at the airport, like I lost the writer and Jonathan as well, like Catherine of Alexandria lost her body atop Mount Sinai in the hands of the sand, I wasn't sure that I would be able to cope with this loss once I had reached Istanbul inside an Andean forest. Being at home is too strong an expression for someone who's declared himself a nomad in the world, even within the same city and for someone for whom direction is not an established guideline in life, but perhaps that is what it was, irrespective of the actual geography, being at home in the sense of having understood the same way that the other has understood and the fact of becoming completely electrified by this. I never thought this could happen to me unless I would go to Istanbul, but not counting with the miraculous deed that one day, in the most somber moment of my life, Istanbul would come to me, with praise and song, with faith and love. It was not death perhaps, what I fret with so much anguish about, but rather the fear of being alive again, a fear that is difficult to let go of, not because it makes you afraid but because you've fallen in love with the fear - for there's no courage without fear.

But as my boat landed on the Bosphorous that settled in between one glass and another, I made sure to throw my anchor so that I could never again be dispossessed, so that I wouldn't have to begin writing letters that I would ultimately never send insofar as they would have to be sent on this today and not in any other today, because otherwise I would be already forgotten and estranged. I began to daydream as I spoke at the same time, and the sun changed into rain, I saw the postcard city ahead of us disappear into nothingness and become replaced by the imagery of something that while it is not eternal, it couldn't be ransacked by fools. So many letters I wrote that day! I wrote with my hands in the air and with the smoke that came out of my mouth, with the movement of my legs and with the songs that I whispered to myself, with every pulsation of the heart and each blinking of the eye. I had traveled through so many places, some of them cruel and shameful, the countries of birth, far away from the spaces of desire, the intellectual mercilessness of reasoning about things that have to do with the human heart and with again, the sense of loss, while other places were beautiful and singular, pictoresque, possible, timely, and necessary. I wonder if I can ever lose Istanbul after having sunk so deep into the river that contained Sevgi's beauty with the sadness and the joy, the abandonment and the liveliness!

So different it looks now to be in Istanbul than I did when I lived in the monastery trying to take shelter from the failures of my life, which are no longer failures but loyal evidence to not having betrayed one's dreams as a child, of walking along untrodden paths that couldn't have been walked before, unless the visionary, without the self-confidence of the genius, would have cut through the haze of ivies without hesitation of expectation even. That day, at night, as Sevgi's millions of words resounded in my head over and over, haunting me not like nightmares but like the sudden and unexpected arrival of dreams of purest white beauty, in between the dizziness of the wine and the pasta, the intoxication of empathy, the inability to let go of the moment, my own surrender to the merciless passage of time, I thought that there was a part of the Hamam's story that I hadn't listened to carefully and I could do so only now after I had been back to the streets of Istanbul in the eyes of Sevgi and that I couldn't do with Ivan anymore because after his journey to Moscow he converted to Orthodox Judaism and is now called Yochanan rather than Ivan and is locked up in one of those Talmudic academies that I fled from when I entered the monastery: After the death of Francesco, Martha was taken in again by the Turkish family that had hosted Francesco, as she was heart-broken and unable to return to Rome, but eventually as it had been the case with Francesco, they became her own family and the purest realization of sense in life, so that she ended up staying in Istanbul and finishing the work of the Hamam that Francesco had begun, becoming in turn, herself, a new Madam Anita, forever anchored in the Bosphorous and running the Hamam by herself. This is the last letter that she sent to Mehmet:

"Dear Mehmet,
Yesterday we finally got a letter from you. I'm happy to hear you're doing fine. But if that's not true, if you want to talk, I am here. Since you left the neighbourhood has changed a lot. I convinced Fusun not to get married, to your mother's great joy, last week Yildiz had her baby and they've decided to call him Francesco, of course, Perran, Fusun and I had a good cry over the news. Almost every afternoon I go down to the Hamam, we're done with the work now. Sometimes at sunset I get sad, but then the cold breeze blows, all of a sudden, and takes my sadness far away. It's a strange breeze, like no other. It's a light breeze, and it loves me".

Monday, January 10, 2011


Two important kinds of headaches: Always in the morning, because of not having slept or because of sleeping in too late.

There's compulsion of writing, as if there were no other way in which I could keep myself going; I've been to the morning, so sunny and fresh, absolutely beautiful and paced, but I am living out of different materials which are not necessarily different in the temporal sense; syncopated daydreaming that extends into realms beyond that of the simple task of writing. The world seems to be run with extreme paucity of mind, so slow that I can no longer keep track of the changes because of my impatience - in the books, everything works a little faster, a variety of temporal indexes blend in, dreams and letters, things I had wanted to say and things I had never wanted to talk about. Never before had I waited for the mornings with such sense of disfiguration, enjoying if only for very brief moments the gifts of early life, not wanting to miss one single moment. The writing becomes a compulsion not only because I ignore how could I possibly live hadn't I done this, but also because the limits of the format seem stretched into other fields that require dead things in order to come to life, such as art and music. I would like to be read in so many possible ways, to leave the reader undone and completely disturbed, stealing his peace of mind, a very slow form of poisoning that walks around in circles through the eyelids and remains ever so awake even through the slumber of the hours.

