It costs me to get back to the normalcy - if any normalcy exists, will ever exist in my life. I've spend the last days between Andalusian music, religious content and erotic dreams. Looking carefully into what I dream of, since they are likely to bring issues into my life, realities shaped by the colour, texture and quality of my dreams. Can I dream better? With deeper insight and greater intelligence?
I started to appreciate Tinder, after all, and I'm musing how lives could have been different, if it existed. My mother's life, for instance, or my own early life. How lives could have been different with these two blessings: contraceptives and Tinder. And the culture of using smartly the opportunities they provide.
It's time to return to my books, my studies. To write again. I want to take up my things where I have left them, send articles to distant journals, live in the world, in those open, global horizons that tempt me so much. But the Andalusian shadow is hanging over my life, and it doesn't dissipate.
Admitting that with God nothing is impossible, for what should I actually pray? What should be my munājāt, the whispered intimate prayers?
If I went to a psychologist with my problem, I suppose he or she would say that I suffer from the prince-on-the-white-horse syndrome, blocked and frustrated in my dreams of some sort of impossible encounter. Certainly, there are women who, confronted with just 10 average men, would be happy and glad if they could get the best one among those 10. There are women who would be glad if they could chose the best among 100. A vast majority of women on this planet chose just inside the narrow limits of their village. I've gone global many years ago. Meanwhile, I suppose that my ideal partner would exist as a single individual among perhaps 10 or 100 thousand. This is just the result of many superposed requirements. (If the sufficiently rich are 2% of the population and the sufficiently handsome are 10%, the men fulfilling both requirements are only 0,002%, i.e. 2 in 1000, if my mathematics are not too rusty, and I'm just at the beginning of my requirements - even if there is a sort of cumulative bonus: the rich are usually more handsome than the average in the general population, and it is redundant to ask if they are sufficiently educated, because usually they are). Yet this is why I put God in this calculus; otherwise I would never get out of the infinitesimals. I believe that in the uttermost, the real thing wouldn't have nothing to do with the statistics. The real thing would be just a 1 to 1 encounter.
So the first of my prayers was to get out of my village, of my nation. Not to be reduced to those men close at home who whisper that they would like to penetrate me at all fours "like a real bitch" and count, fascinated, a porn in which a guy was making love to a Labrador retriever. The first prayer is to find myself away, very far away from the vileness, from the bad smell of those things. It is a prayer for purity. To purify my mind, to be above such things, images, associations. I laugh at them, perhaps a healthy laughter, but I would like to see them at a greater distance from me. It is a game of beyonds.
The second prayer is to get out of the statistical and to enter the miraculous.
The third prayer is for faith, patience and perseverance.
I've been trying to see how long does it take to run out of cards on Tinder. I put my finger on the red x and just kept it there. But as the cards flew and flew, I got even more and more persuaded that everyone is there. Literally. Everyone.
But I should delate my account and open a new one, without indicating my age. In a way, it is more misleading than indicative of anything. And there is a work in culture to be done, just to find place for women like me. As I think about it now, it is only very logical, because we live longer; those old stereotypes are not valid any longer. I am not a Shakespearean queen, tragic and destructive in her autumnal desires. But I also delve in quite perplexing musings about other women from my family, my mother, my grandmother. They were not quite Shakespearean ruins long before they even turned 40. My grandmother became an invalid with a stroke that happened when she was barely in her 50. My mother got cancer when she was 53. Were my life to fall into the same paradigm, any money spent on clothes, make-up products or hair styling would be truly money lost.
Do I actually have 2 to 5 years in front of me before I turn into a pitiful invalid? Where is the difference? In the effortless nature of the work I've been doing? In the material things I have at my disposal? Better food? Less stress? Better quality of sexual life?
