Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I spent my last evening in London in the psychological art circus. It was a performance at Area 10, the squatted big warehouse behind peckham library. I've heard about the place long ago but this was my first time in this space - and I like it. The show consisted of a series of pictures, or moving tableaus, with not much action. It reminded me of the Caravaggio paintings I saw this morning: they had the same kind of movement, full, expressive and forceful, and yet arrested and frozen.
The circus was three girls and one bearded guy. One of the girls, the beautiful acrobat, was wearing all white. She spanned for long minutes up in the air, tied with a rope to the high ceiling of the black tent. It was magical.
I did nt have money so instead i donated the sushi i skipped on my there. I asked cautiously... do you eat fish? yes! came the enthusiastic reply. one has to be careful about circus vegans, they can spit fire at you or turn you into a rabbit..
i'm going to Jerusalem tomorrow, and will spend there the next few weeks. I opened a new weblog for the occasion. I want to keep my london and jerusalem life seperate. So, imaginary and invisible readers. please find me at Mink In Jerusalem. i'll try to write every day.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Kevin's house, round the corner, is getting evicted. The bailiffs are coming on Monday. So we asked if we could do a little tat for tat, that is, come and leave some of our tat in their house, and in return plunder the place. Kevin wasn't too keen on the idea: they've had a spell of bad luck, and only this week they managed to find a house to move to. When you open a new house in the last minute, it's quite stressful, having to move your things, arrange housesitting, fix the place, deal with the uncertainties of a new space and the mess of your old place. I know it too well. In all the houses I had to leave, we always had plans for eviction parties, but then when eviction loomed in we were far too panicky to arrange anything. So the last thing you want is your neighbours filling your house with junk and asking: "can I take this lamp?"
But we were supportive neighbours during their stay there, so he couldn't really say no. "after we move out, yeah, why not".
The main thing was getting rid of junk that has been accumulating in our garden and basement. Mattress, broken toilet, and various unnecessary bits. The responsible thing to do is to take it to the recycling place. But as we don't have a car, and the council charges money for collecting these things, we couldn't really do that. I felt a bit bad about it - leaving your rubbish for someone else to deal with. But J said: don't worry about it, the owners are a big rich company, don't feel sorry for them. And anyway they're going to get builders in and get rid of everything. When we got to their house I realized the mess there was far greater than anything we had. The place looked like, well, a squat. Messy as could be. Leftover food, full ashtrays, and just stuff. "I feel sorry for the builders" said the Spanish guy who was just leaving. "But we don't really have time to deal with this, we had to find a place to live and that was more important". Their house always seemed far more shambolic then ours. But it's true, when you're facing the danger of homelessness you can't really afford to be too nice.

after putting our stuff, I had a look around. The space had a strange and powerful energy about it: the promise of an empty house. And the magic of a squat. Even a short-lived one, even when it's messy. All the rooms were decorated with the crazy mishmash picked from the streets of London: kids toys (toy-trains and cranes and cars), a leg of a mannequin, beautiful armchairs, a plastic chicken...

I had a look at the garden. When they moved in, last summer, they had to fight the bramble for three days before they could see the bottom of it. They found a small children's bike and rusting garden tools and hanged them up on the tree as decorations. Now I could see the bramble spreading out again; it will soon take over, as if nothing had happened. In the corner I could see three compost bins. It reminded me of my first eviction: SY was getting angry about the vegetable compost, which she saw as a meaningless squatters' ritual. "I don't understand this" she said, "everytime you squat a house you start a compost, but then you get evicted after three months and you leave the compost before is ready, and the rats come and eat it. It's very foolish". At the time we decided to be different and took it up the hill to the greenhouses at brockwell park, where they had a community compost. Fuck knows how we managed to carry it so far. It was exactly two years ago: the war had just started.

