Many years ago, I had a Palestinian friend. I don't remember any longer what peace talks were going on at the time. But he knew, painfully, that it was a mirage. And that mirages appear precisely when we are in the middle of the most unforgiving deserts.
Apparently, the things seem to wake up in Poland. The turning of the tide, for which I was waiting a year ago, more than a year ago, seems to be nigh. But on the other hand, I see the apocalyptic rider Mendacity even prouder, more arrogant than ever, sitting so high on her red horse. I see the results of that long, patient campaign of indoctrination becoming something obvious, something people get used to, a kind of discourse in which they are almost ready to recognize some sort of essential truthfulness. Those things sank in already. Is not the woman born to suffering and subservience and humiliation? They have never truly left that enchanted sphere.
Is a normalcy still possible in Poland? We have been normal only in relative terms and only for a short span of several years. And then things recovered their usual balance.
And now they are about to quit the European Union where they never belonged. I don't read this in the official declarations, I read this in the distribution of the concepts of "here" and "there", in the implicit construction of space. I am speaking about the society in which the mere fact that someone speaks German may be used as a tool of propaganda, is used as a tool of propaganda, efficiently, because it corresponds to mental structures in people's heads. Because speaking German has a determined place in the implicit axiological constructs. Some years ago, a colleague of mine from the University of Warsaw got his face badly hit in a tramway, because he spoke German to a foreign professor. I imagine that the aggressor, a simple, but honest man, was persuaded of having done something deeply right, something eminently just. Because speaking German is bad, ungodly, it should not be tolerated. Because foreigners, aliens should not be tolerated. Difference should not be tolerated. Millions share this persuasion right now as I write these words. A patient, surreptitious work has been done to shape such persuasions, and they are hidden so deep in people's minds that it will be almost impossible to deracinate them. Such constructs are the land mines of the regime. Those lethal devices will go on exploding long after the regime is no more.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine unify their efforts to join the EU. A flight over endless earth, my dream. But how may the European Union stand up after such a disaster, after such a negative experience as that what happened in Poland. How there might ever be trust again? How long would it take for the Moldovans to come back to their rogue leaders again? It is a work of infinite patience, like helping an abused woman who loves tenderly her oppressor, seeks for oppression in any new man she might meet.
Certainly, there is the lure of welfare, of abundance. The same lure that attracts people from Guinea, from all across the Sub-Saharan Africa, that motivates them to take up great risks and almost superhuman efforts. The same lure of beautiful life that once attracted the Poles. But in just a few years they collapsed into their old habits. Contempt, Mendacity, Delusion. This is to what the tide turns, shall turn again and again and again. For the reminder of my life and long after my death. This is the sun that shall rise over my grave.
The country is on its way to Polexit. Well, I cannot say I did not see it coming. It's time to pack the rest of my belongings, close all affaires and go. This time it is really the foghorn of Cassirer's last ship out of Sweden. Time to leave, live that life that I saw in front of me since the very beginning, since the 1980s and 1990s. The Kingsajz.
It is striking how I recognize Poland and the deepest, the most essential Polishness in everything that happens. Their leader exclaiming "we have our own laws", how similar to my old dean, who used to claim that our faculty had its own laws. The same passion for building singularities (what we were, in Warsaw? - I think unikatowy was the adjective, for some time at least). A little fiefdom with our own little laws.
And if it happened, kept happening for years, at the best university of the country, how easy to expect to find a repercussion of the same way of thinking in a macroscale of political life.
Here, in this place. Ale czy tutaj. Bo gdzie indziej, ale tutaj. Tutaj jest inaczej. Tutaj my mamy. I had this spectacle in front of my own eyes for a decade.
Tutaj prawa nie obowiązywały. Obowiązywała wola dziekana. Kiedy chciał, wszystko mógł zmienić, nagiąć. Powszechność wyjątku. I wonder what Agamben might say about it. A permanent state of exception.
That was my faculty. That was my country. And I saw how much people were glad with it. How much they were ready to put up. They felt honoured to put up with that sort of things, with such a state of lawless exception. And if something works good enough for university professors, how could it not work for simple people? How many times I heard: to taki inteligentny człowiek. They never saw anyone more intelligent than him. The tyrant was thus legitimized. The rule of him was taken for the rule of intelligence.
