The six months, half a year that I've spent here, I spent it on mourning, turning my back to all the beauty of this place, as if it was a grossness against the monstrosity I left behind. I should adopt the Eastern wisdom as in the title of this post: If you entered the Paradise, close the door.
How many times did I swear: the word shall be on my lips forgotten ("wyraz na ustach zapomniany"). Isn't it rather an open wound bleeding in me? How many times did I say: that wound is closed now? I've heard that some crippled people go as far as denying the fact that their limbs are paralysed, or missing.
But what I should be worried about now is that the ERC portal is still not open; it should have been opened on 21st May.
In any case, I'm in the last moment to gather my wits about me, accelerate my work, become serious. Some limbs are lost, other are not. And those limbs that are still alive are: intellectual work, originality, commitment with truth.
In four years and five months I will be able to apply for Dutch nationality, and this would be when my political problem will have a new name, a certain meneer Wilders, if I'm not mistaken and if he lasts that long. Well, apparently he has been a kind of trendsetter in terms of manes, and his mane is no more what is used to be. In any case, I cannot help remembering him every time I enter the library, at the sight of the long rows of qur'ans and hadith collections (he claimed the book should be forbidden in the Netherlands; the Qur'an, I mean; I'm not sure about the hadeeth; and I always wondered how far such things would be feasible in the Netherlands; in any case, as far as I know, this very university was created soon after they got rid of the book-forbidders and other inquisitors, and the first use the Dutch made of their freedom was to mount a printing press and start selling all sorts of forbidden books across Europe; also Arabic has been taught here uninterruptedly for more than 400 years; I suppose it takes more than just one meneer Wilders to bring such things down; but I must confess History is something I see at an increasing distance from my understanding).
Be that as it may, I should spend more time learning the language, using it more actively. At least the way of saying nee.
I've read in Gazeta Wyborcza that there have been people who poured benzine all over themselves and stroke a match, right in front of the government's buildings. To no avail. We've had a new Jan Palach in Warsaw lately, but it remained a mere fait divers. We've had all imaginable sort of scandals, one after another. 45% of people, 65% in some regions of the country, considered it just a lie. A fake news. And they voted, democratically, as if nothing happened. Event is no more. Is this the end of History? or just a section break?
I can't expect them to notice my absence, certainly they won't. I didn't even die after hours of agony, having burned my skin into living flesh. I merely did what I was trained to do: translated.
I've translated my nie into nee, to as little avail as everything else.
It is interesting to observe what happened since my last post, the one about the Point of No Return. How the hope has been, for a brief moment, rekindled by the new document on victims of paedophiliac priests, and then it was overwhelmed by darkness, when the government used the opportunity to introduce new, draconian laws that will soon help spreading terror across the country.
It had been seen before; this is the very well known game of the Snake and the Ladder, of the competence of Ministry of Love in 1984, by George Orwell. One gets attached to it; the game guides human emotions into a very well known vicious circle: hope, pain, love. There is nothing, not even a novel discovery, to search in it. Only the all-pervading sensation of déjà vu, and a sort of feeling of being old, very old, and very tired, that comes with it.
I had already seen it all before I turned fifteen. I hoped, and I felt pain, and I was afraid. I only never managed to love. Or I loved, but managed to forget it.
Perhaps I never loved, because I never had enough hope. I was always ready to dismiss, to let go, even as a child.
It is time to let go.
Certainly, it is my private Point of No Return. Especially since I've posted on this website the photos of my library filtered in black and white, as if they corresponded to some source reality, done and gone long ago. And what does it mean, when half a van of old books is someone's last attachment to a homeland?
My new attachments are forged. Attachment to English as my new language. New little vriendjes at the university. New research project that I see more and more clearly. Even a new discipline, although in fact it is my old one, my dreamed one. Taste for local food, especially for the wijting and the rode poon that comes directly from Katwijk on Saturday mornings. And the image of that big white swan in the Rijks Museum that won't let go. Not by patriotism or anything taught or imposed upon me. By sheer instinct of possession, the very firm grip that sometimes characterises individuals like me, who had already lost everything before their story truly had time to begin. This piece of land in the middle of the swamp is what I chose to have.
Several months passed by since my last post. The events that caused my hope before turned out to be mere strategic moves in a campaign that risks to bring my country to a really sticky end. Now it seems to me again that I see some symptoms of the turning tide. For no reason in particular. It is just the general morphology of the cultural phenomena, idea to which I am so sorely attached. National colours may fall out of fashion simply because they have been worn so intensely for such a long season. Simply because the human being is greedy of seasonal change.
