The conference was OK. Moderately so. I've been used to much worse, to greater ignorance. For ignorance there have been also here, among those people from Oxford and King's College, and such sounding places. And moments to ask what I'm doing there, and similar. Although ignorance is perhaps not the term to use here. Superficial knowledge, uncritical repetition of things that are usually said in their own context, conformism - these are their main sins.
But overall it was good, I shouldn't complain.
I still had the perception that I needed to get used to proper scholarship, to be among the right people. But at a given moment, I started to feel that I had been in the West long enough to lose the right to say: Forgive me my ignorance, and my manners, and my English, and my lack of professionalism, for I'm just coming from a peripheral academic system, etc.
I have no valid excuse any more. I'm just a scholar. Just a European scholar, without much of a local accent.
Gosh, many people would like to be just a scholar I am. Even if some of them appear to present some feeble signs of instinctive repulsion and avoidance (while other seem interested, even fascinated).
There is perhaps a sort of self-perception of invincible scholarship, just as there is a self-perception of invincible womanhood that deserts and cities of men bestow upon us.
But overall, the country is wild, and falling out of Europe wont certainly help it. Even Oxford is not worth the chicken I stoically consumed in a noisy football bar at Victoria Station. It was singularly tasteless, as if it had been washed in a washing machine with some very efficient detergents (they made me pay the exorbitant price of 22 pounds and 50 pennies for it, and a mug of low quality beer).
I think this conference, after all, may be one of my last in UK. London is crowded, expensive, and there are actually few original things to be found there. I'll be much better in my Leiden, and I can quietly stick to it. Europe is such a tiny thing, the Civilisation is such a tiny thing. One can cross it in just a couple of hours. Only the steppes are endless.
And right now, on this Sunday morning, under quickly moving clouds, somewhere between Rotterdam and the Hague, these verses come to me:
Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D'aller là-bas vivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
I'm in love with myself, I'm in love with the Netherlands, ce pays qui me ressemble.
I'm in love with the kind of food Albert Heijn provides for my breakfast for mere two or three euros, and with my walks through Red Lamp district till the Oude Kirk where I once prayed with the last Christians of the Low Countries, and where I like to take a coffee on such misty Sunday mornings. I'm in love with every mossy brick of this city.
An often repeated bad Orientalist's tale says that the Saudis divorce the women they despise with a single SMS containing one word repeated thrice, and the women they respect with three subsequent one-word SMSs. Well, the truth is that I won't see myself divorced so soon. Certainly not when I fancy it; neither when he fancies it; perhaps only when God fancies it. And we are both as harsh as Mrs Hull's wettest dream.
At least we are beyond the tomato soup, and I've recovered my belief in the power of archaic negotiations.
In the meanwhile, I've been to Rijks Museum to feel European for a respite. The University's housing service finally found a nice loft for me, a sort of neo-Gothic hall with maswerk windows filled with stained glass. Only the bed is small, clearly not designed with romantic adventures in mind. But I might arrange something far more archaic than just a bed. The neighbourhood is excellent, the library is at the distance of a short walk and the botanical garden right across the Witte Singel. It respires the spirit of this Dutch upper class that attracts me so much, respite from being a harsh warrior from the North included in its not inconsiderable bill of 720 euro a month. But it is nice to walk there at night, when all the windows are brightly lit, revealing decent, transparent and discreetly-ostensibly exquisite life of the inhabitants. Everything respires whiteness, ample space and simplicity of long-established affluence. Hopefully I will be able to move in on 17th December, just for a European Christmas among my Arabian books.
As I look forward to the moment of settling down, I'm still sleeping in a common dormitory in Leidseplein. That usually is just a picturesque experience, except last night, because a girl on the berth right above me made a bad trip; she spent all night yelling her visions in the language of angels. Where was she from? Guess, my dear reader... Why does it always have to be a Pole, that person without the user's manual to the City?... Why do we always need to hurt us so much?...
Today I'm going to London for a conference, my mind bleak and empty. When did I present anything well developed for the last time? Honestly, I do not remember.
But the idea comes to me that now when I am so harsh and assertive, I could come back to horse riding, if I have a chance.
I've been harsh with my husband, perhaps unnecessarily harsh. The announced celebration was not to be a romantic farewell, but an attempt at reconquering me, a swift manoeuvre bringing me back to what our life has been these last 12 years; a simple continuation of the contract under unmodified conditions. But I should have given him at least some time to digest that I want to divorce. After all, this is not a piece of news to take just as it comes.
Perhaps I should be grateful that anyone still thinks about reconquering me, at my 46 years of age.