Earthly life, that moment of life, how much she loved walking in the city, much better than in the country, rejoicing in artifacts, trying not to decay into dust, one single sentence for the whole day, the untimely meditation of the rush, who would have thought there could be a story to be told? I inspect favourite writers and others less beloved, not trying to compare experiences as such but more like lifting up the achievements of the language to such a level in which it becomes completely incomprehensible - not incomprehensible in the level of scientific formulae, but in a reckless excess of recognition, drowning the names and the things in the world beneath a think surface of ink, so that one reader, far away, should be trying to save his life, not in order not to die, but with the sole intention of safeguarding his own body from falling into the abyss of ordinary things. How ordinary could they be after all? There's nothing really spectacular about this, except for the insertion of time into the inert life of earthly things, as if everything were dying at the same time, consumed at the same time that the flesh is ripped from the bones and thrown at the request of the bearer into a vault of inertia.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dead Things

"About writing and my non-communication... Maybe it's a matter of Vienna, you simply forget to communicate. It is horror, in fact. You are so good in this, I like your communicativeness. I would love and enjoy even more to meet you for conversation - you are so brilliant in this, you have style, you are glamorous and deep, old and very young." -Letter from Katherina Olschbaur


Rising before 6:00 o'clock is the only suppresion of guilt that I know of, it is a mortal race, a rally in the desert if you want, because it means to start living, frantically and in a chain of chemical reactions, a few minutes before the sun. It does not matter whether you had gone to bed the previous night only a few hours before and that your sleep was not deep, but rather tireless daydreaming as if travelling across centuries and continents. Only a few minutes before 6:00, that would be enough, time to dress up rapidly and without further ado, but unlike other days when I dressed up as well, there was no particular reason to do that.

I wouldn't run any errands through the city, walking around markets and queueing before the desks of bureaucrats, nor would I sit in cafes waiting for unpunctual lovers and acquaintances while jotting down notes in an old notebook formerly used to failingly learn a foreign language. I only liked the idea of unwaiting, as if a lonely young woman would put on an elegant gown, earrings and parfum and then would prepare a large suitcase in order to wait for a man at the train station to take her home. It is not that the man weren't to arrive, but the only certainty she had is that she still didn't know him nor when would he arrive.

"Niet om er afschied te nemen,
of om mij op reis te begeven,
ben ik het station ingegaan,
maar om tussen de mensen te staan,
om ergens heen te gaan." -Ed Hoornik

[To the train station I went,
Not to begin a journey myself,
Or even to bid you farewell,
But to stand between all people,
Who are living for some goal,
For somewhere to go.]

Before I jotted down the list of what I endeavour to do "today", I stand for a moment in the patio standing by the roses and peppermint leaves surrounded by a fence of cement, looking into the sky and smoking one only cigarette, perhaps just trying to make sure to ruin the chemical balance of the day right before it started, as if sometimes murder would be the only possible degree of freedom granted to the inmates of a prison in a far-away island where they all had been sent on solitary confinement for the sole crime of immortality.

Then the list of my tasks for the day would be nothing like the heroic tasks performed by other people as they leave the house in order to jump fresh into life, board on a train and just like Herr Samsa, spend hours back and forth travelling in between clients and providers fulfilling with scientific precision the meticulous demands of "making something happen". Thus, I begin my list:

- Conquer the world
- Escape
- Love
- Not sleep one single minute through the day
- Get to the page 170 of a certain novel
- Feel a little less contempt for the city and the country
- Write a philosophical novel
- Try to understand the worst opera ever written

And yet the reason why I refused to sleep in one second more is because I am well aware that it might take years and centuries to achieve any of the above, perhaps with the excepcion of escape or love, which only takes one minute - to be at the wrong time in the wrong place; but reaching yet the 170th page of a novel might be a lot more difficult, because my usual habit of reading - that perhaps has to do with my laziness of heart and extreme inability to concentrate, is more similar to the paliative care offered to a dying man, than to actual entertainment, scholarship and acquisition of knowledge.

As a rule, regardless of the time of day and night in which I am reading, I take off my shoes and also my socks, perhaps even the sweater if it is not winter and crawl back to my cave under the silent stairway finding shelter under the blankets, not just one, but all of them, including the sheets and the duvet, carefully placing the worn-out pillow against the wall and just as carefully I place myself comfortably as if entering a coffin that one borrowed from a friend, who's perhaps already dead or rather, in denial of his mortal condition and finds no use for the comfortable artifact.

"There's no possible way one could learn anything reading like a dying person, under the blankets, while a bright sun outside is hammering with burning desire the icy patches of bare skin left unmolested by spectacles and trenchcoats", I whispered to myself yesterday afternoon and realized then how long it would take me to read a whole novel, so that perhaps it would be more effective to write one myself. It never occurred to me that since the most innocent youth, I had trained myself to read novels like a dying person would - always lying in a bed. As a matter of fact, people should learn how to read in libraries and cafes, in the company of other people, perhaps sitting across the TV set in the late afternoon or while trying to avoid the dearth of landscape during a bus ride.

