REPORT A PROBLEM
I have been told a story lately by a man who I have grown to genuinely like and care for during the last two years. The story was about the hedge in front of his house, shading the front room windows from peering of the passing students (I am amused at the English neurotic conflict between not putting up net curtains in the windows, as they do in Europe, to successfully prevent people from looking inside, and at the same time considering it rude if you do actually look into their aquarium-like front rooms lighted brightly in the evening).
The hedge, I was informed one morning over a cup of tea, was bought 63 years ago, and cost seven shillings and a sixpence. It originated on a U-boot. The man's father worked in the navy; he would come home only every third or fourth weekend. He was just off his ship one day, heading for home, carrying a bagful of beautiful, ripe tomatoes – it was early summer. At the same time a captured German U-boot crew was being led out onto the embankment. One of the German solders saw the tomatoes, and spoke to the man's father.
Could he buy the tomatoes off him? At this point, the U-boot crew would have not seen fresh fruit for more than a month. There would be more tomatoes waiting at home, the man's father thought. He asked the guards if he could sell them the tomatoes, and they agreed; however, the U-boot crew had no English money. Instead, they offered in exchange a beautiful pair of binoculars, attached to a leather sash, which would have been used to tie oneself to a life-line while on deck. On the way home he was examining the binoculars.
A fellow tram passenger started talking with him, and offered to buy the leather sash, which the man's father was not interested in – they agreed on seven shillings and a sixpence. Later that week the man's father went to his allotment, where a sale was on. A friend of his told him there was a hedge he had on sale. Would he like it? Oh yes! 'How much have you got?' 'Seven shillings and a sixpence.' So they agreed, and the hedge that originated on a U-boot is still there. There are Blue Tits nesting in it this spring.
I bought Holy Socks yesterday. Today I popped them in the mail, addressed to a religious seminary in Poland. The socks are good quality, 98% cotton, soft and made in Scotland. They have a tasteful if surprising motive of grapes and vines. Very important Biblical theme, you know. I sent the socks to my ex-boyfriend. He has just been upgraded to Catholic PRIEST 1.0 (Pedophile Resident In Every Small Town), and can now officially wear exclusively black, which should help improve his image. His mum still blames me for breaking up with him. Do not confuse effect with cause!
A large yellow dog, dragging a leash, ran under a car as I was walking towards the park. The driver jumped on the breaks; the dog continued its puzzled trot on the pavement, only to attempt suicide again two minutes later. Stupid mutt! I ran to it and grabbed the leash, half expecting it to bite. It just stopped, and let me pet it. Stupid mutt... Finally I found the owner: a half-conscious tramp with a can of beer in his hand. He was looking for the dog in a similarly confused way the dog was looking for him.
The British are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." Brits have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666. The French government announced that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide".
The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability. Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout loudly and excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides." The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose". Americans meanwhile are carrying out pre-emptive strikes, on all of their allies, in case.
I never thought a thing so little could occupy so much of my attention. And yet, I repeatedly dream about my little nephew, my sister's son. He's yet a tiny lump of flesh, very new to this whole being-alive thing. I have not seen him a lot since she squeezed him out either, and I can't say I spend too much mental energy on thinking about him. And still, every time I dream of my sister – he is there! As if he were still a part of her body. I know he'll grow up to be a neurotic brat.
I found myself talking to a 'little man' (his words) with a huge ego. Artist, celebrity, clown, whatever he was, the attitude he had to life made you at once stare in fascination, and gag. He is a preacher of the particular kind of chauvinism where (beautiful) women are adored as sources of inspiration, only to be ignored, discarded and abused the minute a new muse turns up on the horison. You are supposed to buy into his beliefs, yearn to be special for those five precious minutes, and not think about the inevitable fall from the pedestal. Stupid motherfucker.
This sunny afternoon, I was lying on the grass with my friend. Sun was too strong for him to read, so he laid his head on the thick book he was nursing. After a while, eyes still closed, he said: 'This time last year I gave her a birthday card. It had the Hand of Fatima on it, and inside I wrote her name in bold lettering. Her name was being worshipped by an angel; there were angels standing either side, and her name was written on a fiery globe.' He laughed at this later: it must have been true.