Meanwhile, we were sinking in ignorance and delusion, deeply persuaded we were promoting excellent scholarship. The best in the world. The only in the world. Unikatowy. Anything similar to us was nowhere to be found.
It was unreal, like a dream. On the news, I saw a European commissaire trying to explain, and telling they will ask our government again. They will send a letter. But I know from my experience that the dean used not to open his emails. What could possibly come into his closed fiefdom from the outside world? This is why I deduce those guys won't read the letter. Not even if it were a letter in a bottle, thrown on the stormy waves of History.
I saw the European commissaire like talking behind a glass pane. Jakiś dziwny człowiek dobijał się przez szybę. Like a voice from a different reality, a different dimension, across the wall of a space bubble.
And I know there is no hope. Because the current regime is a fulfilment. They simply want to live in a permanent state of exception. People like Polish university professors. Because it gives them some sort of delusional power, some sense of control over the reality, perhaps. Że można załatwić. Że zawsze można nagiąć. That they won't be obliged to play fair in relation to those beneath them; they will be able to create dependence of those beneath, have their own subalterns. It is a system of power distribution, offering the supreme satisfaction of stepping on other people's faces, unknown to those who always lived in democracies, in partnerships, in respect.
The day when the Polexit was to be voted, I spent a lot of time reading whatever I found as a source of information from the old country. But it was not about our fate that I knew nothing.
I knew nothing about love, relationship, and crucially, I knew nothing about being a woman.
On Onet.pl I found a curious material: "What does your partner forbids you to do?" That was curious. You think that, after 15 years of marriage, I must know a lot on the topic? By Jove, I was like an innocent child till I opened the Onet. Some, as I discovered, forbid using tampons during the period, "because my masculinity is the sole object that may penetrate you". Wallah, we don't have this quality of ideas in Saudi Arabia.
But of course, the best is the national debate on female virtues (the famous formula "ugruntowanie dziewcząt do cnót niewieścich") that are to be taught at national schools from the coming month of September on. The sheer style, linguistically speaking, in which those maxims are expressed cuts my breath.
I have laughed a lot today, but properly speaking, that's not funny.
अर्थ, ἀρετή, they get lost in the maze of archaic style, classical allusions, pagan and biblical wisdom. Poor people... It is so sad to see them discussing virtue as they drift away, spitting lies like frantic prairie dogs, lying away the ground beneath their own feet...
Ugruntowanie dziewcząt do cnót niewieścich!... I suppose the expression is translatable; it may sound so strange precisely because it is a literal translation - probably from Church Latin. I try to imagine the original sentence... virtus feminarum exerceant... crescant de virtute in virtutem... Disce, puer, virtutem ex me, verumque laborem... no, it's not that. Nothing comes to my mind. Oh yes, I found, it's 1 Timothy 2:9-15, here is the virtus feminarum: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. / I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; / she must be quiet."
The meaning of the original passage is even more strident than any of the hypothesis made by our feminists. It is a strict prohibition of teaching or assuming authority; the prohibition that, long before it came to Poland, would be translated by the murder of Hypatia. A direct prohibition of such careers as my own. I can imagine very easily how attractive is the idea for many Polish men, indeed for most. To remove women from their professional paths, in universities, in corporations - in fact, anywhere where they get into the way.
Be that as it may, it is a great void, a broken chain of cultural transmission, a jump into an abyss, like stepping onto a bridge that collapsed centuries ago. A great, self-inflicted catastrophe of a nation. Like lemmings, my God, just like lemmings...
I start thinking what I could offer myself for my anniversary. In less than three weeks, I will be 49. And even more importantly, how I can mark the quarter of a century of my academic work, in the autumn 2022. 1997-2022, twenty-five years... of what? Ćwierćwiecze pracy naukowej. Sounds better in Polish, somehow.
I could buy myself an expensive pen.
Expensive notebook to write down my academic memories (uhhhhh!..).
I already possess all these things.
Expensive dressing gown, for this winter my flat may not be as well heated as it was in France, so I won't be able to go on writing naked like an Amazonian Indian.
I could order a special cake, with the words 25 LAT PRACY NAUKOWEJ written with sweet chocolate paste.