Even the most suidical writers would read their own novels and those of other writers while sitting on a coach, perhaps in the middle of smoking, for who could commit suicide in the middle of smoking a cigarette? That was at least the natural logic of a certain novel in which a young woman had jumped to her death from the balcony of her hotel room yet in the middle of smoking a cigarette, Mary McCarthy I think it was who wrote it, but then one could also think of the author of my novel, who fell asleep in the middle of smoking a cigarette and then had her apartment room in Rome burn down with her unconscious body inside, but then again, this is not technically considered a suicide attempt, just plain stupidity.

And then last night, when I had still not dressed up and made any serious commitments to live as such, I had stepped into the night for a few minutes, making myself participate in the vicious cycles of time, and not in order to go for a little walk, but with the sole intention of buying more cigarettes, perhaps not because I wanted them immediately or because I couldn't go through the night without them, but only because just like it is the case of a good lover or a work of art, the only subjection to the laws of necessity is the common knowledge that they are there, unmovable, staring into you, almost salvaging your skin but yet at a distance discreet enough not to be preferred over simpler things of the world such as wisdom and fear. Yesterday had been a different day though, because the guilt of having slept in 3 hours more than the sun, blocked my access to the Garden of Paradise, when one could unchoose innocence for himself.

"Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
done eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
done eis requiem sempiternam." -Mozart, "Agnus Dei" in "Requiem Mass in D minor"

[Lamb of God, who takest away the sins
of the world,
Grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins
of the world,
Grant them everlasting rest.]

Yet while standing by the front door I took a glimpse of the night, not that I hadn't done that before but then it appeared to me as if the night could no longer salvage me, everything looked so familiar at standstill, clean from the usual tortured landscapes that I drew from my bed holding the novel in between my hands; the trees stood at the same distance from the sky as they always had, it didn't seem particularly dangerous to be alive on that night, and all the turbulent sense of uneasiness hung only from my fingertips and not from the rooves of the houses or the tree tops like I had thought the last time I had really seen a night.

I did feel however that I was dying, no more intensely than I had in other days, but the feeling was then rational and the painless discomfort of the stomach, the taste of food in my mouth, near complete exhaustion, the weight of the eyelids and the fickle of lost desire, all of it, reminded me that it was a fact that I was dying; and while it wasn't from one particular disease or another - what only made matters worse, I found it perplexing and irksome that other people didn't feel the same while the years, meticulously cut into seconds, were tearing themselves away from their hands.

It was a butterfly, and not my own physical discomfort with the "now", what had set free my anxiety. So beautiful this butterfly had been, perhaps even young, lying there dead, the wings still open in an unambiguously glowing yellow, visible even in so late an hour of a wet night in which the asphalt, the trees, the cars, the houses and the night itself seemed to blend into one and only uniform colour that made it impossible to distinguish water from mud. I wondered oftentimes what had been the cause of death and nature didn't come up in my mind as the most gullible murderer; I thought that perhaps the butterly, just like me, had spent too many days of youth lying on a bed of roses, atop a tree, reading a certain novel, and had suddenly died because on account of that.

The wings were shockingly intact, like the skin of a wolverine, a thick smithering yellow that doesn't turn into ochre and bathed in black dots of opal, whereas the tiny body, slender as it was, had already turned half into dust, half into sand, yet nothing rotten, as if flesh had never existed. I began to imagine the nest of leaves and roses where the butterfly had died in the middle of reading a novel, only because I had all over me this stench of eucalyptus that couldn't have come from any other place than the carpet that the wings offered me in lieu of conversation. "Dead things", I thought.

At that hour I craved for the morning, not for the "now", but for the morning at least, and kissed good-bye to my gentle butterfly friend, and the opaque breeze wouldn't have left me for the whole night hadn't it been for a phone call, strange as it sounds. There is a man, a musician, perhaps a lover but definitely a stranger who calls me on the phone every single day of the week at 23:30 on the dot, not missing one single night. The strict punctuality of that romance reminds me often not of love, but of the Viennese public administration, and the endless forms at the old institute of Christian philosophy, that you have to fill paragraph by paragraph, well into dozens of pages, to be turned in in three different places, at three different hours of the day and in different colors, only in order to use a rotten desk with a stench of moth and a broken leg. I can't even imagine the kind of bureaucracy that it would take to love a thing or even worse, a person.

I never thought that punctuality as such, the supreme value of all in my view, would become a recipe for romantic bureaucracy, and while I enjoy the "now" of it all, I might not survive for too long in the narrow space of sentiments rigorously filed by a public servant. I might not be voting for him after all. That's what happens when dreams come true, a lover that always calls on time, a lover that you have never met, therefore you remember him with the greatest fondness usually reserved for dead people and for paintings. A dream that comes true is usually a one-way ticket into the land of regret, and that's perhaps the reason why the world looks a little bit like hell, but with cheaper seats - too many people living out of dreams.

In the meantime, as I navigated through the meticulous conversation, highly intellectual and socially responsible, my mind drifted away, into dreams so different as they were ill, into impossible dreams that were not dreams after all but the most distant geography of vigilant hopes - the world to come cannot have a name; I began sketching conversations out of the simplest gesture of a certain friend or lover that never called, the eternal muse at work in my novel, the simplest finger on the wrist, a line dotted over sand or an empty table in an old cafe, that's all what is needed for a novel; the grandeur of perfect understanding is useless for friendship and for art, there can grow no great love where there's not an abyss between world and man, and between man and man.

