That book by Michal Viewegh was damned good. I kept reading it till 3 am, only to resume as soon as I opened my eyes this morning. It is not exactly the type of a book that would require a place behind the little glass door of my corner bookcase. It may stand right in the middle of the bookshelf containing my best literature. His main topic is not sex as such, although the bulk of the text is made of various erotic adventures; it is all about human condition and the use we make of our earthly bodies. It intertwines depth and humour, and human warmth.
It made me muse on the use I've been making of my earthly body. I could live just as the writer depicted by Veiwegh. But perhaps I don't have his main reason of doing so. My solitude is not a burden to me, I never return to an empty flat. The very space is enveloping me, my body, my female existence of incessant adventure that goes on and on and on, inside. On icebreakers approaching the coast of Iceland, in a geography that is, at the same time, imaginary and real.
Yet overall, I don't have that love of reality that characterises the Czech writer, and Czech literature in general. Only the sense of humour is familiar to me. That constant surprise with the unfathomable depth of our existence, its absurdity that is taken lightly, not as the main tragedy of us. Although it certainly is.
I'm too serious to take my body and my solitude lightly, going from one casual encounter to another, just as Veiwegh's hero does. The actual temptation that I could never resist is some sort of mystical venture of eroticism. And the idea is tempting me, when I think of Paris, when I think of that greater world of western Europe, its cities of men. Veiwegh is provincial, as Czech literature always is, and ready to accept that littleness, that Marushka who makes herself so memorable by her unfashionable light blue coat and her denial.
My erotic dreams are unavailable, beyond any chance of fulfilment. Are they? Or perhaps they are among those crazy aspirations, like Oxford, and great intellectual achievements. Whatever is the final outcome, may I come triumphant or vanquished from this war, they motivate me, they make me active, they make a Pole star over my horizon to keep my life going. I go to Paris this year not to add an item to my CV, but in search of that greater life, of which I couldn't abdicate, even if I see it as the craziest of hopes. Otherwise, I would be broken and burned out, frustrated with the very bulk of my academic career, vanquished by my approaching 50th anniversary. But it surprises me that I utterly feel so attractive. That I see, and see increasing, the reason why I should be chosen among thousands of other women. The pages falling one by one like in a haiku only fill me with the sweetness of the approaching autumn. Strangely, it is in my calendar the great time of love, the month of May of Provencal troubadours. The taste of a November in Amsterdam. Well, it will be a November in Paris, this year.
The last stormy Sunday of the summer. I went to the centre, and ate at Miód Malina. They changed the interior design; I didn't even finish my food. Why is everything worse, in Poland, these days? It sounds like a peevish obsession of mine, some sort of complaining menopause syndrome. But the flamboyant interior of bygone times, with the folkloric vibrant abundance of crimson flowers, is no more. Now the colours are dusty brick and an asphyxiated hue of ashy green.
I entered that usual bookshop of mine with instinctive intent of searching for new erotic literature that might fill my secret corner bookcase. I went out with a copy of Povidky o manzelstvi a o sexu by a Czech bestselling author Michal Viewegh, as well as Rozważnie i romantycznie, a manual for single lady travellers by Marzena Filipczak. Which I started to read in the tramway on my way home, laughing as few people laugh in Poland. At least not when they are single ladies of a certain age, alone in a tramway. Basically, I agree with the author on one point: anywhere is safer than Poland. At least as safe as Poland. But, admittedly, I didn't go to Iran, as the author did. The smoothly mannered Persians I knew in Leiden may not be like the real Persians somewhere in Khorasan. Or they are?
But overall, the reading made me remember not just my travels, or that I need to buy a hand-made Afghani carpet for my little erotic flat. First of all, I suppose, it made me muse on my fellow Polish ladies, scared with the world, bearing their femaleness like a bondage. Filipczak describes them closed in a riad in Morocco, not daring to go anywhere outside on the medina. And somehow, I remember in a glimpse the man, various men, who guided me through the labyrinths of the world. They never asked me any money, nor accepted, although I tried to pay only once, for a car drive in Albania. There was sometimes something vaguely erotic in this. Taking care of a lone woman in a Muslim country always is. And one thing I may be sure, this chivalry is tremendously reliable just anywhere, from Damascus to Borneo. But I should understand that most of my fellow Polish ladies hardly pass under the category of respectful Islamic scholars travelling in search of knowledge...
