In a backstreet, somewhere behind Central Station suddenly there is a house with colorful mosaics around a delicately carved wooden door. The recent alteration flows nicely on the facade of an old art deco building. Through the curved entrance you come upon clean, clear, uplifting tiles and a bunch of Moroccan women. My daughter is initiating me in the ways of the hammam. Bring a large towel, soap, shampoo, a scrubbing mitt, a bowl to poor water and dry underpants. A pair of plastic slippers is also useful. Yes, it is a bathhouse. Sundays and Wednesdays it is for women only. There is a convivial atmosphere of mixed ages, body forms and languages yet all sharing the same purpose: getting clean in a pleasant, relaxing way. There is ease at being among women, no shame, no exhibitionism, most keep their panties on. There are three different steaming rooms, the first one cool to acclimatize, half way and hot. Everyone has a big bucket and a tiny plastic stool. Before starting, you work up a sweat by sitting and talking in your temperature comfort zone. All come in pairs since talking and getting your back scrubbed is an essential part of the procedure. The hammam is totally tiled; water running, being splashed, poured, dipped into. The noise level is amazing in this welcoming atmosphere with a no nonsense kindness. There is time for henna in the hair, for shaving superfluous hair, cleaning up and out the worries of the week from body and soul. After a good long soak, the second phase is scrubbing starting from one’s feet working upward, to end at one’s heart. The longer you scrub and soak and rub, the more dead cell layers will be removed. If you get too hot, go to the first room for a relative cool down, there a lady earns a hard won living by scrubbing women thoroughly when asked. They comment on the amount scraped off under general laughter. There is pride in shedding one’s skin. The women talk, move around, hot buckets of water are emptied over the head of a friend or a family member. Watching the others, we are adviced to get some olive based peeling soap. After all the soaking and scrubbing it feels sweetly soft and gentle, but low and behold after a while one gets rid of at least three more layers of the old husk of oneself. It was at my daughters suggestion to do this today, to rinse off, peal away part of my old life to be fresh and really clean with a new sensitive, open skin for my birthday and a new start tomorrow.
Coming back from work the other day, a Russian lady inquired about the bus I was about to board. A nice lady, an expat having been back to Moscow to get the right papers for her to be able to draw a pension abroad. She was very sportive, had done basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics, dancing and was cycling a lot in her new fatherland. She was wearing an orange and brown or black striped ribbon, it spoke to me. So I asked never having seen such a ribbon, what is it for? She said: 'It is against the fascists. We won against them and there are big festivities always on Mai 9. Fascism is no good’, she proceeded, ‘In the schools every class has some special activity. I remember one year, the three classes at our level had a choice to be either the communists, the soldiers or the partisans. We were the partisans. We didn’t look as good as the other groups, because they had uniforms and such and we had nothing. So we invented and every one looked different. The others also had official songs, but we choose folksongs, and partisan songs. We didn’t win first prize, but the people present all said the partisans were the best, they cried at the old songs… We cannot live under dictatorship.’ I was wearing my red triangle: the symbol of the political prisoners, trade union people, free masons and some of the resistance in the concentration camps during World War II… Indeed, we ourselves are responsible to defend freethinking and freedom of speech and gathering. We ourselves are responsible if we loose habeas corpus, the right to choose, if we no longer defend Roe versus Wade. Also torturing, extraordinary renditions are unacceptable, the collusion of European states is unacceptable. Fascist racists won 41,5 % of the vote where I live and no, as long as possible don’t let them participate in any form of government: never forget they are not democratic, they don’t respect human rights. So Mai 9 holds an important message.