I thought about my fragile state of mind, ever so changing, like the wings of a butterfly - that I found still as dead the morning after just a few doorfronts from mine, and the glowing yellow turned out to be orange instead; either I was deceived or the butterfly was getting younger and younger as the dead days walked into the numbness of the wait. I remember a certain theologian friend, G., in a big German city, can't remember exactly which, and how we had once spoken about clinical depression when a friend had been confined to an asylum against his will and how the theologian friend remarked that depression as such is not "life-as-it-happens-to-be" like I had thought but more like a failure of human communication.

It could be still true that all human relationships, or at least the hope thereof, are fundamentally based upon such failure, certainly the world of art is, otherwise there would make no sense to subject oneself to the cruel passage of time, and if I hadn't failed to communicate something at least once, even within the borders of my own person, it wouldn't make sense to write after all. I conquer the morning, before the sun, completely dressed up, only in order to write once more and to not let my deathbed become the sole geographical location of the novel, which is not really a novel but a letter that can never be sent, because it is impossible to finish writing it or send it "today" and I wouldn't know where to send it after all. Somewhere in France, by the seashore, so completely alone, he is sunbathing in the winter sand, oh sanderling, the sun today feels like the sand in your hand. It is not today, even. Only one thing I remember from the novel I was reading: "...and Vienna keeps silent".

De Schilder bezoekt het strand

De zijn de bewegingen:

Een strandloper, een steltloper
vlucht voor de vloed

Nauwering sprokkelen de ogen
soms heeft hij het hoofd

Spreekt tot de einders
een overzijde onder handbereik

Zijn tong aarzelt
waar het blauw eindigt. -Hans van de Waarsenburg

[The Painter visits the seashore]

[These are the motions:

A sanderling, a stilt-walker
In a flight, over the flood of the tide

The eyes gather, so carefully
Sometimes, a head tilts up

He speaks, to the skyline
At hindsight, the further side

The tongue vacilates
Then, where the blue ends.]


The music still plays, all day long, he awaits a whole day, singing aloud, to pick up the headset at 23:29 to make that call at 23:30 so that I will answer at 23:31; but on that fateful day, I wasn't home, I had gone to Den Haag, and since it was a little late to stroll around Scheveningen or Wassernaar, I sat in a small kroeg, around "De Passage", on the Buitenhof and looking into the water and the Mauritiushuis, there is nothing familiar here other than the dog shit in the street corners, and the calls for prayer in a nearby mosque; how deserted it's become, I thought. I am soothed by singing to myself an old popular song, thinking that perhaps I would be in France, so far away, not at home and not in Den Haag, toying with the sand, it's not 6:00 or 23:30, but it is only "now" and "today", the perfect timing for a letter.

"Als ik weg ben voorgoed uit dit land
Als ik woon bij Monton of bif Nice
In een bungalow bij het strand
Waar het weer niet zo guur is en vies
Lig ik fijn in de zon op mijn rug
Om mij heen bloeit de rozamarijn
Ik wil nooit meer naar Holland terug
En ik denk vals: hoe zou het er zijn?
Nog zo nat, nog zo kil
Wat voor weer zou het zijn in Den Haag?" -Annie M. G. Schmidt

[When I am gone for good from this land
When I will be living in Monton or in Nice
In a little bungalow by the seashore
Where the weather is not evil and bleak
I lie on my back in the sun
The rosemary growing in me
I will never see Holland again
And then I will think: What should it be like?
Not so wet, not so cool
What should the weather be like in Den Haag?]

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Today (in progress)

"O al - ter Duft aus Mär - - chen-zeit" ("Oh old fragance from mythical times": from "Pierrot lunaire" of Schönberg)

"I: Austrian passport issued by the Interior Ministry. Sworn certificate of nationality. Brown eyes. Blond hair, born in Klagenfurt, followed by several dates and profession, crossed out and amended twice, addresses, crossed out thrice, above of which can be read, written in calligraphy: residence at Ungargasse 6, Vienna III.

Time: Today

Place: Vienna.

The temporal index had left me pensive for good while, for it is almost impossible for me to say "Today" even though the people often say or, better yet, are ought to say "today" everyday; but if anybody tells me what he endeavours to do today - let alone tomorrow-, I do not react absentmindedly askance, as if it is often thought, but rather attentively, out of pure perplexity, !so hopeless is my relationship with that so-called "today"!, for I can only pass through such "today" in terrible pangs of agony and in a haste and, in the middle of this agony, to write or simply tell what is unfolding throughout; it would be then necessary to destroy immediately what is being written about today, such as the true letters are destroyed, crumpled and ultimately unsent, because insofar as they are from today, they won't make it to their final destination in any other today.

Whoever has written a frighteningly supplicant letter in order to subsequently tear and throw it away, will know better than anyone what I mean here by "today". And, who hasn't heard about those nearly illegible bank notes: "Come if you want and are able to, please. At five o'clock, at Cafe Landmann". Or telegrams such as these: "Please call me immediately full stop even today", or: "Today it is impossible".

