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In Italy, the mornings belong to old men. White and silver haired, they stroll briskly under porticoes or exchange greetings at street corners, or bike thoughtfully across town. Shirts crisp and trousers pressed, they have an air of dignified urgency. Minutes later you find the same men at a cafe', nursing an espresso or a white wine, discussing Venetian history and current affairs in serious, self-satisfied tones, listening lovingly to the sound of their own voices. They are at home, and laugh and joke and encourage one another, occasionally noting a passing girl and clicking their tongues in approval.
On my way back, I'm already fed up with the English. I'm at the airport, 50 minutes to departure, and they are queuing up already to the empty gate, wearing that awful expression of suffering righteousness. I nearly started a fight with a sickly, boring couple, faces bleak and colourless, she in a garish-print top, he exposing his blindingly pale legs in beige shorts. They cut in front of me at check-in, so in vengeance I peeled off the green sticky-tape cross they put on their plain, boring suitcase to spot it easier. That will teach them.
I enjoyed 'The Dark Knight' like all movies, let myself be sucked in, shocked by the explosions, the evil, the glamour. And the Joker was the Joker of my imagination, Frank Miller's dark character, the maniac, the psycho whose twisted mind got screwed up even more when Keith Ledger got under his skin, a skin that fitted him perhaps too well, to tightly, was too much like his own. He overdosed, and the producers now ride the wave of sympathy and sick fascination on his dead, hunky chest. Watching it, I kept thinking: this guy is already marked with death.
I heard her before I saw her; a girl of six, her barbie-pink, plasti clanking shoes on the pavement. With high heels, of course, and clearly very uncomfortable, cheap and inflexible. She stopped in front of the fountain, torn between the urge to step in and paddle, and continue strolling in her pink high heels – the plastic won, and she plodded off, clink-clank, wiggling her prepubescent bottom unselfconsciously. A slightly older girl, of maybe eight, dark mascara and turquoise shade on her lids, dangled her feet off a wall, disturbingly sensual in low-cut jeans and spaghetti top.
Her blond hair fell over her face just the way the models' does on the magazine covers, I felt her thinking it's good to be young and thin. Perhaps I'm just jealous, I was always the tom-boy, and it took me so long to learn how to be feminine. And yet, I wish girl magazines didn't give out make-up kits to children that don't know that what fuels sensuality is sexual desire, that an alluring body is a statement, I wish they were given a chance to learn it on their own, when they wake up to it themselves.
I have a wet dream. Melting snow breaks the roof and floods my bed with icy water. I wake to see heavy rain banging on the window; I hope it stops before I have to go to the office. On TV, it's women's synchronised diving, they barely make a splash. I go out into the drizzle, and read an article on the bus on recent UK floods. Someone passes me in the rain, singing: 'Bad things are coming this way...'. My hands seem more webbed than usual. I blink my eyelid membrane and hop into a puddle. Darwin was right.
Scenes from the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony.
A thousand drummers disappear suddenly in complete darkness, and only their red, fluorescent batons can be seen, beating up and down like a cloud of frenzied firebugs.
A thousand white blocks pops up and down in hypnotising synchrony, and in spite of their computerised precision it is clear each block is a human being, knowing precisely his place, his pace, his minutely planned function.
Among the foreign audience, enthusiastic clacks, young Chinese boys in the Olympic t-shirts, clapping their hands above their heads while the foreigners remain seated and ignore them, jaded.
After all the splendour and richness of the ceremony, the fifteen thousand performers in dazzling costumes, the fierce warriors and the serene women, the part I enjoyed the most was the athletes' parade. For once not in alphabetical, but in the surprising Chinese sign order, the countries arrived in such varied groups, from only two to over two hundred, four hundred in the case of the hosts. What a fascinating parade, a marching review of political crises, human dramas, a reminder of how troubled the peoples of this planet are, how ignorant of one another, and how many we are!
The encounter got off to a great start, both players in top form, although effects of alcohol doping were visible on the female and caused occasional loss of balance. The dance was a classic example of groping tango, and the rub-up routine was performed with great passion on both sides. The added touch of shirt stripping and panties uncovering was appreciated by all. Sadly our favourite got dizzied by the pace, and the prize was snatched from his arms by another contestant. After a promising run-up, it was an unexpected team that achieved finish in the ladies toilet.
Thoughts on growing up (as a girl).
One is born. The world is a great big/small place and opportunities leap into one's outstretched arms, in the form of soft rabbits, happy bears, sweet and sloppy rainbows that dissolve in the mouth. The angles are rounded, surfaces pleasant. It's colourful, days melt all into one. Little tragedies are quickly forgotten. The warm hand, arm, breast is always close, the familiar smell lulls one to sleep. The familiar steps, familiar sounds, familiar breath, and the gentle fall-ascend, the world is a warm see and you a small boat, cosy, safe.
