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It was very windy this morning when I went back to sleep after kissing my man goodbye, so it is perhaps unsurprising that I dreamt of buildings falling down in the gale. I was dressed in a white night gown, and laied in broad daylight in a massive bed under a similarly white duvet, under the blue sky, trying to fall asleep. My bed was on top of old fortifications, basically a huge stone wall, overlooking a bay and other half-ruined castles. All had towers in different stages of decomposition. To my horror, in the strong wind those towers...
...were bending over as if they were made of rubber, and cracks appeared everywhere; they looked exactly like a cartoon Jenga just about to topple over. My man appeared next to me, calming me down saying they have always been doing this. As he spoke, the tower immediately next to us bent over at an improbable angle, broke at the base and crumbled down as if in slow motion, taking down with it a piece of the surrounding city wall. I looked in amazement as a big boulder broke off from the main fall and started bouncing straight towards me.
Composed, I got out of bed, just in time to see it hop into my place; somehow, the bed sustained the strain, and the human-sized boulder looked peaceful in the space where my body laid just a second before. My man took my hand and started leading me away just as a next tower, of what looked like the City Hall, started going down. We hurried towards his father's house, on the tip of the peninsula overlooking the city. We climbed more stairs than I remembered there to be, and the house was wooden, with brass chandeliers, another feature...
...I did not recall. We passed people dressed like medieval peasants sitting on bails of hay; one of them finished chewing something and wiped his mouth clean with a cat, which fled under a bookcase in distress. We reached the end of the building and looked out, in time to see the biggest building in the city, Warsaw's Palac Kultury, come down majestically in a huge cloud of dust. I was speechless, terrified but also very curious; we had to get there. Somehow there was a truck on the street that we jumped onto; it was open at the back.
One had to hold on the the central wooden bench as it jerked on the bumpy road. I immediately realised it was in fact a news truck of the Peoples' Republic of China; it was appropriately red. We drove by the docks, where women tied to what looked as floating pieces of a bridge by their head-scarves manipulated in between ships to create an orderly line. I remembered the job could be done by machines, but this would take the living wage away from a thousand families.
Somehow when we reached the building it was dark. Its huge body...
...lay there in yellow floodlight , and sand it brought up coved all space around it.
We jumped off the truck. I realised the doors were blocked, and despaired about the people. Than I looked into the windows, and it seemed like the people there were just luminous images somehow screened onto the glass; they basically looked like tv screens, many playing the same person/story, with the characters dressed in the 70s fashion. I felt lost. This was so familiar; is this some kind of tourist trick played on me? I knew this situation from before, how is it possible?
The rain, rain, grey and gloomy, turn to the other side, snug like a bug, cover the tip of your nose so as not to breathe in the cold foggy light. Breathe in the sweet-sour-warm aroma of sluggish, sleeping bodies instead. You know you should not get out of bed today, you have so much to do – with your brain coated in sleepy cotton buds, with your eyes filled with sticky syrup, with your hands gentle and soft and vulnerable you will not get anything done, and the mess you cause trying will take weeks to clean up.
Something was approaching, she could feel it in her veins, in her stomach, every hair on her back. WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowahtdoIdo? Sprung to her feet, raced towards the gate. It was him! Again! Unbelievable! Did he really not get the message? How many times must she tell him he' not welcome?! She was so angry, so frustrated she felt she could growl. So she did! And than bark! Bark and jump up at the fence. Hah, look at him, how surprised he is! I hate mail, she thought and turned around, and went back to the house, cup of tea in hand.
'I have given it all of me, all my energy and will, and now I'm just tired. I want to stop.'
How do you stop?
Go as hard as you can at school. This is not just play! You're building the basis of your life now! Wanna stop? Ok, but not really stop, bum around, but make it sound impressive. Go at uni. Go socialising, go having relationships, go studying, go working, eye on the prize. Go, go, go, at work, go promotions, go pay-checks, go some more, go at family, go at children, go!
How do you stop?
The vanishing exercise. Part 1: practical.
Face the mirror. Look closely. Look into one of your eyes. Don't stop blinking. Wait. See your face disappear. Your mouth – don't look directly – it is gone, in a wave of flesh. Your nose, how strange, where's your nose? It quivers. The other eye, too high now, now too low. All melts. The one eye stays in focus. Look. Look inside, the utter black of the pupil. See it change. See it pulsate, weirdly, gently. That is your heart, in that blackness. All has disappeared into it. Did you see?
The vanishing exercise. Part 2: theoretical.
Where are you?
In my body.
Your body peels, falls away.
I'm inside my body.