But if this is a search for truth, I should recon that my negotiations failed absolutely; I verify to have achieved just the same level of communication as if I had thrown cushions at him along these last 12 years. I've already written about it: I've never been assertive, the fault is all mine. Or nearly all.
Also, that's the end of negotiations. He cannot negotiate to keep me, I do not admit such a possibility. So what remains is merely a question of style.
Perhaps he never understood just one thing about me: that I am precisely the harsh warrior from the North I've mentioned in one of my previous posts; gender is irrelevant. Perhaps I never understood this about myself.
I've never had such a month of November in my life. I learn to love my new country in golden leaves and morning mists. A kestrel suspended in the air appeared to me as something erotical, suggestive, with the rapid flapping of its wings. A symbol, perhaps, of this misplaced hunting instinct circulating in my veins.
Misplaced? I do perceive myself in the skin of this invincible womanhood that only deserts and cities of men may convey. I feel free with some sort of truth that came upon me like a blessing, like a sort of anagnorisis without tragedy.
I've been strolling through the city on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, watching the men. Like a potential buyer not ready yet with her choice, but wishing to see around. The city would look empty without its Arabs, they make the charm of it. As I walked behind a Polish couple in the street, I overheard a comment the girl was sharing with her companion in a voice sounding like a screech: ...but Poland did not agree, neither did Hungary... Clearly, those people don't deserve Europe, are not on the height of it, not even to come here as tourists.
As for Arabs, my glance encountered, in a corner of a street, a young Saudi with a silky beard requiring urgent trimming by at least 60%; he stopped on the pavement, turning back with a spark of fire in his eye to wait for his female companion. I suspended my pace, expectant to see some formidable desert flower revolving among abundant draperies with whom this young brother of mine might be so visibly in love. But the person who emerged around the corner was a radiant Dutch girl, her hair full of light and wind, laughing out her wits.
A few hundred meters farther, in the garden surrounding the Rijks Museum, a quiet place even when the throng of tourists is at its densest, I surprised, on the contrary, just a perfect example of the Dutch upper class; he rewarded my glance with such an unforgettable smile. Of course, this distinguished elderly man was too old for my purpose; yet he was contradicting the Andalusian poet: he must have reached his perfection long ago, nonetheless he wasn't declining. He was appreciable as a part of the city, just like the smell of hashish; with no consistent temptation of consuming, one simply appreciates the thing to be in the air. Later on, the thought came to me that it would be reasonable to diversify my portfolio. I need not only a husband or a lover, but also friends and suitable acquaintances in this city where I don't know anyone.
And so is the flight of a kestrel on a sunny November afternoon, in the City of Men.
Here I am with all my contradictions, requiring to be bound with silken and fragile bonds, lashed tenderly, kept in absolute and fundamental freedom, yet without falling into the excess of free love. Perhaps it's time to seek for realistic concessions, find space for elasticity; otherwise my new relationship will remain a mere narration.
Oh, realistic concessions! I think that, just to begin with, I might contemplate widening the age range of my prospective search. If I do not really find older partners viable, unfitting for my purpose, what about the younger ones? Perhaps I could admit, let's say, 36-48. Men in their late thirties would open a great perspective. I remember nostalgically my husband in his late thirties. He was indeed a beautiful piece of a man, as for me at least; very suggestive, with his large, tender eyes and beautiful hands. Sometimes I feel I would like to live the same relationship again, with only slight modifications, minor corrections, without the mistakes I committed before, in the aura of a fresh beginning.
Men are splendid in their late thirties, before they get vanquished, except for the very few who win and achieve great success precisely in their forties. لكل شـيء إذا مـا تـم نقصـان, everything declines after reaching perfection, says the Andalusian poet. Or it's not like this? After all, if I'm not mistaken, which may be easily the case, I look like a woman in her late thirties.
Is this a realistic concession or a simple and common illusion?
OK, what else? Could I admit a normal, European marriage, that I've qualified, perhaps abusively, as "enslaving" in my previous post? (Yes, especially in such a quickly advancing age, I might easily discover myself in the role of someone's nurse; this is a risk that shouldn't be taken light-heatedly, not in this stage of life). Would it make a positive difference for any prospective partner of mine?
What else can I add to the deal?
There is certainly a work to do upon myself; I think about deepening my social competences, kind of stance in this new society that must differ from everything I knew and got used to. Making a little bit more charismatic figure out of myself. And achieving success in my new country. After all, I believe, it's success that attracts, the most powerful instrument of sex appeal. In truth, things never worked like this in Poland; I suppose men always found my success strongly dissuading. But Poland is not what matters any longer.
