I arrived at the airport late at night. I couldn’t withdraw pesos at any of the ATMs. I thought it was my foreign card and freaked out that I was going to get stuck there for good. I found out later that ATMs often run out of cash in Argentina. One day in the city centre, a nice lady let me walk with her for 15 minutes to a bank which was actually giving money.
Everywhere in public places, I only heard international hits of the 90s. I wondered why?
On Sunday morning, I saw more rain in a few hours than I saw in London over the last year. I braved the weather. The streets were completely empty.
Dove hand soap smells like Dulce de leche.
(Dulce de Leche is a religion).
In Palermo, I saw a number of dog walkers, one guy with 7 or 8 big dogs, one really looked like a sheep.
I recognised traits of Haussmann architecture on several buildings. Didn’t feel like Paris though.
The streets and parked cars are covered with the purple flowers of this tree I’ve never seen before. I asked what it was but couldn’t get an answer.
I knew that the accent is much different from the European Spanish I know, yet I wasn’t prepared to integrate that ‘lama’ is pronounced ‘chama’. It created a number of misunderstandings.
I was hanging out all the time in a colourful café called Bartola. The first time I went, I was reading Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes. The waitress exclaimed: “Virginie Despentes! La Teoria de King Kong!” We talked about feminist writers for a little bit. I felt welcome at heart by international sisterhood because King Kong Théorie is a book that changed my life.
I went to a tango class at the Armenian centre in Palermo, because the friends who hosted me told me that the famous open air milonga in La Plaza Dorrego San Telmo was a dangerous area alone at night. Later on TV, that night, we saw that the body of a big finance guy had just been discovered in a suitcase in that neighbourhood.
The tango class was kinda bad, there were mostly washed off dancers in couples. I was one of the youngest and I was by myself. There was a man who was the curly Argentinian version of an idiot guy I used to have a crush on in London, so I kept staring at him biting my tongue not to giggle. I, of course, randomly ended up dancing with him and I didn’t know any of the steps because I was focusing on his resemblance rather than on the teacher. At 10:30pm, everyone started dancing rock’n’roll out of the blue.
I was hosted by a lovely couple who are friends of my lover. I had never met them before but they opened me their door, gave me a set of keys, fed me empanadas for two days and helped me in every way they could. When I left for the airport, the guy dropped what he was doing and came with me to make sure I was getting on the right bus although he had a deadline for university that evening.
I took the bus back to the airport near the Rio del Plata. Some people were fishing. The dusk light was stunning. When I come back here, I’ll walk on the bank of the river for a whole day.
I crossed the city by bus as the night was falling. The further we were driving, the more the atmosphere was changing. At the periphery of the city, some houses were made of wood and cardboard. I saw a nun talking to a whore on the street – unless I’ve seen too many Almodovar movie and this was just my imagination?
I hadn’t been for eight years. 8 YEARS. I don’t know the precise reasons of my absence.
I was 25 when I was here last. I was, back then, an aspiring baby queer who hadn’t even come out to herself yet. I had just cut my hair short for the last time of my life (I understood soon after that it doesn’t suit me). I was a confused Parisian student with chubby cheeks. I was at the very beginning of my empowerment. I now gauge myself to be half way through it. I am proud.
It is 1:40 am as I am writing this. I can’t sleep. All my life possibilities and burning desires are spinning in my head. I turned on the light to smoke a café crème cigarillo. I’ve cruelly missed gypsy time management. I am humming an old East 17 song, ‘Alright, alright, everything’s gonna be alright‘. I am contemplating all the time and freedom ahead of me. I know I can do absolutely anything there is to be done on that side of the fucking planet. Like one stereotypically says, the rest of my life is a blank page to be written. I am going to write it like I write my blog posts. Spontaneous, volcanic, irregular.
Being back between the walls which absorbed my passed fears helps me realise how much I’ve accomplished. It’s been moving me in a good way to be here. I went through all the things I’ve left in storage over the years. Each box represents an era. I ship more unwanted things here with every house moving. That’s a lot of archive to look at. I had forgotten about some of the clothes I used to wear. I tried some on again. The books I miss, the letters I received, some pictures of my younger face.
Since 2008, I’ve been an inhabitant of Paris, Berlin, Paris again, London, New York. All the trips. All the jobs. I am now an officially unemployed inhabitant of nowhere and this fills me with ecstasy. All my belongings are in storage. I am flying out to Buenos Aires in ten days to travel around Latin America by myself. People are afraid for me. I am not afraid for myself.
Above all, there’s been a ton of new people irrupting into my life since I was here last. I fell in and out of love. Got hurt and disappointed, but had brief moments of bliss on the way which made it all worth it after all.
I am now falling in love again and I am hoping for the first time in years, but my system seems to cope better with the big void of loneliness than with the effervescence of hope. I shared my ongoing agitation with my good friend μ4. He simply said: “Maybe this time you’ll have a smooth ride.”
