And now? In the predicament. I disarranged something that honestly was good enough, at least good enough to keep me in warmth and comfort for twelve years. A beautiful Arabian tale, Qahtani-styled, zero-violence, zero-hostility. Evidently, I know well enough it's a bad Orientalist's fiction. It is incredibly naive to see Southern Arabs in a guise of romantic shepherds, in contrast to harsh warriors from the North; such a distinction would be a thin stereotype a thousand years ago, and at best. It causes me an eternal surprise that I managed to make any way whatsoever in my life, relying on such dubious hints. Nonetheless, it gave me of what to feed at least a dream for twelve long and eventful years. By the way, a genetic test made just for fun proved pitilessly that he was not even a real Qahtanite; well, it had nothing to do with me, they did cultivate the belief in their origin more to the south than it really was, probably for some reasons of tribal convenience. But whatever the facts, telling Oriental tales to the Orientals is what we, Europeans, love to do. Unfortunately, I'm afraid, not only in bed. On the other hand, yet another story about themselves is what the Orientals are always greedy to listen to. This is how we dwell in a net of crisscrossing narrations.
Oh, the fictions we build in order to survive!... Better, anyway, than having the sort of verbal (and, I suppose, also non-verbal) exchanges I used to overhear through walls and windows of my apartment in Kraków. Beautiful fiction that, nonetheless, I do not qualify as a great love story. Because, in a way, it was prosaic. Not as prosaic, however, as the life people lived in my old country; their life was, I'm afraid, below prosaic, it was crass, mindless, coarse.
Curiously, I'm under the impression it was the harshness of the warriors from the North, not the Qahtani romanticism, that used to attract European ladies in the first place. I mean, speaking in terms of the history of Orientalising eroticism. A kind of masochistic dream conceived and consumed in London, in response to what English men might have been in their time, and what English women were trained to love and desire in them. No wonder that an English man is often clearly to be seen under the Oriental disguise, just like in The Sheikh by Edith Hull, the masterpiece of the genre. Where in the end the Arab proves to actually be an Englishman, a lost child of some aristocratic couple gone astray. I wonder if there is something Polish to be seen under my own Oriental disguise.
Honestly speaking, I know the answer, and it annoys me. There is something unmistakably Polish in my submissiveness, in my readiness to serve and please the male, to wait upon him, often at the expense of my own personal frontiers. In my lack of assertiveness. That has been my share in the insufficiency of my marriage. At the same time, it is something culturally learned that falsifies my true nature and temperament. This is why I would really love to get rid of it in the end. Of that Polish wife syndrome, waiting upon her male with the proverbial dish of good tomato soup (pomidorowa, dobra). Since many years we have eaten kabsa nearly all the time we could spent together, but Polish tomato soup remains gruesomely valid as a metaphor, namely of sexual subservience. For there are many ways to serve the tomato soup to your husband... And here, as a sort of unwanted, even more gruesome association, comes another proverbial expression in Polish, that originally appeared in a badly conceived social campaign: wail on you if it was too salty (bo zupa była za słona)... This is, I'm afraid, what we are actually trained for, even if I'm usually the only one to admit it.
Any time I cross the frontier of my old country, either physically or in the mental space, there are ghosts, unnamed horrors I leave behind.
There is also a transformation I live through these days, I'm sure of it. And in a way it is an overdue transformation into an adult woman. Oh, my reader, please do not laugh! I have a collection of teddy bears and soft toys to offer to some charitable institution; only weeks ago, I was truly attached to them. As well as books about animals, old BBC books published to accompany the TV series by David Attenborough. All this was an extended childhood I lived in the body of an adult woman. It was also an extended childhood to be smooth, cheerful and tender.
I know very well the type of mature woman who gets out of such a childhood: peevish, commanding, pretentious, aggressive, wishing to present an interminable bill of claims to the world. And on the opposite pole, another type, extra-sweet, affected, chichi, artificial, mendacious, inauthentic from tip to toe. Certainly, neither is attractive or lovable, by any standards. I've got very few positive models of mature womanhood, I'm afraid. And that's good, in a way; this is where the cultural transfer ends. Whoever I become from this point on will be my own, independent invention, not a new role play.