Is success erotic or antierotic in a woman? I do believe it may vary from culture to culture and from social class to social class. It is strongly dissuading in stagnant contexts; I'm ready to admit it might be among the strongest Eros-cutters that exist; it can transform the most beautiful of women into a sort of virago, a being situated totally out of the boundaries of normal sexual life. It may be seen as a gender transgression making all the usual ways of Eros impracticable. But at the same time, in dynamic contexts, for the sort of dynamic men, it is the arousing quality that make all the little hairs of the body bristle. I hope not to be mistaken about this.
After my marriage twelve years ago, my divorce bespeaks to be among the most memorable and romantic experiences I ever had. It brings the taste of recuperated freedom, of being young again, on the move. On the other hand, we decided to treat ourselves to a special, a week-long celebration, with a bottle of champagne in the jakuzzi, candles, and the usual paraphernalia. As well as abundant gratitude and laudation to each other for how unique we have been during these last twelve years. What comes after marriage is called a honey moon; how should we call what comes before divorce?
Certainly, zero violence, zero hostility, zero trauma. What worries me is what to do next. I suppose I should gather the best of my experience and capitalise it as far as it will prove possible. It might be a good idea to stick to this zero violence formula, largely against the usages of both my old country and western Europe. As far as I understand, people usually assume that it is normal to quarrel, to have a certain measure of fight in the relationship; on the contrary, it might seem unnatural, even aberrant to sit for negotiations, all ego emotions at bay, bringing forth abstract arguments taken from an archaic system of rights and obligations. Yet I'm not sure if I'm still able to live a relationship in any other way. Throwing cushions at each other, for example.
It also costs me to imagine I might actually live with someone, I mean sharing a home, making intimacy something constant, without that moment when I close the door and am on my own, alone with my books, my writings, my body. How long would I manage to live with my new partner, whoever he may prove to be, before feeling tired? Do I still have enough patience and tolerance for any such intimacy?
Or better to stick to the two-flats formula, as much as it might be economically draining? Also, this would create, I'm afraid, the sensation of an open arrangement, constantly inviting for infidelities, in a city of no boundaries. Or is it just my Polish prejudice, completely out of joint with Dutch partnership ethics?
I feel very incompetent in terms of western males. The Dutch do attract me, perhaps as the only European men; undoubtedly they do possess a great potential of maleness and a specific ethics that may appeal to me. But I have many worries of financial kind. Modern relations do not recognise any due in exchange of female body; love is freely given, the western male wouldn't recognise any debt towards me just because I made love with him. Meanwhile, candles, stockings, perfumes, little foods, alcohols, aromatic oils and resins, lubricants, contraceptives, makeup, chocolate, flower petals, cosmetics, little extras, washing powder to keep the sheets clean, without counting with a third party's service of any nature, the bill of eroticism is endless. Who will endorse it? In a perfect equality of fortunes, to ask for and receive money from an Arabian sheikh is a gesture of confidence and intimacy, it is tender and arousing; to ask for and receive money from a Westerner would be, I'm afraid, awkward and unpleasant for both parts, mood-cutting and profoundly antierotic.
That means that with time the relationship would drain my resources; I would have to live up to his lifestyle, paying from my own pocket. Unless, perhaps, I agree on the hard formula of state marriage (with the only way out in state divorce, with tribunal, barristers, etc.) that I find enslaving and extremely difficult to admit. This is, I'm afraid, how it might become a mixed blessing to chose any Dutch upper class person for my partner.
Neither free love nor state marriage; this is how it becomes hard to find any alternative to the religion of God. Also, I have little faith in any kind of newfangled rituals. Years ago, the guy with whom I was living tried to offer to me a self-styled, improvised "humanistic marriage". He bought a pair of cheap silver rings in Sukiennice, that we exchanged, surreptitiously, in the hind pews of the Wawel cathedral (sic!!!!!!!!). As a consequence, he went on calling me, in front of his astonished colleagues and friends, "meua dona", a Romance expression that might sound romantic in any other context but the one he was creating (incidentally, he was telling it in Romance, because he was a Catalan, not a troubadour). Meua dona! He gave up on the whole idea after a couple of weeks, and up to the present day I find the experience truly humiliating, revolting. As if I needed or deserved some kind of ersatz.
Instinctively, I stick to that groundless, unsubstantiated self-perception of invincible womanhood I mentioned in my previous post. Otherwise, I would easily run out of options. Against all the odds, I feel my strength, my assets, the certitude that, whatever comes, I will be the winner. In a game where, perhaps, dignity is as much or more the stake than bodily delights.