Saturday, May 28, 2005

Thirty francs

Darkness was falling outside and inside the flat while we were watching Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran but neither of us bothered turning on a light until after the film finished.

Cher ami E., I hereby retract my generic condamnation of French cinema: Florian was right on the matter, as expected. (Tout va bien au Canada, j' espère.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sex 0-1 Death

or The Death in the Family Post

Back in 199... I was a graduate student just months into a programme in the University situated in the miserable market town I have told you about before. I was doing little studying and was basically spending huge amounts on overseas phonecalls, to Jod. So, I decided to put my (little grant) money to better use and I booked a ticket to Compatridia for a long weekend: the amount for a return air ticket was what I would spend in a single month of phonecalls on the cheap plan, anyway.

So, I got on the plane, one of those flights that arrive in ungodly hours (the other option was a flight leaving in ungodly hours). During the flight I suddenly thought of my grandfather, for no apparent reason. Otherwise, my thoughts were dominated by the prospect of sex. That was the reason I was going to Compatridia incognito.

Arriving at the airport I immediately realised there was something seriously wrong. Jod announced to me that my grandfather had died hours ago and that my parents were looking for me. I cursed obscenely and violently along the lines of "there goes the incognito long weekend". Jod got angry, assuming that I was just playing macho, masking my grief behind expletives. Honestly, at that moment, my only grief was for a wasted time of sweet loving, and so on... So, we went to a hotel (under no circumstances would I go to my parents' home), we slept, I got up in the morning.

I left the suitcase with Jod and put on my clothes from the previous night. I caught the train to the city centre, on the way to the cemetery, skipping my parents' (and, definitely, my grandparents') home, but I decided to ring them. A good idea, but a bit late. My mother was in a shock, she had actually feared I had somehow perished along with my late namesake, in a cruel twist of fate. When I made it clear to her that I had not, we fixed an appointment in the cemetery.

I arrive there by bus, unshaven, in abused jeans and the miserable blue sweater I yearned to get off me as soon as possible. Most of the clan was there, my father's family, the proud and obstinate bunch, the fallen bourgeois nostalgic of the Imperial Capital, the family in which you were either in charge, or sweet or an intellectual. My grandfather was the second of four siblings, all named to mark historic events of their birthyear: 1908, 1910, 1913, 1918, by the same weird godfather. Granpa would joke he was lucky not to be named 'Comet' or 'Halley'. Before I enter the room where they keep the dead before the service -- whatever this place is called -- my mother's brother stops me.

"Welcome back. You will see your granpa dead."
"Yes, I know."
"Have you seen a dead person before?"
"Yes."
"Can you handle it?"
"I can."

Except for the natural sorrow, I had no problem with that. Around the casket were seated granpa's relatives. As I had never in my life seen 1908, I approached a woman looking like her -- although she was in an extremely youthful shape for someone around her 80s.

"Hello, aunt 1908."
"Hello dear. I am her daughter, Jucunda."

Jucunda being back then in her 50s, it must have been the least flattering thing she had heard in her life. I felt an utter idiot. Exactly then 1908 came back from the loo...

Immediately people noticed me. They stopped paying attention to the person the funeral was organised for and made a series of assumptions:
His grandson is here. So, he flew in on a very short notice (1910 was not really ill or anything). He looks like crap. So, he dropped everything to be here, for the funeral. Ain't that sweet?
So, everybody gathered around that sweet poor soul, so attached to his grandfather -- which I was known to be. Nobody knew what it was that had really brought me there, besides coincidence.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Idle thoughts of a driver on an excursion

The temperature reached 37 degrees last Friday, then it dropped to a more comfortable level. Thankfully, even at its highest, the heat is currently tempered by a slight but continuous breeze and cool nights. Sunday morning was bright and warm, so we set off for the beach. We drove through the dry and barren land to 'our' beach, which was truly ours this time (completely deserted, save for a string of four canoes, and their canoeists). The water was a harmonious and, almost Adriatic, translucent blue. Cold, too, so we spent little time in it. Then paper reading on the pebbles and in the sun (my nose tip, unscreened by suntan cream was done au point).

On our way back, through the empty fields and by the salt lakes (more like real salt pans, by now), a host of swallows in front of us made a number of quick low circles and then dispersed in mighty grace and speed. I immediately thought of the fiery, ever-focused, many-eyed seraphim, surrounding the throne of Mercy and singing their minimalist anthem to the One who sits on the throne. Then I realised that the image these swallows really had evoked in me was not that of a beatific vision and the transcendental seraphim: my cultural baggage is that of a child of the '80s, after all. No, the swallows were to me just an earthlier, homelier, kindlier squadron of cherubim, like those ethereally blue ones guarding the Ark of the Covenant by encircling it. In the Bible? No, in that Indiana Jones film I liked so much when I first saw it in an open-air cinema, in nineteen-eighty-whenever. Not to mention that even my seraphim are derived from Bach's Mass in B Minor and Mozart's Requiem and, primarily, Nick Cave's Mercy Seat.