The harsh warrior from the North as an object of desire is haunting also my mind. I do not feel free of it, I do not feel free from anything whatsoever, as if all cultural constructs of love and desire, masculinity and womanhood, sex and violence were imposed upon me, layer upon layer. In Arabia, some tales of such men, polygamous patriarchs and slave traders from old times, had been told to me, and I was asked, just for fun, if I would marry them. I always said yes, just for fun, but also for my inner persuasion that such a guy would melt into a sort of muddy pool at my feet, tinted lapis-lazuli, exhaling oudh and jasmine. Somehow, I always knew that unmeltable sheikhs exist only under the pen of Edith Hull (and they prove to be Englishmen in disguise), in a fiction of emotional impenetrability that comes clearly from a European source. In Arabia, they are an anecdote used to tease difficult ladies. Nonetheless, that's strange, since there is absolutely nothing, either in my culture or in my private biography, that might train me in such a self-perception of invincible womanhood. Where did this strange idea come from?
And, more importantly, where is the truth about a man who might become to me an object of unfalsified desire, beyond all the cultural constructs, those of sex and violence as well as their opposite? Beyond everything that we, women, have been trained to desire? Beyond eroticism as a construct? That's to love beyond love, I presume, although sadly I forgot (or never knew) the exact Arabic expression, used by Abu Nuwas and other such poets. Anyway, that's what I came to Leiden for. I think so.
For 12 years, I have been with a man of honour. How many women can say this the day they asked for divorce?
"I should accept it", he said, and proposed to arrange everything for a seamless transition. To my new partner.
The only thing that remains is to find another man of honour.
I should talk to my husband. About the divorce, I mean.
There is a long way I went during these last few days. Perhaps a way of no return. The step of a dream is quick, I suppose especially in my case, for whom dreamed is sometimes done with unpredictable bravery and energy. Meanwhile, it is so very easy to divorce in this system, and I think this is precisely what is strongly dissuasive. Just the simplest of all formulas, repeated three times to make sure it's really what he wants to say, and that's it. With all the formalities, it wouldn't take 15 minutes, I suppose. But it is a way of no return. A very, very, very long and totally impracticable way to get back to each other in case of a sudden repentance. If I suddenly discovered I do love him. From his side, anyway, he never claimed the opposite.
On the other side of the balance, the natural exhaustion, the end of things. The urgency of a new beginning.
I look back to my life, in an even larger perspective than this marriage. I have the sensation of loss, of having missed something, of a potential I wasted. To a certain degree, it must be true. Early in my life, I probably paid too little attention to relationships; I did not invest in them. Certainly not like my friends and colleagues. Both me and them were serious, but in our own ways. I was studying, building my independent future while they were catching husbands, trying on their wedding robes, working out their makeup. Some of them, I suppose, are still married to the same men to which I refused to pay attention; others, I imagine, may have divorced, and not just through a 15-minute procedure, but violently and traumatically. While I was gathering the fruits of my studies and my academic commitment. If a professorial nomination is what I wanted and aspired to in my youth, this is what I got in the end. It is stupid and unjust to claim now that I wanted something more or something else.
I look back to a life without a great love story, without sufficient romance. The relationships I finished by having earlier in my life were accidental, unnecessary, as in a logical consequence of the little attention paid to planning those things, keeping them under rational and ambitious control. That's of course the tale of maturity to which I couldn't have access when I was young. Especially under the cultural and social conditions in which I was immersed at the time; no one taught me to expect much. I suppose women in Poland still don't expect much, at least not in terms of great love stories and romance. They take their pleasure in rituals as I took my pleasure in adventures.