Here they are, our destinies in a country that recovers its true nature, increasingly grey and oppressive. I stay in the company of my books, of my poetry, of my erotic novels translated flatly into Polish. After all, gdzie w Krakowie mogę zutylizować powieść Beatrycze, nie narażając się na zarzut seksualizacji młodzieży? I'm afraid to just throw it into the container. What if any young boy finds it, reads it? Yet the cover is far too thick to enter my shredder. Powodem utylizacji jest bo powieść jest zła. Even worse than Margański's Jak podrywają szejkowie; that one at least was funny. Anyway, it went awfully outdated: we don't have any more mares for sale in Janów Podlaski.
Being so, should I finally complete my own erotic novel, Only in Saudi Arabia? It starts precisely this time of the year, between late summer and early Arctic autumn, at rough sea, when Amnesia, a former icebreaker transformed into a luxury yacht, almost arrives at the Vestmannaeyjar islands on the southern coast of Iceland. On board, there is Talal, a chivalrous Saudi millionaire, his newly wedded wife, an Oxbridge art historian Anya, and the beautiful Somali slave, Mina. Which is another anachronism, for sure. No one has Somali sex slaves in Saudi Arabia these days. Firstly, slavery has been abolished almost half a century ago; the last slaves of Arabia are distinguished swarthy ladies in their sixties, seventies and eighties. Secondly, the fashionable love women are Moroccan, not Somalis. Yet somehow, I cannot get rid of the juiciest of my literary personages ever invented.
Perhaps I should put them, and only the two of them (i.e. the millionaire and the art historian), on a little white motor yacht crossing the Mediterranean from Genoa southwards at the leisurely pace of eight or nine knots. Visiting museums and galleries, sort of erotic variation on Dan Brown for women approaching their menopause. Dining romantically at expensive restaurants, putting bouquets of lilies and peonies in heavy crystal jars, taking baths in a jacuzzi tiled in natural travertine mosaics. Because it's time to get more reasonable, ponderous, mature. And the autumn comes falling page by page, like in a haiku.
But I still cannot forget the rough seas at the Vestmannaeyjar islands.
I'm in my old apartment, slowly cleaning and reading my books. The time finally came to abandon my library. Emotionally. To see how cheap and worthless most of these books actually were. I cleaned the small bookcase in the corner, the one with a little glass door. I got the idea of putting my erotic collection there. As if it were a secret to be protected. A little private thing in this private little flat. I want to print a nice little bookplate explicitly designed for my erotic collection.
But most of these books have so little value, so primitive, and so flatly translated into Polish. Or unfitting my taste. The whole collection is painfully reduced to very few volumes. Perhaps Motory, by Emil Zygadłowicz, a bible of my sensual youth. But for the rest? Some time ago, I threw the pitiful Polish translation of Hull's The Sheikh. Many hot moments were simply omitted, they did not even dare render them. Now I read a pitiful anonymous novel, Beatrycze in Polish translation, that I once bought in that store of mine offering books at reduced price. It is a kind of cheap and peevish, second-hand Sade. Well, I also have first-hand Sade, 100 days of Sodom and Juliette. But still I don't need any of those Polish translations, triumphantly published at the dawn of democracy, in the 1990s. I used to laugh at those books, and never truly managed to finish. Well, Juliette, perhaps, when I was in my late teens. I remember having read it at school, under my table.
I'm planning to spend some 100 or 200 euro to get better books in France. Any Malek Chebel, at the very least. Or any western translation of Imam al-Suyuti. Or a nice edition of Tauk al-Hamama. I have both Polish translations of Nafzawi (yes, the book has been translated twice, yet to little avail). But I should read such things in the original.
All this is just a shame, a shelf full of American Kamasutras with photos instead of drawings. How could I keep such things at home. Yet I wonder how I will get rid of these books. The times in Poland are such that I'm just shy to distribute them. A brave hop into the recycling bin, thus, and they are all gone. A symbol of those long Polish 1990s that are no more.
I have been to the library a lot, these last 10 days. Today is a feast, I'm not sure what is its exact name nowadays, it's Dia de Portugal and something and something; it used to be called Dia da Raça, but of course the things have changed a lot since that time. Perhaps great time to say quite simply it's Luis de Camões' birthday. And there is Corpus Christi tomorrow, so it makes two lazy days to wash my clothes, pay the bills and write on my blog.