At first, I wasn’t even sure what he meant. I had to rephrase to confirm I got it right. I was like: “Do you mean that things may be easy?” I realised that I’ve never quite seen things under that light. It’s just not part of my mindset. I’ve been repeating this quote like a mantra. It is not so much that I am afraid of life or that I am a natural pessimistic. Not at all. I am just not good with peace. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt serene in any way. I am so talented for chaos and violent feelings. It is a nature to tame.
Maybe things actually do sometimes get alright and stay alright in the end?
There’s been the Paris attacks, which targetted people like me. Being a trendy Parisian is no longer safe. I am down one home.
There’s been the Orlando attacks, which targetted people like me. Hanging out in the queer world is no longer safe. I am down two homes.
There’s been the Brexit, which targetted people like me. Being a European citizen in the UK is no longer safe. I am down three homes.
Contemporary history has been slapping my immigrant queer French female face over the course of eight months. Pulling the carpet from under my feet.
My world as I’ve always known it is vanishing, and I haven’t even turned 33. I never imagined I’d be hit by nostalgia so long before menopause.
I suppose that it is how it goes about privilege: you don’t realise you have it until it gets abolished. I never thought an era would come when I would be part of the threatened group(s). I am grateful for having lived a fairly protected life so far. My “only” experiences of discrimination and violence have been sexism, street harrassment and homophobia – which are all solid trainings. Yet, I never imagined being afraid for my life in the city where I was born, nor being seen as an unwanted immigrant whose accent is a flaw rather than an aphrodisiac.
It feels like London’s face changed overnight after the referendum. London has always been that extraordinary Tower of Babel where all humans have been creatively co-existing, sucessfully mixing and joyfully getting along.
I refuse to see the end of that ideal world of clever diversity.
Because fate has humour, I happened to hand in my resignation on the day of the referendum results: June 24th, 2016. I had been planning for months to give my notice at the end of June, and just like a lot of people, I never believed in Brexit. My professional rebellious statement got somewhat absorbed by the political context. I wanted to send a firm message across to my upper management about my worth and how much I should be paid and what a terrible loss I represent, but when I found myself in my resignation meetings, all I could talk about was Brexit. ‘I am not prepared to face xenophobia. I am not prepared to see the new face of London” I said in all honesty and humility. Fuck my career statement. I claimed my love for diversity and the EU for 40 minutes to American managers who had just got in town. They were somewhat thrown off. I didn’t plan that my 4 year career in corporate would end on such an emotional and humanist note.
I am relieved to leave the ship. It feels like a wave of cool people will be leaving the UK, the progressist Brits and the gutted EU citizens. Hopefully we’ll all meet somewhere immigrant-friendly, queer-friendly, equality-friendly, to carry on.
The question that is running on everyone’s lips is: Where shall we go next?
Where in the world will I receive some fresh and hopeful wind on my queer immigrant arty woman’s face?
Which dance floors will I burn next?
Oh Gawd. I am there again.
Found in London underground 5 days after the referendum
I’ve been fairly stagnant, bored and boring recently. My sense of celebration was hibernating. But it all resurrected at Bar Wotever last night. Tuesday night saved my life.
My queer friend ε proposed me to go, so I put too much red lipstick on and the fascinator that I bought at Trashy Diva in New Orleans, and I met her there. I wasn’t suspecting that a miracle would happen.
Bar Wotever is a weekly open queer camp performance stage at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London. It’s super good spirit, I have always laughed and had awesome times there cause the shows are high quality but nobody takes themselves seriously. The crowd is a good sample of every gender, fashion style and body shape that exist on earth.
Two pretty people got on stage to advertise the voguing events that they regularly organise in London. One of them was nicknamed ‘Princess Butch‘. She had the prettiest smile. I was sitting on the first row of tables and I suddenly saw a hand pulling me up onto the stage. My fascinator caught their eye. I thought “Of course!” What could be more natural than finding myself in a voguing contest on a queer stage on a Tuesday night? We had to dance and show off like on the catwalk, walk down to the audience, back on stage again, and the presenter would then say to finish his rap flow “And/strike/a/pose/for/me” and we had to stand still in a glamorous pose. I got the timing perfectly, so people liked my perf. It was so funny. Dudes, if I wasn’t wearing jeans, I would have killed that split. The audience was voting with applause. I made it to the last round (out of two haha).