I remember how it all began, long before the European Union; I was eighteen at the time. In the first free elections in Poland, a certain political adventurer hardly speaking any Polish at all, passing by the name of Stan Tyminski, appeared out of nowhere and was about to become the freely chosen president of the country, against Wałęsa, Mazowiecki and that sort of people. The day was saved in extremis by a handful of intelligentsia representatives who spread the rumour (later on broadcast on the television) that Tyminski used to beat his wife. I read today that he was also accused of being a Libyan terrorist, a Colombian drug dealer, and a mental patient; yet it was the accusation of beating his wife that somehow found its way to the popular Polish awareness, and Wałęsa ended up winning the elections. This is why, during my last trip to Poland, I was not surprised to see, on the front page of a right-wing gazette, the news that Biedroń, the present-day leader of the opposition, beats his mother. The only difference is that, in the meanwhile, it became normal and acceptable to beat one's wife. And the only sensation I had was that of a déjà vu. We are under the realm of the Eternal Return of The Same.
It is my nature to be prepared for all eventualities. Also for the Turn of the Tide. A few months or even weeks ago, I believed it is wise to maintain some academic contacts in Poland, just for the eventuality that I might come back one day, after the Turn of the Tide. In the meantime, I grew more attached to the Netherlands, to Leiden. On several occasions, I had that impulse at the bottom of my brain, put the formal clothes, don't wear that sweater, since you are a scholar at your university. Stick to a minimum of decency your status requires. And I was wearing the sweater only at night, when I was going to the library after the dinner.
Leiden is like a garden, like some sort of hortus conclusus transformed by the work of generations, complete and perfect, bright mirror of Creation. Verweile doch, du bist so schön, my only worry is to make my present life last. It has been decided already that I stay for another year, and hopefully, after that year, for another five years. And after those five years, for all the remaining years.
What can the Turn of the Tide do or not do to me? I suppose the decision that remains to be taken is that I won't sell the flat in Kraków yet. If Poland remains in the Schengen. Still waiting to see the result of the elections in the autumn. But how and for what does it serve me now? I suppose it has only a sort of psychological use. For that knowledge that some sort of mediocre stability awaits me there, if one day something happens. Sort of insurance against utmost unpredictability, perhaps against an unexpected quitclaim, an unnamed relinquishment. A use, thus, that would have a name only in Spanish: donde caer muerta.
My life is transforming slowly, but irrevocably. There is no Turn of the Tide in it; I would say my life has a different general morphology as a phenomenon, in comparison to Polish history. A non-tidal morphology; perhaps because my life has no moon. It has an overwhelming logic of Exodus. Leaving closed spaces in favour of larger ones. It is the pattern of diffusion, that the laws of physics prevent from being inverted. This is how I had left my family, the sore limitations of my social class, Lublin, the narrowness of my universities. Now my horizon is truly global, my hobby is to complete the survey of the countries in my "Travel&Literature" section. In Leiden, what I enjoy most is the global ambience, all those people coming from the four corners of the planet, telling me their Bactrian stories during the coffee breaks. Stories that I've never expected to hear from a living mouth.
I came from darkness into light, and I shall not step back from light into darkness. And by darkness I don't mean just the nationalists shouting, at their meetings, that the EU makes the deviants educate our children. By darkness I mean those debates at the University of Warsaw, at the fabulous "A+" faculty where I had spent ten years of my life. There is no conceivable tidal change in this domain; ignorance is stagnant like a pond.
Better talk to me of Khorasan, lad.
It's more than three weeks now that I hardly move from Leiden, and, first time in many years, I close the light before falling asleep.
At a given moment, I even started to think Poland was not as bad as I believed, after all. It was quiet for a week or two, and the new laws concerning tribunals had been unexpectedly revoked. I started to think that, after all, all the discussion about depenalisation (sic!) of the domestic violence and all the debate about the marital rape might be just a paroxysm of modernisation penetrating, better late than never, intimate realities of the Poles. I heard about priests preaching in the churches that women should humbly accept being beaten, yet I started to think that was perhaps their last and most desperate attempt at keeping things under control when the reality, irrevocably, drifted away from them. I started to think that, perhaps, I could have done with just another blister of Tranxene, rather than one way ticket to the Zomia. That one day I might return, resume my work at a university in Poland.