Back at the house, I wandered one last time through the empty rooms. I thought of the people that inhabited them. I savored on the intoxicating freedom, the promise of difference within stifling terrace-house urbanity. I knew that this freedom will only last a few more hours. Tomorrow, this house will be gone: the bailiffs will come, and after them the security company, and the sitex. All the things inside will probably be thrown into a skip. That absurdity of possession flitted through the air: now you have it, now you don't.

walking out, I saw a mother and a small child walking on the street. The child went into the front garden of the house; the mom was calling him back. "You can't go in there, this is somebody's garden". "No notion of property, he has" I said. "None so ever" said the mother. "I think he likes the uneven surface that you have". The child looked at me, snot coming from his nose, smiling blissfuly. And then he ran back to his mom.

Friday, March 18, 2005

“So should I expect you all to knock on my flat’s door one night, looking for a place to live?” asked E’s mother. She’s come to London from NZ to spend six months here; she’s renting a small flat near the river. Today she came to see the house for the first time. We were all sitting in the living room, enjoying the morning sun.
“Eviction is never in such a short notice, mum. It takes a while to get people out of a squat” said E.
“Is it constantly on your mind, that you can be kicked out? Do you worry about it?”
E: “No. What's the point? we deal with it when it comes.”
“And how do you move your things when you have to? Do you steal a car?”
We laughed. “No, sometimes we rent a van. Sometimes on the eviction day. Do you remember, J?”
“ooooh, that time… ” J made one of her funny faces: “the bailiffs were coming that day and we hadn’t even packed. I was going around waking people up… they were all sleeping, M was abroad – we had to pack her stuff for her; Salvador was totally hangovered, my god. And we had no way of moving, someone suggested borrowing one of those big grey metal skips with wheels and move all our stuff in one go, can you imagine that? Finally we found a note in the street for a ‘man with a van’, and he agreed to come immediately”.
E: “but it was over in an hour and a half”.

I thought of all the other means of transport I’ve used to move houses.

(*) Shopping trolley: practical mainly for short distances, although one unfortunate Spanish housemate moved all her stuff like this from Peckham to Brixton, in early November, in the rain…
(*) Rickshaw: we used it to move from Limehouse to Poplar two years ago. My favourite house move probably. You can fit so much in a rickshaw! But then we had a garage to park it in during the night.
(*) Bicycle: always handy to move extra bits, but sometimes, if you’re a light traveller, you don’t need more than a couple of panniers and a box on top. Still remember C arriving at Brixton with all her stuff on the rack: a thin futon and a box of pot plants. Made a big impression on me.
(*) small mercedes car, rented for a night: Involves stressful driving in London and dealing with obnoxious low-cost rental companies. But hey, not every day a squatter gets to drive the flagship of capitalism (even if it’s a tiny one).
(*) Minicab: Disadvantage: limited space. Advantage: forces you to make tough decisions and shed your skin. Do you really need that lamp you skipped from spittalfields a year ago, or the stereo that works only if you push your finger inside and fiddle with the wires?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

first day of real spring. it's wonderful to be outside and not suffer. Winter oppression is lifted off our shoulders. Maybe the curse on the house is also lifting.
P was sure the curse is causing the bad vibes, he had two punctures in the same day and he knew it was the curse. It was put by Mr. Balahi, the owner of the house, when he came to visit a few months ago. "you will not find peace in this house" he repeatedly said, while adding "with the grace of lord". P think we should fight it back with some black magic. I suggested that he uses his south-pacific man-eating ancestorial spells, but as Mr. Balahi is west-african, P reckons we should get some Jamaican voodoo shit to counter the spell.
It all started in the house meeting. After we've gone through the long list of practicalities, O – a quiet and shy Columbian boy – said he wanted to say something. He asked if we could take down the pictures in the stair way, because he finds them difficult to handle. The pictures are of M, photographed as a priest conducting some of the seven deadly sins; they were taken by a friend for an art project. This is the religion of my parents, he said, and for me this is not nice to see the priests in this way. There was a murmur of surprise and approval: yes, of course. But R did not agree, he was really shaken by it: for me this is art, these are just good pictures, what's wrong with them? This is like having censorship.
They stayed to argue about it in the kitchen. O said he didn't support the Catholic Church but for him this is about his family.
Next day I woke up with a loud argument from the living room. When I came in I saw someone had put a picture of the pope, and wrote underneath "I really hate boring white walls, let's put decorations". On the picture someone else wrote in pencil: there will be no peace in this house… beware the idea of March. And on the top corner of the pope was a sticker of two horny girls having fun. OOOOPS.
What do you think of my art, said R.
I think you should take it down, I said.
I don't want to offend nobody, he said, but I want to provoke. I want us to have a discussion which is more than the superficial level of jokes and food. And I want us to have free expression. I want to test my mind all the time. That's why I call myself anarchist.
But that's just empty expression, said S. You wouldn't want to live with pornography on the wall. I personally don't mind P’s Christmas swastika decoration, but I wouldn't like to see anarchy symbols all over the place.
Why do you think I don't want to live with punks? Said R.