Then. The real stuff happened. The serious high level voguing dancers took over the stage and the entire room. Oh Lord. Revelation. Lightnings. Fireworks. Rainbows. I really felt for a second in the New York of the 80s with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Madonna and all the pretty people and I felt the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I had no clue that voguing was a contemporary thing, and certainly not that it was so joyful, artistic and technical. I only knew the clichéd mainstream version of voguing e.g. the Madonna song and the documentary Paris is burning about the origins of the movement. Now that’s it, I want to be a voguing dancer. Voguing is an art form and a lifestyle in itself. Voguing is the new 5 Rhythms, the new quest. Ahhhhhhh. (I’ve already signed up for a hoola hoop/voguing workshop next week). Those pretty dancers were super stylish and set everyone on fire, I had rarely seen such a good atmosphere in a bar. Literally everyone was dancing as a group or battling in improvised duets. At some point, the hot dancers were battling only with their arms and attitude, seating on stools. It became very theatrical without a single word, like ‘I have prettier nails than you’ kind of moves. Oh man! I wanted to be one of them.
Suddenly, I saw her. She got on stage with a very 90s outfit, like she had been time travelling. She was the voguing doppelgänger of Emma Watson, with the most endearing mix of shyness, grace and attitude. My heart instantly swung in her direction. I hadn’t been that caught by a woman’s strength in a long time. Why do I always fall for people while they are dancing? (I know the answer to that: because they are really present to themselves and don’t bullshit). I asked a guy from the crew what her name was, but he didn’t know. I didn’t talk to her because I’m an idiot around people I feel irrationally drawn to. I’m now on a serious mission to track back the voguing Emma Watson. Girl, if you ever read that post: I want to hear the sound of your voice and learn that arm move from you.
Came the end of the party. I was ecstatic. Emma Watson was still around, but I knew I wouldn’t have the guts. I never approach people. This is how my life goes.
ε left with me and we walked to the station. We kissed under Vauxhall bridge, just like that cause we were in the mood. Why not? She dragged me in a black cab to her new boy’s house. It was so absurd that it was jubilating to be caught in an impromptu threesome on a Tuesday night after voguing. I laughed on the inside and I felt alive again, after a few dull weeks where my only internal leitmotiv was that no one here really cares about me. I suddenly remembered why I like my life so much, for the joyful vibrant random sexy intensity of it.
I had never been in a trio with a boy and a girl, so I had to make a statement around my male tolerance. I finally relaxed and flowed with the situation. I need new stuff anyway. I need new everything.
I left at 6am and crossed London by tube with my purple stilettos and my leopard coat. My eye makeup was down to my cheeks but I didn’t try to fix it.
I worked all day. I’m writing this twelve hours later, travelling across London again to make the ladies dance at Mad House (the psychiatric hospital) with two and a half hours of sleep in my system. I didn’t want to cancel, because I’m in such a state of nerves that my sensitivity will be closer to theirs. Something magical may arise from our similar state of exhausted nervosity?
This is my conception of happiness. Walking my intensity across the city amongst colourful human landscapes to dance.
“[Rape] is a founding event. Of who I am as a writer, and as a woman who is no longer quite a woman. It is both that which disfigures me, and that which makes me.” Virginie Despentes, King Kong Théorie, 2006
I’ve been trying for months to write that post in my mother tongue, which is the language of King Kong Théorie, but I’ve been unable to do so. It is challenging to tackle crude stuff in your first language. I am attempting again to pull my thoughts together on that essential piece of writing.
King Kong Théorie is to the 21st century what The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir was to the 20th: an intellectual electroshock and a feminist Bible.
For many years, I didn’t like Virginie Despentes ; or at least I believed so. Her case was completely misleading and I didn’t have much of a critical opinion on feminism when I first saw her on TV in 2000, the year that her feature Baise-Moiwas censored in France. I didn’t like her in interviews. It seemed so unusual to speak on TV with such a neglected hair, saying bad words and not trying to please anyone. Baise-Moi (‘Fuck Me’) is like the rougher version of Thelma & Louise, whose lead characters are played by two porn stars of that time. They fuck and kill all the men they come across to take their revenge on patriarchy. Despentes says that her movie was censored because the heroins are women and female violence is socially unacceptable.
A few years ago, I read her novel ‘Apocalypse Baby’, which I found absurd and unnecessarily trash. At the end of the story, the teenage heroin blows the Palais Royal in Paris with a bomb stuck up her vagina: go figure the symbolism.
In 2012, my opinion finally shifted. Virginie Despentes published a column in Têtu [the most famous French gay magazine which ran out of business last year] as a response to the declaration of a politician criticizing the legalization of gay marriage. It was fierce, smart and brilliant. I was following the debate on gay marriage very closely back then, and I was reading a lot of what was written in both camps. Her words are the only words which really marked my memory. They’ve been staying with me ever since; I remember some of her arguments really precisely because she is the only person who articulated my own position with such precision. I endorsed every single of her words, including the offensive ones. I wished I had written that statement myself as a letter to my anti-gay marriage mother.
