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.
Yesterday I got the confirmation of my stay in France. Good tidings that made me feel a different person immediately. There will be quail once again, and more, there will be cod fish to eat today. I could even buy another book.
And more than this, there will be no need to return to the old country. "Gazeta Wyborcza" has loosened its grip on my mind. I ceased to care, ceased to follow every single opinion article. Especially those predicting the emergence of a new class of paupers, of what we would be unable to buy.
In fact, my life might be consolidating right in the middle of the widening gyre. I might finally be cut from what has caused my stagnation in recent years: the habits of writing in Polish, publishing in Poland, trying to keep the things upright in Poland. No, things will never stand upright in Poland. I always knew it, and nonetheless I tried over and over and over again. In January, February, beginning March 2020, I was falling once again in the old trap. Writing in Polish again, preparing a lecture in PAU again. The virus cut the line in the last moment. If the pandemic didn't happen, all my European career might become an unfulfilled adventure very soon. Unwillingly, they might actually end up employing me at the Jagiellonian University. And I would be bogged, back to the very beginning of everything.
Instead, I'll be packing for Paris in a couple of months. That's a soft landing. And then I will make new projects, go to Oxford, as I always wanted. Stay in Vienna, in Emirates, even on Iceland. Have the life I always dreamed about, a house in Leiden, OK, at least in Alphen, included in the deal.
My dreams always used to come so smoothly to me. Because I dream so modestly? No, not at all. Nothing was modest there where I come from. Perhaps because I managed to identify very early the life I want and to which I was born. And I put my hand on it already as a child, in the eighth or ninth year of my life. Books, travels, foreign languages, knowledge and competence. And yes, I do believe I will be a decent Orientalist. That last dream will be fulfilled as well. And I say this after two months in which my cotton brain couldn't digest even a single new word of Arabic.
But now the ponderous albatross caught the draft under its wings once again. To cross half of the planet in a single flight.
Stagnant COVID-19 statistics have grown definitely boring; nonetheless, I've got a new passion, Democracy Index published by "The Economist". It is a reading that brings me to many profound musings and illuminations. First of all, I discover that we (they) had been ranked below Hungary already last year, even before the current crisis truly began; and certainly much below Czech Republic, a country that also had its own mushkila siyasiyya, to call it like this. It will be with a great impatience that I expect the new ranking. Will we (they) (formerly ranked 6,62 over 10) descend below Papua New Guinea (formerly ranked 6,03)?
A morbid contemplation. All Eastern Europe is at risk, even countries I would so gladly see spared, such as Romania. They deserve better than a simple repetition of the History we know.
History is pitiless, nonetheless. And all peoples get what they deserve (do they? also Swedish fascists who still get their deepest green colour on the map accompanying the ranking?). For sure the index is biased; it has its own criteria, that are those of the white man. I wonder if there exist a ranking evaluating the degree of compliance with political reality among the populations. Saudi Arabia would be near the top of the ranking (at least used to be, since some things tend to deteriorate lately), and Poland only slightly beneath. I don't know about North Korea, what do they feel? But I know several Chinese.
So how is it? Do we occupy the place in the ranking that we actually choose? At the deepest of our hearts and souls, at the most normal of our everyday decisions, ways of coping, ways of doing things? The ways we smile? The ways we live in communities? The ways we reject those we decide to marginalise?
I have no doubt that new Polish reality will be among the most enjoyable, at least at the beginning, for large groups of the population. They will indulge in simple pleasures, such as, just to give an example, the abuse of one's wife. Or even more simple, basking in hostility toward any chosen victim of the day: be it a nurse or a female doctor. Could stoning be introduced under a Catholic regime? I have no doubt they might enjoy it greatly.
There had been time when the population of the Netherlands greatly enjoyed ripping apart someone accused of treason. The details volatilised from my head. Was it one of the brothers de Witt? Johan de Witt? Cornelius de Witt? Or both? And still it was called their Golden Age.
Perhaps the true stake of History is not about democracy, or ambient hostility, or the surrounding chaos. It is about books and paintings, and such things.