And then they killed the president of Gdansk, with a knife, on stage, as if in a kind of barbarian sacrifice. And then I started to say dank u wel instead of thank you, because suddenly it bored through to my awareness that I'm here to stay.
And now I'm crawling laboriously from Ibn Masarra to Ibn Arabi, and thinking deeply about what exactly I want to do about them, and say, and what is my project really about. I have worries about my work, how can I bring it up to remarkable quality, how can I make myself truly visible. How can I merge with this reality without disappearing. By any means, it is not a reckless and relaxed existence, but on the other hand, not the kind of worries to make me keep the light on all night.
Playing with ideas, as I learned to do in Warsaw, is as far behind as priests preaching in churches in defence of the domestic violence. Here, in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, even Christianity is something different. Most importantly, in the university library, knowledge is something different. In Warsaw, we didn't have knowledge; we did not even pretended to it. We were supposed to have opinions. My older colleague was even quite positive about it. Proud of his opinions. Proud of making the students have opinions.
But what does it do to me now? As little as priests preaching domestic violence in churches.
I can only congratulate myself on my choices. Like keeping away from any Polish males for more than a quarter of a century. Like paying myself a one way ticket to the Zomia. Like choosing knowledge against opinions. Or ideas to play with.
Seule une repue, qui s'était payé son étalon comme son dernier sac Prada et le tenait fermement par la bride, pouvait dégoiser pareilles sornettes. [...] « La polygamie n'est pas si terrible que ça ! » C'était la pire insulte jamais faite aux martyres de cette pratique d'un autre age.
A Senegalese writer Fatou Diome, Celles qui attendent (2013)
I'm in Amsterdam, on heavy duty during the coming two weeks, but right now I've resolved to enjoy my Friday night as a European woman. In an Irish pub in the immediate vicinity of the Red Light district.
The idea could not possibly be more unerotical, not to say asexual one. When I entered the premises about 11 pm, I found the pub full of desperately looking people, including many haunting (rather than actually hunting) females. Typically English kind of females, some of those who some years ago used to advertise "free hugs" on their T-shirts, and sometimes to live up to their promise. When I returned half an hour later, I could sit down quietly over my pint of Amstel, nearly alone among males. Only a few females remained, in pairs, talking between themselves. I have no idea if they actually came here to meet any of those males; clearly they had no strategy of seduction whatsoever, I didn't see any of them attempting whatsoever. Any woman could hardly do, against those men confronting each his own pint of some kind of beer or another. Those few ladies who were still there, were doing so by some sort of desperate, residual companionship, as if keeping faith to their males throughout a final ordeal.
The females were young, but many of them obese; I don't consider them as automatically discarded or unattractive for this reason, I've seen obese prostitutes doing good business in the District. But visibly there was something between them (females) and them (males). Something like a glass wall across an aquarium.
I write about all this, because it is perhaps time to become more balanced in my extreme criticism of Polish males. There was no Pole in that bar, but many of the clients actually looked like Poles; I think about their general expression that only the French term abruti can render. Even if they seemed to me bigger, heavier than a majority of men in my old country. Heavily built and overgrown with fat at the same time.
I've had many theories about what happened with males in diverse countries; one of those theories, that I shared with Ewa Thompson, was about devastating effects of past recruitment to colonial armies. In Poland as well as Morocco. But the English, apparently coming to Amsterdam for the sake of slightly cheaper beer, were the colonisers, not the colonised, all along their history. Isn't it so?
As I looked at them (none of them returned my glance as any God-fearing Muslim guy would do), a new theory got conceived in my brain. What if it is all about calories?
I've had it clearer in my mind how obesity is destructive of female sexuality; I even saw it somewhere in scientific materials, explaining how the fat accumulating around the clitoris hinders its proper functioning. But perhaps I've never cared to muse on the effects of caloric excess on the male body.
We might be too well fed in Europe to have an intimate life to speak of. In my previous post on religion, it didn't occur to me to comment on the possible importance of fasting as a factor in those equations. But in fact I've always resented the cumulative difficulty of abstaining simultaneously of food and of any intimate activities...
Nous autres les Européennes, repues, nous nous payons des étalons en Afrique comme des sacs Prada. This is what the Senegalese writer criticises. But we are also celles qui attendent. Desperate to get love at any price, unconditionally, even with a male to share, to hire, anywhere in the world that we manage to find it. And it is curious to observe that we do find our stallions in those parts of the world where people still fast, by necessity or by choice. Sex is still a luxury, tel un sac Prada. Why, even in this City of Men, there is not enough for everyone? Clearly, there are crowds of men, none of them fitting our purpose. None of them hungry.