Finally, last summer, nine years after it was published, I bought a copy of King Kong Théorie. I got a sudden urge to read it, because so many women seemed to refer to it as a life-changing work. I started reading it during my holiday in France at my 60-something aunt and uncle’s. I was hiding to read, because I was afraid they would see the summary at the back of the book: ‘I am writing as un ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckables, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls who don’t get a look in the universal market of the consumable chick.” I was lacking the guts to justify my literary choices. One evening, as I was reading in bed, my aunt got in the room to kiss me good night. I had the silly reflex to throw the book under the bed so that she wouldn’t see it. It fell in an out of reach spot: I had to move the bed around to get my subversive book back. There I was, an assertive feminist gay woman, moving the furniture in the middle of the night because I didn’t assume my feminist reading in front of my family. I felt utterly dumb. What exactly was I afraid of?
[In the meantime, my courage reappeared and I made my uncle read King Kong Théorie. I warned him about the crudity of the tone beforehands. He devoured it in two days and bought himself a copy, saying that it was a book designed for men. It is one of the small change-the-world achievements that I am the most proud of. My aunt read it too.]
As I was progressing through the pages, I started underlining certain passages which particularly resonated with my experience of living life in a very feminine woman’s body. But I soon realised that I was going to underline the whole book. Virginie Despentes verbalises things in such a striking way that I could finally put words on the confused rebellion which I had instinctively felt all my life, but which I never had the intellectual clarity to articulate, because I had been raised to believe that things were just meant to be that way when you are a girl. But I was discovering that my rebellion was legitimate.
Virginie Despentes relates her own experience of controversial themes where the female body is the common denominator of ongoingly unsolved issues: rape, prostitution, the porn industry, the myth of the ideal woman.
She knows what she’s talking about.
She always considered herself non-attractive: ‘I have always felt ugly. I put up with it and now I’m starting to appreciate it for having saved me from a crap life in the company of nice, dull, small-town guys (…) I like myself as I am, more desiring than desirable.’ Hurray to the concept of the Desiring Girl, that girl who can tell people asking her why she’s pretty yet single to fuck off! It is so much more fun to want (and get) than being wanted.
Despentes worked as a prostitute for a couple of years. Her vision of the job is original and defeats a number of clichés, pretty much like everything she writes about. She hangs out with porn stars and has every right to legitimately blow some fresh air on the heated topic of the porn business.
But in my opinion, the most edifying chapter, the most cult and groundbreaking is the one about rape. ‘The very definition of femininity: “the body that can be taken by force and must remain defenseless”. Virginie Despentes writes how she was raped by three guys with a gun at 17 as she was hitch-hiking with a friend. Just the way she simply writes: ‘“my” rape’ feels like a taboo is breaking. So is the way she explains how many years it took her to call her rape a rape, the difficulty to name it. How everybody, victims and rapists, don’t refer to the act as ‘rape’ but use all kind of hazardous periphrasis. And above all, Despentes describes how she refused to be destroyed by it, how she refused to feel she wasn’t the same afterwards, like society expects a raped woman to be.
I read that chapter again and again. I discover different layers every time, I am more or less sensitive to a passage or another. Those few pages are my intellectual refuge and my reference piece for ever. I have been offering King Kong Théorie to all the boys & girls I care about as an initiation ritual into my world.
I’ve been cynical about love for as long as I can remember. Cynical may not be the right word. Doubtful, resistant, defiant, unyielding? Refractory. I never liked the idea of being under the control of such a violent feeling.
As a teenager, whilst my friends started fantasizing about their boyfriends-to-be, I was fascinated by sex workers, by the idea of empowering myself making fast cash with my body, and above all by the idea of separating sex and emotion. It was probably the seeds of my inner self struggling to blossom in a socially unacceptable direction: I was already a mini-dyke and a sexually empowered girl, although there were no such words or concepts where I grew up. I was identifying to whores for lack of more accurate representations. I instinctively fell under the Madonna/Whore archetype: my intuition was telling me that I would never have a straight domestic life but I couldn’t quite put my finger on any other alternative. I didn’t become a sex worker but I’ve continued to be fascinated by it, by all its different forms, by the honesty and openness that it takes. I truly respect it.
I have loved immensely, of course. Humans are attractive, complex and mysterious. I love the way they move when they move well. I was on a serious relationship between 26 1/2 and 30. Before and after, I don’t know how to qualify my different positions on the map of the intimate, and I am not trying to analyze it. I don’t care. I don’t want to regret anything I did or haven’t done yet.
The only regret I may have is never having experienced the feeling of innocence. I am trying to define what I mean by that as I am writing. What is innocence? Is it the simple joy and bubbly faith inherent to the state of liking somebody? Feeling even briefly that the future is a promising road where you walk with sunshine in your face? I’ve always perceived the vulnerability of liking someone as a disaster, a defeat and a threat. It’s always been violent one way or the other. How can I take so much pride in claiming my braveness, and yet be that terrified by love?
My dysfunctional heart is changing, though.