Perhaps all my regret is precisely this. I didn't go as far on the road of adventure as I should have gone. I regret periods of stability such as this 12-year long marriage. Should I have ended it in the middle? Would it be more beautiful then? Perhaps. But six years ago I had no alternative planning; I was busy with other worries. So I let it run, in spite of insufficient romance.
Certainly, if this marriage lacked anything, a half of the responsibility is mine. There was no sufficient romance, because there was no sufficient commitment and assertiveness. I was working for it only during the first half, and during the first half it was good. But not during the second one.
I wasn't ambitious enough in my relationships. Yes, because my ambitions were deposited elsewhere. I never aspired to be with an important man, to gain social stance through relationship, to be invited to parties in the quality of my man's companion. Is it what I miss now? Yes. I do miss this. Perhaps it is a shortsighted and fanciful aspiration, and life is not really about it. And I come to this just because I've received my professorial nomination already, and I am in a period of vacation of some sort, permitting myself to be unserious for the first time in my life. Before I return to my academic work on a new level.
I've said in my previous post that now I require intelligence and sensibility that only one man in a hundred might eventually possess. I never expected or required any such things from anyone in the past. I accepted that man is essentially a simple being, greedy of hard porn rather than the sophistication I might find out about in my books. Certainly, there is a part of truth in it. Nonetheless, that was a mistake, perhaps the greatest mistake of my life. Metaphorically speaking, during the 12 years of this marriage, the sophistication was nailed to the wall of my apartment, just like my khulkhal. It was there all the time, unused. For no other reason than the lack of commitment with it.
Sophistication is a fragile thing, easily turned into ridiculous, easy to withdraw in front of vulgarity. Requiring mindfulness and brain power to maintain it. Who knows, maybe its cost exceeds its value. Perhaps this is why I constantly call the Absolute to my assistance, as if the matter required a support from higher up. It may seem inappropriate to many people, why should I make God meddle in such affairs. But I suspect there might be no other way. If we let it go, we will remain with nothing but the earthly reality of hard porn, simpler, quicker, cheaper, more efficient. Not to say more modern, for those things I speak of are tremendously archaic. I happen to have an exceedingly liberal attitude toward hard porn; on misty mornings, I enjoy walking through the Red Lamp district in Amsterdam, watching the prostitutes smile to me through their large window panes. But I couldn't possibly do this if my crimson angel wasn't with me.
I suppose there is a specific talent for love-making that is as rare and precious as any other talent, be it for dancing, singing, painting or any other art. I do not even know in what measure I might possess it; if I got any, I probably wasted at least 95% of it. On sheer stupidity.
And what are truly the unfalsified desires or fantasies of someone who is 46 years old and has seen it all? ("Seen" is the appropriate term here, for even if I didn't practice certain things personally nor participate in them directly, I probably saw them at least on stage in one of the reputed theatres here in Amsterdam). As the outcome, I suppose I grew very conservative in my tastes (although "conservative" is a slippery word), and actively against the vulgar globalised porn culture. We are what we see, never enough warning against its dangers. The toxin enters deep, infecting dreams, desires, intimacies. Once seen, there is no way to "un-see" it. The image stays forever encrusted in the brain.
This is a big question what I would like to take, or let in, to my new Dutch home. It is not a surprise if I say I would like to have a new library. I tried to collect erotic books since my youth, but most of the things I could get in Poland are good only for the recycling bin. In general, things from Poland are to forget, although, as I've said, there is no way to "un-see" them. Even if they are nothing daring or particularly shocking, the recollection may be disturbing and unwanted. Just to give an example. Polish culture never produced a lot in terms of erotic motives, but certain images of the failure of eroticism as such are very suggestive. Like in Koterski's movie "Nothing funny" (Nic smiesznego), where a failed film director fails in his successive approaches either to women or to erotic art. On one occasion, he is invited into a surreal bedroom decorated with a collection of tiny crystal phials and goblets. That start to tremble as soon as he is attempting his due activities. The reminiscence of this movie creates a sort of interference in my head every time I put my silver khulkhal (the one that I had nailed to the wall). The hidden purpose of the hundreds little bells attached to it is of course not that of producing the clank while walking, which is enough to irritate a camel, but to make a tiny little jangle in quite different circumstances. Having seen Polish movies just once ruins the whole effect forever.
