Surviving four months of lockdown in Liverpool took some imagination and savoir-faire… My weekly fantasy treat was to dress up and explore the many possibilities of messy selfies to celebrate domestic-prisoner glamour…
Surviving four months of lockdown in Liverpool took some imagination and savoir-faire… My weekly fantasy treat was to dress up and explore the many possibilities of messy selfies to celebrate domestic-prisoner glamour…
On rediscovering perfume with new sensorial superpowers
I started sprinkling 5th Avenue Elizabeth Arden perfume on my pillows a few months ago, at the start of this lockdown. It was a way of using a large bottle of perfume from a fragrance I no longer associate with. Back when, a lifetime ago, I would dress up and get into rooms with people, chatting to (and getting close to, goodness) strangers, I would wear Japanese perfume. Issey Miyake had become a favourite since 2018, so my good old 5th Avenue bottle had been gathering dust for years.
The pillow, dusted in relatively expensive droplets out of the kind of perfume I found meaningful in my 30s, has become a wonderful little private pleasure. This is a luxurious while easy new habit to indulge in.
This morning, I have gone a step beyond. I thought: why not sprinkle my wardrobe? Why not wake up and kiss those colourful dresses I have abandoned for so long this year?
Living without perfume for so many months makes me intensely receptive to the pleasures of well-made fragrances. Of course, I am much more perceptive to annoyances too. It is like having a new — restored — sense.
Before lockdown I was saturated with competing industrial fragrances. I am now cleansed and every drop, literaly, counts and has an impact.
Having a bath with a few droplets of lemongrass had an impressive effect on me last Tuesday. I do not recall being so entranced by the powers of aromatic oils before. Before lockdown I was probably, like so many of us, saturated with competing industrial fragrances, unable to discern new layers. I am now cleansed and every drop, literaly, counts and has an impact.
I have just dared dose my wrists with a hint of Issey. I have not worn perfume since March 11th. It is extraordinary company; the touch of a safe, home-based while daringly exotic old friend.
I would love to get a locally made perfume next. How will it feel to open a fragrance made in small scale? I will continue to infuse things myself — floral and herbal teas have provided essential aromatic company from the start of this enclosure. But it feels spectacular to bring the genius back out of my few expensive bottles; to awake the superpowers dormant in those crystal receptacles, a legacy of my crazed airport days…
It is fantastic to spread these intense droplets, not for anyone else but myself, my home, my pillows, my clothes. It changes the colour and feel of everything. It transforms my home into a larger world.
New York, Tokyo, welcome in. I will never again take you for granted.
Una entrada de diario dedicada a la posibilidad de belleza en la suciedad que me acompaña durante este interminable encierro.
Tengo los dedos pegajosos de miel y de la enganchina que le pongo a los pies de las sillas para que no arañen el suelo de madera. Se sueltan (las pegatinas de fieltro) y el trozo de pega que trata de fijarlas se engancha con todo: con el suelo, con los niditos de pelo y polvo y migas y otra mugre que se va acumulando por mi doquier doméstico durante estos meses de encierro.
Me niego a limpiar.
A limpiar a fondo, quiero decir.
Ordeno obsesivamente, como siempre he hecho, y lo dejo todo muy cuco y estilizado con los medios e imaginación a mi alcance, que no es poca. Miro a mi alrededor y a menudo me impresiono por lo bonito que es este apartamento y lo a mi medida que ha quedado todo; lo fácil que es mantenerlo en estas situaciones nefastas. Incluso cuando viene mi hijo a saltar sobre el sofá, a restregar cojines por todas partes, a picotear y distribuir bolsas de plástico crujientes por cada rincón. Nos complementamos y todo el revoloteo propio de un niño de diez años se alinea, se enreda, choca y luego vuelve a alinearse con mis manías de perspectivas, proporciones y ángulos.
Pero la mugre crece. Y los enganches.
El polvo (ahora que nos ahogamos en calor y hay que abrir ventanas) entra a bocanadas. Es un polvo gris, lleno de ciudad; lleno de calles con tráfico; de restos de fastfood tirada por el suelo; lleno de borracheras y orina; también lleno de río, de mar, de gaviotas, de barcos. Es un polvo lleno de puerto.