I actually don't feel much less attractive than I was at the time when I knew my husband and got married, i.e. between 35 and 36 years of age. No abysmal change happened between then and now. It is indeed a remarkable thing that I did not feel attractive when I was in my 20ies; I was wearing the size 36 without any particular sense of pride. I was living very much at the mercy of men, on the emotional roller-coaster they chose to build for me. Were it today, I wouldn't accept to have a sexual intercourse with any of them; certainly, no regret that they are gone. I started to get things on my own terms when I was in my mid-thirties. But still, at 36, I remember having prayed to have an orgasm; today, there is certainly no such item in my dua, which proves how ungrateful we are towards the Creator. Whatever I might have lost in my appearance, I compensate in skill and receptivity. And sometimes I think the real difference is this. Men don't have me at their mercy any more. And this is where I lost my sex appeal; at least in such places as Poland. Where skill and receptivity tend to sell very poorly, since they represent the menace of the authentic, unconstrained eros. I became a thread to the patriarchal order. And to individual egos.
It is perhaps time to pray for love again, differently. Very far away from that old world.
I have sunken into futility, hopelessness and inaction that must be the characteristic void of our times. I promise myself to read Huellebecque's Submission first thing after my arrival in France. I start to believe the alternative Islam or masturbation, so provokingly sketched by the writer, may be indeed a pertinent definition of something.
But at the same time, at the very bottom of everything, hope, aspiration, and action sprout somewhere deep in my heart. The will of change. And also the sense of harmony. I have been reckless in my youth, and bore all the burden of culture and milieu, and committed humiliating mistakes. I lived with a man at 23, and at 28 (not the same man). I tasted betrayal, and worse, silence at breakfasts and scheduled sex on Saturday mornings. At 35, I started to dream boldly, and aspire for luxury, travels, exoticism and romance. I got more than other women, as I believe, not only in flights and expensive hotels. Also a bonus of harmony. I have been married for 15 years now, that's rare. I experienced the specific taste of ups and downs, the high and the low, mountain torrents and lowland rivers, the patience of being with someone all over the years, of having memories to recall. At 48, I start to dream boldly again. Perhaps it is only a logic of growth that has led me to those new crazies. And what could that be, to dream boldly for a woman of 48?
It often crossed my mind that I might be with someone, a European, a Dutch man with something of his own. That after 15 years or more, I could live with a man again. The prospect makes me hesitate, nonetheless, and it certainly has no such power to make me run. Live with a man, how, where? If I'm in Paris for only 10 months now. Certainly, I could use this time to settle down. To get a partner for my house in Leiden. But these are not the crazies of 48. Perhaps of 58, or 68, but not 48, not yet. Their time will come.
Certainly, it might be a reasonable prospect, to settle down at 48. But it is totally opposite to the desire of my heart. I do not wish to be reasonable, I never did. ---Oh, no? And who became a university professor, after all? Well, it is a different story, we speak of eroticism now. But there might be a reasonable eroticism, as I think about it now. Perhaps my own eroticism has always been reasonable, i.e. efficient. Achieving its targets.
And as I think about it now, that bold dream of spiritualisation of eroticism might be a reasonable prospect of 48. A logical next step. New adventure. The rest, perhaps. is just reading Huellebecque and masturbation.
I've finally resigned myself onto creating a Tinder profile. I've spent two days trying to talk sex with Polish men (the matches are done locally, and they require payments to do them otherwise). I was about to pay, but I thought that when my location becomes Paris, there might be enough men for me to switch the cards to my heart's content.
The medium is simple, I would say primitive, compared to the ones I used many years ago. It's striking how few things changed since that time, and rather toward minimalism than otherwise. But it's true that those things became much more popular. At least as it seemed to me, the number of men, as for Poland, was significant. As I estimate, I must have switched some 500 or 600 cards; there used to be barely tens corresponding to similar area on Meetic.com when I tried it for the last time. Even if most of them were proclaiming shamelessly the intent of betraying their wives (did they actually have wives to betray, or it was just a way of cutting any woman's hope of decent and stable relationship down to the root?). I talked to some of them. Nothing changed since those remote times of Wirtualna Polska.