Cut away your intestine. And an arm. Did you lose yourself?
I'm inside my head, my brain.
Ah. Let's kill one third of your brain.
I'm still here. I still talk and think, I'm still inside, I'm still myself. I remember.
Ah. But you forget, we all forget. Let's give your brain a disease. Now you're confused, you're not sure. I can see your shaking hands, your lost gaze, hear your mumbling.
Are/am you/I finally/really gone?
The vanishing exercise part 3: change.
I realised I was a boy. Baggy pants and sweaters were not enough in the end. It wasn't about sex. It was about MY sex.
Drugs, hormones, therapy, surgery. My (female) partner could not understand. With my changing body, I saw her changing gaze. The more I became a man, the more transparent I became. Like a nightmare where the loved ones look right through you. Sometimes I thought she'd prefer I died, and was born again in the new body. How do I show her I'm still here? Or am I really... changed?
AK47: Have I introduced you to my pig? (holds up a framed photo of a soft-toy pig).
Adam: No, you haven't.
'It spreads unconditional love.'
'And has a beautiful frame, too. What's it's name?'
'Oh. But what if it's a really angry pig, and you're forcing this image upon it?'
'Oh no, you can see it in its eyes. It's like a pig Jesus. It loves unconditionally.' (spreads arms in a loving gesture)
'Fair enough. We should probably amend the Bible.' 'Probably. The Muslims would be upset: sorry guys, it's actually a pig that spreads the love.'
Can't get her out of my mind. I was queuing at Waitrose with my humble load of Italian wine and stockings. She came in behind me, let ahead by another person, she had so little shopping. She was wearing a clean, ironed beige coat, and a nice, brown scarf. Her hair was half-white, half-red, it needed dying and cutting. I could see her pink scalp, and than she looked up and smiled a beautiful, slightly shy, warm smile at me. She reached into her basket, and took out one can of corned beef with her nice, wrinkled hands.
Winter must be on its way, the house is full of spiders. I can see one on the wall just now, scurrying behind a picture. I would not mind, if they weren't so big and full-grown. A fat, furry-legged one, lives behind the bathroom sink. I dare not grab it and throw it out of the window, so bathroom visits have become rather less intimate. I always think about it, lurking. One flew out from under the couch when I was watching tv, and I just had to beat it to death with a newspaper, trembling with disgust.
There is a place all third- and fourth-grade architects go, and that's Brescia. The approach to the city is riddled with a disgusting cancerous growth of bizarre skyscrapers. The Pink Palace, in pink glass and steel. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a 70s dream. The Tiny Cock, a rocket-shaped silver joke of a skyscraper, only six floors tall and with a pointy top. And others: the Blue Blob, the Roman Forum, the Wall of China, all disgustingly smooth and shiny, oblivious to reality, new and already obsolete. And sometimes, in between this mess a traditional brick house mocks.
The room is an olive green, decorated in elaborate white stucco, three-dimensional vases and columns emerging from the walls. The main vegetal motifs of vine leafs and branches make it a suitable meeting place for viticulture specialists. Tall windows are draped in delicate window nets, which filter the morning light and give it a clean, surreal quality of a photographer's studio. Around the table twelve Italian entrepreneurs sit, and talk diplomatically about their businesses. Well defined, decisive figures, with new, shapely, colorful accessories, seem delineated with black ink to stand out better from the background, like comic book characters.
The silent little girl walking by my side is showing me around her home town. Although quiet, she is not shy, but relaxed and sure of where she is going. As we walk through the back alleys, between cypresses, through geometrical, concrete stairwells, I wonder. It is strange to think this unfamiliar place, these alien ways of organising space and life will become her reference. That throughout her life she will come back to those places and sensations, and measure all new experiences against these. Every place she sees, she will compare to those pink walls, shallow rivers, brick towers.
A hypnotising work, hands extending, eyes searching, only a small part of the mind occupied. The rest takes in the smell of the leaves and the grass, the stickiness of the juice on the hands, the amber colours when the sun shines through the fruit, the sing-song quality of conversations around, punctuated with laughter or good-natured bickering. The tractor comes around to collect the full buckets, and its fumes are even more disagreeable in the fresh open air. People are disembodied voices and hands that come into view snatching bunches, I cannot see their faces for the foliage.
It was a bad year for the biodynamic vineyard, and a sad harvest, in spite of the light-hearted group that was working it. Torrential rains, for days on end, and than hail in the summer, and than the pests left little for us to collect. On the branches naked for the battered leaves, skeletons of bunches hang, with a few good grapes hanging on for dear life awkwardly, surrounded by ghost-like, black stems, which crumble when touched. Even the nice bunches, the few there are, do not have the shiny, plump quality I have seen in conventional vineyards.