I have been to the library, thinking intensely what kind of texts I might produce, texts fitting Oxford. I have been reading the poetry of São Tomé and such things. I'm not really sure. It lacks true depth, greater interest, complicated issues on which I might comment brilliantly. My Lusitanist profession is the source of a permanent crisis going on for years now. Of course, I might narrate all those things, compile them, as I'm doing in a chapter for a Polish book on African Lusophone literatures. But that's Poland. And there is something else I have in mind.
Yeah, Poland... There is clearly a hope, even if some people still believe those in power will do something violent in the last moment. I'm really puzzled how far I should believe this. I attribute a certain probability for such violent turnover, something like 10 to 30%. So there is a 70% or even 90% margin to say that Poland will survive. But I am by no means convinced by my own calculations. Survive? Certain things never survive, because they never truly lived.
And even if things get back to normal politically, I still don't know how I might return to it. How I might put up with ambient mediocrity. Teach at one of those universities where I used to work, in the shadow of that couple of fallen angels: Ignorance and Delusion. I know there are places healthier, sounder than my old Faculty "Artes Liberales". But still... And the perspective of returning to salaries equivalent to little more than 1000 euro would mean to abandon forever those dreams of a little house in the Netherlands. I would never have a little house in Warsaw; it would be hard to have it in Kraków. Perhaps, eventually. But it would never be a dream to make me go. I would remain in my old apartment, that apartment that I used to miss so bitterly when I was abroad. But now I know it contains no luxury nor beauty to speak of. It might feel good, for a moment, to be an ordinarius at a university, but I anticipate my immediate frustration, the end of all things that I would see very soon. The end of my dreams, my hopes, my ambitions. Materially and intellectually.
I miss the Netherlands, its enchanted cities, its rough and ugly sounding language, its flowers. I miss my home to be. Even if everything were OK with Poland, just a perfect, stable Europe, I would still apply for Dutch citizenship. Even if it meant no additional right whatsoever, and more taxes to pay. Just for the pride, for the dignity of it. Just for the Kingsajz.
If the survival of Poland truly means anything to me, it is because of Europe. Because I wouldn't like to see its power diminished, its structural founds sucked into a black hole, its frontiers shrinking in front of the encroaching East. Some people say there is a ferment even in Belarus, and it makes me dream how beautiful Europe might be, if its buffer zone of democracies extended between the Baltic states, throughout Belarus and Ukraine till the Crimea. If Middle Europe was ours, forever, undisputed. If I could wander unhindered through Roumania to the Balkans, Eastwards from Prague and Vienna, in my endless academic peregrinations. That would be a dreamy world. But what about Budapest? Will I see it free again?
I would be an ordinarius at a Polish university, if I never truly lived. But now it is too late. I went out, I flied, I felt the wind under my winds, I saw several thousands of euro, not just one, landing on my bank account. I saw true scholarship, true competence, truly intelligent things on my horizon. This is why there is no return. Any return would be the end of all things. There is no other option than to go on flying.
Lisbon is chaotic, boring, overflown with sun. My legs, especially feet are sunburn, and sore from the plastic flip-flops. The longest, laziest vacations of my life are going through their third month.
I miss Leiden so dearly that I cry, and open the box of cosmetic jelly that I once bought in Haarlemerstraat, and sniff it to feel, at least for a brief moment, the luxury, the abundance, the cleanness of the Netherlands. There is practically no more jelly in it, just the smell of a better life. I miss reading books in Oriental studies, theological treaties, things deep and complex, stuffed with Arabic terms transcribed neatly, with lots of dots and diacritics.
I restored my relations with Poland, since the predictions for the country are a whole lot better than they were only a fortnight ago. There is an upward surge, and the things might take up a new turn as soon as the coming month. Yet another mirage?
In any case, as I restore those relations and make new projects, I feel an etching. I was elated with them only for a brief moment. But when I get down to the street, I feel confusion (in strict, psychiatric assertion of the term). I suppose it is an intuitive indication coming from the depths, telling me something is wrong, I've taken up the wrong turn, I've messed things up.
What I actually want to do is something else. To delete my Facebook contacts completely, make a blank page. To remove all the e-mails from my inbox. Except those few coming from Leiden and Oxford.