So I would like to rebuild my stock from the scratch, as far as it is possible. I appreciate poetry, which is beyond any possible translation; I like Abu Nuwas especially, but there is much more. I like Japanese stuff, perhaps the only truly creative culture in the world in this aspect. At the same time, I am someone to appreciate certain moments from Bollywood movies, that conserve the power of metaphor which is largely lost in Western Europe. I hate French stuff; it often seems to me they are stuck in the shadow of the Divine Marquis and unable to move beyond. But all this is learned, transmitted, inherited.
What is truly mine in the complete collection of erotica universalis? That's the big question. And, at the same time, here is the heaviest restriction of all, when it comes to selecting a suitable partner. The restriction on intelligence and sensibility that leaves 99% of men out of the game.
It's not Estee Lauder that my skin needed, but a thick layer of active carbon. Anyway, about 90% of its class identity may be considered as gone, which means problem solved, at least as for a make-shift solution. With this, my new hairstyle and a loss of some two or three (by now) kilograms of weight, I can consider myself as a presentable lower upper class aspirant. Unless I'm very much mistaken in those things, which is not to be excluded.
That's at least a beginning, to face the City of Men. Certainly a long way in front of me, especially to clarify what I actually want to achieve. I have been trying to check how a 46-year old man actually looks like, sort of statistical approach. The idea that comes to me is that the years gone by build abysses between people, the ugly and the pretty, the lazy and the dynamic, the successful and the losers. As I try to imagine in what circumstances, in what social or professional ambit I might find my man, success is certainly a trail to follow. And as sceptical as the vox populi of my old country might be, I feel better equipped for this challenge than any time earlier in my life.
The gist of this problem is the fact that the whole game is to be played in such a narrow percentage of the population, which means that me and him are lost in the crowd. I suppose that the percentage of men that might interest me against the total population of 46-year old men is lesser than 1%, some 0,5 or 0,3%, or even less. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak about a part-per-thousand, not a percentage. This is the result of combined restrictions concerning physical attractiveness, social class, income, religion, and fine personal factors, such as intelligence or what I call purpose in love. Mission impossible? No, it simply implies very precise, goal-oriented strategies; even if, in a city like Amsterdam, all my restrictions may leave a margin of merely tens of individuals. Only one of them is needed to fill the vacancy. The one who feels interested.
That would be a hellishly difficult recruitment in any circumstances.
My approach is totally opposed to what one can read in all sorts of popular handbooks dedicated to finding a relationship. All of them claim that it is crucial to abandon detailed wish lists, stop waiting for the prince on the white horse. Experience tells me the contrary. I am very attached, for example, to the idea that partners should be precisely the same age, up to 2-year difference. Till now, all the guys I do not regret too much to have met were born around 1970. Certainly, I very strongly reject the idea - repeatedly suggested to me in Poland - that I should be with some sort of fellow professor, even if he is 20 years my senior. The trauma of the mere suggestion is a nasty splinter, still somewhere in my mind. Even if I'm out of Poland now, it strongly dissuades me from thinking about finding a partner in academic circles. No professors, please! On the other hand, I just cannot construe myself walking through Amsterdam with an almond-eyed Egyptian or Moroccan boy in his late twenties.
I attach a great importance to physical attractiveness (not advised in the handbooks), even if I myself am not a beauty. I suppose this is the reverse of a very common male attitude, at least in Poland ("She must be physically to my liking, and accept me as I am"); meanwhile, it is expected from the woman to put up with male imperfections (if he has a fat belly like a teddy bear, I should call it endearing). There is something about it that my experience says. Years ago, I lived with a guy who happened to have a flat buttock. In general, he was acceptable, even quite handsome, but somehow his flat buttock parading through my home was high on the list of factors that made me opt for the Woolfian ideal of "a room of my own", and the man ended up ditched. Perhaps the anatomic detail resumed a broader symbolic charge, having to do with sexual inefficacy and such things. But still I claim that, especially for a long term relationship, the body is the key. No use in denying it. Similarly, I cannot construe myself being with a man without a beard. The handbooks advise to economise on such insignificant, secondary details.