Jesus on a bicycle and disciples in a minibus. They just never stop, do they? At breakfast, I have to talk to the hotel owner about weather, about harvest. I get a ride to Venice, and all the way I have to chat to the guy, a plant lover, about the differences between Polish and Italian herb market. On the train I hope for some peace, but behind me two business men start chattering like mad. A phone rings – one of them, suddenly at loss for conversation while the other is on the phone, starts whistling loudly. I lose it.
When she enters the room, the woman is not much smaller than her son, although bent down with age and weight. She is square and sturdy, with broad arms and a round stomach, dressed in an apron. Short clipped, dark grey hair and milky blue eyes, she is a strange meeting between the past and modernity. Her strong, square hands on the table, she gives us her opinions with animation: on the today's youth, but also on the exploitation of workers in the third world. Eighty four going on strong, , her personality bigger than life, her body strong with life.
Her son takes a chair next to me and his friend, very handsome in his cook's outfit and a blue apron. He looks around – at his restourant, at us, at the guests – with a happy, serene eye. Short hair patched with grey, calm smile – he radiates contentment and peace. We talk about food, alcohol, travels, and from time to time he forgets a word, and struggles, gently, to go on, and I remember the cancer in his brain, I'm terrified, and impressed. When we shake hands to say goodbye, I hope strongly he is still there when I come back.
There is such a thing as knowing too much.
On the label: natural wine makers, a happy family of six who works hard to get ahead, to be better, a family with strong values, led by a friendly, energetic man. In the bottle: conflict and clash, hurt prodigal pride, the return of the son, lies and laziness, menopause and sex, perfectionism and ambition, and lack of communication, lack of a shared agenda, lack of respect, only a sheepish, emasculated, helpless following, and a painful lack of alternatives, and a humiliating dependance.
There is such a thing as knowing too much.
In my chest, my heart travels, and pumps the new blood full of new places. And my heart comes to know change as it comes through it with every beat, every change, the new air, the new food, the new emotion. And with sadness, and with longing, my heart reacts.
There is a string under my heart, a red string connected to my heart. A stretchy string, a string than can take much strain, until it starts to pull. And it tells me it's been long, and it is far, as I feel the pull, just under my heart, hurting.
There are days that are just ugly. Like today. I have seen ugly things dead crow in the middle of the road, an asian girl with bad teeth carrying her small child down a broken pavement), been to ugly places (scruffy bar panting with boredom, an industrial winery so filthy my feet stuck to the floor), smelled ugly smells (exhaust fumes, wine gone off, unwashed bodies), met ugly people (money-minded industrialists, muscle-obsessed simpletons). I feel dirty and can't wash the day off my hands. The entropy of the world has left me standing in a pile of rubbish.
'Because I said so!'
She walks out of the room, leaving him with his adolescent anger, so powerful it burns in his throat like white-hot iron, makes him swallow, unable to speak. He sits down by the window and picks up the electric guitar, disconnected, and starts playing short, angry, high-pitched tunes. The phone rings. He lets it, but than gets up after a few signals, swearing. He picks up the receiver.
'Hello? Rose? Hello? I'd like to speak to Rose!' He listens for a moment, and than, slowly, puts the phone down, and returns to the guitar.
Cleaning the stone floor of the old house in preparation for the family reunion tomorrow, she listens to her mother humming in the other room, peeling the almonds. She hears her little niece is watching cartoons. Pale light enters through the small, tall windows, making the place look severe, barren. The office is going well, she thinks. Her mother asked her yesterday why the man does not move in here. It has been twenty years you see him, she said, isn't it time you married, had children, she said. She responded she will do things her way. She always did.
They sit together at the table,and he puts his arm around her, and she lets him, and he is happy she is close. He has such a nice smile, it changes him completely, he seems young, and mature, and in love. While they eat, he puts his hand on her knee to feel the warmth, to be sure she is really here. But her attention turns to his younger brother, and they chat about trifles, and he takes the hand away after a while, and grows serious and sad, her warmth still by his side, but his eating alone.
One should not eat alone in Italy, no-one does it, if one eats alone in Italy it is certain they have no friends, no family, it is a rare thing, unheard of; so I drink a beer (too large, too sweet, too strong) waiting for my pizza to arrive, my back to the people eating, reading my book; I would rather take it back to the hotel and eat it on my bed, in pyjamas, watching the ridiculously dubbed Colombo, than sit at the restaurant and eat reading, in dim light, and be bored, and feel I'm waisting time.
The Tip Jar