El polvo entra y reboza mi casa. En silencio o densa y estrepitósamente; se enreda con la lluvia de cabello que sigo distribuyendo por todas partes. Se acurrucan juntos, el polvo de puerto y la lluvia de pelo. Las migas de pan sourdough, los trocitos de almendra, las pipas pálidas del pimiento, las pielecitas de ajo y las plumas de cojín maltratado se arriman a polvo y cabello para formar, todos juntos, estos niditos flotantes que se acumulan bajo las sillas, en la esquina derecha de la cómoda, alrededor de mi mesa de trabajo, en torno a los cables — oh sí, especialmente ahí, en torno a los cables.
La danza de la mugre en este apartamento tan chic. Una danza que tiene su punto de delicadeza.
Me paseo descalza y noto cómo se me forma una suela llena de texturas debajo de cada pie. Me agacho y recojo algún que otro nidito, delicadamente, con los dedos, cuando los veo perfectamente formados ante mí. Hay un elemento deseable en estos nidos, cuando sus posibilidades escultóricas se manifiestan de pleno — cual nubecitas, creciendo espojosos y semi transparentes. Es una suciedad que tiene una dimensión de belleza.
A la basura.
Deposito cada nidito en el
cilindro de los deshechos.
Me lavo las manos.
Me siento y me pongo a trabajar de nuevo.
La suciedad pegajosa no es placentera a la vista de la misma manera que esta otra suciedad seca que he mencionado. Trato de eliminar la suciedad pegajosa. Ahí se concentran mis pocas energías de limpiadora.
Paso un paño sobre esta miel que me ha quedado en los dedos. Distribuyo el aceite que ha goteado sobre la superficie de madera. Me armo de spray y quizás, oh calamidad, una bayeta bien fea y bien práctica que me ayude a mantener los fogones aceptables y utilizables como base de cocina sin riesgos para la salud (ni atractivo para las posibles criaturas con patitas y alas que deseen aventurarse en mi casa).
El enganche bajo mis sillas es otra pequeña batallita, silenciosa y frustrante. Voy dominándola como puedo.
Sigo trabajando. Escribiendo. Escuchando música. Contemplando la ventana.
Los niditos amorosos de polvo-ciudad, de cabellos descartados, de miguitas y otras mini-fugas culinarias se pasean por el suelo. Educadamente. Secos. Sin enganche. Esperando su turno a ser admirados, recogidos y retirados.
La suciedad, hecha nido. Mi bella y paciente compañera de encierro.
I have found on my desktop a screenshot of an email I was attempting to send to a few friends. It was an introduction to some of my poems… but due to a (poetic) twist of my fingers on the keyboard, the poems (in fact, the sentences introducing the poems) became the actual ‘destinatarios’, that is: the impromptu ‘recipients’, of my message.
So I have decided this screenshot is, in itself, an wonderful example of visual poetry as well as of automated poetry.
(If Joan Brossa had been born in 2019 instead of 1919, by the 2030s, he may be producing poems like these…)
What will others applaud you for?
Women have for long been educated to assume that, to be truly liked (and get far) they better obey.
To get what you want, seduce.Don’t be assertive. Don’t exude authority.
Don’t be too confident.
Never show that you know where you are going.
Never reveal that you know what you want.
Never be threatening. Never be firm.
Be soft. Be pliable. Be pleased to please.”
One day I decided I would stop tiptoeing.
I took some loud steps right into the centre of the stage.
I chose to dress big and wear only things that laugh, dance & scream.
I stopped saying ‘if you do not mind…’ or ‘I believe you might agree that…’.
I said: This is the way it is.
I said: No.
I said: Yes.
I thought: I know better [than you].
The volume of meaningless social media likes reduced.
The variety of affable colleagues shrinked.
I got less anonymous love and a few more valuable conversations (infrequently).
A few months ensued, sleeping badly.
Then one morning I woke up.
And I felt I was exactly
where I wanted to be.
* Artwork Credit: ‘Pliures’ by Agnès Geoffray
A reflection on global art blockbusters and our capacity to find intimacy, new insights and meaningful confusions while surrounded by hype, crowds and spectacle.
Everytime I go for an art exhibition blockbuster I brace myself.