And at the very bottom of all these musings, what I discover is once again the necessity of frontiers, of narrow boundaries. The interdependence of eroticism and ἄσκησις. Of hunger and fulfilment. Of the luxurious, elitist aspect of all this. Perhaps otherwise the game wouldn't even been so attractive to play.
I'm coming to this wisdom so late; that's a pity. But even at my 46 years of age, I am increasingly determined not to let it go, to stick to this lifestyle of ἄσκησις, and narrow boundaries, and fulfilment.
Still lost in my desert. But I slowly start to see a way in front of me, how can I move beyond this point. What do I want to achieve, now, when the old objectives have already been achieved and are no more.
So obvious that it is, must be the moment of asking myself what I do not regret, what really does matter for me. What has not been enough in my life. It becomes more and more clear that I do not regret adventure, I don't have it enough in my life. What I still want is dynamism, richness of new and exciting things.
And definitely, there is this passage from part-per-cent into the domain of part-per-thousand. It is very clear to me that I managed to get things that few women can enjoy, or few people in general. But there is still a way beyond the normalcy of my success. At least partially determined by the mediocrity of my origin. I'm still very much attached, for example, to my tiny flat in Kraków. I still find it impossible to let it go. Yet just like my Polish professorship, it is something very normal. A great achievement for a lowly, hard working girl, fighting against her family and social context just to keep her head above the water. Progressively, I get ready to let go the memory of my origins.
Hopefully, on 28th December I will be back in Leiden, ready to put my academic work at a completely new level. Letting go everything I've done or achieved till now. The cause of my hesitation and confusion is perhaps the necessity of finding a balance between continuity and breakthrough.
And yes, there is a dream of a great love story, no matter how good my marriage might become. That is another unsolvable conundrum. Marriage, especially this religious concept of marriage to which I'm so strongly attached, is a book to be read slowly, chapter by chapter. It does surprise me in every new episode. But be that as it may, reading slow books is a quiet kind of pleasure, falling apart from my love of adventure, greatness, things that are novel and exciting.
I have had more than my just share in everything, including the bodily delights. Great love stories are not a normal part of life, for anybody; and even in this aspect, I cannot complain, I had it bigger and bolder than most women. Even in my essentially solitary life, I suppose I've had more orgasms than most women; and suffered less. Overall, I have been on better terms with my body. With the benefit of tranquillity, independence, the comfort of not having to put up with pleasing anyone.
I used to live my life in the upper one or two or three percents, in every aspect. But there is the question of passing into the domain of parts-per-thousand. Of exceptional destinies.
I suppose it is a great taboo to comment on the relationship between eroticism and religion. Yet obviously there is a relationship, and not only at the archaic level of some sort of primordial lingam that must have existed at the beginning of everything. There is frankincense, in my opinion one of the most powerful boosters that exist, in every church. And that is not to mention the fact that I usually avoid the temples of my own religion as places of temptation that I find truly difficult to bear.
There is a power of libido in direct proportion to the intensity of religious commitment, at least in a sort of men. And I'm not sure what I should do about this, treat it as a proof of an enormous hypocrisy? Or rather as something, at least to a degree, natural, understandable, following a hidden, yet consistent logic?
In my old country, there exists, I believe, a class of women that find Catholic priests highly attractive. The problem appeared, at least as a background, in Kler, the movie that made a great scandal lately. But it is a very old question, treated in extenso in many a naturalist novel in any of the major western literatures. The Portuguese O Crime do Padre Amaro is, to my knowledge, among the best bibles of church eroticism.
It's not exactly the Catholic priests that I personally find attractive, but it results not less disturbing. It happened to me once, in Leiden, to positively run away, I mean gather my stuff in panic and fly as quickly as I could. I was reading Dan Brown's latest novel, just to exercise my Dutch, when suddenly a guy approached me and asked if I had a religion. I did not dare as much as lift up my eyes unto him, it was an instinctive reaction, as if I really expected to see a naked penis in full erection in front of me, and to be raped right there, on the little square in front of the McDonald in the centre of Leiden. I run away, run away, run away, not even knowing how this guy actually looked like or what was exactly the thing that startled me so much in him.
On other occasions, I do know it was something about their smell, since in such cases my instinct alerts me instantly to avoid eye contact. No serious incidents thereupon, but it is nonetheless curious to admit that there exists a kind of men that can put me out of my wits with nothing but their sheer presence. I happen to meet them with a certain frequency, since we roam the same lonely and isolated spots, such as narrow passages between bookshelves containing a specific kind of religious writings.