In this fashion of things, "Today" is a word that only suicidal people should be permitted to use, but for all the rest it doesn't have absolutely any sense, it only serves to designate any other day, precisely today they are aware that, once again, they will have to work eight hours or take a free day for themselves, they know that they will go this or that way, will buy some other thing, will read a morning or an evening paper, they will drink a cup of coffee, they will surely forget about something, will turn up for an appointment, will have to ring up somebody, a day, in the course of which, in brief, something will have to happen or, better said, not too many things will happen.

I, on the other hand, after I pronounce "today", I begin to breath at intervals, suddenly I am possessed by that arrythmia that had been already diagnosed in an electrocardiography, and if the line in the graph does not grant the supposition that the real cause was my "today" - always new and oppresive -, I can put forward the evidence to the syndrom, redactable in voluble medical codes, the proof of something that precedes the crisis of my agony, and predisposes me to it, in accordance to what the medical specialists have always said and thought. But I am afraid that it is "today" what so badly drives me into the agony, what is in excess extravagant and pathetic, and that "today" will always remain fixed in my mind as such a pathological agony, until the very last breath." -Ingeborg Bachmann, "Malina"

I always knew that there had to be something utterly misgiving with this whole talk about "Today"; at the expense of a negation, it's a disease, or at best, the guilty resignation to a capital punishment, but I wasn't entirely sure about this until I read it in a novel, though the novel is sited in a far-away city where a friend of mine happens to live, I could enter on my own, it was the same cycle of asffixiation by-product of this eternal entanglement with today, for under normal circumstances -and all circumstances in life are normal unless it's a case of love, the gesture of time is always Janus-faced, and contemplation is not tolerated, even in unsual cases of uncalled-for romance, starting into for too long is a common form of molestation. Living today, everyday, is tantamount to never ever sleeping, thus the clean surface of the present is always edgy, only interrupted by the absurdity of daydreaming, while yet bereft of sleep; ten long years and yet not one single rapture of the eyelid into the movement of the hours. Not for a single moment though, it occurred to me that I was dying, except for my behaviour, erratic, always signaling that I was ought to conquer the world down and above, even if it meant to give up on peace or temporary cease-fire, everything had to be won and then lost in one and the same day. The slightest breach in my sound protocol of belligerence would amount not only to negligence on my part but to failure, retreat and total defeat. And, since I adamantly refused to be consoled in any way, there were only so many ways in which the state of panic could be driven away - embalming of healthy living human beings, being one of them. Embalmed in a cavas I had myself chosen but for a more splendid occasion, like that of a technically possible victory. The past, even the most immediate whim, was never granted a moment of rest, being all too frightened by forgetfulness, so that it was ought to be carved out with scalpel, mummified, nullified, hence conserved intact, a thousand and one years before the time was ripe, abandoned, ownerless somewhere, exposed as the celebrated prize of a meticulous and carefully planned robbery. The morning I returned to the plaza, I had felt less ailing than usual, free of guilt, if anything only because because I was almost entirely deprived of sleep and not fully committed to the destruction of the hours that lay ahead, they seemed so vague and vacuous, almost soundless and continuous, another hopeless eternity, like a whole century of peace. There I sat, idly, reading Mrs. Dalloway, laughing with the belly button but without the gestures of the mouth, and I sat at the same table, in the same position, with the same scarf, but only a few hours earlier, in the solid but futile attempt to catch one simple glance of his, to feel again the warm finger accidentally falling upon my wrist; yet I manage to feel nothing, the well of the vision had dried, because once I've put it down in writing, it's all been completely forgotten, as if it had been a mass burial for my armies. Perhaps I'm not even chasing after the vision, but just making sure that it doesn't haunt me. It's so fragile, on a revel, at the bank of a river, melted into the air of other ages, already invisible. I no longer capture the essence, all the images are seizeable; all the trees at the same height, the order of the bricks and stone, the vendors in their tents, black doves, ponds of mud and rainfall, the Holiday mood in the pace of the streetwalkers, a timid drizzle stepping on my shoe, especially the slow speed of everything, there seems to be just too much time available now. There's still the weak hesitation of feigned visions, the terrifying sensuality of remembering at all. The way we live now, the way we live today.