I could write something special. I'm finishing an essay on Manet that I started as a student, a quarter of a century ago. I already did such things for the 20th anniversary of my academic work (this is when I finished and published an old essay on androgyny). This one about Olympia is, as far as I can see it, the last of those old ideas, or at least those old texts.
In my old university (I mean the Jagiellonian one), they were masters of commemoration. They were organizing sweetie parties, publishing collective volumes, etc. They loved anniversaries of academic work.
Yeah, for the 25th anniversary of my academic work, I should publish something. Perhaps on art. I always wanted to write about art. I could write an essay on Van Gogh.
I could translate into English the translatable part of the abundant writings I produced along these 25 years.
Inexorably, my contract comes to an end. I had good time indeed, I did not appreciate it fully. Oh, especially this car trip around the north and the Loire Valley was cute. With my husband and his steady Arabian love. We always appreciate things as soon as they are gone.
I think about packing, remove my old clothing, books, etc. It is a time of a great removal indeed, a time of simplifying things. Of getting rid. And I am happy to say that in this work, I am clearly on the opposite shore.
They say Tusk is back, the hope is back for my country. I don't believe in such things. Would a single man, coming back from Brussels, change the civilizational belonging of an entire nation? (oh, that ugly Huntington is back, too). History is more complex than that. My dear ex-colleague from University of Warsaw, prof. Środa, says that we should not put up with it, this return of the patriarch. Not to put up? I wonder how she imagines it, this "not putting up". Well, in fact, I did not put up. I am the best example. When they are in all that, I'm just having sex. I've had a lot of good quality sex lately. I'm just reading books, writing my things, and last but not least, a very great deal of musing. Of just being here. Enjoying my last days in Paris. Putting my French right, finally.
Meanwhile, as I see glimpses and reminiscences of the people I left on the other shore, it becomes even more clear to me to what a degree the present regime is consubstantial with them, to what a degree all what happened is a fulfilment of their way of thinking, of their innermost mental order, of the deepest, the most hidden desires of their hearts. Perhaps if an entire invasion of Tusken raiders... Only such things can effectively change the course of History. But not just a solitary old man coming back from Brussels, mentally standing out so clearly in relation to the rest, speaking as if beyond what is their cursory logic. They say he is not coming back riding a white horse; I say he would better come back riding a bantha.
My Moroccan lover asks me what I will do next. I don't know. I feel big trust, like in Star Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi says, with such an infinite trust: Another solution will present itself.
Yesterday I got the first shot of my Pfizer. This is why the pandemic is officially given for overcome. The post-pandemic horizon opens wide for a new, active, fulfilled life.
As for the Pfizer, my arm ached all the evening and for some 2 hours I felt really bad, as if having breathing troubles. My husband monitored me closely on WhatsApp, enquiring about all the symptoms he heard about not only in the whole tribe, but in the whole qabila and among foreign workers. It is clear that after 15 years of marriage and 18 months of absence, this man loves me dearly, the same, unchanging, steady Arabian love. And on the other hand, I should admire and appreciate the efficiency of the French Republic. Joining their forces, my husband and Europe guided me throughout one more trial of life.
Why is it such an obsession to plan the rest of my life? Is it a peculiar symptom of the mid-life crisis? Does medicine know such cases?
My hypothetical age at death is 98. I calculated it with an online calculator, and I strongly believe it. 50 years of life is 600 months. Till now, I have lived 586 months. Some 30% of my life was spent in my present relationship. My husband elaborated an estimation speaking of some 950 sexual intercourses, but there is a large margin of doubt in this.
98 years, it gives 1 176 months of life, of which I already consumed 586 months. The remaining is 590 months. In strict mathematical terms, I'm not in the exact mezzo del cammin yet, but I arrive there soon.
In fifty years from now, how many things will still be? Will there still be a European Union? And a France? And a Holland? Or the reality will differ as profoundly from my expectation as my current life differs from my childhood in the destitute communist country, some 520 or 530 months ago?
There was a time George Steiner seemed similarly obsessed with the potential of the future tense, with our capacity of speaking of the sun raising over our graves. What about the sun raising over my grave? When I feel the death coming, there is one thing I must do. Pay for this website to be maintained online for yet another 10 years. By that time, I believe, people might enjoy the retro flavour of my photos and travel narrations. Perhaps they will taste bitter-sweet as a nostalgic testimony of a Belle Epoque.