I’ve been forced into softer feelings for the first time in my history and it happens to be for a man who has no clue about it. He’s been hanging out in my world for a while and without knowing, just by being his respectful and caring self, he has been putting me in touch with my innocence lost. Or rather with the innocence I never found. I am feeling like a clumsy first timer who has a million virginities to lose. It inundates me with joy. I am like a continent whose geological plates are shifting underneath the surface, until a volcanic eruption will provide tangible evidence of all the profound changes that have been occuring.
The girl I’ve always known as myself is leaving my body and that terrifies me. But it is a healthy terror. That’s insanely beautiful to entirely shed skin at my age. Not only my certitudes on my sexual identity are collapsing, which is a punch in itself, but above all, softening up to the vulnerability I’ve always banned from my existence feels revolutionary. I don’t want to have sex to change the world, I want to have sex because I feel like it.
Now. This happened. I was on the tube the other day after a gruelling day. I was thinking of how challenging my London life is and I was trying to remember what keeps me here, what really is of value in my life. I couldn’t find an ultimate reason to stay. I concluded that I was done with it, and that my strongest human bound right now is pointless, as it is with this man who doesn’t know how I feel since I am a terrified gay girl. I got off the train at the most random tube station ever with these dull voices singing in my head. I started walking on the tube platform looking at my feet and when I raised my head, there he was standing in my face like a solid tree. He smiled at me, amused by this unexpected encouter. My heart stopped, time was suspended. My conscience did a 360° spin to differentiate reality from my delirious imagination. But he really was in front of me, in a place where we both shouldn’t have really been.
Since that extraordinary disruptive element, I’ve been surrendering. I surrender to everything I’ve been resisting so far in my warrior’s life. I surrender to my love feelings and the vulnerability and discomfort that it brings. I surrender to the idea of my bisexuality. I surrender to my true nature, my creativity, my gypsiness, my witchcraft, being an artist.
I am on my way to accepting everything I’ve been denying or afraid of.
There’s been this charming queer weekend recently where I wandered around the city and ended up in random situations with loveable creatures. My lifestyle in a nutshell.
I left my house on Friday night with my toothbrush and fresh knickers in my handbag, because I knew it would be one of those anything-can-happen weekends. As I was getting ready, I felt that delicious rush of passion in my veins. Drowning in the urban unknown with its infinite possibilities of encounters and situations. I live for this.
I normally get lost in the metropolis when I travel. Away from home, adrenaline and novelty make me go through days and nights without sleeping. It is always more difficult to do so in the city where we live, because we get caught in repetitiveness and fatigue. Too often, I forget to look up and around in London. It is such an incredible human landscape, though.
On Friday night, I met up with friends and we talked and giggled till late. I had sex till the dawn of Saturday was breaking. I was simultaneously super intense about the present moment and outside my body, miles away from what I was doing. It was an unusual sensation. I am not sure why?
The day after, I was invited to a leaving party in a flat attached to the Barbican (a famous London multi-arts centre). I didn’t go back home to wash away my smell of sex. I went straight to the art centre and hanged out there, aimless, to kill time. I stayed in the bathrooms for a while. They make me happy because each door has a different colour. I just wanted to pee a million times to try out every shade of paint.
In the main hall people were resting, working or having coffee on the big fat sofas. I lay down to watch them and nap intermittently. It reminded me of my youth, of my first life in London back in 2004, when I moved here and found it so tough that I gave up after six months. I was struggling with money so bad that on my days off, I was going to the Tate Modern gallery which has free entrance and I was napping on the sofas to feel surrounded with the murmur of the crowd. It was soothing me. It had been a long time since I hadn’t napped in a public place (except for airports). My bohemian side is getting pale. A man sharing my sofa suddenly starting puking his guts out. He wouldn’t stop. I went to get him a glass of water and left to my party.
I was the first guest to arrive. The flat was stunning, seventh floor with an amazing view of London from the bay window. I told the host that I wouldn’t stay long because I was behind in sleep. I didn’t know anyone apart from her.
And then, the hours passed by and I got dragged into joyful extravaganza with the queers/butches/fems/creatures/etc. We put some wigs on, I got the long blue one. I took off my top to cover my breasts with the long fake hair, like a queer Venus being born. A very pretty creature whom I was referring to as ‘he’ but I was told to use ‘they’ borrowed my Chanel lipstick and my leopard print fur coat. They looked better in them than I did, but I was excited rather than jealous.
We had the key to the garden of the Barbican Centre so we went in the middle of the night with wine and blankets. We must have been a beautiful procession of extravagant people in crazy outfits, about twelve of us. We sat down under the stars, near the water. I was familiar with that place by day, as it is a public spot where I come once in a while, but it felt extraordinary to have it privatised at night with a handful of attractive total strangers. I suddenly felt very much in the moment. Someone launched the idea of passing the bottle of wine around in a circle whilst telling stories about our respective life. Most people didn’t know each other, so it was an interesting exercise. One of us had just been randomly picked up from the street and dragged to the party just like that. I hate speaking in groups, but I made an effort. We went around the circle several times, and we went deeper at each round.