If by accident you fall in love with a place or a view, an atmosphere and you think seriously of moving around your perfectly sheltered life to pursue this vision, then ask yourself what the new place represents for you. Our homes tend to reflect our personalities, even our values. I live in two totally different environments, the Arizona drought-ridden desert and a European bustling city… Each place represents part of me. So when I fall hard and consider a change from the not so leafy suburb to the modernity of an older high-rise flat with a view, ten minutes away from the theater, the big Saturday and Sunday market, then I need to ask myself Whom is it I am trying to become? And also will the place help me do that, will the place remind me of what it is I want to strive for and will the windswept corner with morning sun and view of the sunset shelter me, will my vision of possible happiness sustain itself? I have learned with my late husband that it is not about ‘happiness as a state’ but at the possibility of everything falling into place once in while and the rare moments of pure perfection. It is all about beauty, creativity and the promise of possible happiness. Leaving behind the old house, the physical prompting of memories, of habits, drama’s and joys would stop. I see the new place as sparsely furnished, light, room for guests, books and Tony’s paintings. I guess I am longing for an uncluttered life, having sorted it all out by moving and leaving behind what is superfluous, being connected through the view to the jumbled chaos of the houses I can overview from there and the grander story of culture and politics that is told by panorama of the city. Would the change express that I have confidence in the future now that I am contemplating my different paths and possible and desirable futures, letting go of pains of past? Tony’s paintings would remind me of vibrancy and creativity, of balance and honesty, beauty or at least the striving for those ideas we shared. Yet the space would be totally defined by its place in the weft and warp of the city, the myths and invisible writing and rhythms of it and my writing, translations I hope to bring forth: a balance between discipline and temptation, the community of Jazz lovers on Sunday afternoons, urbanites walking their dogs versus the concrete tower that would be my nest far from the maddening crowd… yet being part of a condominium where the individual might easily be crushed by the community. Inviting friends over would be like inviting them to a skyline restaurant, a quiet backdrop of clouds, twinkling citylights. The building expressed a belief in progress, betterment of humanity, democracy, (one of the mayors of the city lived in it, amongst a happy few fellow citizens) equality, individuality and a sense of worldliness. Now 43 years old it has gathered a patina of imperfection that is endearing, that has softened its attitude. The grime of the city has stained the façade, yet I would be literally ‘above’ the dust, reminded of how things, people can be dignified by aging. Although looking like a squat, gentle giant, the age upon it also reminds us that all is ephemeral… All is vanity. Maybe the transient in me identifies with the reconciliation symbolized in a home, a stronghold cradled near the clouds in the impermanence of the eternal cycle of day and night.
It is a sultry hot summer’s day, when walking the moisture sticks to you and it isn’t even late April. The abnormality of it makes me weary and lets me forget for a while the beauty outside of green leaves lining dark grey canals, wild chestnut candles burning white touched by pink and sensuous sweet reds. Spring flowers past their bloom brave the freakishness of 30°C. A little park beckons. Hear the birds and the noise of the city going on all around it. See the kids, people laying in the grass, dogs, strollers and a perfect bench in the shade. So I choose the small safe heaven in this pretty but unliked town that drags me down. I am reading The Painted Drum written by Louise Erdrich. A man comes and sits himself down on he bench between the lady with a pram and myself. I nod, acknowledge his existence and read on. He starts talking, general things first and there is a kind of distress. I ask him are you all right: he lost his wife two years ago, so he had to move and now lives here with his son and daughter in law. That is no good, so whenever he can he leaves the house and walks and looks for a woman to rent a place with or to move in with. All he wants is a kind woman, then he would be content, share food with her and go out together… just be with her. Having listened to his longing I seem to fit the bill. I tell him I live far away as a kind warning. He holds his ground and tells me he is a Greek Cypriot, 67, in good health, a bit of money but not enough to be able to live alone, in good health, just had his cataracts removed… All this despair in 10 minutes sharp. On a good day he’ll find you at the Place de la République
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for GODDAM! A tribute to Dr. Nina Simone. The group had toured for two and a half year with the show and it was their final night, the 10 people all continuing on their own way. GODDAM! the title of the tribute is taken from the first protest song she wrote. Well you all knowNina Simone, singer, pianist, a voice in political and cultural America. GODDAM! Tells the story of her life and does it justice. The group of performers is young and incredibly talented. They send shivers up my spine, warmed my heart, brought tears to my eyes, made me clap my hands, sing along and even dance. It was a wonderful night in my hometown away from the desert. Roger Nupie, a good poet, mean translator of African poetry, started the Nina Simone fan club, got to know her well and has an incredible archive. On the basis of his material, a few months after Nina Simone passed away on April 21 2004, and after listening to the 400 songs she recorded during her career, a concept for a tribute was developped. The performers, band and vocalists are more than excellent, they made my soul reach higher… Their enthusiasm, love for the material and their own great talent made this evening unforgettable. The group had people from Africa, America and Europe. Most of them are from the band DEZ MONA, and beginning of May they will be promoting their new album Moments of Dejection or Despondency. I have penciled in my agenda May 5th to try and hear them.