Have a great week.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Sheets in the afternoon

Just a picture I wanted to share with you.

afternoon sheets

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Question

I am sure there are things I have promised to write about and I have subsequently forgotten to.

You can remind me in the comments, if you feel like it.

Urban Bohemia

I have been listening to the Dandys' Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia for the last two weeks, almost non-stop.

The titles of the first three tracks:

Godless
Mohammed
Nitzsche

Plus one of the best pop songs ever, Get Off, containing the following lyrics:
I love god all the same
but all I wanna do is get off
Priceless.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Every day is like Sunday

One of the Seven thankfully rescued us from total submergence into work and, generally, crushing tedium today: we went for coffee together, caught up with each other, read our papers and learned about happenings in the following weeks. She even brought us a gift for our place. Then we went for a drive together, looking for some public installations, part of an art project. One of the Seven's car is old and without air conditioning, just like ours. The weather looking like this, it ended up somehow uncomfortable.

solaar

Nevertheless, we reached the area near the old Armenian cemetery, and the installations. Curiously, one of them had gone missing, because (as another visitor told us) it was obstructing free movement, but it wasn't something the cops guarding the area knew about. We also saw this, which we found peculiar.

peace garden

I say 'this' because I don't know what to call it. It certainly is not a 'garden'. The erased (to keep up with the 'nor reveals' bit here) inscriptions are in FOL and SOL, and read the same as the English one. In the Principality, all proper public inscriptions are trilingual (like that of the middle Cross in Golgotha).

What until a month ago or so used to be the Armenian cemetery was now a construction site, remains were exhumed weeks ago using heavy duty equipment. The Armenian bishop, leader of the local community, had approved and was all very comfortable about this. We knew that much from the news. Now, the actual sight itself of the dug up cemetery was today one of the sorriest sights in the Outpost (next to the fenced dead city, on which I will write some other time). I could not bear taking any pictures; only a couple of somehow more grandiose tombs were spared, maybe due to their historical value.

Nearby, I discovered the headquarters of the Department for the Repair of Public Works.

pw

I am not sure this is the exact title of the particular government service, since I was too stupefied by the cubist / arte povera aspect of the building itself. To their credit, most public works in the Outpost look much better than this headquarters would suggest.

Finally, going back to the car, we saw this.

car keys

Come hither and procreate, your children will grow up in a crime-free society.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Hosts

I feel completely knackered. We just finished watching the 5-or-6-hour version of 'Angels in America', you know the multi-Golden Globe winner with Al Pacino and Meryl Streep playing a rabbi, among other roles. Maybe people have finished debating the matter long time ago, but here in the backwater it was really hot to chance upon the double DVD in the local video club.

So, yes, I am knackered. In this supersized, all-over-the-place story (someone must explain to authors that a novel can have at most 12 themes, a mini series up to 5 and a play 3 to 4 -- roughly speaking) the following topics are extensively negotiated: American politics, American history, the Christian Right, Queer identity, denial, race, the Justice system, political power, sexual politics, human weakness, the meaning of love, the urban-rural rift, God, the position of intellectuals in contemporary America, Jewishness, death, disease, progress and stasis, drugs, strength in the face of pain, sexual politics, pain itself, afterlife, hypocrisy, corruption, maccarthyism, conservatism as a disease (by far the most interesting bit) and, to a lesser extent, many more...

I could recognise some brilliant dialogue (maybe pasted from the original play, which I haven't seen). And that was all. The metaphysical-angelic element was so bloody awkward and garbled that it made the 'Devil's Advocate' look like 'Paradise Lost' itself. Ok, during the first hour, both myself and Jod were staring at the screen in complete and overpowering awe. Wow. Wow. Wow. Even Gizmo the cat took an interest. And then four (or five -- can't tell) hours of a mess, a sort of gay 'Ten Commandments' set in the heart of republican darkness. Why oh why. Why did they do that to the play? (now I will have to see it.)

I realise that some see in what I have just endured a profound and incisive, yet optimistic and tongue-in-cheek, look into Reagan America against the backdrop of personal suffering as well as the politics of AIDS. True. I am actually sure this is exactly what the play is about. So, whose idea was that extra 200 or so minutes?