I feel restless like a migrating bird in a cage, when its time comes to fly south. I want to go home. Home standing for the world of those big universities where I belong. With different kind of people, different kind of social relationships, different kind of friends. Different kind of knowledge. Different kind of writing.
I remember from old times having read that the consummation of any success depends on whether or not the person in question is able to modify radically her social network; it is the condition of a true change. If the high achiever fails to do this, she will remain in her old context, working below her possibilities, bitter and frustrated. Which seems to be my case.
There is a chance that, after all those adventures, all that heroic effort at acquiring competence and scholarship, I might return to Warsaw, the city I hate, the city where I couldn't live, the city where I couldn't even breathe. For another ten years, like those at "Artes Liberales". And after those ten years, it would be game over for me. I would be old, frustrated, bitter, worn out, beyond repair.
There is that tale of Kafka, about a man standing in front of the Door of the Law. And the angel saying: it was open all the time. And now it is too late.
This is why my skin etches, and I feel confusion when I get down to those Lisbon streets, so familiar to me for 27 years.
Overall, this is a march against reality. I have a very nice stay in Paris in front of me, and a fancy plan to go to Bucharest later on. Everything is just hunky-dory. I have time to ask for new opportunities, including Oxford. It is feasible to return to Leiden, buy a house in Leiden, even if it would mean getting on slowly paying for it. Everything is feasible.
So what is my problem? Lacking faith in me? In my talent and competence? Lacking determination?
I shouldn't have left Leiden, in the first place. I should have remained there in December. I should have stuck my claws in that Batavian earth.
And now I cry: home, home, co bitterly homeless. But home is no more. There is no home in Poland any more, even if Trzaskowski wins.
There is only one direction to fly, as my inner compass indicates. The only home is the one to be.
My dreams have been so clear and well-defined since a long time. A house with a garden and a library in Leiden, Oxford, travels, various universities of the world for my research stays. Beautiful books in English, somewhere between two G's, George Steiner and Giorgio Agamben.
The only difference is that now I open my wings to go for them. Embrace them, accept them to come.
Old writings are about to be published, one by one, across the coming months. Nothing, or very little, on stock. I'm ready to open a new chapter, as I contemplate the waves, splashing, building up Turner's maritime mists. My right arm is sunburned, and aching in spite of various layers of argan oil.
I got up early today, and I wrote a little paper for Sjani, a complit journal in Georgia. Yes, Georgia in the Caucasus. About Ali und Nino. It was supposed to be a relaxing little work, but I feel my bulk heavy, still. The paper is ponderous in style. I will perhaps improve it a little bit tomorrow. Anyway, here it is.
I made arrangements for France. I will stay in a spacious flat in Neuville-sur-Oise, gym, cleaning and fresh towels included in the price. There is RER, two supermarkets, a mosque, and even a lake to swim at a distance of less than 1 km.
My life is a permanent vacation. I stay in Lisbon now, I spend my days laying in front of Carmona columns on the river. The mimosas are in full blossom. And when this is over, I go to luxurious Neuville-sur-Oise, cleaning, gym and mosque included in the price. And in exchange of all this endless privilege, I am to write complit papers for the rest of my life.
There was a 19th-century poem in Portuguese, I think they even wrote it on azulejos in one of the metro stations here. How was it?
E se eu não morresse nunca, e eternamente
Buscasse e conseguisse a perfeição das coisas...
I've talked about a position of an ordinarius at the University of Warsaw, in 2021 or so. If the country is safe, and it would be a safety net. I give them less than 30% chance that they will actually offer me the job, but there is no harm in talking; at least I will see how exact are my predictions. As I said, I'm actually more hopeful about becoming an Oxford professor than gaining real influence and respect anywhere in Poland. But it hurts me little. Oxford is a nice little place, after all; it has a river just like Oise. I should accept it, embrace it. This is where complit essayists go.
Who knows, perhaps this vacation will actually never end. And I will live on and on and on upon my complit papers, sort of George Steiner. I remember this is what I wanted, that was my aspiration twenty-seven years ago, when I came to this city for the first time, in 1993. And my complit papers will flow and flow and flow, my English undulating, crisp and fresh and fast, on and on and on, just like Imam al-Ossi's Quranic recitation. I've built up a true attachment to it. It is truly my first language now. I might still make grammar mistakes, or simply built up some idiolectal traits of mine, but I don't care. I am in full possession of it, in full unity with it.