We all exposed our relationship to London, and it broadened my perspective on why I landed here and why I am staying after all, despite my love-hate relationship with it. Like often here, almost none of us were British. We were Greek, Canadian, German, French, South African, American. London in all its splendor. It is unique in the world to have that level of peaceful diversified cohabitation. We all moved here because we were suffocating in our countries or we wanted to live harder, faster, deeper. To embrace our different selves more. Everyone had incredible and different life paths to London. It seemed like all the awesome people’s roads lead to London. One person said that their visa was expiring soon and that they didn’t know yet whether it was going to be renewed or not. I was suddenly grateful for being part of that crew of human beings. The queer-landing-in-London-in-search-for-more crew.
We went back inside when our ass was about to turn into a block of ice. I finished the night in a big bed with three other lovely people. We took off our clothes just to hug and cuddle, to feel our super soft skin. Why not? Two of my bed partners woke up early on Sunday morning to go sing at a church choir. I wish I had had the guts to sing too, but I don’t like my own voice, whether it sings, screams or speaks.
I went back to the Barbican instead, to try new colours at those funky bathrooms. I went to see an exhibition by a Pakistani artist. The gallery was completely in the dark and there were fake blood stains on the floor. It really impressed me. I thought of the November Paris attacks. I think I had a different perception on art after two sleepless nights.
I was walking down sunny Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn last weekend. It had been so long since I had hanged out in my favorite city in the world. I am a Brooklyn babe (like Lana Del Rey haha), and it felt even better that I was in town just for an impromptu courtesy visit.
Outside one out of the million antique shops of the street, I saw a sign: ‘Badass Vintage for your Badass life’. I love the word ‘badass’, so I got in. The store felt different from all the ones trying to sell you dusty yet soulless old stuff. It was clean and bright and every object was exhibited like in a museum.
My eyes were browsing aimlessly, curious but not caught. A French ashtray from the Galeries Lafayette, earrings, old cameras… I turned around and I am sure I let out a strange cry for I got moved in an unusual way. I got very close to the object of my curiosity. I am not good at visually describing things. Here is what I saw.
A label was hanging from the handmade old frame. ‘Memento Mori, circa 1900. $240.’ I contemplated the Dead Lady for a long time. The quaint charm of the photograph was truly captivating. Every detail of the arrangement had been thought about, like a silent movie scene. The profusion of flowers, the old piano, the portrait of the Lincoln looking guy above her coffin, her wedding gown, the position of her hands carefully crossed on her chest. Her pale face which looked about the same age as mine. I got overwhelmed by a stream of mixed feelings. I didn’t know which one was predominant. Empathy, for her prematured death which could have only been tragic and/or violent? Curiosity about the details of her life? What was her name? Identification, as she could be me? Inspiration, as everything about this scene was so loudly narrative? Morbidity, as I’ve never seen a dead body in real life?
I couldn’t put up with the flow of my bouncy feelings. I was tempted to purchase her immediately and leave with her under my arm, just to keep analyzing my virulent emotions. But I didn’t. I wanted to see if I would easily forget about her. I also didn’t want to spend $240 on an object, because I don’t own any. Only dresses and shoes. I am certainly not an antique collector. On the way out, I saw a 19th century obstetrician tool kit. One of the tools looked like a cork screw.
My Dead Lady was with me all afternoon and all night. I harrassed my friends telling what mysterious spell she had cast over me. I went back to the shop the following day. I stared at my romantically beautiful Dead Lady again. She was smaller than I remembered, but still magically seductive. The young burlesque looking shop owner recognised me. She said that the Dead Lady was waiting for the perfect person to buy her. I replied that it was me and that she was coming back with me to London. While the shop owner was putting green bubble wrap around the original wooden frame, I started asking her a million questions. She had bought the photograph from a lady in Vermont who stored it in her attic. She had inherited it from a grandmother or greatgrandmother, but she didn’t think the Dead Lady was a relative. She didn’t know who she was, no name nor the slightest clue about her existence apart from the approximate date of the picture, between 1890 and 1910. The question started spinning in my head. What was the nature of this woman’s existence? She was such an amazing starting point for a novel, an adventure, any kind of story hunting and story telling.
The burlesque looking shop owner started unfolding bits of her work as an antique dealer. She studied something like criminology (not quite, but similar, I am forgetting the exact subject) and wanted to be a US marshal. She then worked as a private hunter, looking for super specific objects throughout the country upon request from rich people. Her job now consisted in driving the East coast of the US in a van, stopping along the road in diners to talk to people and make connections in order to hear their life story, visit their home and buy unique objects.