I need coffee now. But before that: now that it is mainly poor African women dying of HIV, it's no longer a powerful topic, is it? Not to mention that I sometimes feel Americans are so keen on profound and incisive looks into x America (where x=corporate, middle class, 50s, blahblah blahblah), that they miss basic things about what is going on in the rest of the world.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Asylum

Tonight I saw on TV one of the official Principality forms to be filled by asylum applicants in English. It starts with the words ASYLUM SEAKER, in block capitals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Flags

I am a boring person. One of the few true hobbies I have is flags. Of course, you cannot collect them (ok, you can, but what are you supposed to do with them then? They make nice sofa and bed throws and that is pretty much all), but you can learn about them. When I was a child, I would buy the Mickey Mouse mag every single week for several months in order to cut out the two cards at the back cover. Each card contained info on two countries, recto and verso, and -- crucially -- their flags.

Flags are funny and nasty. They are funny in that their main aesthetic value is to add colour to otherwise grim urban surroundings, especially public and military buildings (usually the grimmest of them all). Moreover, how would the vast frozen expanses of Greenland / Kalaallit Nunaat look like without being brightened by the vivid red of its flag? They are also funny in that they enjoy high popularity (too high, if you ask me) for the abstract symbols they are: think of Austria, Indonesia, Latvia, Monaco, Poland and try to tease their flags apart; what aspect of the national characters they stand for do these variations in red and white incarnate? Sometimes the original symbolism is lost and people go out of their way to reinvent them (Bulgaria is a case in point, France before that, too). They are funny in that some of them are long established and glorious, but the people under them would hardly identify with their (religious) symbols, and in that some of them are inept or portentous (sometimes produced by clueless leaders or graphic designers). Too few of them evoke nostalgia or sympathy for a lost but just cause or noble ideals.

They are nasty in that people are ready to die and kill for them and what they stand for, supposing they know it.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Snippet

Shortly after having landed back from the holiday, at the Outpost International Airport. Three artistes have just arrived on the Minsk flight. I can tell because they are accordingly dressed, one of them looks quite stunning. They are picked up by two mustachioed little men, who glow with sweat and have a pettily cunning look all over them, glancing covertly at all directions, to see if they or their recent acquisitions are looked at. They pick up the artistes' suitcases; maybe after a moment's hesitation, maybe not.

Esta tristeza

I've got to start very early tomorrow, so I have to be brief. On the other hand, there is a lot to say. I hope I will manage to strike a balance between the two.

Marcus Aurelius told Jod we protest too much. Jod answered she complains to me and I do to the world, through this blog. This is partly true. But it is not about mere whining or, even, complaints. Those who know the Outpost might not be astonished that we don't like it here. Those who know us (but how many are they? who exactly? I don't know), should realise that it is not merely about not "liking" it here, it's about the Outpost being completely incompatible with the life we wish to lead (or, meeker, the life we wish to lead is unrealistic in the Outpost). I hope that much can be gathered after reading these pages, n' est-ce pas? I do not want to repeat myself or sprinkle the following lines with links. Our being here can be very seriously detrimental to our well-being, given that we are in the Outpost because we have no choice.

Let me just add here that we have by now adapted to the place and the society: we know how it works (like it or not) and we do not shock people around us unless we mean to or we cannot help it. We have sought out and are exploiting the available niches. But we are unhappy. This is easy to tell: whenever we are on a holiday (in the Home City or elsewhere) we behave like hyperactive cats in a frenzy, sleepless, racing to take everything in. The whole situation reeks of unhealthiness.

I have to sleep now.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Translator's blues

I don't care if she is fake or not, this post of hers I found revealing and amusing.

Time

So, holidays:

The Outpost Apostolic Church is one of the Orthodox churches, so they usually celebrate Easter on different dates than everyone else, because they use the Julian calendar to calculate its date. Why? So as to keep in step with those Orthodox churches that still use the Julian calendar across the board -- by the way, that's why Russian Christmas is on the 7th or the 8th of January. This surreal decision stems from the self-evident decision not to correct the calendar just because some pope fellow decided to, a mere 500 years ago (Orthodox churches are very slow: I would wager they will seriously debate priesthood for women in 50 years or so). In any case, the above meant that this year's Easter was on May Day, with Christians and workers rejoicing together (or maybe not).

Hence I took a holiday. I visited my parents' home. Although they are still alive and well, the place already feels like revisiting a distant memory, a feeling oddly juxtaposed with familiarity and recognition. This was augmented by seeing an old school mate in the street, totally by chance. She was pregnant, which was very strange, her being the only genuine 15 year old rebel I used to know back then. She was smiling, as ever, and did not recognise me. Talking to her felt like tactless intrusion. So I did not.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Probably me

Sometimes the warmth of people around me astounds me and overcomes me, making me feel comfortable in the truest of senses.

Sometimes I feel incapable of communicating even the simplest feeling or the most straightforward opinion to others without ending up wholly misinterpreted.

As a consolation of sorts, I must find places making those wicked Thessalonian sweets.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Currently unavailable

I am holidaying. How come? I will try to explain next time.