Later, after R took the poster down and apologized to O, we talked about it with P. "It's strange" he said, "I don't get it exactly. I mean, if I hang something on the wall about Allah shagging John the Baptist, and Md. will say it offends her, then I'll understand and take it down. But he says it offends his parents. Well this is not his mother's house. So why should he care?" but religion is very complex, said J. "you don't have to tell me this. I grew up as a catholic. I know the whole thing. There are four Catholics in this house. I was brought up as an altar boy, I was preparing to be a priest. I know it too well. And R too, he grew up under Catholic oppression in Poland. For him to respect the priests is offensive. But I should speak with O about it, as one catholic to another. I guess it's a cultural thing".
And later he said: "we're 11 people in this house. Once the discussion stops being functional and starts being personal, it can go quite bad. I really don’t want it to happen".

One house: eleven people, eight countries, and three religions (but only one believer) . Are we really that different? Most of the time it doesn't feel like that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

It’s half past seven in the morning. I’ve just seen the sun rise on south London. The taste of coffee is still in my mouth. Decided to write a bit before I sit down to have my porridge.

I feel good and full of hope. I’ve not felt like this in London for two months. I slept at S.’s room, and didn’t sleep too well. Woke up with first light: the pinkish colour of the wall behind the bed was slowly becoming visible. This wall and the giant mirror are now almost the only reminders that this was M.’s room until Thursday. His presence is still there but I know it will soon fade. This is the beauty of living spaces, they adapt to the people that live in them. Something always remains though: I once heard an opera singer saying that she hates performing in new concert halls, they feel sterile and echo-less; in the old ones she can still the reverberations of all the people that sung there before her.

Shit, I can hear the rats gnawing at the floorboards at L’s room above me. Not for long, ya bastards. Sorry, didn’t mean it this way but please get out of the house, there’s lots to eat in the compost heap. Or face the consequences.

Belle-de-Jour: I must say that I am disappointed with the book. I guess I had too high expectations. It turned out to be not much more than chick-lit with a twist. Something in the blog-book format also doesn’t work: I don’t know if it’s because it was edited too much or too little. It is well written, and at times witty and perceptive, but most of time it doesn’t read genuine, the whole thing; it feels contrived. It’s not that I don’t believe she’s a call girl; but mainly it feels like she wants us to think she’s the coolest, sexiest, classiest princess-ho ever… she really tries too hard to win the readers’ admiration and it just feels fake, and not very interesting.

Why did I have high expectations? Because I think there’s a lot promise in her vantage point on this city. It is about being outside predictable ways of life, while still holding a window to the ‘normal’ world. Being a sexworker is still considered immoral, although it is of course tolerated, an it’s not exactly a crime (where is the victim?). If you choose to do it – not out of desperation, but simply because you decide to - it gives you the possibility of seeing through the right-and-wrong fences of this society, through the bullshit and hypocrisy. Especially when your clients are men, usually rich and married: the ruling class, the people who hold the power, the ones who make the rules, or at least maintain them. Placing yourself consciously beyond the limits of bourgeois morality gives you an opportunity to see how much of it is arbitrary and empty. Everything that you were taught, about how you should get a good job and work hard, how monogamy is the key to happiness, is now put in a different light. Boundaries, rules, limits – you find that almost always they just exist in your head. When you finally break them, and nothing shatters, it’s like opening your eyes under water for the first time.