We know Anaïs Nin mainly for her reputation as a passionate erotic writer Delta of Venus 1977 and Little Birds 1979. She wrote these pieces in de 40’s for a dollar a page, also her short stories Under a Glass Bell were written in 1944. Friend, muse and lover of many famous authors (also Gore Vidal, Henry Miller, James Agee, Lawrence Durrell and Edmund Wilson) she decided she would be an author in her own right. Her first published work was D.H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study. Having had an interesting life her diaries spanned the years from 1931 to 1974 and probably gained her most international fame. Her masterpiece is considered to be Winter of Artifice 1939 a prose poem about the trials and tribulations of her relationship with June and Henry Miller. She was born on the 21 of February 1903 in Neuilly, France and died the 14th of January in 1977 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents were artistic and she had a cosmopolitan upbringing. As a child she lived in the states and in Europe. She was influenced by the Surrealist movement and had studied psychoanalysis under Otto Rank (a disciple of Freud), working with him as a lay analyst and he was also her lover. Her diaries are an inspirational voyage of self-discovery, which will inspire all of us willing to take a risk for art, adventure and love. In France she became involved with the villa Seurat group of which Henry Miller was part. She started out writing in French, switching to English when she was seventeen. In 1923 she married Hugh Parker Guiler who later illustrated her books. She enjoyed a secure married of 50 years with him ‘staying out of the way’ of her extramarital life, even during 25 years of a bigamous second marriage with Rupert Pole. Thanks to him the dairies were published in an unexpurgated and uncensored version… You hated her or loved her because of the feminist perspective of her work, her road to self-fulfillment and psychological insight. So she became a sought after lecturer in the Universities across the US. She later broke with the political activism of feminism. One of her mottoes I cannot but subscribe to: ”I only believe in fire. Life. Fire. Being myself on fire I set others on fire. Never death. Fire and life. Les Jeux.” She self published her novels and short stories through Gemor Press. She was almost unremarked in the literary landscape, whereas now she is considered to be one of the leading writers of last century. Being candid and sharp, she gave a voice to feminine perception. She was wise and I particularly like a book of essays In favor of the Sensitive Man and other essays. The sections are titled: Women and Men, Writing Music and Film, Enchanted Places. The opening paragraph of the book: “From my personal observation, I would say that woman has not made the separation between love and sensuality which man has made. The two are usually combined in a woman; she needs either to love the man she gives herself to or to be loved by him. After lovemaking, she seems to need the assurance that it is love and that the act of sexual possession is part of an exchange, which is dictated by love. Men complain that women demand reassurance or expressions of love. The Japanese recognized this need, and in ancient times it was an absolute rule that after a night of love making, the man had to produce a poem and have it delivered to his love before she awakened. What was this but the linking of lovemaking to love?” A quote about writing: “I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me – the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art….. We also write to heighten our own awareness of life. We write to lure and enchant and console others.” From ‘The labyrinthine City of Fez: “Fez was created for the delight of our five senses. My first impression is a fragrant odor of cedarwood from the furniture of the Hotel Palais Jamai, a smell that reappears in the souk, or street, amidst the intense activity of eh carpenters. My room already bears the colors of Fez: blue tile, copper tray, copper colored draperies. When I open them, the whole city of Fez lies before my eyes… Blue is the symbolic color of Fez, a sky blue, a transparent blue, the only blue that evokes the word long-forgotten and loved by the poets: azure. Fez is azure. You rediscover the word “azure”… To these are examples of sensuous writing and of writing on a deep linguistic level where through a certain perceived reality the words rediscover their true meaning. I know that giddy feeling when I am in my desert in Arizona: suddenly after a while, the words begin to mean what they actually mean. If a trip to the desert isn’t possible, reading some Anaïs Nin is an easily available cure.
Going to work I pass this dustbowl building site which made me feel sad till the day some artists wrote on the building: There are artists all is well. That lifted my spirit, so I decided to try and find beauty in the destruction. Landmarks are important in a city, they are points of orientation, part of the myth of a city. Hopefully it will be replaced by something exceptional.