I wonder how many of them will actually find what they search for, and how bitter and sad it must be for any lonely woman actually searching for a relationship, let alone marriage. Or love. I suppose the great feminist struggle of tomorrow will be fought for the recognition of unpaid sex work to which many such women are reduced, just as it is today for the recognition of the housewives who toil for decades for no benefit whatsoever. For the abbreviation FWB hides a reality in which the benefit, whatever its definition might be, is very scarce.
Overall, I've been musing on what I actually look for, what is this piercing feeling of loss. Certainly, months and months have passed by since I made love to a living man for the last time. But the feeling of loss that is torturing me is not just this. It is a singular mix of erotical and spiritual that is characteristic to Sufism, that has interested me intellectually for many years, but that I've never lived as an actual experience. I've been interested in mysticism, but I've never been a mystic. I used to consider myself religiös unmusikalisch (according to the formulation of Max Weber); now it surprises me how I could tell such a thing about myself. I am indeed very musikalisch in this domain.
Obviously, what I'm looking for cannot be found on Tinder. I've left my e-mail address, just in case. But it is clear that I must search for direct, targeted methods, strategies of going for what I need at the source. In a zawiya?
That book by Michal Viewegh was damned good. I kept reading it till 3 am, only to resume as soon as I opened my eyes this morning. It is not exactly the type of a book that would require a place behind the little glass door of my corner bookcase. It may stand right in the middle of the bookshelf containing my best literature. His main topic is not sex as such, although the bulk of the text is made of various erotic adventures; it is all about human condition and the use we make of our earthly bodies. It intertwines depth and humour, and human warmth.
It made me muse on the use I've been making of my earthly body. I could live just as the writer depicted by Veiwegh. But perhaps I don't have his main reason of doing so. My solitude is not a burden to me, I never return to an empty flat. The very space is enveloping me, my body, my female existence of incessant adventure that goes on and on and on, inside. On icebreakers approaching the coast of Iceland, in a geography that is, at the same time, imaginary and real.
Yet overall, I don't have that love of reality that characterises the Czech writer, and Czech literature in general. Only the sense of humour is familiar to me. That constant surprise with the unfathomable depth of our existence, its absurdity that is taken lightly, not as the main tragedy of us. Although it certainly is.
I'm too serious to take my body and my solitude lightly, going from one casual encounter to another, just as Veiwegh's hero does. The actual temptation that I could never resist is some sort of mystical venture of eroticism. And the idea is tempting me, when I think of Paris, when I think of that greater world of western Europe, its cities of men. Veiwegh is provincial, as Czech literature always is, and ready to accept that littleness, that Marushka who makes herself so memorable by her unfashionable light blue coat and her denial.
My erotic dreams are unavailable, beyond any chance of fulfilment. Are they? Or perhaps they are among those crazy aspirations, like Oxford, and great intellectual achievements. Whatever is the final outcome, may I come triumphant or vanquished from this war, they motivate me, they make me active, they make a Pole star over my horizon to keep my life going. I go to Paris this year not to add an item to my CV, but in search of that greater life, of which I couldn't abdicate, even if I see it as the craziest of hopes. Otherwise, I would be broken and burned out, frustrated with the very bulk of my academic career, vanquished by my approaching 50th anniversary. But it surprises me that I utterly feel so attractive. That I see, and see increasing, the reason why I should be chosen among thousands of other women. The pages falling one by one like in a haiku only fill me with the sweetness of the approaching autumn. Strangely, it is in my calendar the great time of love, the month of May of Provencal troubadours. The taste of a November in Amsterdam. Well, it will be a November in Paris, this year.
The last stormy Sunday of the summer. I went to the centre, and ate at Miód Malina. They changed the interior design; I didn't even finish my food. Why is everything worse, in Poland, these days? It sounds like a peevish obsession of mine, some sort of complaining menopause syndrome. But the flamboyant interior of bygone times, with the folkloric vibrant abundance of crimson flowers, is no more. Now the colours are dusty brick and an asphyxiated hue of ashy green.
