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 naïve 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.

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