'Devil wears Prada' – failed intellectual and humanising aspirations. A film that suggests it is about finding the true values, turns out to be a long version of 'Teenage Makeover'. What made me cringe is the boring, static main character – she never changes, although they make her 'journey' the main theme! The girl destroys friendships, relationships, and then opts out of the high-flying job for the exact same reason: self-centredness. Emotionally, her behaviour makes no sense; logically neither. From beginning to end, she's drifting though life like an ice block, reflecting but never warming up to anything or anyone.
How unexpected! I took part in an Environment and Energy Poster COmpetition the other day. Quite a few participants, all of them from 'real' and scary departments: Chemical Engineering, Life Sciences... The posters were really interesting, and dealt with important issues: producing lighter and more eco-friendly materials, developing tools for city temperature control, communicating sustainanble house design to wider audience... A serious crowd! And yetmy humanistic interest in wine waste proved to be the winning ticket. No bribing was involved, I swear! In the confusion, I thanked Whitney Houston's mother when accepting the first prize checque. Oh dear.
Train journeys, listening to the music as the landscape changes before me, always make me sentimental. I miss the nightclubs of London. The official ones, where you melt into a crowd of strangers and leave six hours later covered in their sweat, and the unofficial ones, staged for just one night in an abandoned warehouse. Dancing for ever without chemicals, without alcohol, blinded my the sound, the base forcing the air out of your lungs, thumping in your chest like a second heart as you raise your arms above your head and sway, moved by the power of the rhythm.
Going to the hairdressers is such a sensual experience. I have always loved it. When I was a child, my mum used to keep my hair short. I would look forward to feeling the snip of scissors next to my ear send a shiver down my spine. Already than I knew I should not be gaining that much pleasure from a stranger's touch, so I always kept it to myself. In my rebel stage, hair was long and I did my own fringe. Recently, though, I have been reintroduced to the excitement of someone's warm, expert hands handling my hair.
As I close my eyes, my senses open to the comforting, muffled sounds of the salon, and its sweet, sickly smells. Half-heard conversations and the hum of hairdryers surround me as I sink deeper into meditation, waking my senses and reaching out to those warm, expert hands and the cool, sharp tools, snip snip snip. When I open my eyes, finally, I sigh at the mirror, and I start longing for the next time I can relax in the warm, expert hands, like a lover's. Don't tell my hairdresser; she'll get spooked out. Or, do you think, they know...?
What is in your heart, angel
Lying on the grass, angel
I stroke your hair, run fingers over the pieces of sky
stuck in your eyes
I'll smooth out the worries off your forehead
I'll kiss off the sadness off your lips
I'll make you walk easily through the land
I'll make you smile
Stay close with me, I hold your feet
Stay close to me, I will carry you
And you carry me
In the flowers, we can sit
In the shade, we can rest
The dusty road smells of grass
When you're walking with me.
A woman more feline has yet to be seen. When stepping into the train, she had to bend down her head, too tall in her high-heeled boots to walk in upright. The fluorescent light of the Underground magnified the paleness of the long-fingered hand that grabbed firmly an overhead rail. She slid smoothly into the carriage just as the doors were closing, and positioned herself against the wall, crouching slightly and fitting her back into the corner. Flaming red hair pressed against the glass partition looked like a luxurious fox's tail on display in a bizzare curiosity cabinet.
The leopard-speckled boots were matched by a similarly coloured jacked which hugged her frame tightly. A bronze buckle of the wide belt shone against the dark material of the jeans. Supporting herself with one red-fingernalined hand holding the rail, and the other propped against the cushion of the high half-seat of the carriage, she rocked gently from side to side with the movement of the train. When she turned to look briefly at her companion, her face could be seen, pale and light, just like a full moon. It was wide and triangular, with a thin nose.
The high cheeks made her eyes seem small and slightly Mongolian, making it hard to guess their colour; until she opened them in silent wonder at something that was said. Probably naturally a dark brown, her irises were coloured the most striking shade of bright green. Like two wild supernovas they shone for a moment, only to disappear under heavy eyelashes when she dismissed the man's words with a lazy shrug. Turning away from him, she pushed the lower lip out with an expression of aloof boredom. Her lips were protruding, pink and smooth as if covered in delicate enamel.
She fixed her eyes on an advertisement across the passage, and ignored the man for the rest of the journey.
Her companion was difficult to notice at first; the woman seemed to have absorbed all colour from her surroundings, leaving him only greys and light, shy blues. Stocky and shorter than her by a head, he stressed his manliness and authority with a padded motorbike jacket and shortly clipped, mousy hair. He stood in front of her, legs wide apart in a pair of military trousers and heavy boots. Both of them rocked gently with the movement of the train.