How to go with the flow (meaning, the crowds)? How to comply with the half an hour entry slots? How to accept the pricing? … And how to take in the hysteria, in general, that comes with joining in a ‘must-see’ event?
Expectations raise-up while behaviour standards lower-down… we become more pushy, less patient, less meditative. We become louder, faster to judge. We become consumers of art in its trashiest sense, perhaps. We become consumers of spectacle…
… Or not?
This year I have been binging on art & craft blockbusters. Mostly in London (V&A — Dior; Royal Academy — Gormley; Tate Modern — Eliasson) but today I also did so in Paris: Pompidou — Bacon. The previous three exhibits (plus The Hayward Gallery — Bridget Riley, which I am not sure counts as a blockbuster) had been experienced with my son: we stood the queues; brandished our tickets; lived piece by piece of art in close communion with the masses — the respectful, middle-class, well-dressed and well-coiffed masses. No chance to attain any moment of solitude and intimate connection with the works; in this context, the only thing to strive for is: spectacle, please!! Let’s make sure it is AMAZING.
These London-based exhibits did the job. With the exception of Dior (!) they did well by a nine year old boy. I was pleased, entertained and proud to be carrying my progeny into great examples of world-class blockbuster art (the art ‘everyone is talking about’). Tick! I am an accomplished 21st Century mother.
Now, I am in Paris. By myself. No mothering distractions. Just me and the hype. Or me and the art. Disturbing art, at that. Disturbing art I have engaged with a few times before.
So what has happened today? How have I experienced Francis Bacon, chez le Centre Pompidou?
The answer is that I have experienced his works and his inspirations in a surprising new light. And I have valued every second of it.
Let’s start with le Centre Pompidou, and how it crashes on you every time you visit. The last time I was here was… when? nine years ago? could it be so? It might well be.
I have arrived via Chatelet Les Halles, the mega-transport hub of Paris city centre: so incredibly confusing and so well-signed up. A wonder of global city navigation techniques. They are frustrating but they work. They got me to where I wanted to get to, without the need of my phone and my (by now, ubiquitously unbereable) google maps app. Hooray! I can make my way as a stranger following analogue ways. I will find my way to the Pompidou, no matter how tired and confused I am today. Exit 3. Flêche. ‘Par ici, madame’. ‘Merci, je vois. Parfait’.
I arrive early. The Pompidou has just opened its doors and it is prepared for the hordes of art-thirsty punters. Ridiculously long queue line markers are ready for what may be descending on this place later. When I arrive these lines are deserted and it feels quite theatrical to step into them. I race through them, just for the sake of it.
The check-point, at the entrance to the building, is an impossibly complicated arrangement for securité’s sake. An aged gentleman spends what feels like ages emptying pockets and going in and out of the magnetic doors, without luck. The doors keep ringing on him! ‘Messieur, est-ce que vous avez de la monnaie?’ ‘Non.’ ‘Des clés?’ ‘Non.’ ‘Un autre portable?’ ‘Non.’ ‘Des medicines?’ ‘Oui, j’en ai un inhalateur pour mon asthma’. ‘Ah, ça y est, messieur. Mettez-le ici. C’est parti.’
Then there is the cloackroom and its wonderfully ancestral arrangements. No lockers but one-on-one service, meaning long queues, bien sûr. Let’s have a chat over every piece of ‘manteau’ and every ‘sac’ each of us carries. It is impossibly fun.
Bon. Time to get up, to the sixth floor, and experience the art at long last. I have the 11.30am slot at a gallery that has opened its doors at 11am.
This ‘Bacon En Toutes Lettres’ exhibition [translated into English as ‘Bacon: Books and Painting’] is otherwordly. Despite the crowds, despite the hype and despite the complicated arrangements that make it an epic adventure for any of us to get up here, it does feel special and strangely intimate.
It takes me a while to understand the concept: The artwork is hanging on the walls, without much explanation while, on six separate cubicles, we get the chance to listen to readings of six excerpts from books believed to have been deeply influential to Bacon and extracted directly from his library.
We get the texts in print. But it makes a difference to get into the pods and listen.
I need a bit of time to figure myself out in each of the pods. I must make an effort to descend into a listening mood.