After several years he had decided to come out of the isolation in which he had placed himself not so much out of faith as it was the natural consequence of disappointment, not that he had not experienced moments of happiness, but there was something fundamentally wrong about laughter in his particular case, for it was not that he wasn't sincere but more of a question of an absurd relationship between time and his skin - his laughter had never been young. So young he was when he looked into the mirror and in spite of three delicate lines of expression hanging almost artificially slightly above the eyebrows and walking gently into the sideburns, there was a very kind and particular type of youth in him; his youth however was not beautiful as much as it was disturbing, for it was resembling more a peace treaty than actual adulthood - it might have been written nearly three decades ago but in spite of maintaining the status quo of life as such, the biology of politics and geography so to say, not even the simplest words had been inspected with care, the paper appeared such as a new morning dawning from Iceland into Cape Town at noon time, the text remained hidden, unexplored and ever so mysterious. There was nothing he could do in order to change the sorry situation that he was becoming younger and younger, so that in his isolation he tried out the wisest recipes for ageing: Overconsumption of life as such, deprivation of food and sleep, intense fits of crying and mourning, he pretended that he could no longer read books and that life, in the brutal intensity of jolts was far worthier than scholarly mustiness; the repetitive cycles of useless entertainment and feigned ignorance did take a toll on him after many a year, perhaps half a decade even, and those were not many years after all, but in the vice of youth they had seemed to stretch into a whole century. As if a magic elixir protected him from this crucial passage of time, he was still younger than he had ever been, and of course, even after writing a whole novel that would give him fame, he had accumulated no more than three readers and his material belongings were infinitely less than those of a boy even half his age; he did not possess any wealth and in his ownership one could not find even one single suitcase but a very modest assortment of clothes that he tucked into a plastic bag with a scrapbook and a pen - it was not that he was poor but that he had no interest in life unless it stood for the fulfillment of a certain corruption of death. This had nothing to do with a death wish as such but with wild mockeries, how a corpse refuses to scorch even after hours under the flame, the way nothing survives the burning down of a manor, other than an immaculate leaf floating on a little pond of mud that couldn't be consumed even by the acid water of leaking fuel.

But he had had enough with the isolation once he had lost interest in the study of philosophy, and began to admire after his own fashion, the ways of the people in the earth, but it was not that he loved their ways as such, for which he could show nothing but utter contempt, he admired the possibilities of art that they expressed and at this his cruelty was seamless and could easily blend in with either mental disease or immaturity. The people, he thought, often while journeying to the libraries and the cemeteries, were like little works of art, and it is not that he despised works of art as such but that he was terribly uncomfortable with the idea of perdurability that pervaded all the classical art he had once admired, no, but the idea of art had changed through the years during which he had not made part of the world and he began to develop a certain sensibility for the transience of life and the negation of art as supreme categories of representation. The kind of art that would consume itself shortly but definitely, as if there could be no possibility whatsoever to produce art as artifacts but that even in the modern age, the work of art could not be permitted to survive even for a moment, the pretensions of its own disclosure. This, however, people found very disturbing and often confused with an eternal inclination for romance, though, the moment the work of art embodied in the hands and the limbs of a certain person failed to deliver this timeless truth, it was set on fire and while not altogether forgotten, immediately condemned to the paper. How horrible this death is ought to be, to have your body lined up in a single and nude sheet of paper and then feel the ink choke you and drown you with exact precision, first puncturing the eyes and then continuing into the mouth and the throat, then chopping the limbs, emasculating before the very end and at long last embalming the skull onto the paper and making the leftovers of the skin vanish into the most beautiful metaphors of heaven and water, power and might, logic and sense, without one single scene of love - there were scenes of love, but they were never verbal and no more than a tense and very tortured gesture in the lips or the hands was permitted to settle around the corners, as if nearness, physical nearness as such, were not only sinful but insufficient an effort to stand for beauty. This writing, though beautiful, was not learnt, and thus could, deep down, be nothing but childish, and while it is not true that fairy tales are childish, those long pages, always cut at the very end and never dotting one single line or expression in the sides or the reverse, as if written with absolute scientific precision, were both fairy tales and childish. It did not leave one single moment to breathe or a blank space to be free, the tension was such a constraint on the effect that a reader had impressed upon himself, so that one single hour after he had written it out, he was ready to dispose an entire novel.

Coming out into the world in order to live intensely was something too much dangerous and perhaps even perverse, for there was nothing that could survive there, life least of all and certainly never one single instance of time as such, but it was a necessary step in order to break out of that ill model of love and art, which after its own fashion was only the reverse dialectics of the very same classical art that he had condemned; there had to come a moment, even at the expense of never growing old, when one had to learn how to think or write abstractly because in reality, the ever so constant murder of a large number of men and women onto sheets of paper had taxed his feelings and while he was by no means incapable of love, besides a little charm and a secretive but yet too obvious fascination, it was only this dread and the fear of his own murderous intentions, what he could offer instead of passion. He spent a few years thinking how it would be possible to write abstractly, without stealing from people, without historical perversion for which one would have to atone later on, perhaps into old age, spending yet a thousand days correcting manuscripts in order to let the truth about these earthly men, surface at last. Yet he was still becoming younger and younger, perhaps the body reacted differently to both erotic insinuation and to intoxication, but people still saw him as being completely childish, unable to outgrow some very simple fantasies. There were moments of pleasure, undeniably, he let himself be wrapped by them and soaked into their fluids, they were not making him older or wiser, like he had been at the age of sixteen when he understood the world so completely, when philosophy was still readable and love, definitely scary but possible, like religion. Abandoning the idea of wisdom however, is an entirely modern gesture, just like the romantic silence in his books, and perhaps that is why it made sense to step out of vindication. What had been once impossible, to walk away on the crucial moments of life, instead of setting them up as a trap for oneself, to drown in them as if in a pond until the point of exhaustion, this hadn't become in anyway easier, but it was no longer deadly; the present could be lost in this exercise, and art as such, hadn't gained any distance from the hand, however, the momentum hadn't been lost; the stakes for fear were in an all-time high, he could be unnerved anytime, but as it happened with dreams, the eternity of this suffocating moments was bland and weak before the mysteries of time, and this is the only way in which the obsession for trasience could possibly make sense - the deliberately modern idea that beauty is not to be kept but destroyed and irascibly transformed. Perhaps he was already somewhat older then, he just needed to prove it.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Jotting down a dream... (Part II)

"For some reason, Michael Cunnigham's "The Hours" is still at the top of my preferences on how modern writing should be made to conversate with literature. To some people it appears that Virginia Woolf's crucial demands on literature were nowhere radical, but I think this has to do with the fact that they already forgot that politics is not literature and that literature must never leave the domain of art." -A.