The same might be said about social class, income, educational level and such things. But still, any long term relationship is to be regarded as what I call community of lifestyle. Traveller to traveller, adventurer to adventurer, opera-goer to opera-goer. The primary source of love is similarity and equality, that's what Imam Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi says, and I follow his opinion in the matter. If putting up for less were a solution, love and partnership would be an easy game to play; perhaps too easy to even think about playing it. Quite in the contrary, the Platonic purpose of love-making that I've mentioned in the previous post is to strive for resembling and becoming equal with the better. That's the game I accept and consider worth playing. Even if, in the end, I find no partner and no opportunity of any love-making at all, I will still be the winner.
La lucha continúa.
Estee Lauder Idealist pore minimizer appears to wage a war against this thick, reddish skin that I inherited from my grandmother who kept a hen in the balcony. Although the leaflet states that the effect is instantaneous, after several applications my skin didn't loose more than 10% of its class identity. Well, it is not red any more; at least for my standards, I would qualify it as a quite satisfying peach shade.
I wonder why I never actually solved any such problems. Why I let myself live with all this inheritance. Perhaps it's time to leave things behind. Especially because they are not true, not real; they are just shadows. My class identity? In purely sociological terms, I haven't been a real working class for some 30 years or so; I might even claim to be a lower upper class. What is the hen in the balcony still doing here?
And why still adjusting the accounts with my old country, that has just voted itself, once again, out of the civilised world, or at least, out of my world?
Everything to leave behind. I hardly find anything that remains, as if a silent hurricane were passing through my life.
I face the City of Men, with all options widely open in front of me. Worried only to be at the height of my challenge. I'm not invisible, at least not to the acute senses of some races of men. The true difficulty lies elsewhere. In getting rid of all habits, of all the burden of times when I had to squeeze respect and romance out of barren rock. Of memories. Of traumas. Of lies. Of betrayals. Perhaps Estee Lauder have no effect on me because what I have encrusted in the pores of my skin are lies, betrayals, traumas, memories. Calcareous deposits of romance extracted out of barren rock.
The City of Men offers everything, or nearly everything that is possible to find across a variety of human cultures and beyond. What shall I pursue? What kind of ideal? After so many years that I appreciated to live alone, will I put up with living with someone? Is it still feasible? Is it worth it? Will I opt by some sort of corrected or upgraded version of my former choices? Try something completely new that I didn't even see as an option before? Certainly, I could enjoy the freedom of casual encounters, of adventures, that might be interesting and inspiring in their own right. Equally, I could opt by a religious marriage, a community of lifestyle, an eroticised companionship. I suppose there are still many other options.
Most probably (as far as I can get clear insight into my own feelings), what I search in the first place is an ideal of integrity, beyond the mendacity that followed me like a shadow across my life. I speak about the mendacity of desires and fantasies taken from porn movies, even more than fake orgasms or serious cheating. The falseness in the roots. Lack of purpose in love.
I redefine the basics, strive to answer the fundamental questions. What actually is the purpose of love-making? Procreation, the Catholic church might say, and I suppose some people in my old country believe this sort of things. Obviously, my own religion has an answer for such questions as well, that might be translated into Western terms by such a statement as "(marital) sex brings about Grace" (although this translation is misleading at various levels). I suppose some Protestant churches might come close to such an affirmation as well. Beyond any catechism, I would answer for myself that love-making brings about some sort of ideal. The strain to make oneself lovable that leads to some sort of development and fulfilment. Certainly, that's a Platonic answer, but doubled with this monotheistic shadow that comes from a different source.