You may arrive in the middle of a French version or an English version of the text being read. All of the texts are read in both languages, in an uninterrupted loop.
I like listening to both versions a few times. The readings are delivered with poise and gusto. It is a joy to listen. And it is a joy to read. A memorable experience I will treasure for a long time.
Then… there are the paintings. Experiencing them alongside the readings gives me some mixed feelings to start with. I am at a loss: do the readings complement the visuals? Do they contradict them, distract from them, or take us in a completely different direction?
I felt the readings took me somewhere else, far away from the artworks. I loved the strong feeling — and repellence — produced by the paintings but I needed some distance between the visual experience and the literary experience: for me, the words and the pictures did not complement or speak directly to each other in a straight forward (or in a mutually enhancing) way.
I did not like looking into the tryptich that was supposed to have been directly inspired by Aeschylus’ ‘The Eumenides’ in The Oresteia straight after listening to that excerpt being read out loud. The reading caused a profound impression on me that was not matched by the painting. That is: I needed to cleanse my palate, to free my mind off the words, before being able to engage with the visual.
For some reason, the dense mindscape I had travelled to inside the listening pod felt crude, flat, even, when looking at the tryptich that — just before considering the text — had felt so rich, so textured and strangely enticing.
After a while, the visual experience worked its magic again and it took me somewhere powerful. But it did not speak the words of Aeschylus. It spoke another language I did not want to mix with the reading.
I realised, very strongly, that literary words produce a deep enchantment on me. And that, when meaningful enough to me, they tend to win over anything visual.
The power of the visual can be strong… but in my imagination, it seems to play second fiddle to what words can convey. So I need to forget the words a little, so that my eyes readjust and engage with what I see before me, at another — perhaps more primitive – level.
In this exhibition, I have been reminded that I tend to experiene the world in an intensely cerebral way, meaning: I tend to experience things more powerfully when they are worded concepts.
Francis Bacon does something indescribable to you, by producing a version of reality that is so real and yet… so non-literal or so non-figurative in a classic sense. When you listen –or you read –his literary influences, you are transported somewhere very richly articulated (sometimes thousands of years into the past). But it becomes clear that words act very differently to paint… and, the way my brain works, such words force me to revert into my need for lines and dots as a way of making sense of feelings. (I can imagine finding a transition between readings and the works of Kandinsky or Miro far easier to mirror…)
Not every reading affected me in the same way, but Aeschylus The Oresteia, T.S Eliot The Waste Land, and Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness were delivered in ways that went far with me. Then I got caught on Michel Leiris Mirror of Tauromachy, which reminded me of why I cannot write-off bull-fighting so easily, despite my Catalan roots (Catalonia has been the first region in Spain to ban the practice); and I smiled wisely at Georges Bataille Chronicle. Dictionary where we hear a few brutal truths about our need to block the Slaughterhouse far out of sight. The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche did not have as much impact because I knew the text by heart as a teenager. All in all, extraordinary texts, all of them, well delivered in the most special and thoughtful of settings.
So did I re-connect with Bacon in newly meaningful ways? How did this compare with my experience of his tryptichs at Tate Liverpool a few years earlier (and without the crowds)?
I must say yes, I connected anew with the artist and his twistedly accurate representation of the ‘real’. I did so, not directly out of blending words with images (interesting that the listening pods were isolated, inside the exhibition halls but enclosed and devoid of any visual distraction). Rather, I managed this connection out of feeling disoriented and feeling the need to take time, lots of time: time listening, time forgetting what I had listened to and time to look back at familiar paintings that looked different in that setting.
I also managed the new form of connection by taking the time to look very attentively at the blockbuster crowds and their particular dynamics . All of these fashionably dressed people stopping over the paintings, photographing them, annotating them, looking in awe, in disgust, in confusion. And then these people reading, entering the pods. Doubting how long to stay in. Staying long, quite long.
Many of us took quite a long time to experience this exhibit. This is a first at an art blockbuster, in my book. We were keen to listen, look, listen again. And then, most memorable of all, we experienced a form of strongly bound communion: we gathered closely over each other, very closely, in order to watch attentively a film of Bacon being interviewed.