That rediscovered time I have in front of me (my husband doubts that I might last that long, but I feel equal to it) still puzzles me. From the list of things to buy, I acquired an elegant fork and knife that I intend to take with me to Germany. Next time I go to the supermarket, I will also buy a soup spoon and a little desert spoon. It is a cute, spindle design vaguely evoking high-tech chopsticks; the steel seems good quality. The Maison de la Recherche where I live provides kitchen utensils and cutlery but they are grey in colour, and of the cheapest kind, as if I lived in less than a decently designed Dutch prison.
This time I only bought one fork and one knife, as if I didn't think about my lover, as if I planned no more men in my life. I think about correcting this mistake as soon as I go to Auchan again. I will bring a second fork and a second knife, even just to serve as a symbol. Of eating together naked, in the shameless maturity of our bodies.
Europe and its forks. Europe and porcelain plates. Europe and books. Europe and Persian carpets. Europe and living another half a century. Europe and not giving up.
I've got attached to this idea of time in front of me. A capital of some 18 000 days to spend. It has been a sort of discovery, an illumination. Even if I still work hard on how to spend it, how to organise it, rather than simply let myself drag into it. I invited my Moroccan lover to spend his old age with me in my house in Leiden. When his parents are dead and his kids grown up and married. To eat on porcelain plates and drink wine in crystal cups, to compensate him for his lifetime of sacrifice and being responsible, bringing up kids and making sure the French have warm water running as soon as they open their taps.
Porcelain plates, crystal cups, Moroccan lovers, white lilies opening wide in heavy jars. Forks, books, crocodile meat, Persian carpets, extravagant clothes, exclusive universities, fountain pens, wove paper, concerts of classical music. Another half a century, 18 000 days to spend on pleasure, on Europe, on being civilised, on travels, on languages, on world literature, on theory making, on extracultural becoming, on circling between Leiden, Oxford and Heidelberg.
Thanks God I won my independence. The greatest success of my life is this, the space to dream, unbound. To shape my life as I want it, unrestrained.
I have always been anticipating the next chapter, moving on and on and on, just as now I anticipate my old age, my final half a century, my late style. My house in Leiden, where I will eat from porcelain plates and keep lilies in heavy jars. I have it planned. The bookshelves for a new library. Oh, only recently, I was still caring about my old books, those who accompanied me all those years. My old Poetic Edda, in a critical edition by Ossolineum. And my Bhagavad-Gita, equally yellowed and brittle with age. I could have kept them as relics. But if I get rid of them, Poetic Edda and Bhagavad-Gita will gain a chance to exist in my life deeper, in a more pervading way than they would if I kept those clumsy books of my childhood. I want to finish them up, I want them to die in my own hands, as I read them for the last time. I want to carry them, ceremonially, to the recycling container among trees and high grasses. But not to take them into my new life, my next chapter. I've always worked hard on closures. I want to bury my books, I will take with me only few of them, the useful, the actualised ones.
I had a strange dream two days ago, of that Renaissance scholar from Hungary, György. And as I woke up, I thought about those few colleagues I respect, Stefan, Michaela. Very few names after a quarter of a century of academic adventures. Perhaps I'm not so very prone to appreciate people.
By the way, for my another half a century, I would like to have a knife of Damascene steel in my kitchen. I saw them for sale, in the Internet. That's interesting. Are there Damascene forks as well, so sharp and precise that they permit to grasp the tiniest, the most elusive piece of crocodile meat? Or would they scratch the porcelain too much, making it look old before the half a century elapses?
I need a reconstruction of a tooth deep behind. I was planning to remove it, but my French dentist advised me against it. It will cost me 675 euro, if I want the work well done. I have another half a century in front of me. A tooth deep behind will serve me.
In 50 years from now, I will be 98. Still feasible to stay alive that long. Working little, taking good rest, and lately, consulting my Guinean medicine man, I can easily reach this age. With a good planning.
I wonder what I will do all this time. In those 20 years, I could make a good European career, somewhere in Germany or Netherlands. I could truly live, rather than remain undead.