I think this is what I was missing these last four years or so. Without this unfalsified love-making I am after, I became oblivious of myself, and as a consequence, unfulfilled, unaccomplished, blocked in the middle of a cycle. I forgot to take seriously my own becoming.
This is where my husband failed. He believed, either in full awareness or without seeing it so clearly, that making us break taboo after taboo will lead to improvement of some sort, to discovery or exploration, to becoming mature or insightful, at least in the matter. It led us into a nasty piece of swamp with no coordinates and, as I am afraid, very dubious Grace.
I happen to possess a very beautiful pair of silver khulkhal that I brought from I don't remember which of those travels of mine. For several years it has been nailed to the wall between my bookshelves as an oriental curio. A pair of khulkhal nailed to a wall! Like a wolf in a cage, like the very sadness of things put in a place where they definitely do not belong. It's first time in years that I put it on my ankles. I suppose, by fidelity to that God who loves beauty.
I have taken the crucial decision. Que no passarán, which is obvious. I consulted some websites (in English, not in Polish), and they seem to suggest that I might enjoy a couple of decades, and medically speaking, a new partner at this stage of life might greatly improve my condition. They even offer a summary explanation: "When levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall and levels of testosterone stabilise, they can create a spike in libido."
There was no Nainowale Ne to make the crystal goblet of my heart tremble when I was young. There was only poverty and contempt of my native country, downtrodden femininity as the only option and the only paradigm. Like thousands and thousands of women in the world I had to squeeze respect and romance drop by drop, out of barren rock. This is the reason why no passarán with yet another lie about my female condition. With yet another unspeakable experience. With yet another occasion to retire, to step down, to know my place. I shall not leave before the end. And overall, there is perhaps no question of revenge. If in my country they say that a 45+ woman becomes invisible, I can only answer that all of you, panowie, have become invisible to me since I turned 19. So that makes us even.
My only worry is how on earth I should tell this to my husband. That due to an increase of libido in connection to my menopause, I request to see myself religiously divorced in order to get a new partner befitting my needs. I guess that, canonically, my request might even be seen as justified or a least debatable, but still it is a thorny thing to say, after twelve years. But who knows, maybe he is also tired of me, more than he reveals.
And that would be of course only a step into the predicament, not out of it.
For the moment, I bought an impossibly expensive Estee Lauder pore minimizer and, for a compensation, started to save money on food. But to get a new partner befitting my needs is much easier told (or written) than done. Even in the City of Men.
Nonetheless, it is curious to observe that men visibly outnumber women in Amsterdam. No surprise here, it is a city of strong immigration, and migrants are usually young men. Truly are they splendid, especially for someone used to male mediocrity of my native land. From a table next to mine, a Moroccan asks me what is this that I scribble in my travel notebook. History of the future in terms of my erotic life, I should have said, but stammered. He is lithe, almond-eyed and a bit too ostentatious in his masculinity, as they always are (postcolonial male neurosis; Fatema Mernissi's diagnosis that I subscribe). At the table, three pints of Heineken, three of them, three shades of masculinity. Besides the Moroccan, there is a Hollander, and an indescribable, racially mixed Indonesian guy, his profile between a South Asian native and a Yamani trader, over the solid body of a VOC matroos. The City requires a connoisseur. But why must it always be the Moroccan to search the air for scent, the most nervous, the most curious, the first to explore?
There is a new urinoir in stainless steel right in the middle of Leidseplein, with current water and no divider, wall, windbreak, screen or whatever. It took me 30 seconds, when I saw it, to understand what the hell they were doing there, with what do they fumble. Badly designed cash withdrawal machine? But of course, they were having a piss, shamelessly, right in the middle of the crowd, into hardly a shallow concave of the stainless post. So what? They are Men, they are in their City.