But it’s also about money. As she says, as everyone knows, London will drain your pockets in no time. Spending a day here – especially if you’re coming from the outside – often feels like making an international call from a payphone: you see your coins devoured by the ravenous machine, swallowing them one by one like a carnivorous plant, and you hardly talked for two minutes. Living in London and not worrying about money means usually one of the two: either you have an extremely well paying job or you come from a rich family. In both cases, you have to play by the rules: work yourself to death or play the part of a respectable member of the bourgeoisie; often both. Having easy money without having to do either – having a freelance job which doesn’t make you work too hard, and gives you full control of your life (you just have to fuck people you don’t know) – provides you with a unique freedom. London can become your playground. You are free from the worries of rent, boss, or family obligations. You are much at leisure to enjoy the city, to observe it, to see the things that other people are too busy to pay attention to, bogged down in the drudgery of the daily commute, the office routine or the trappings of their social circles.

My secret and na├»ve hope was to find a sister in arms in Belle-de-Jour. Like me, she is a trespasser: when she’s walking confidently through the lobbies of West London hotels, when she’s fucking rich men for money, she’s crossing the yellow lines. She plays being someone else. I liked her description of how she sets out for a meeting with a client: dressing up, putting on make-up, getting the tools you need… managing everything quietly, in text messages, arriving at the hotel and then making sure she looks like she knows where she’s going, so nobody asks any questions. This really reminded me of opening a squat: sneaking stealthily into an empty house and changing the locks… The same kind of buzz, I thought, that heist feeling, that magical elasticity of time, constantly slowing down and speeding up. In both cases, you have to be professional; you can’t afford to fuck up.

Belle’s freedom comes from having lots of money. Mine comes from having very little of it. Poverty can sometimes be as liberating as being rich. A friend of mine, talking about being poor in a foreign country, said she felt like a time traveller, curiously observing the cozy living room of society through the windows. But when you realise that in this great metropolis you can actually live well with hardly any money, just by self reliance and changing the way you live – refusing the logic of senseless consumption, making use of waste, living communally - it is extremely empowering. Squatting, skipping and cycling: living in an abandoned houses, left by their owners to fall apart; finding clothes and furniture on the streets; eating food that I find in the rubbish of delis and supermarkets; using my bicycle instead of being dependant on public transport: all these give me freedom. I should stress that for me – like for Bell – the way I live is a matter of a conscious decision, not desperation. Young, educated and coming from a middle-ground background, I know that I am privileged enough to be able to see the options and make good of my choice. For the vast majority of people, poverty is not liberating, and it’s not a choice; it is something which they struggle to escape and usually can’t.

Belle and me, we are both, in a way, observers of London, curious and amused, standing on the edges of this mega-playground, on the shoreline of inside-outside, always stealing the borders. I think she could have made much better use of this sweet and strange location. For me, and I think unlike Belle, the pleasures of trespassing come with a responsibility: not just to push the limits, but also to think hard about what they mean; to try as best as I can to be aware of the relativity of my position; and to make good of the freedom and independence trespassing gives me.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I received the phone call last night. I was surprised. I thought something might have happened: he never calls me, and it was late, even later for him. His voice sounded distant, as if it came from the darkness. I went out to stairway so I could hear him more clearly. Yes, I said. In his usual way, he started asking me questions one after the other. The questions were informative, he wanted to know the exact details. His voice were laden with anxiety. Every word spelled mistrust, doubt and unease. In my usual way, I tried to reassure him, and to hold him back. I feigned confidence. In the weak light of the stairway, his questions attempted to grasp me; I felt like in a dream.
The same scene came back to haunt me later that very night. I was half awake, lying in bed. His warning, concerned tone rang in my ears, while at the same time I could feel my liver being stabbed, bitten and torn to pieces, at times by a vulture, other times with a sharp needle connected to a metal arm. The pain and fear kept me turning from side to side.
vision (1)
I climb the stairs from platform 12 to the footbridge leading to the rest of the platforms. The footbridge is full with people, but they're standing at the two sides, forming long lines. It seems that they are waiting for something. They're all facing me, silently. No one talks, no one moves. On the loudspeakers I hear the voice of a man and a woman: a duet announcement. They speak out of synch. I think she is a second ahead of him. Their words are identical. It is as if they are reciting a poem, or making a prophecy.
24 hours CCTV recording
is in operation at this station
for the purpose of security
and safety management