And perhaps what torn me and my country apart is not the democracy, nor any political issue. In the first place, it is all about the ambient mediocrity: of its universities, of its literature, of its intellectuals, if we (they) have any. For we (they) used to have Barbara Skarga, and now we (they) have Magdalena Środa... To be honest, I've never read any book of Barbara Skarga. Does Magdalena Środa write books? Or only those opinion essays in "Gazeta Wyborcza"? Of those, yes, I've read several.
I've checked right now on Google. Yes. Magdalena Środa writes books. On dignity. A typical intelligentsia term, repugnant to me. For I have no dignity, never had. I lived in a society of contempt since my childhood. People used to spat on me when I was eleven, and I was either called or implicitly considered a prostitute for a greater part of my life. Once upon the time, we (they) believed our dignity will be restored with the fall of the communism. Nonetheless, it was not. I've always earned my living as a university professor; nonetheless, for many people around me, it could be reduced to the basic ontological condition of being a whore. For sure, they thought, it was "through bed" that I made my career. Otherwise, how? And coming from such a family? Certain things simply cannot be... Last time I learned from someone I am a whore was less than a week ago, in "Gazeta Wyborcza"'s comments. This is why I implore you, Professor Środa, talk to me of dignity! Talk to me smooth, with a velvet voice of a Polish lady inteligent.
Jakby to był zegarek, to po prostu wszystko rozłożone i każda sprężyna leży osobno.
(a voice in Polish parliament)
Yesterday I went to a bookshop first time since the onset of the pandemic. I bought a recent co-authored volume of Mia Couto and Agualusa, O terrorista elegante, as well as Agualusa's diary O Paraiso e outros infernos. I'm not glad with the latter, I should have chosen another book. But anyway it has been a delight to include these two new covers in my LibraryThing catalogue.
Meanwhile, I've actually lost the track of Polish politics. I think they have lost it too. I lowered the risk estimation from 85% to 80%, since it requires much more careful planning to establish an authoritarian regime. Apparently. Or it's not like this?
Anyway, it is unique to see a state dismantled like a watch, every single escape wheel laying separate on the table. Some of them, perhaps, under the table. Fallen in the gaps between the planks of the floor.
Gosh, it is mesmerising to stare onto the catastrophe like this. Oh, there was that old German essay, Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer. On the essence of modernity. And after the Schiffbruch, we (they) will have to rebuild the boat from splinters, only to live the cycle all over again. Meanwhile, on the height of this Portuguese rock, I am the Zuschauer, a distant spectator of the widening gyre.
I said 80 instead of 85%. I should have said 99 instead of 85%. Watches don't dismantle themselves just like this; there must have been some patient and purposeful watchmaker to do it. And I must admit that the work has been done thoroughly. Who is the watchmaker? A person? Agents of a foreign power in remaking, on the way toward a restitutio Imperii? Moscow as the Third Rome? Or rather our (their) self-perpetuating, helplessly autonomous identity of a dysfunctional nation?
As I think about it, one shining beacon appears on this foggy horizon. I have no knowledge nor insight in the domain of watchmaking. The only thing I can do is go back to my Netherlands, to my books, to my writings. In my inner ear, there is a song sounding clear. That old one by King Crimson:
The light of good works shine.
Surely some revelation is at hand
Yeats, The Second Coming
By the end of the coming week, we will know if I was right or wrong about Poland. If anything happens, or the country goes on patiently grinding its History as usual. I asked my husband how I should feel, if the events prove that I came here in vain. It's 1000 euro less in my pocket, and the regret that I could have spent that empty time more pleasantly, reading my books, playing with my toys, switching candles, taking long baths in my Jacuzzi. Don't be silly, he said. It was the right decision to take precautions, even if the catastrophic event does not come. We shouldn't reclaim the catastrophe only to justify the cost of our caution.
What is the probability of an authoritarian takeover right now? The chaos surrounding the presidential election has only grown bigger over the past couple of days; there is no clear solution to envision, and even harder to imagine that sort of postal plebiscite, alien to all civilised rules, might actually take place in a week from now. Meanwhile, there is a sensation of quietness as the scenario of a pandemic danse macabre didn't come true. People from "Gazeta Wyborcza" seem to pay less attention to History, as if released from its grip. They cultivate their usual intellectual style, that mixture of cheap humanities and strange conceptions that exist only in Poland; no one else understands them. On the other hand, I have the feeling that the chaos-generating actions of the two leaders of the right have been concerted. They are simply playing a spectacle of rivalry for the naive eyes of the Poles; the opposition is only dancing, in a macabre, disarticulated way, to the music played by the ghostly fiddler. No one would say that, at seven days notice, we sink.