I entered that usual bookshop of mine with instinctive intent of searching for new erotic literature that might fill my secret corner bookcase. I went out with a copy of Povidky o manzelstvi a o sexu by a Czech bestselling author Michal Viewegh, as well as Rozważnie i romantycznie, a manual for single lady travellers by Marzena Filipczak. Which I started to read in the tramway on my way home, laughing as few people laugh in Poland. At least not when they are single ladies of a certain age, alone in a tramway. Basically, I agree with the author on one point: anywhere is safer than Poland. At least as safe as Poland. But, admittedly, I didn't go to Iran, as the author did. The smoothly mannered Persians I knew in Leiden may not be like the real Persians somewhere in Khorasan. Or they are?
But overall, the reading made me remember not just my travels, or that I need to buy a hand-made Afghani carpet for my little erotic flat. First of all, I suppose, it made me muse on my fellow Polish ladies, scared with the world, bearing their femaleness like a bondage. Filipczak describes them closed in a riad in Morocco, not daring to go anywhere outside on the medina. And somehow, I remember in a glimpse the man, various men, who guided me through the labyrinths of the world. They never asked me any money, nor accepted, although I tried to pay only once, for a car drive in Albania. There was sometimes something vaguely erotic in this. Taking care of a lone woman in a Muslim country always is. And one thing I may be sure, this chivalry is tremendously reliable just anywhere, from Damascus to Borneo. But I should understand that most of my fellow Polish ladies hardly pass under the category of respectful Islamic scholars travelling in search of knowledge...
Here they are, our destinies in a country that recovers its true nature, increasingly grey and oppressive. I stay in the company of my books, of my poetry, of my erotic novels translated flatly into Polish. After all, gdzie w Krakowie mogę zutylizować powieść Beatrycze, nie narażając się na zarzut seksualizacji młodzieży? I'm afraid to just throw it into the container. What if any young boy finds it, reads it? Yet the cover is far too thick to enter my shredder. Powodem utylizacji jest bo powieść jest zła. Even worse than Margański's Jak podrywają szejkowie; that one at least was funny. Anyway, it went awfully outdated: we don't have any more mares for sale in Janów Podlaski.
Being so, should I finally complete my own erotic novel, Only in Saudi Arabia? It starts precisely this time of the year, between late summer and early Arctic autumn, at rough sea, when Amnesia, a former icebreaker transformed into a luxury yacht, almost arrives at the Vestmannaeyjar islands on the southern coast of Iceland. On board, there is Talal, a chivalrous Saudi millionaire, his newly wedded wife, an Oxbridge art historian Anya, and the beautiful Somali slave, Mina. Which is another anachronism, for sure. No one has Somali sex slaves in Saudi Arabia these days. Firstly, slavery has been abolished almost half a century ago; the last slaves of Arabia are distinguished swarthy ladies in their sixties, seventies and eighties. Secondly, the fashionable love women are Moroccan, not Somalis. Yet somehow, I cannot get rid of the juiciest of my literary personages ever invented.
Perhaps I should put them, and only the two of them (i.e. the millionaire and the art historian), on a little white motor yacht crossing the Mediterranean from Genoa southwards at the leisurely pace of eight or nine knots. Visiting museums and galleries, sort of erotic variation on Dan Brown for women approaching their menopause. Dining romantically at expensive restaurants, putting bouquets of lilies and peonies in heavy crystal jars, taking baths in a jacuzzi tiled in natural travertine mosaics. Because it's time to get more reasonable, ponderous, mature. And the autumn comes falling page by page, like in a haiku.
But I still cannot forget the rough seas at the Vestmannaeyjar islands.
I'm in my old apartment, slowly cleaning and reading my books. The time finally came to abandon my library. Emotionally. To see how cheap and worthless most of these books actually were. I cleaned the small bookcase in the corner, the one with a little glass door. I got the idea of putting my erotic collection there. As if it were a secret to be protected. A little private thing in this private little flat. I want to print a nice little bookplate explicitly designed for my erotic collection.