To be or not to be, an everyday choice, a question that I see in front of myself every morning, when I slowly open my eyes, feeling a tremendous void inside my skull. Give up, or stand up and fight. I was educated to give up. But Poland is no more, and with it, the culture of giving up. At least as I see it, as I anticipate it, it has been sucked by a great vortex, the widening gyre of that new revelation to come. Of that new Russia to come, that eternal Russia the parasite inside our skulls. Oh, that eternal idea that, if we could talk the things through (dogadać się) with Russia, civilise it, together we would rule the world. It returns right on the front page of today's Gazeta Wyborcza, on the occasion of Andrzej Chwalba's new book, Polska-Rosja, Historia obsesji, obsesja historii. We might have civilised Ivan the Terrible. We ought to have done it.
Russia, the eternal temptation of the Poles. Certainly, it is not better than Europe. Yet just like the Dark Side in Star Wars, it is easier, quicker, offering endless opportunities of rogue advancement; more terrible Ivan, roguer the advancement. I wonder whether I wouldn't chose it myself, if I had no talent, no love of hard work. I would certainly do.
It is just a chance that I am one of the tiny percentage of those who had not been infected, or managed to overcome the infection. I am just lucky to have this strong constitution, this blood redder than most. This is why I am here, on this side of the Oder, in Europe, in a place that Russia would never conquer, even if she managed to talk the things through with Poland. Making a list of items to acquire for another half a century.
The elegant red notebook in which I try to collect any happy thoughts that remain is with me for some 20 years now. I still have some clothes I bought in Portugal as a student. When I settle down after Heidelberg, the things I buy with my German salary will überleben me (I could say they will outlive me, yet certain things are beyond English). How long does a handmade Afghani carpet live? I have been told it lives shorter than a silk Tabriz. Yet probably more than those 50 years, I wouldn't walk on it that much. Or should I opt for a densely woven Bijar? A silk Kashmiri that -quite incredibly- represents less than a half of my French salary? A Meissen porcelain set, paintings, polyglot book collection will live those 50 years with me and then face an uncertain destiny. Or I will live those 50 years for them, to accompany them, to dust them. To put hot tea in the porcelain cups, to read the books. Undead, I want to burry myself in a living museum, among fragile things that nonetheless überleben empires.
I didn't live a long time as a flounder, on the bottom, just a couple of days. I've been so ill that I asked to be tested for COVID, and it came out negative, just to give me the insight on how quiet and efficient the things are here in the West, at the height of an apocalypse. It was the very same day that the vaccine was announced, and it was as if I suddenly realised that Christmas is coming.
Maintenant c'est moi qui descends Rue Descartes, quand la Ville se comporte toujours fidèle à sa nature, Gardłowym śmiechem odzywając się w ciemności, / Wypiekając długie chleby i w gliniane dzbanki nalewając wino, / Ryby, cytryny i czosnek kupując na targach, / Obojętne na honor i hańbę i wielkość i chwałę,
J'ai acheté des crevettes et du vin blanc, et je n'ai pas voulu des patates douces, je les deteste (mais ils sont en promotion, Madame, seulement pour ce weekend). J'ai l'envie de la viande de crocodile pour le Noël, accompagnée des feuilles vertes de manioc. Je fais l'amour pendant qu'ils font la guerre. En Pologne - c'est à dire nulle part - wiadomo: na świętego Marcina zadyma się zaczyna.
Ce que ce pays donne au monde, c'est moi. Juste comme Roumanie a donné au monde Cioran, qui ne voulait parler roumain à personne. Ils m'appelleraient traîtresse de la race, s'ils savaient combien je désire les mains poilues d'un de ces frères à moi. Et pourtant, to wszystko już było i zmieniło się / W pomniki przedstawiające nie wiadomo kogo. Et la civilisation, c'est moi, pour eux à jamais perdue, moi et cette sacoche et les livres qui sont dedans.
Opieram łokcie o szorstki granit nabrzeża quand je suis de retour du pays souterrain et je vois en lumière. J'écoute une cantate de Bach pour me sentir européenne, car c'est ça, l'Europe, une cantate de Bach ouie entre le souvenir des feuilles de manioc et des huitres passées par le feu et du rougir des lions et les mains poilues de ce frère à qui j'ai promis tous les plaisirs de ce monde et de l'autre. Et je ne veux surtout pas qu'on me parle roumain au lit.