The entire cohort of viewers at the exhibition wanted to see this film from beginning to end. So we all stood obediently, hanging on every word, on every smile of this generously cheeked and gently sounding artist who wanted to tell us, convince us, that he did not intend to express horror in his work, just to show reality in intense ways, as intense as he could make it, as intense as it is necessary to do so in an age of precise mechanical reproductions.
I believed him, I thanked him, and I was thankful also for the words he vowed to read so often, the words — sentences, passages — that we were lucky to listen to in the unusual setting of an art museum.
I left this blockbuster feeling engrossed and not at all caught by the spectacle or the hype. I felt I got the chance to experience some powerfully intimate moments, just for myself, while sharing some wonder and intensity with ‘the masses’.
I tried to engage with Christian Boltanski’s exhibition next but I could not. I needeed space to think, digest and cleanse up. I needed time to look out of the window and time to drink a glass of something nice and expensive. And so I did, ending very pleased with myself and full of many intensities… the kinds of complex and confusing intensities we all seek when craving for art. (Never mind the spectacle.)
10pm // 22h.
Poisson (merlu) et sancerre, by waiter’s orders. Section fumeurs.
I soak in the red plastic tables and white plastic chairs, under the ‘dining al fresco’ heaters. It feels cosier to be surrounded by committed smokers than sitting in the aseptic non-fumeurs sector, inside.
Not many lit their cigarettes. But the faint aromas emerging out of the three die-hards around me feel strangely comforting. I am at ease letting my luxuriously luminous cardigan get contaminated by tobacco. A hint of not-good-for-you fumes will give this jacket a character it had been lacking so far.
I drink my prescribed wine. I feast on my poisson <<fish! not venom!>> sauce, so delicious I’ll risk it trickling down all over me. I look at the Boulevard Voltaire sign outside. I read Le Monde. I tap these few words on my laptop, bathed in red light.
The waiter is back and seduces me into a crème brûlée (it was not hard). I write ‘crème brûlée’ delecting on every acute and grave accent, on every circumflex. I feel happy and completely satisfied on this, my first hour back in Paris, at the very start of my EU excess tour.
With just a few weeks to go before an election and what could be the irreversible final step towards Brexit, I find myself lined up with a series of trips that will take me across the EU to some of its most symbolic capitals. From the craddle of Europe, to the capital of European bureaucracy and also to the capitals of its two leading – and strongest – defenders.
It is going to be a beautiful opportunity to experience the EU all at once, a concentrated tour the force accross the continent, taking place over less than twenty days. An inspiring way of saying goodbye to yet another year of troubles, pains and disappointments in a country I struggle to love and call home.
I would like to record these visits and create as personal a log as I can make it.
How will it feel to experience cities that have been so instrumental to the ‘European project’ when you know that dramatic change is coming? More documentation to carry, perhaps. Longer queues to be allowed in and out of borders. More reasons to take longer journeys to the continent. More arguments to dissolve the hope that these Brit islands can or want to be on the same page as its immediate neighbours.
The UK, or rather, England, has this endless need to be and act ‘different’ in the least meaningful of ways – the purely procedural ways: the boring and annoying ways of being different; the ways that consist, mainly, of making inconsequential procedures ever more noticeable and time consuming.
I have lived in the UK for over 18 years now; 13 of these, in England. It is 2019 and I have never felt less connected to this place, to the country that has given me so many platforms and opportunities to thrive. The UK as a nation state means little to me. England is a concept I cannot relate to from an emotional point of view. Cities like Glasgow or Liverpool are, however, profoundly lived in places that have made me and unmade me in irreversible ways.
I want to think of what it feels like to live in Liverpool while I walk in Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Athens. I want to write love letters to Liverpool and Glasgow while lost in the continent. I also want to be deeply aware of how it feels to be there, in those four capitals at this point in time, after so many months consuming exaggerated rations of The Guardian and BBC Parliament updates on Brexit.
I will think about it, I will write about it and I will share it.
<<I will then travel to Barcelona and get drunk on cava and yet more endless, frustrating and confusing identity disagreements, missing my stubborn capacity to discard England as a place of belonging… while dreading the pull of Catalonia as my other impossible ~ implausible home. I trust the cava will be worth it.>>