Do not leave your baggage
Baggage unattended
may be removed
or damaged or

vision (2)
I'm life-modeling. There is only one person in the class, right in front of me. I'm doing a difficult, elaborate pose. After long minutes, it is time for the break. My hand and neck are all sore, and I slowly unwind. I step down from the platform, put on some clothes. I walk behind the student's easel, to see the drawing. When I reach it I see that he had drawn the platform and the background only, as if I was never there. My figure is nowhere to be seen. The drawing is carefully executed, albeit heavy and lifeless.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

a not very intersting rant about academic life
just came back from a postgraduate seminar about 'postmodern hyperspaces'. Pretty early on it became obvious that the speaker (a Manchester professor) was there mainly for vendetta, targeting Frederic Jameson, Jean Baudriallard, and other "anxious white male academics" who wrote about her beloved L.A. and didn't have a clue. You know what's it like, when you hear a fierce academic polemic and you realize it's mainly about personal allergies... On came the Spivak quotes, the "totalising", the "objectifiying" and the "unwillingness to acknowledge their perspective", while her own position was critically acknowledged by showing a slide of her and the LA skyline! Postmodern disorientating urban experience? that's just male anxiety. She was referring to Jameson's now-classic bit about the Bonaventure hotel (in his 'Postmodernism: the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism') accusing him of not seeing the "others" - Chicano, blacks - who worked in that hotel (a valid point in itself) and claiming that for them "it surely wasn't disorientating"; well I guess she's not done much temping in her life in maze-like workplaces. But the worst bit: as proof that such species exist, she showed pictures of the service workers of that hotel taken "surreptitiously, with my digital camera, hoping they don't mind" at which point I nearly walked out. How disgusting, taking pictures of people without their knwoledge and consent, use them for your work and then pretend to be championing their cause. Sorry, I'm doing here the same thing, basically ranting on someone that pissed me off. But (a) Jameson was engaging critically with something that was created by late capital to serve its ends; a fight that people who simply celebrate postmodern (crudest terms) - are not interested in? gave up on? I'm not sure; (b) seriously: this is Western academia, right? This is what's it's like? a bunch of impotent middle-class wankers lamenting their whiteness and celebrating the "loss of hegemonic coherence"? aghghg. What's the point exactly?
I guess i'm reacting like this because i don't get exposed to it enough. i rarely go to seminars etc.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Five days in P.

In crude military terms, the area past the passport control can be described as a consumption ‘killing zone’: an area that is designed to trap the enemy in a location where it will be easiest to engage and destroy it. The route from the security handbag check to your flight is planned so that on your way to the gates, you would have to pass as many duty free shops and fast food joints as possible. This seems to be the main preoccupation. Passing there I wondered how long will it take until wine bottles are used to hijack an airplane, and what effect it will have on airport culture. Two months ago, when I was here, flying to Glasgow, I was amused to hear the following polite announcement: the passenger who left a black balaclava in the coffee shop, please come and collect it from the information desk.

More and more you see in London people from Eastern Europe occupying low paid service jobs. Boarding the airplane we were asked by the Polish flight attendant, who tried very hard to put on an American accent, not to sit in the last and first four rows, as it upsets the plane’s balance during takeoff. Her melodramatic tone did not help to make this request sound reassuring. I asked myself why do I keep taking cheap flights when I hate flying in the first place.