Some people live their life by the grace of formality. They don’t question their motives, their whys and whens. They do what is expected. We all do so partially and in certain cases it’s a life saver. My mom is forgetful but she has been brought up in such a way that she is an excellent judge of social situations and she still reacts appropriately. If there is a slow fluidity to these situations, nobody would notice what ails her, and that is a thing to be grateful for. However, some of us live against the social clock, having a child too young, being a widow too young, refusing to act our age to the degree that even red hats and purple clothes are out. Who, at the end of the ride, will have known more happiness is hard to tell but it is easy to know that for (authoritarian) leaders it would be easier if everyone played by the rules, like my last week’s guests who live by the old traditions & laws, customs & agreements. Of course, a society based solely on this kind of attitude, does not offer a lot of openness. The defense of diversity or the defense of fundamental human rights like freedom of religion or philosophical conviction, the non discrimination according to gender, race, or sexual orientation, freedom in personal ethical choices like euthanasia or abortion. Of course the homogeneity within a society can seem safe, safe like a gated community, safe like a prison, safe like a straitjacket. Even if the path to follow seems clearer, quieter, seems to lead in a mysterious way to acceptance and contentment for many, I cannot walk down that road. Several people during my life have tried to decide “for my own good”, because “all they want is my happiness" or "the salvation of my soul”. When authorities – on the personal level or on state level –start deciding where one’s happiness lays then freedom and self-determination, self-reflection & tolerance of what is perceived as deviant by the dominant culture will go down the drain. Justice and creativity are shackled and silenced. Boredom, stagnation, permanence of injustice would be the norm. That is what happens under state communism, neo liberal global capitalism, fundamentalist religious opinions, be it Catholicism, rapture, creationism, evangelical or muslim extremists. People in power like Bush, Pope Benedictus, Chomeny, Ian Paisley are just a few examples who illustrate the loss of fundamental freedoms along with the ban on stem cell research. I want to live in an open society, based on dialog, blogs and freedom of opinion, and mutual respect.
Sometimes life baffles me - inundates me with things to write about, yet I hold back. Can one write about a public event at work when Martin Sheen - good actor - good opinions - represented the element of fire at the Globe Energy Award or would that be unethical. Could a blogger, innocently, lose her job over a thing like that? So I become only half a citizen. Friends stayed for about two weeks, I can show city hopping, yet I refrain writing about the discussions between a guest an another lifelong friend, the misunderstandings, the obvious loneliness between the husband and wife as if they are together as by contract with no need to communicate. Family, friends. Can I, like among others Truman Capote portray them ruthlessly, or even with understanding, as long as it results in good writing?
These questions stop me while spring races to a too early summer with abnormally high temperatures, pleasant, but disconcerting. I should have blogged about the two Iranian writers who were arrested and detained in solitary confinement and who now according to the WIB ( Women in Black) have been released thanks to the human rights activists. I should have written about the experiment conceived 30 years ago and finally partially realized and which proves Einstein and the Wave Structure of Matter (WSM) right. And of course I should have written about all the sad records broken: soldiers dying in Iraq, students dying in Blacksburg, Virginia... Students who mourn their friends said: "We must continue to invent the future". Yes we must avoid undesirable, violent futures. So I must write.
The conceptual artist Sol LeWwit passed away. His road lead from minimal art to conceptual art. I remember a very long time ago translating a long theoretical text about his work for a museum. The exhibition showed among others a crumpled brown wrapping paper, identical images in different ways: one the reality of it, a pencil drawing of it, an oil portraying the same piece of brown wrapping paper. Perfect execution. I was fascinated by what he was trying to show with the different representations of the same. Rather the same representation by different means of the same object. Permutations and series come to mind. And thus mindfulness is stimulated. Of course I have seen his geometric forms on walls... "Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach."
Clearing the fridge after guests have left. Return to self. Tuning out the days of whirlwind beauty and traipsing in throngs. Finding space and place – a pace my own. Retreat. Reading in a poem’s line ‘quoting silence’ – I invite emptiness and embrace solitude.
Showing friends the local culture and not just the obvious stuff like food, architecture, cities and art, but trying to uncover the unseen, the hidden values, meaning and traditions and the result of all this in visible behavior, I wonder what the other sees, through the eyes of his/her culture. Explaining, showing a culture entails speaking of religion & ethics; a hard thing to do even within a culture. Yet even subtler things are at play. “Oh, we’re just common folks, little people, we cannot change the world” said to a blogger who feels she just has try and shape for herself and others a subtler level of thought and action, means she could be seen as arrogant or as an important powerful person: “A daisy sticking her head out above the lawn, will have her head chopped off at the next mowing”, versus the encouragement to think and act independently as an individual, rules versus flexibility, religion versus the wave structure of matter (WSM)… Can my friends understand I just live in a different paradigm, can we dream the same dreams?
In exile in my home, I realize that the structure of my house, structures my activities and I wonder can I, past the warm welcome and good food, can I make my friends feel comfortable and not alienated?
Spooky pointed out she found ‘my street’: Dweersstraat, in English Contrary Street, a little street less traveled, not crowded but its own path to the centre of the urban universe.