One grows. How quick and awkward is the body. Discover your strength, discover your speed. Race and struggle, run, run, and climb. Why walk when one can race? Silly adults, always lagging behind, like some slow animals. Wind in the hair, wind in the face, cold water takes the breath away, but how delicious it is to dive into cold water! All you do is daring and new. Boundaries of the known are stretched, stretched till they will not stretch any more, like a rubber wall, and bump you gently back into your place. No matter, other fields are open.
One grows. Searches solitude. Feels lonely sometimes, feels there is something missing, but does not know what. That longing makes you strange, hypersensitive, weary, irritable. One runs away, oh that urge to run away! Leave everyone and everything, perhaps even... jump? From somewhere high. You know you will not hit the ground, you know very well you are bullet-proof and will never die.
In your dreams you often fly, close to the ground, stroke tree-tops. There is an effort in flying, but things come to your aid, land drops away, wind blows. In your dreams, you are divine.
Solitary moments. Writing poetry, perhaps, or drawing, or dreaming, watching the clouds, travelling on music. The beauty of things is so clear to you! Not obscured with a daily smog of unnecessary-essential thoughts, no, you don't know that yet. The problems are great, but beautifully pure in their greatness. Let someone else care for the details, worry about the shades of grey, you see all in brilliant black and white. The pain of solitude is eating you inside, you realise no-one understands and no-one will ever understand. Curl up around your pain, no hope. But many distractions.
One matures. This will go on forever. Forever look back at yourself and think – now I know better. There is freedom, and than you discover the real constraints. Life is a cage, it turns out. Bigger or smaller, the rubber walls you have been mistaking for parents/school/chores turn out to stretch much further. But they are there. Sometimes they come so close, squeeze the breath out of you. The black walls, always on the horison. The most beautiful view is never clear of them, because they live in you by now. Perhaps when you look into yourself, there...
I remember now a conversation I've had with the Priest (to be) in a field across the road from my house. We were still very young. I was lying down in the wheat, fully aware of the impression I was making on him, looking up at the blue kite I was flying with one hand. As I observed it's fluttering red tail, for the first time I said out loud my dream of perfect freedom. If only we could be free of our bodies, I said, free of hunger and cold, unconstrained by tiredness, age, sleep... Free to do all.
Capable of it, too, immortal and creative beyond measure, being pure creative force, pure soul of humanity. Defined not by the body and its urges, but by the volatile, divine urges of the mind. It is that which makes us human, this creative capacity. This is why we feel most happy when interacting, when building, making from nothing. This is the gods' seed in all of us, capacity to make from nothing. With words, with hands, with thought. No wonder dictators abound; once you have the power to define the world around you, you can easily mistake yourself for God.
The Priest did not understand me then, himself bound to his body by its call, so petrified that it might show, while desire was pouring out of every pore of his body and surrounded him with a sour stench, desire unnaturally constrained by an overgrown, unnecessary morality, his mind pale and coated in sweat as it struggled to curb the willing muscles, the adolescent lust. Now surely he has mutilated it, that primitive force; so many years of curbing will have resulted in a monstrous deformation, a placid creature within him, lifeless like panna cotta, dead, horrid.
I'm a child in a nightcar going somewhere, maybe Warsaw, mum and sister with me. It's the darkest part of the night; I wake up on my sturdy train bunk-bed. It's quiet, I feel the air stuffy with sleep. I lay on my tummy by the window, smelling the train linen - there's nothing to watch; an occasional lonely lamp-post flies past, marking a small village. I feel alone and peaceful. I step down the metal ladder, cold under my bare feet, listening to the tracks, watching the darkness, hoping someone wakes up in spite of my carefulness.
Looks for his place, clutching tickets. I know he'll not take the empty chair across from me, but want to sit in the one he reserved. I get up before he has a chance to ask. Sits down, grey and blue, veins showing through paper-like skin. Lines two chocolate bars, a pair of large earphones, and an old cassete-player in front of him. Easts the sweets noisily, and than fumbles with the player, quiveringly moving it this way and that, hoping to make it work. I avoid looking at him, suddenly afraid of growing old, being left behind.
I have been spending some time at home, back in Poland. I find it surprisingly difficult to write about this place. For one thing, I am truly at home, back in a familiar routine – and things are too close to get a perspective. The other thing is that while being in deep, I am never deep enough – where in other countries I would be making sweeping generalisations, here I hold back, afraid of stepping off solid ground and exposing the true extent of my ignorance; most topics will be better covered by the drinkers’ casual chats in any local bar.