But most of these books have so little value, so primitive, and so flatly translated into Polish. Or unfitting my taste. The whole collection is painfully reduced to very few volumes. Perhaps Motory, by Emil Zygadłowicz, a bible of my sensual youth. But for the rest? Some time ago, I threw the pitiful Polish translation of Hull's The Sheikh. Many hot moments were simply omitted, they did not even dare render them. Now I read a pitiful anonymous novel, Beatrycze in Polish translation, that I once bought in that store of mine offering books at reduced price. It is a kind of cheap and peevish, second-hand Sade. Well, I also have first-hand Sade, 100 days of Sodom and Juliette. But still I don't need any of those Polish translations, triumphantly published at the dawn of democracy, in the 1990s. I used to laugh at those books, and never truly managed to finish. Well, Juliette, perhaps, when I was in my late teens. I remember having read it at school, under my table.
I'm planning to spend some 100 or 200 euro to get better books in France. Any Malek Chebel, at the very least. Or any western translation of Imam al-Suyuti. Or a nice edition of Tauk al-Hamama. I have both Polish translations of Nafzawi (yes, the book has been translated twice, yet to little avail). But I should read such things in the original.
All this is just a shame, a shelf full of American Kamasutras with photos instead of drawings. How could I keep such things at home. Yet I wonder how I will get rid of these books. The times in Poland are such that I'm just shy to distribute them. A brave hop into the recycling bin, thus, and they are all gone. A symbol of those long Polish 1990s that are no more.
I have been to the library a lot, these last 10 days. Today is a feast, I'm not sure what is its exact name nowadays, it's Dia de Portugal and something and something; it used to be called Dia da Raça, but of course the things have changed a lot since that time. Perhaps great time to say quite simply it's Luis de Camões' birthday. And there is Corpus Christi tomorrow, so it makes two lazy days to wash my clothes, pay the bills and write on my blog.
I have been to the library, thinking intensely what kind of texts I might produce, texts fitting Oxford. I have been reading the poetry of São Tomé and such things. I'm not really sure. It lacks true depth, greater interest, complicated issues on which I might comment brilliantly. My Lusitanist profession is the source of a permanent crisis going on for years now. Of course, I might narrate all those things, compile them, as I'm doing in a chapter for a Polish book on African Lusophone literatures. But that's Poland. And there is something else I have in mind.
Yeah, Poland... There is clearly a hope, even if some people still believe those in power will do something violent in the last moment. I'm really puzzled how far I should believe this. I attribute a certain probability for such violent turnover, something like 10 to 30%. So there is a 70% or even 90% margin to say that Poland will survive. But I am by no means convinced by my own calculations. Survive? Certain things never survive, because they never truly lived.
And even if things get back to normal politically, I still don't know how I might return to it. How I might put up with ambient mediocrity. Teach at one of those universities where I used to work, in the shadow of that couple of fallen angels: Ignorance and Delusion. I know there are places healthier, sounder than my old Faculty "Artes Liberales". But still... And the perspective of returning to salaries equivalent to little more than 1000 euro would mean to abandon forever those dreams of a little house in the Netherlands. I would never have a little house in Warsaw; it would be hard to have it in Kraków. Perhaps, eventually. But it would never be a dream to make me go. I would remain in my old apartment, that apartment that I used to miss so bitterly when I was abroad. But now I know it contains no luxury nor beauty to speak of. It might feel good, for a moment, to be an ordinarius at a university, but I anticipate my immediate frustration, the end of all things that I would see very soon. The end of my dreams, my hopes, my ambitions. Materially and intellectually.
I miss the Netherlands, its enchanted cities, its rough and ugly sounding language, its flowers. I miss my home to be. Even if everything were OK with Poland, just a perfect, stable Europe, I would still apply for Dutch citizenship. Even if it meant no additional right whatsoever, and more taxes to pay. Just for the pride, for the dignity of it. Just for the Kingsajz.