His features set and decisive, hers dreamy, absent. He surveyed the surroundings, scanned people with a cocky eye, but never really taking his eyes of her, not the corner of them. There may have been a leash between them, elastic, see-through, a leash fashioned out of the air and will. It was not sure who was holding it, though, or if anyone was.
She tapped long, varnished nails on the pole, he made an effort to ignore it. Finally, the train came to a stop again, they stepped off. She slipped out first, graceful despite the dangerously high heels.
He followed quickly with short steps; if he was trying to keep up, he was not doing a great job, she managed to keep him effortlessly just a step behind her. Quickly, they disappeared up the stairs.
He walked into the bar first, with an easy but alert air, half-smiling, hands in the pockets, jacket bulging at the back. Through the narrow, neon-lighted corridor into the large space of the bar. There was a shadow that walked in after him; the girl. She followed him closely; lights of advertisements shone strangely in her hair, sparkled off long earrings.
Her face was uncovered now, wide and pale, half-green and half-red when caught in the neons of the corridor. She stopped to look closely at a poster, saw the shape of him gesturing at her irritably, and followed in. He was sitting down by a wooden table near the entrance; in front of him, on a low sofa, was sitting a thin guy with a woolly hat, and next to him, sucking her thumb, a pink-haired girl. Svieta sat down on a chair next to her guy. The loud, annoying music prevented her from hearing at first.
She leaned closer to the talking men, resting her chin on the red-fingernailed hand. Nothing interesting was being said. She looked at the girl sitting opposite. She had a pasty face under white-and-black make-up, and her pink hair stuck out of a leopard-print headband. She looked around aimlessly through thick glasses, still sicking the thumb. Her pink t-shirt said "spoiled pony". Finally she seemed to notice Svieta, glanced at her briefly, and then took to peeling pink varnish off her nails.
The guy was more interesting. There were dreadlocks coming out from under the hat.
Each dreadlock was bound at the tip by a metal clasp. His features were sharp, and his body thin in the baggy clothing. He was saying something with animation to B. B., who seemed to be listening attentively, hands clasped on the table, looking down into spilled beer. Man talk. Men talk a lot and do not do much. Her intense gaze finally caught the other guy's attention. Still speaking, keeping the voice level, he gave Sveita a long look, and winked. She frowned and sat back, without responding. Very well, back into my cage, she thought. Not for long.
How is it that I am never able to take a good photograph of my man? I'm not a bad photographer. I enjoy taking photos, and take loads; admittedly mostly of objects, landscapes, animals. Still, whenever I try to capture his look, it never works. The glow of his skin, the shape of his cheek as I lie next to him, his beautiful smile that makes his eyes sparkle, I can never quite reach it. On the screen, it ends up looking... yes, like his form, but not like the real him, 'my' him, not like him that I know.
Another day on earth, the turmoiled English sky tumbles above my head, I hope it doesn't rain – my laundry would get wet, again. Tomatoes are doing well in the greenhouse in the back yard, and we'll have lots of onions this autumn. I'm sipping tea dressed optimistically in a summer skirt, even though the summers here are not like the ones I am used to, when you stand out on the pavement when it rains and take in the freshness and the thunders. And yet, I have become so English – when at loss for topics, I write about the weather!
I'm physically day-dreaming again. I'll be pressing on with a boring task when, all of the sudden, all my senses are wooshed into a place I know with every inch of my body, and I'm totally, completely immersed, a full-scale sensual experience. A lake side, sitting on the warm, fragrant jetty, with small waves splashing softly under/around me, with the boat lines creaking quietly under gentle strain, with the smell of water, fish, reeds, with the whisper of wind in tall trees, and the pressure of sun on my naked skin. Woosh-in, woosh-out, sadness remains.
I was going to start writing up a dream, but it seems more appropriate to finish my first month's entries on a more personal note. This is good, this is helping, this is also irritating, because again I find myself probing the inside of my thoughts for 'truths' worth putting down on paper/screen – you'd think by now I'd know better than that. This experience is making me dangerously self-reflexive and analytical. I start seeing people around me, close to me, differently, through a more disembodied, impersonal gaze, a calculative gaze. Dangerous path for a cynic to step onto!
The Tip Jar