We stayed in proximity to P.’s central train station. This part of the city seems to be popular with immigrants, more than other parts of the old city. They are Indians, African, North-African Arabs, Chinese. Especially noticeable are the Chinese shops. These are marked from the outside with red lamps and signs in Chinese writing; they sell mainly cheap clothing. The same kind of semiotic code (the red lamps, indicating Chineseness), when found in the north part of the city, means that you have reached a Chinese restaurant.
The nicest thing was being close to the fruit and vegetables market. It reminded me of the Shuk in West Jerusalem, probably my favourite place in my home town, the place I find easiest to deal with. The main difference: here – as elsewhere in European markets – I was not allowed to touch the fruits myself, and they have to picked by the vendor, who gets sometimes upset if you attempt to tamper with this rule.

Unlike the markets of London, this was a seasonal market. This means that, according to season, some things are in abundance, while others are hard to find if at all. A simple, almost trivial fact of market life in most of the planet, but not in London: here the rules of globalisation mean that you can find almost anything, all year round; most of the produce is imported, and most of it doesn’t taste half as good. What is missing most: the strong alluring smells of fresh produce.

What we found in the market of P.: artichokes, cauliflower, fennel, courgettes, pumpkins and squashes, lettuce, beautiful aubergines, broad beans. Tomatoes are sold green, not yet in season; cucumbers hard to find. Blood oranges, apples (surely not local, perhaps from the north) and pears are in abundance. And of course, other kinds of food: olives, capers, cheese, fish and seafood, meat, bakeries. Lots of places offering delicious snacks, like sardines filled with breadcrumbs and raisins or deep fried artichokes in batter. We managed to avoid meat, and did not succumb to the temptations of sausages etc. I found that more and more, meat disgusts me.

I stopped eating meat a year ago, during my last visit to Jerusalem. I remember seeing – on a passing bus – an advertisement to a Kebab restaurants chain; quite suddenly, it made me feel sick. I decided without thinking much that at least during my stay in Israel, I would not eat dead animals. I was probably using this rejection of meat as one way to engage with the troubled reality around me. I think I was trying to look for new ways for me to be there, different than the ways I was there before my departure four years ago, to mark a new space for me there. All this probably sounds somewhat vague. In any case, since then I’ve hardly eaten meat, not even skipped salami sandwiches. I eat fish though, occasionally; I skip sushi sometimes and I still love sardines.

We stayed in P. for five days. One of them was quite miserable: we were supposed to climb the mountain overlooking the town, but it was cloudy and drizzling, so we ended up drifting through the streets of the old city; we went to see the city’s catacombs, where thousands of the city’s 19th century dead are displayed. We bought tickets from the monk in the entrance, who was talking on his mobile phone and chewing a chocolate mint, and descended into a system of underground corridors. It felt like walking through a horror movie set: the dead are all embalmed – a couple of different techniques were used. The men are facing the visitors, hanging from the walls in a standing posture, wearing their best evening clothes. The women lie down, in stacks of bunk beds, wearing modest dressing gowns. Judging from the clothes, the deceased were of the wealthier classes, the nobility and the clergy. The most disturbing detail I found to be the hair, which was still there; sometimes even a beard or a stubble can be seen. And a five year old child: minute, thin and shrivelled, she looks at you with a piercing, curious look, which was filled with pain but also with a sense of astonishment and misunderstanding.
We spent a long hour there. When we came out the rain was pouring down. We ended up taking a taxi to the hotel; couldn’t face the wait to the bus. Back in our big, cold room, I thought of the alienating nature of the tourist experience, in its western-modern-middle-class form; not knowing the language, when you can hardly communicate, and all you do is buy things, pay for things, stay in impersonal hotel rooms, visit places and read out of your guidebook, your sense of the place is always mediated, your experience almost bound to stay confined, limited. Why do people do it, I wondered.