The man spat on the ground at the first sight of the scarcely clad young woman behind the glass of the window with red light - shame – shame – shame on you – and a few streets further & many maledictions he indicated he’d rather cut off his tail than doing these dirty deeds Anger rose from him at the insult of sex in the city – Incomprehension & revulsion made him stride past these windows unforgiving
If there is a judgment day let it be loving & compassionate I won’t be judged by a god in the image of an angry wrathful man – uncharitable
He is a voice on the radio I hear sometimes, when not working. I never met Bart Stouten in his Garden of Eden. He is also a poet. One of his poems called to me, so here it is in my English translation:
Never more alone
Am I ever home alone? Thousand hands surround me From the carpenter’s in the chair To the painter’s on the wall.
Also disease & poverty & homesickness Lay siege on me. And new opinions About all this behaving manly. The postman waits at the front door With his paper’s heavy weather.
The magic of the still unmoving baton builds up the anticipation – and then unfurls the melancholy movement, the tone, slow and deep as a majestic river nearing its end. All the pain of despair of the Matheus Passion by Bach in that first opening sends shivers up and down my spine. The boy’ s choir leans over the railing and observes the baroque orchestra, watches the choir. Nothing seems more moving this moment than a large mixed choir. The perfection and unity of everyone, everyone needed for the fullness of the experience and the muffled sound of a large choir sitting down and standing up before the silence allowing the ethereal high notes, pure and purifying. Breathless I feel/listen how the sound fills all of my body: not just my ears & head, but heart, hands, belly, feet, hair standing up straight, prickles in my neck. My mother sits next to me. She is pretty, went to hairdresser for the occasion. She is also a bit confused. She listens, studies her surroundings. Fidgets. She is in a church and looks for money to give, not realizing it is not a mass. My father touches her to stop her and she becomes a small pouting girl, offended, not knowing what she did wrong. The pain of the passion flows into me mixed with warmth and gratitude that she still knows I am her daughter.
The goal of every human being is contentment, I was told. Being content? Did the speaker mean being emotionally and mentally satisfied with the way things are, accepting circumstances and willing to accept a course of action by another person, like some or other president preemptively invading a country? He probably meant he wanted peace of mind. Spontaneously I said, I don’t. I do not want to be content with unjust situations, with war. I don’t think anybody should accept and be content with an abusing spouse, incest, domestic violence, or child labor producing our sneakers. Should we be proud and strive for smuggery and praise ourselves that we made the right decisions, expecting all others to follow our lead and also live in a little house, with a little lawn, a little tree, a little dog and kids in little league… and who knows what drama's behind the curtains. I’d rather try for the elusive ‘possibility of happiness’, not just for my self, but for all, and be involved in whatever minor way in creating the best possible circumstances for life on earth: water, shelter, safety, education, health care, clean air, healthy food, respect for all that lives, sharing, open and honest friendship and room for one’s particular brand of creativity and peace… Does it mean I have to live in a perfect world to be happy? No. Last winter when the water froze in my kitchen sink and my small desert town was out of water for days on end, I was proud of the water guys, handing us out a gallon of water whenever possible. I was proud of what they did because they helped provide the basis for happiness. And then there is the joy of a drink of pure, fresh water, a good meal when one is hungry or hungry for good conversation, a book, a painting, music, rest and work for change...
Girls in Africa walk the distance to find water for their families, not always clean, sometimes infested with disease that will make her family sick. But also in the rich west there are problems. Water is a worldwide ecological and cultural concern. For instance upper and lower Moenkopi a bit outside of Tuba city in Arizona. Right on the edge between the Navajo reservation and Hopi reservation, there is a dump site. Everything can be found there, general waste but also heavy metals, leaking batteries, paints and medical waste. The Navajo Nation and the Hopi nation have been working together since years to try to have the dumpsite cleaned and sanitized and to pump out the radioactive seepage. After 40 years this place turned out to be another BIA disaster. The EPA isn’t declaring this a federal clean up site because there is no ‘immediate’ danger. And yes, the water readings are still within drinkable limits but recently the values have seen themselves multiplied by ten. Although there are uranium mines in the vicinity, the occurrence at the dump seems linked to the chemicals used in the milling process of two uranium plants. A plume of radioactive water is moving towards the springs and wells of the two Hopi villages, where the water is used for human consumption, for irrigation and for the animals. This way the radioactivity could bioaccumulate. Also the Navajo Aquifer could be contaminated, a water source for hundred thousands of people. Clean freshwater should be considered a human right.