When summoned in the purity of heart, I never fail to appear, said the Crimson Angel, and took my burden from me.
Today, I have been walking unburdened in the City of Men. Like all cities with an important immigrant population, Lisbon has visibly more men than women, although unfortunately Arabs are very few. For some reason, most of them come from Greater India: Pakistanis, Nepalis, etc., together with the obvious black African population. The natives are sometimes nicely built and big eyed, but they are in general tiny men, too small for me. Some of the Pakistanis might be the best option under the circumstances, but I sorely miss the noblest race (as defined by al-Mutannabi).
Meanwhile, I still listen to Imam al-Ossi emotional recitation that goes on undulating and fast and crisp like a mountain stream. He has the crystalline voice of a desert shab (roughly the equivalent of the Greek term ephebos), while he actually grew up from shab to the kind of almond-eyed Arab I wouldn't like to meet in a narrow street of Amsterdam - just as I wouldn't like to meet a fully grown tiger, lion or leopard. Various of his pious clips count millions of views. I wonder how many women across the Islamic world see him as the living perfection of a man upon the face of the earth. Perhaps in twenty years, when the Crimson Angel comes for them, those Sekielski brothers from Poland, who now try in vain to scandalise their Catholic public with yet another guilty bishop, might make a more persuasive movie on women who love imams.
I still dream of white horses. It's a long time I didn't ride and never truly felt I might miss it so bitterly. I dream about white horses in undulating gallop, tails in the wind.
I dream of swarthy men, galloping in the wind, wild, untamed, beautiful.
Waiting for the Night of Destiny. The sweetest, the calmest of all nights. I wish one of those Islamic, crimson angels comes down to take my burden from me. I kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. That was originally the wish of a son of a drunken father, in a Polish movie. I see it vaster, more general.
Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie.
Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie.
Sylwunio did not actually wish his father die, even if it was of this that he felt guilty later on. Similarly, I do not wish Poland die. I wouldn't bring a foreign invasion upon it. I wouldn't like it to be hit by an asteroid. I do not want it to be sick with coronavirus more than it is. I just want it out of my head.
Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie.Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie.Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie.Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie. Kiedy się obudzę, ciebie już nie będzie.
I will be alone, in my own life, in my own Europe, unburdened. Poland will be just an exotic place in the East where I once travelled. I travelled in many better, more interesting places, Morocco, Ukraine, Malaysia. Empty, sometimes jarzębina and gnarled apple trees. Melancholic landscape of swamps that are no more. Climate change. Nothing but a bowl of dust right now.
The state of exception in Poland did not happen. Photos from Polish elections found its place in the section dedicated to humorous events. As I heard, a new idiomatic expression is born to the German language: Polnische Wählen, together with the old idiom Polnische Wirtschaft.
Perhaps even the current government will finally smash the wall. The wu-wei approach of the European Union will prove to be the right strategy. The problem will be washed away by Time. Headless, disorganised, frenetic Poland will continue where it used to be. To let it go would mean to open an ugly gap on the map between Germany and Baltic countries. This is why the gaping chaos will be filled with massive transfers of ready money, just like the gaping void caused by the explosion in Chernobyl was once filled with liquid concrete.
The expected catastrophe has failed to happen. Or rather, it did happen, but not as spectacular as expected. A clumsy catastrophe, not a beautiful one. Far below the level that would grant us our own five minutes on Al-Jazeera.
All my predictions were wrong, and in a way they were perfectly true. And here I am, knowing what I knew all the time. That there is no way back. Even if the government is replaced, the mentality will remain. I will find no place of my own in any Polish university. And of course, no sufficient money to live even this hippie lifestyle of mine. This is why I will go to Paris now, and go on with the planning. I will sell my apartment in Kraków, buy a house in the Netherlands, bring my books there. Acquire a citizenship that I might identify with. Become a stakeholder of a solid reality. Such a reality that might frame my work, grant me healthcare, security for my old age, mahogany bookshelves for my library.
And here I am, the erudite, the scholar. The only burden to carry is this, my erudition, my scholarship. The mission of writing. Just this. In a sunny afternoon of Lisbon, marble pavement under my feet.