The girl won me over for she had exactly the life style that I dream of. Hitting the road, meeting strangers and collecting life stories. This is what I do in my own way, but I haven’t found the trick to turn it into a career just yet. I want a human and itinerant job. Talking with that girl triggered something in my brain about all the possibilities out there to create the work you want if there is no job in the world that perfectly suits you. Just tailor your own. I told her that she should write down and exhibit in her shop the human story attached to each object she sells, so people would not only buy a frame or a piece of furniture, but they would buy a piece of a perfect stranger’s humanity.
On the train that was taking me back to Boston, I googled ‘Memento Mori’. I thought it meant ‘The moment of your death’ but my latin is poor. It literally means ‘Remember to die’ or ‘Remember that you must die’. It is a Christian thing and a whole artistic genre in itself. Puritan America was very big on it between the 17th and the 19th century. I probably purchased one of the last ones as the tradition started fading away.
The forests of New England were passing before my eyes as I was absorbing the events of the recent days on my Amtrak seat. Absorbing the eternal electricity of New York, all these new stories and encounters to integrate into my life. I realised there was a funny correlation in my obsession to find clues about the existence of my Dead Lady with the same passion as I put in trying to find clues about the true nature of my own existence. I think I got a couple clues more during my New York escape. I want my work to be human & itinerant.
I haven’t found a place for my Memento Mori yet. It deserves a very special spot. It is still trapped in its green bubble wrap. It intimidates me to look at it, to welcome it in my home. I am also somewhat afraid that it will haunt me or obsess me with its strong nostalgic presence. I am not going to take that photograph as a daily reminder that I must die. I am going to use it as a daily reminder that I must pursue the life I really want.
If by an extraordinary coincidence someone has any information about the lady on the picture, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org – Thanks!
I usually never post twice in a row on the same topic, but teaching dance at the ‘Mad House’ (a South London psychiatric hospital) is currently becoming the centre of my life. It feels like the first time I’m actually doing something. I mean that I am finally producing something of true value and creating something from scratch out of all the things I’ve learned. I’ve studied, hanged out and traveled most of my life. These are easy zones though. They allow you to fail and quit. I have a lot of opinions on a lot of things. I’ve built a network of amazing people and creatures, almost a human cabinet de curiosités. But what have I done? What have I made?
Teaching my Wednesday classes at the psychiatric hospital is becoming my heartbeat. That’s crazy. I never expected to fall so deeply for it. I hated it with passion in the first few weeks. Now, some kind of magic is operating. I don’t know yet what is happening, but it feels like I am finally taking action on what I really want to do in life.
My favourite patient is leaving the ward on Friday. She was there at my first class and almost hasn’t skipped one since. I hopefully won’t see her again in that context. I’ll miss her but I’m happy she gets out of there, she’s only 19. She’s pretty and gentle, and always accommodates herself with everything. She’s a peace maker. When other patients create trouble, she never gets distracted from her own dances and she liaises between me and them. Today I tried to stretch her legs in the downward dog position but she couldn’t. She explained me that her legs are too long for her body because her parents gave her growth hormones and tortured her as a kid. She thanked me when I left, she said she enjoyed the classes and would miss it. She looked so much better than at the beginning. She asked me where to take dance classes on the outside world. I hope she continues. I want her to be fine. I’ll remember her.
I had a new student tonight. As soon as I got on the ward, she stood right behind me, close enough to touch me. Then she started following me, still touching me, as I walked to the TV room where the class takes place. She wore her bra on top of her clothes and wouldn’t take off her flip flops to dance. She was talking, shouting and pressing the security buzzer all the time but we managed to work anyway. It’s stunning how troubled people become “normal” as soon as their body and attention are engaged.
An older lady who always watches the class but never participates told me: “You’re a free spirit”. I thought I didn’t hear properly. “I’m a free spirit?” She said she could tell from the way I dance. I laughed and I replied: “Yeah, I suppose so. It puts me into trouble on the outside world.” Everyone laughed. I think they got what I meant.
At the other ward, where I teach my second class, the occupational therapist had a word with me before we started. She told me that they got the news in the morning that one of the patients committed suicide at her flat after she was released. I knew who she was. She came to the class once. She was a tall woman with dreadlocks, late 30s or so, beautiful face. She’s the only patient so far who knew about 5 Rhythms dance, we talked about it together. I didn’t know her very well at all, but I remember her. It’s strange that someone was here and now she’s not, just like that.
As I got in the dancing space – which is the diner, we just push the tables and line them up against the wall – there was the lady who wouldn’t stop insulting me last week. She said horribly vicious things like I was a failed ballerina cause I was too short or if I had lived during World War 2, the Nazis would have put me in their big vacuum cleaner for people. Then she was describing in detail how much I was hurting all her senses. I was surprised at my own reaction. It didn’t impact me at all. I thought it was funny and super creative insults with thorough almost poetic descriptions. Anyway, she apologised for it tonight. I said that it was OK and that she probably had had a bad day. She said she had a bad few months. She joined the class and was very present to herself when she danced. She was so internally focused, I felt like stopping and watching her. The patients dive way more into themselves than regular people do. It strikes me when I see the members of staff dancing next to the patients. The patients are so much more engaged, more expressive, more raw, more edgy, more everything. They have a real story to tell, and I am really drawn to look at them so much more.
