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.