Or not. In any case, Polish history should be no business of mine, since I paid a good money to see myself out of it. I also feel released from the grip of Time. The days flow quick, as I do nothing, read some of those Polish articles and see travel documentaries in Arabic alternately. I uncoil, forgetting that I have an academic career to make, a life to rebuild. There will be time for this soon, when oil starts to flow again. Meanwhile, I will eat my cod fish with cream.
I saw a documentary about preppers in the UK (I wouldn't see one about those of the USA). Overall, they are mild maniacs; we are worse than them. My husband bought a flat in Antalya in fear of the conflict with Iran, and specifically, in fear that the water distribution networks would be targeted. My choice of the Netherlands in the time of incoming Polish draught follows the same ancestral logic. Higher ground is for us a wetter ground. Although of course, the wetter ground of Holland might be catastrophic in the opposite sense, and I promise myself an inflatable boat, a life jacket, a provision of canned food and bottled water as soon as I get my new house. Those British preppers on the clip targeted 18 months of shortage, since they feared an outburst of anarchy after a political turnover (gosh, if I followed their logic, I would have to hoard supplies for some 30 years!); in the Netherlands, I wouldn't need more than the food for a week or a fortnight, since this is what it would take to evacuate us all, if the digs were broken, or I would sail southwards, to Europe, on my inflatable boat...
By the way, I also liked a documentary on Al-Jazeera, "Thailand's last resorts", about care homes for Western people. I liked the idea very much. I would really like to spend my dementia years up there, among butterflies. Once I settle in the Netherlands and start to earn a good money, there must be ways to arrange this. I'm not crazy to tell such things. This is, once again, the response to the anticipated trauma of losing my retirement savings in Poland. They say the government has not nationalised them yet, because they are waiting to sell the shares when the situation on the stock market is improved... This is the homeland I leave behind. Who is the first to throw a stone at me? Just like Augustine, fugiebam abiectionem...
It tastes bitter to start from a bare polder at 48. Anyway, I still have some twenty years or more to save enough for my Thai last resort. And by that time, the best place for a care home will probably be somewhere else. Who knows, perhaps on the islands of Guinea-Bissau. Closer from home (which home?), and I would love the nurses speak Kriol to me. I suppose that with Alzheimer, I would still understand, to some degree, the languages I had learnt, or it's not like this? I imagine that my dementia might be like a snowstorm of words, liberated from their respective linguistic codes, dissociated from their meanings, circling round and round in sheer delight of how they sound. The words of all my languages, even Hindi and Turkish, in a great meaningless parade, the uttermost Finnegan's Wake. And I would like to keep the white rabbit my husband once bought for me in France. And the photos of all our travels, of all my travels. They always show them photos in the care homes, isn't it? Gosh, I have such a splendid lot. I have such a splendid lot of everything.
Overall, I must confess there is a great amount of optimism in my Apocalyptic musings. They are not truly catastrophic; there is plenty or amor fati in them. Clearly, I am under the empire of the future tense, which is a good sign in itself, better than endless ruminations of the past. It is also a life en plein air, wind in my hair, glorious. In a global horizon, unhemmed, one step ahead of History.
PS. The best of "Gazeta Wyborcza" today is the news that someone devastated the car belonging to a doctor working in a COVID hospital. I wonder if we (they) will come down to actual physical assaults on doctors and nurses.
This is the homeland that I leave behind. Fugiebam... what? Acephaliam? There are things that cannot be found in one's Augustine. For I wouldn't say, in this case, that fugiebam ignorantiam. It requires a stronger word, that his polished Latin doesn't have. Nor Arabic. Nor English. Nor French. Nor any of those so called civilisation languages. I might eventually say that they have gone berserk. A bit of old Norse sometimes comes in handy.