If the survival of Poland truly means anything to me, it is because of Europe. Because I wouldn't like to see its power diminished, its structural founds sucked into a black hole, its frontiers shrinking in front of the encroaching East. Some people say there is a ferment even in Belarus, and it makes me dream how beautiful Europe might be, if its buffer zone of democracies extended between the Baltic states, throughout Belarus and Ukraine till the Crimea. If Middle Europe was ours, forever, undisputed. If I could wander unhindered through Roumania to the Balkans, Eastwards from Prague and Vienna, in my endless academic peregrinations. That would be a dreamy world. But what about Budapest? Will I see it free again?
I would be an ordinarius at a Polish university, if I never truly lived. But now it is too late. I went out, I flied, I felt the wind under my winds, I saw several thousands of euro, not just one, landing on my bank account. I saw true scholarship, true competence, truly intelligent things on my horizon. This is why there is no return. Any return would be the end of all things. There is no other option than to go on flying.
Lisbon is chaotic, boring, overflown with sun. My legs, especially feet are sunburn, and sore from the plastic flip-flops. The longest, laziest vacations of my life are going through their third month.
I miss Leiden so dearly that I cry, and open the box of cosmetic jelly that I once bought in Haarlemerstraat, and sniff it to feel, at least for a brief moment, the luxury, the abundance, the cleanness of the Netherlands. There is practically no more jelly in it, just the smell of a better life. I miss reading books in Oriental studies, theological treaties, things deep and complex, stuffed with Arabic terms transcribed neatly, with lots of dots and diacritics.
I restored my relations with Poland, since the predictions for the country are a whole lot better than they were only a fortnight ago. There is an upward surge, and the things might take up a new turn as soon as the coming month. Yet another mirage?
In any case, as I restore those relations and make new projects, I feel an etching. I was elated with them only for a brief moment. But when I get down to the street, I feel confusion (in strict, psychiatric assertion of the term). I suppose it is an intuitive indication coming from the depths, telling me something is wrong, I've taken up the wrong turn, I've messed things up.
What I actually want to do is something else. To delete my Facebook contacts completely, make a blank page. To remove all the e-mails from my inbox. Except those few coming from Leiden and Oxford.
I feel restless like a migrating bird in a cage, when its time comes to fly south. I want to go home. Home standing for the world of those big universities where I belong. With different kind of people, different kind of social relationships, different kind of friends. Different kind of knowledge. Different kind of writing.
I remember from old times having read that the consummation of any success depends on whether or not the person in question is able to modify radically her social network; it is the condition of a true change. If the high achiever fails to do this, she will remain in her old context, working below her possibilities, bitter and frustrated. Which seems to be my case.
There is a chance that, after all those adventures, all that heroic effort at acquiring competence and scholarship, I might return to Warsaw, the city I hate, the city where I couldn't live, the city where I couldn't even breathe. For another ten years, like those at "Artes Liberales". And after those ten years, it would be game over for me. I would be old, frustrated, bitter, worn out, beyond repair.
There is that tale of Kafka, about a man standing in front of the Door of the Law. And the angel saying: it was open all the time. And now it is too late.
This is why my skin etches, and I feel confusion when I get down to those Lisbon streets, so familiar to me for 27 years.
Overall, this is a march against reality. I have a very nice stay in Paris in front of me, and a fancy plan to go to Bucharest later on. Everything is just hunky-dory. I have time to ask for new opportunities, including Oxford. It is feasible to return to Leiden, buy a house in Leiden, even if it would mean getting on slowly paying for it. Everything is feasible.
So what is my problem? Lacking faith in me? In my talent and competence? Lacking determination?
I shouldn't have left Leiden, in the first place. I should have remained there in December. I should have stuck my claws in that Batavian earth.
And now I cry: home, home, co bitterly homeless. But home is no more. There is no home in Poland any more, even if Trzaskowski wins.
There is only one direction to fly, as my inner compass indicates. The only home is the one to be.