That's a great predicament I see myself in. Perhaps I arrived as far as this only to find myself in front of another glass wall. Here I face a new destiny, privately and professionally, and I discover myself not at the height of it. I am precisely at the spot where I dreamed to be, and now? It is a well known phenomenon in psychology: we end up by avoiding what we desired most; as we arrive nearly at the point of completing our dream, avoidance and fear take over, and we loose.
I came here to fulfil myself as an Orientalist. I got the Dutch credit for more than I had initially asked them. But here I stand, shy and staggering, and not feeling competent at all. I am not a good Orientalist. It was my dream for years. As I checked while dismounting my old Multilingual Library, approximately 60% of it were Arabian books; and as I gave up lots of stuff to public institutions, I still see those as my most appreciated possessions. But I accumulated them without actually touching, perusing. It was a shocking discovery that I had at home the same Taschen volume dedicated to Islamic art in three different editions, two in English and one Polish translation. Three heavy, expensive copies of the same book. It means I did not even look inside since I bought them. Perhaps I was afraid of beauty and charm that I would see if I opened them. But even this was beyond the horizon of my awareness. I did not even know I avoided Islamic art in any particular way.
Given these circumstances, is it strange that I am such a woeful Orientalist? I have passed my life dreaming about such matters, without making more than just some occasional baby steps toward my desire.
I have dropped the ball, that's what it is. I have dropped the ball in my studies, and I have dropped the ball in my intimate life. I have fantasised vaguely about divorcing my husband perhaps for some four years now, if not more. I dreamed about a new life, about something more authentic, erotically speaking, unfalsified. My husband let himself fall into a particular kind of falsification very typical to the contemporary world; certainly he was not the only one. Perhaps I would be able to put him in line, if I really cared. But I did not. I contented myself with feeling hurt, and internally turned my back to him.
These last four years or so I was largely indifferent to eroticism, unless eroticism as an intellectual topic. It became a part of history for me. Thing you find in books. Beyond the bookish reality, I used to see myself as a completely asexual being, to such a degree that one day, while in France, I proposed to a Ph.D. student to sleep in my apartment, in total innocence, just because there was a problem at the university with covering the cost of his accommodation for a couple of extra days. He refused politely, as I felt, for the fear of seeing himself face to face with a Shakespearean queen... that I wasn't yet at the moment.
Menopause caught me unprepared, and surprised that now I might need something I had totally forgotten, something I let fall out of my horizon. And now, how shall I provide for myself?
I have checked some photos done in the presidential palace, when I was receiving my professorial nomination two weeks or so ago. Not to celebrate; on the contrary. To assess objectively how bad did I look. That's pretty bad. I did not imagine myself fat to this degree. I used to feel big and heavy, and accept myself with it, as an old lioness is big and heavy. While it required an immediate action. I have been permissive to myself, and I loved myself too much, while the reality drifted away from that love.
Should a Shakespearean queen abdicate, rather than cover herself with guilt, shame and ridicule? Should I give up? Consider myself failed as an Orientalist, come back to my Polish universities, to my shabby intellectual life in the margin of Europe? Should I come back to my husband, do whatever he asks me to do, kiss his swarthy hand and thank God for having made the Arabs tender with their old wives?
Should I accept that I have let my life escape between my fingers, apparently achieving so much, but in depth missing, forgetful of myself, what I really wanted and aspired to?
Should I stand up and fight, here, now, in this City of Men? Remain faithful to myself in this last and crucial combat?
I have checked at least the health pages in Polish - not a word about any possible increase of sexual drive in connection to the menopause. Rather to the contrary: a long list of factors, reasons, mental and physical issues to explain why at the menopause you are roughly speaking done, finished, khalas as a woman. I remain with the gallery of Shakespearean queens for all my knowledge and awareness in the matter. Well, perhaps the first step out of this predicament should be to stop checking Polish websites for any such issues. And to remember that at least the fictional I of The Almond was a woman writing all those things precisely as a way of facing (celebrating?) her menopause in the company of none other than the angel of God carrying a penis of such a remarkable aspect that he was poetically compared to a certain donkey belonging to the local dealer in donuts. And in her story, there is the question of achieving something she had never achieved before, in erotic matters. I should read the book once again; I have it in an English translation. Paying special attention to its conclusions.