"I remember one morning, getting up down, there was such a sense of possibility, you remember? that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself, this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts, and of course there will always be more; it never occured to me it wasn't the beginning, it was happiness, it was the moment, right there." -Clarissa Vaughan

The dream takes place again but it does not suffocate, as if the space had changed and no longer stretched itself to match the previous night or the callousness of a morning to follow, it could have happened anywhere, hadn't the yellow light covered with galactic dust, unmistakably made me stood by the gates of Jerusalem, or at least, significantly near, so that I could smell the frankincense blending in with the thyme, the chickpeas and the mint leaves learning how to swim in the burning scorches of the turbid waters that suddenly, at the call for noon prayers in yet a thousand mosques, is miraculously turned into fresh tea. Not everything had been beautiful then or even readily available to understanding, the poetic fixation on the index of the past gave free way to different shapes of the present to assemble themselves comfortably upon the sand, being infinitely more frightened by the solid immutability of the stone than by the fragile syncope of the sand - It seemed as if the stone could live forever, or even for yet another thousand years, which is much longer than forever, and how sorry it would be for one lone person to feel the very same, for a whole suffocating eternity of time. Other symptoms were also sensual more than they were loving, the inert death of the birds was felt more intensely than the jolts in the city and the noisy steps of the madman, trying to find a way back from the light, as if it were only in caves that men are allowed their privatemost thoughts; the gardens, it seems, and the flowers in the spring, the wadis and the waterfalls, the hanging ivies and the peaceful benches, they only seem to add another imprecation in the list of unfulfilled miracles, of mere facts of the world, to uphold against god. The sand is less threatening, more receptive to the music, it could be confused with sheets of paper and with the gown of a woman chasing after planes in the sky instead of picking up the shells - that's the kind of ambitions she's got.

Once again I fail to remember anything of particular importance whilst jotting down the dream, but its importance seems ever so much less at the moment of facing the nudity of the paper than the vices of the memory, trying to re-arrange every little thing in the world in order to adjust to the cruel demands of the dream itself; quite happy it had been, I think, and all the more unimportant not because of its simplest joys but because of its most absolute and reckless incompatibility with the present, manifold times richer and brighter, lustful and intense, slightly murderous like an alphabet, useless for poetry and for fairy tales, not systematically different altogether from the cyphered code to be seen in the neon-lightened boards at the train stations while not incompatible with the languages of science, taken advantage of by dreamers, philosophers and astronauts alike. The dream appeared as a peacefulmost consolation, one single moment of security, one single moment of safety from the rush of the waters toward the nothingness, flowing on and on, in circles and cycles, frantically, passively angered, but smooth and powerless. Perhaps the remembrance of the madness, nowhere close to a religious experience, would be all the more comforting, the loud screams of the lovers and the stealth escape from the movement of lips and limbs, the stalls of the artisans in a cold night framing the transport lines with such delicate and formless accuracy and at long last, the departure, the cruelties typical of intense emotions, the silence of a telephone, and that beautiful vision; not sure whether imagined or not, of the voice in the other end trying to pacify my exasperation while pissing on myself with one hand against a painted wall and smoking with the other, the smoke patting me heartily on the back and my eyes, darkened by all too common poisons, searching for a moment of lust, a little distraction, a minute of fame or shame, anything that could make the supreme guilt by-product of helpless passion, easier to tamper or more difficult to enshrine.

There's no comfort in this though... But the dream, always the dream, appears like a fickle, watered down and weak before the imponent hours, and the hours before, the crucial waiting and the geographical patience of those places, where we had been once happy. The dreams were nothing unique insofar as they were static, inept and sterile in a certain way; perhaps they give us some information about anything that we've taken happiness to be after all, a little shopping boulevard in lieu of heaven, something very bland and pathetic, and why shouldn't it be the reason for which we're not granted a place in heaven, so little did we want from the earth, so small and indistinguishable from misery our comfort zone had been. But the hours, the hours of vigilance, they were somewhat lost in the sobriety of the day; that's something I can't handle too well, the sight of all those many colors, the skin of the enemy, always so fresh and untainted, this is what eternity must look like - Just one single day in town, without night and without sleep, without poison but also without rest, the continuity of it all, the bus lines, that moment that you thought then while you waited, behind the spotless white table, shaking from the fear, that moment that you thought, could change your life in less than a moment, arm you with wings and set you on a flight at the expense of the heavy weight of your socks, and yet it passed, perhaps you missed it, perhaps that's when the world world began anew. Yet the helpless realization that it was just one another fraction of time, one hour less of sun for your eyelids and the steady walk toward the grave, nothing else but that. How unsinful and irrelevant, apparently useless for the pen, if you know how to use one, otherwise easy to forget, prosperous as it had been, the view from the glasswindow, the most intimate desire to shipwreck; perhaps a bit of a death wish could have added one centimeter of height to the marshmallow stairway that was supposed to lift that moment up into heaven, you would have done anything to avoid it, let go of your life or kill a poet in the story perhaps so that the others might live and forget altogether - because poets can't, it might well be that they do no good to write or speak, but forget, they can not . But it wasn't anything like that, it was like any other day - instead of heading for heaven, you stood on a line, to enter the ice skating ring, in that horrible plaza, told more than a few lies and then disappeared with your soul, wondering all the time, why on earth would you bring such a heavy suitcase to a skating ring, on a sunny day in a colorful trope, how befouled you were, so that instead of carrying it to heaven, you abandoned the suitcase in a dream.