With a small knife make the incision, pressing it in just between the gills, and moving down from the head to the genitals. The fish deflates under your fingers as you puncture the swim bladder. Some blood will sprout, so be sure you wear clothes you don’t mind getting soiled. There may be bright, orange eggs inside – throw them away with the rest of the guts. When it’s all sleek and clean inside, scrape the small, silver scales off – do not puncture the delicate skin. Leave the head on – when the eyes go milky on the frying pan, it’s done.
The first village is very old, known of from at least the fourteenth century – it is recorded to have been looted by king Lokietek. There are remnants of a Knights Templar’s castle visible in the foundations of one of the red-brick farm buildings. The lake peninsula where the village is located used to be home to a large estate, with the villagers first owned, and than employed by the landowning family. Although the area was collectivised in communism, after the wall fell all normalised, with three families working most of the land; others rely on state help or work abroad.
The second village was created during communism. It was populated entirely with forced re-settlers from the Sout-East, whose home villages in the gentle mountains had been burnt to the ground to prevent them from returning. They were housed in purpose-built apartment blocks, weird looking in the rural landscape. They worked for the collective, and when capitalism came had no security net to fall back onto. The men drink on the steps of the village shop. The nineteenth century castle stands windowless and gutted, doors blocked with plywood, smelling of urine. My father calls them the degenerated victims of the system.
I’ve been told in Austria jars of syrupy water are placed in the corners of the sun terraces to keep the wasps busy and off people’s plates. I tried that strategy in my dad’s wasp-infested house, tired of the potential danger. They came to feed, and took off easily from the wide glass on the balustrade. Annoyed, I placed a newspaper cone on top, and immediately felt guilty for their death. However, when enough wasps collected around the glass’s rim, they could lift the cone just far enough to slip out before it blocked the exit again. A win-win solution.
It’s barely finished, and it has already started. A poster on a London underground train proclaims proudly: ‘Now we feel bigger than a tiny island’, and suggests you buy The Olympic Games Handover Ceremony Collectable Coin. Weird. In four years, will I still be here? Will I have the time to watch the Olympic ceremony? Will I want to? (Note the optimism: not – ‘Will I be able to afford to?’). It’s an exciting idea, to see the familiar monuments in this special context, and I’m curious how the English will follow up (or critique) the Chinese spectacle of ceremonial squander.
A day at home.
A small bowl of cornflakes with milk. A crescent-shaped bun with butter and honey. A glass of grapefruit juice. A coffee. Refuse the ham. Accept the tomatoes.
Snack on half a watermelon.
Snack on plums and peaches.
Clear chicken soup with wheat noodles and vegetables (my favourite part is the broth-boiled carrot). Potatoes with butter, pork stew, a salad with peppers and tomatoes. Georgian red wine.
Half a litre of vegetable juice with salt and pepper.
Some herring twists in oil with onion and bread. A beer. Yellow cheese.
Note to self: lose weight.
The important instances of boredom.
Devil finds work for idle hands – but the idle mind works for itself. We are not made for boredom, idleness takes us out of ourselves, disrupts. We are made for input: chat, sing, watch, do, live. Turn on the light, tv, radio, computer, mobile.
Boredom is key. Make room in your life for boredom. Let your mind wonder – it may come back with treasure. Breather in, out, stay awake only half, take time out of time, invite the unexpected by stepping off the routine train. Great things come out of staring at the wall.
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My ears are full of something wicked, sensual, charged. I can talk myself into believing the whole train carriage is vibrating not with the journey, but with the music that speeds me, that it's the music that carries me into thickening darkness of the night. Not enough. Skin grows warm from the amber alcohol. More. A pulsating beat in my ears, my heart, my body, the train transforms into a bigger me, I grip my chair and off I go.
And than the batteries die.
I am left in alone for the the silence and the boredom to pray on.
And than it hits me. He's gay. Noting has changed – we are still walking down the street chatting as usual, but my mind races, and reality slows down accordingly. I am watching my thoughts from somewhere a bit over my right shoulder, disembodied. The moment I realise he's gay, a gut response of disgust – a nanosecond of refusal, immediately followed by shame – can I be so small-minded?, immediately followed by acceptation – all that without missing a beat. I take control of myself and walk on, changed inside and knowing this moment will come back to me again and again.
Somewhere at home there still is the first photograph I took. I must have been five years old. It was a summer evening, and my dad agreed I take a photo of him. We went to the terrace and he positioned himself in front of me, hand on the balustrade. You can see the balustrade on the photo, and the brown tiles of the terrace, and on them my long shadow, holding the shadow of the camera. There are my dad's brown shoes, and khaki trousers, and beige socks, and that is it – the photo cuts off at the knees.
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