Meanwhile, I descended to Leiden today, went to the university, arranged a couple of issues totally unrelated to my menopause, and returned to Amsterdam. I sleep in a small hostel near Leidseplein; when I came, I passed along it two times without realising that was actually the place I had reserved on Booking.com. I took it initially for a brothel.
But curiously, there is practically no women in it; it seems entirely dedicated to men, and what men. The receptionist, as I cared to enquire, is a Cypriot Greek; no need to ask, by the way; he is lithe and handsome as a Cypriot Greek should be. There are also two Arabs who, on their side, cared to check my melding card and to enquire if I am truly a professor and what subject do I teach. They laughed like squirrels, as if they did not believe me. At the moment of leaving I greeted them in Arabic; I presume the result sounded so genuine that they greeted me back quite naturally, without even noticing it was said in Arabic and without being surprised by it. I wonder what their ghazal might be tomorrow morning at breakfast.
But the anecdote should perhaps switch a red light in my head. I arrived at the very bottom as to my appearance. The lazy months spent in France did not work to my favour. It is indeed several years now that my marriage became a shadow of what is used to be and I grew accumulating fat and forgetting even to dream, to hope, to desire. And that is not only erotically speaking; that is to such a degree that I don't even seem to be the person I actually am.
Who knows, maybe all this story about menopause is just a bullshit. In any case, if I measure myself to Polish standards, I've been out of the market for years now. And as simple as that, my divorce is heavily overdue; this is the reason of all the mess between me and the City of Men, although my husband seems not to see it this way at all. That's an African novel, by the way: older, established females divorce their males and take revenge on them; it appears in Paulina Chiziane, in Niketche. Certainly not a Polish story. But gosh, what a Polish story actually is? Have I ever read any? Do I have it in my library? There is no Polish story whatsoever in those things.
As I try to make myself forgotten, to disappear surreptitiously from his view, my husband sinks deeper and deeper in his Arabian love. Arabian love that is the opposite of our European fairy tales: it doesn't end by the marriage. It starts by the marriage and never ends; it is an open structure that flows, eternally bringing forth new stories.
And here I am, in the City of Men, falcon or falconer, who knows which, with a viral interpretation of an Andalusian poem looped on my mind.
... ... ...
There is nothing better than putting my own advice into practice. I've just written in the Google: "menopause" and "increased libido" (in English and in old good Latin). Not quite surprisingly, what jumps to me from the screen differs from the Polish version. Or rather, it contains the other half of it, neglected in the Polish sources: "some women may experience an increase in libido, while others experience a decrease."
As a woman, I have been cheated and stuffed with lies from tender age on and on and on. I was cheated as a teenager, and I am still cheated at forty and many. Why on earth should I even remember the name of the country where I came from? Is there no ENOUGH ?! For how long should I be its victim, living unspeakable destinies?
Finally out of Poland. The days were singularly beautiful, and I spent nearly a month at home, reflecting on my future, with a pervading feeling of never-more, of a charming loss, and of falling silence. At least I leave with good feelings behind.
It was a great month indeed, perhaps one of the most memorable ones I had in many years. Something changed in me, as if I returned to a home I had left behind long ago, very deep inside. Some vices, some obsessive behaviours simply departed, without any notice or effort from my side. As if the void they were hiding suddenly collapsed.
And now I'm in the City of Men. Does medicine say anything about hormonal tempests caused by approaching menopause? Perhaps I should check it. Amsterdam is full of men, all of them interesting, attractive, eligible. It makes fifteen years and more that I went out hunting on an afternoon like today. I catch their glances as I pass through Leidseplein. What does make me suddenly so attractive with these worn off clothes and a viral interpretation of an old Andalusian poem on my mind? Perhaps I have in my body the power of this singular moment when a life beyond life begins, starting right here where I stand, in this City of Men.