Since heaven is supposed to look a lot like dreams, thus, it was an obvious choice, especially at night, when the sky is no longer visible and heaven stands nearer as the cool air bathes the ankles and the wrists, not because heaven is supposed to be cold but for more visual reasons, as the empty streets and the cold sounds inundate the images of the day and make then appear overflown with a certain abandonment to lust. I am not sure if it was lucidity what was being lost, but there were these voices, they played instruments for me, everyone was so beautiful then, beautiful and absent, untouchable and I was just an elf, being soothed by the piano, unable to catch one simple glimpse of living person or thing, they were inert objects, dancing like marionettes, without bleeding or exhaustion, they were tireless in their tune and all the songs did I know, like never before, I wouldn't be bothered by their inhumanity and their bones of coal and their flesh of cloth, I danced amidst them like a recently crowned king in a lonely planet of his own throwing a parade for the sun. There was this pain too, dancing with me all along and I knew he had been there since the moment of defeat, he wouldn't let me cry this time because the rules between us were very clear; we could only cry out of beauty but never because of ugliness, and since he didn't leave me for a single moment of that night or the morning after, I was unable to weep and the only stance of mourning had to be bled into an empty page, that in itself refused to soak in the blood and I had to watch it, for a whole week, dancing around the edges of the paper, changing from black into magenta and then sometimes cerulean and purple and grey. I had to smear it on my body after bathing in a river of the size of a bathroom, together with my parfum so that I could go on living, and if it was an issue of going on living or not, it was not because of the pain but merely out of embarrassment. That's how I slipped into the dream, in the early morning as I tried to avoid the reminders of the sun, the most basic knowledge, the knowledge that it had been just another day and never a work of art or a moment of truth; those moments remained hidden, messianically, often forgotten and seldom unchanged, they were more like the stone and less like the sand, you wouldn't realize that the garden had changed into a palace until you have already crossed the threshold.

The preference over the dream lies precisely on the fact that the imagination is still at work here and you might comfort yourself in thinking that it is much more powerful than reality and that it plays no role whatsoever in configurating those moments of the day that powerfully appear and vanish at the same time, that reality is a realm independent from supplications and from wonder, you're completely powerless in it and therefore infinitely innocent. They are not in the past, the dreams, they never happened, they are not looking into the future but merely speak to the denizen of the present, they offer him a certain weak salvation that he couldn't otherwise attain because nothing can be saved from the present, not even the future or the past, without the most reckless and courageous risk to lost the present itself. In jotting down a dream, this is exactly what happens, the dream is too innocent and unharmed, boring to say the least and completely at peace with itself, so much in contentment that you're even permitted to glance into yourself during a moment of happiness, so that perhaps they become important only once you're dead, but can't be jotted down properly when you're a writer, or a storyteller or an epistolar confessor. There's no fear in writing down a dream, in sharing, there's no use to art, for itself the dream could pass as a masquerade for the kind of art practiced by poets and philosophers, it survives on a diet of abstractions and eternities for sale, and when there's no fear, the poet is unable to find out anything about himself or the beloved one or the world as such whilst he is trying to describe the old oak tree inside the bedroom and above the table, using words that would be adequate only to describe the madness of a lake or the still of a man. When you, as a writer, live haunted by fear, you're ought to re-invent yourself in order to write and therefore to "invent" writing, to create styles discreet enough to safeguard the intimate privacy of your pickpocketting activities on earth, so to say, to re-translate life into another sort of life that might be understandable to you as a human person and therefore to others. It is fortunate though, that it was such an useless happy dream because the asffixiating hours, those that you keep silent about, they surface on their own, slit your throat and leave you defenseless, without you even realizing that they passed.

"Still she loves the world for being rude and indestructible, and she knows other people must love it too, poor as well as rich, though no one speaks specifically of the reasons. Why else do we struggle to go on living, no matter how compromised, no matter how harmed? Even if we're further gone than Richard; even if we're fleshless, blazing with lesions, shitting in the sheets; still we want desperately to live. It has to do with all this, she thinks... It seems that at that moment she began to inhabit the world; to understand the promises implied by an order larger than human happiness, though it contained human happiness along with every other emotion". -Michael Cunningham