I was briefly struck by the thought of the people in the outside world who tell me that I’m a hard person. I came to the conclusion that I’m only hard to people who deserve it and I felt in peace with myself and my so-called harshness.
Things start picking up at Mad House. The ladies are awesome. All of them. I just love them. I got an email from the hospital this morning that we are going to start filling in weekly forms to track the attendance and the progress of the patients and study the positive impact of dance on them. They have targets of some kind regarding the physical health of the patients.
Hurray! That’s serious stuff happening!
Paintings by Marlene Dumas : #1 – Mamma Roma #2 – Stern #3 – Passion
In December, I started giving dance classes at a psychiatric hospital in South London.
I still can’t really explain what was the trigger, why I wanted to do that. I’ve had a fascination for psychiatric hospitals since my teenage. Was it because I thought the line between my own mental sanity or what is perceived like insanity was thin and challenged at times? Is it a fascination for the place in itself, which obeys to its own rules, where there is a discontinuous management of time and space? Is it because the patients’ relationship to what you are supposed to do or not is so different from the outside world?
When I walked out of my last session, there was a big lady rolling naked on the floor in the corridor, screaming with her legs wide open. Two nurses rushed to cover her with a sheet and told her to go back to her room. I wasn’t shocked by the scene. I wondered what the story was like in her reality. Was she giving birth? Was she begging for sex? I caught myself envying her for just a second. My first thought was: “This must be really liberating!” I wish I had the guts to roll around naked and scream in my office or in my house if I feel like it. Why should it be necessary perceived as offensive, just because it is somewhat disturbing the established order? What if it was socially accepted to do that, just because this is what someone needs at that precise moment? I’ve always had the belief that there is no such thing as “madness” or “craziness”, just different perceptions of reality and different modes of self expression.
I think my psychiatric hospital immersion is the natural continuation of my 5 Rhythms dance and my sexual explorations. It is another aspect of liberating the body from rigid mindfucking rules. It is crossing the lines of what is socially accepted. Of course, I am aware that the patients may be a danger to themselves or to others, and that’s why they are locked in. But even so, I think they challenge a lot of unspoken self integrated rules, and I secretely admire them for that reason.
After tough beginnings, I finally start finding my rhythm with the patients. It has been nothing but easy. I have had to struggle to find adequate support from the institution itself and was tempted to slam the door for a moment.
Holding a “class” there is like dancing tango. I never know in which direction the next step is going to be. Whatever upsets them, they don’t force themselves to cope with it, they just leave the room. Once, everyone left. I had no more students. I managed not to take it personally.
Every session is dramatically different. Everything changes from one moment to the other. I have to be so present, so so so present every second, and readjust constantly in response to the ladies. At the beginning, I was preparing the class, but I quickly realised that there was no point. The best I can do is preparing myself to be physically and mentally engaged.
I start building a core group of 2-3 girls. The first time I saw one of them, she was sitting still in silence for half an hour, just watching the class. She had just received medication and looked stoned. I wondered if she was autistic, because she wouldn’t even answer my questions. The patients left the class one after the other, but she stayed. When it was just me and her, she finally spoke. She asked me if we could do some stretching exercises. She had done ballet before. I showed her some moves. Suddenly, she looked different. She was beautiful, engaged, alive again. She was sighing with relief while reconnecting with her body. When I left the place, she looked like a healthy person again, just like me.
The girls of my core group are young and pretty. Sensitive and wild. Last session with them was awesome. I stop pretending I am “teaching” them anything, because they know more than me at so many levels. I just turn off the lights, play music, and we dance freely together in the dark.
Last time, I was amazed at how far they went, how abruptly they express themselves and don’t give a shit about what the others may think. It really doesn’t seem to be part of their mindset. Whatever direction I was giving, they were picking it up super fast and were immediately twisting it into magic, way beyond my expectations. I played the song ‘I Am What I Am’ and they all started singing amazingly. I was stunned. The words were so meaningful in their mouth, too. We were all repeating “I am what I am”, whatever it meant. We laughed. It was a nice moment. I was the student in the end. I don’t know, I am just learning so much. They have so much to say, they are so intensely emotionally charged.
We got together in a small circle at the end, holding hands in the dark. They treated me as if I belonged with them, as if I was one of their sistas. One told me: “You should totally get a room here with us at Mad House!”
I giggled, but I was tempted for a minute. Yeah. I’ll think about it. I am glad I am finally hanging out with people who speak my language.