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 decent Dutch prison.
They make me think about a single fork my grandfather brought with him from Germany; he always refused to eat with any other. It did last half a century; when I saw it for the last time, its handle was eaten and destroyed as if it had lasted far more than this. Perhaps it was not new when my grandfather took possession of it. Did he really bring it with him from Germany, where he was slave worker, in a Bauer's farm, during the ww2? As a thing worth having? These were the relics of my childhood, pieces of different worlds that ended up in our flat: that German fork and two odd porcelain cups Fryderyka, inherited from I don't know whom. I bough a similar fork for my home in Kraków, it was a classical German design, still available. And a knife; a pair of them in fact, for myself and my man. But they lacked the aura of history, they were simply a fork and a knife, not relics of a different world or survivors of empires. 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.
Meanwhile, the vaccination entered some sort of European crisis. I sit, or rather lay, the lockdown up in my bed. Personally, I decided not to accept AstraZeneca vaccine if it is offered to me. My immune system is very strong, strong enough to cause serious problems. I can't afford to lose my half a century because of a blood clod. Especially in my brain.
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. Also unrestrained by money. I managed to set myself free from hereditary poverty, and more than poverty, the attachment to things not worth having, things that block the space. Relationships not worth having, with things and people, and countries. And forms of madness not worth nurturing.
As I sit up yet another lockdown on my bed, many memories come to me, like a passing flow. Among them, the memories of that time in Lublin, when my fellow students were getting married, one by one, in white dresses decorated with artificial flowers. Their taste seemed doubtful to me, even if they saw me as the most miserable of them. Some invited me to flats bought for them by their parents, to let me admire a double bed in crude pine wood, that was a luxury of the time. What happened to them, and to their beds? Nothing at all, as I presume. I know of those who remained at the university. They are still there. The beds might eventually be replaced with more expensive one, of similarly doubtful taste. Currently, there is no bed at all in my Cracovian apartment. It annoyed me, and I threw it. It was a good, stylish, mahogany bed, it deserved to be kept, perhaps. But I only cared about leaving the country. The few nights that remain, I can sleep them up on the matrass laid on the floor.
Since those remote times in Lublin, 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, well, in what was considered a critical edition in Poland at the time. 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. Not the one I used for my classes in Warsaw. I do believe it is my hard work on closures that actually permits me to navigate across social strata and elitist contexts, not to get stuck. I climb on my own bare feet all the way up the ranking, from that lowly university in Lublin, where I failed to get married.
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. I prefer forks.
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. Might be cheaper, eventually, in Poland. But I prepare myself to spend this money. 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. Leaving Poland, I felt that my academic career came to a rather inglorious end. The thought that the money on my account, spent more or less carefully, might last for 10 and even 20 years is vaguely tempting. There are still two ways in front of me: the one leading up and the one leading down. These 20 years, I could spend them in Kraków (or somewhere in Romania or Bulgaria) on the margin of everything. On the other hand, in those 20 years, I could also 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.