What I've said may just seem as a kind of residual self-defence strategy, inherited from generations of women who reacted like this throughout both prehistory and historical times, when any confrontation with the power of libido might signify a definite risk of death, injury or serious trouble. But it is clear that none of those encounters I'm thinking about implied objectively any menace of sexual violence. By the way, my personal strategies of defence against such a menace go in a completely opposite direction: stern look, demonstration of contempt and certainly no hint of being alarmed or puzzled in any way whatsoever! Also, it is my inner persuasion that sexually induced violence have nothing to do with the power of libido, rather in the contrary; men who may actually attack you with a hammer are those who know they are absolute zero in those things.
Certainly, I am very much afraid of men belonging to the class I'm speaking about; there is no way of denying it. But it is of their tremendous efficacy in obtaining my consent that I am actually afraid. And what I'm really puzzled about is to know if this instinct of slipping away in confusion, with my eyes riveted to the ground, is not by any chance a sort of residual neolithic strategy of seduction. Seduction that I deny ever to have happened.
It's perhaps time to get a full awareness of such things. I usually carry a pack of condoms in my bag, and it is through awareness this prophylactic is supposed to work against temptation.
And that was merely about a certain class of men. What about a certain class of women? Is there such a thing as sexually induced interest in religion? That is to put it quite bluntly. And I suppose it is not a great novelty to give a positive answer to this question. Various sects and denominations are known to exploit such impulses more or less overtly, usually without acknowledging them. But perhaps what I do care to know is the religiously authentic value of those ecstasies and arousals, their value as something that I would like to see more clearly for my private use. Do they possess a godly or ungodly quality in themselves, or are they valid or invalid only through lawful or unlawful deeds to which they actually lead? Also, apparently, I've suggested that men grow libidinous through their faith, while women grow religious through their libido. Is it just a lapsus generated by the rhetorical flow of my discourse, or is there any deeper thought in this? Or these are simply two sides of the same coin? A sort of feedback loop that leads to escalating levels in both fields of experience?
That's a lot of theological musings. Be that as it may, at each turn, the connection between eroticism and religion in itself results even more difficult and disturbing. In New Age terms, it would be easy to say that it is all about experiencing the sacred. But in reality nothing of this is actually easy.
That's the real crisis. I've got a professorial title in my old country, the best marriage the desert can give, and a sort of second youth by God's personal favour to enjoy it. How can I move beyond this point?
Certainly, there is greater social prominence to which I might aspire, there is more money I might care to have, things like that. Men more handsome and more intelligent with whom I might like to be. But I feel all that would be to repeat, perhaps as a kind of premium version, something that is already with me.
Of course I will move beyond this point when my time comes. I will resume my scholarship, write something again, and in this I still have a long way to go. My marriage grows better every day already. And then there might be new things to come.
I'm making a scrap book like a young English lady in her grand tour (oh, those childish strategies that help us to negotiate life transitions!). I chose two pictures from a pocket edition of John William's anthology of erotical paintings and photographs; they are the best to characterise me and the type of relationship I dream about. One is Gustave Moreau's Galatea, featuring the contemplative glance of the cyclops, admiring the radiant and luminous nymph consubstantial with the luxuriant vegetation surrounding her. The other is Alma-Tadema's scene in which Antonius, represented as yet another dark, wild and hairy Mediterranean man, bends forward as if he had just been hit right in his stomach, glancing in awe into Cleopatra's boat crossing the Nile.
Dark, wild and hairy is that I want them. And to be myself the luxuriant queen shining bright, clothed in heavy blossom and leopard skins. Everything is in these two pictures, my longing for purity and authenticity of a primitive race, that is at the same time something so deeply cultured, something clothed in abundant draperies of civilisation centuries in the making and a lifetime in being studied. That's me, and at the same time something I never accepted. I denied all knowledge of this image of myself.
I cheated myself into believing that I had anything in common with the submissive and downtrodden womanhoods of Poland or any other place, real or virtual. With a salty tomato soup coming as a bonus!
Everything has been wrong between me and my desert. Something has been deeply falsified. While firstly, the desert neither requires nor accepts submissive women.
I wrote in one of my previous posts that I feel inexpert with western guys and would never feel at ease with them. I maintain it. I totally lost any interest in them that might have remained. But it is in my own desert that now I am lost.