But other days were different. I loved the melancholic crumbling old town and enjoyed being back in the Mediterranean, away from London. It was sunny most of the time and this meant that we could stay outside, and walk about. On our second day we found ourselves – by accident – in the botanical gardens, where we were surrounded by an army of cactuses and crazy ficus trees. It was beautiful and fresh, we could feel spring is on its way. We picked some lemons, oranges and grapefruits from the trees. We tried to eat the oranges and grapefruits but they were too sour. “Do want to hear what Goethe wrote about it?” asked S., and read me his journal entry, as we were sitting on a bench.

7th of April. I spent some happy, peaceful hours alone in the Public Gardens close to the harbour. It is the most wonderful spot on earth. Though laid out formally and not very old, it seems enchanted and transports one back into the antique world. Green borders surround exotic plants, espaliers of lemon trees from gracefully arched walks, high hedges of oleander, covered with thousands of red blossoms which resemble carnations, fascinate the eye. Strange trees, probably from warmer climes, for they are still without leaves, spread out their peculiar ramifications. At one end there is a bank with a bench on it from which one can overlook the garden and intricate vegetation; at the other are some large ponds in which goldfish swim about gracefully, now hiding under moss-grown pipes, now swarming together in great numbers, attracted by a piece of bread.
The green of the plants is of a different shade, either more yellow or more blue, than the green we are used to. What gives this scenery its greatest charm, however, is the haze uniformly diffused over everything, which has a peculiar effect. Even when one object is only a few steps further away than another, the difference in depth is clearly distinguished by a different tint of light blue. If one looks at them for long their own colour is lost and they appear, at least to the eyes, to be blue all over.

(My academic instinct tempts me to comment: Goethe’s interest in colour and vision is a precursor to 19th century focus on physiology, on the observing eye. And it is very different from the view that preceded it, that is, that reality is presented to the human eye, in its full truth; that vision is a direct and transparent process of through which things manifest themselves to the human mind. The new perception of vision – which Goethe shows here – will later lead to all manner of innovations, from amusement parks’ optical illusions to photography.)

So much did Goethe enjoy the gardens, that he returned there ten days later, just before he left P. As he recorded in another journal entry, he hoped to find some peace to meditate on his poetic dreams. Instead, he found his daemons:

Seeing such a variety of new and renewed forms, my old fancy came back to mind: Among this multitude might I not discover the Primal Plant? There certainly must be one. Otherwise, how could I recognize that this or that form was a plant if all were not built upon the same basic model?
I tried to discover how all these divergent forms differed from one another , and I always found that they were more alike than unlike. But when I applied my botanical nomenclature, I got along all right to begin with, but then I stuck, which annoyed me without stimulated me. Gone were my fine poetic resolution […] Why are we moderns so distracted, why we let ourselves be challenged by problems which can neither face nor solve!

During our stay in P., S. continued reading Goethe’s journal, and we found ourselves walking in his footsteps in the city and around it. I was reading The Sexual Life of Catherine M., a book which had a great effect on me. I found it deeply disturbing but also touching. It is a very explicit book; it sometimes made me horny, but much more often I found myself furrowing my forehead, feeling physically uneasy, unable to understand why anyone would put oneself in such situations. I am no masochist, she emphasises a number of times, somewhat prudishly; and yet she describes, in a dislocated, disinterested manner, sitting in the back of a van parked in a Paris street for hours, while countless men she doesn’t know and can’t really see come in and out; she sucks them off. It’s her forte.

Friday: I finished the book on the flight back to London. The captain informed us that the weather in London is ‘pleasant’ – an English euphemism that means – what exactly? I’m not sure. When we came out of the airport it was very cold, and snow flakes were floating in the air, though not catching the ground. The sky was as grey as ever. On the tube, seeing dreary, tired faces around, an unlikely announcement in the driver’s quiet voice: wherever you are, and whatever you do, I’d like wish you a wonderful weekend.