On art blockbusters, global cities & the impossibility of contemplation…


Spending this half term in London visiting art galleries with a child is a test of endurance. All the big names are here, with blockbuster shows in contemporary art that are spot-on for the selfie generation. A nine year old should be enchanted by the chance of stepping into indoors mist & fog (Olafur Eliasson @TateModern); getting your eyes blurry while looking at lines (Bridget Riley @haywardGallery); or stepping into a steel tunnel and maze (Anthony Gormley @royalAcademyOfArts).


Only that… we are in London! And this means everyone else is here. The entitled crowds are here. And experiencing these exhibits becomes something far removed from what most artists may have intended while conceiving their work.


I have been lucky to experience a Gormley tunnel in Matera, Riley’s optic work in Glasgow and Eliasson’s variations on the weather in São Paulo. I was by myself in those occasions, alone with the work in empty galleries. My son has not been so lucky. So, for him, these artists are all about queues, mobile phones, fed-up gallery attendants telling you to move on, and noise, lots of noise.


There is an element of fun and momentum in the blockbuster experience. But a possibility for art to enable contemplation, intimacy or transmit much more than crowd-management directives and squeezed Instagram moments, is not…

(…unless you are in Paris (and they create distraction free pods for you listen and close your eyes! See my review of Francis Bacon at the Centre Pompidou)

What is the problem with mushrooms?

I read something Ayurveda-related, two years or so ago. It told me mushrooms were the wrong food to eat. Because they emerge from the rot. They are associated with death and decay.

But I adore them.

Of course the kinds of mushrooms I would love to eat are rovellons. My brother just shared a few pics from his lush fungi feast at home, back in Vilassar. The bright orange rovellons on display had been collected by my father in one of his secret early morning excursions into the woods. This is the passionate pursuit of so many pensioners in that area of the Maresme at this time of the year: getting up to the mountains around Vilassar and Cabrils, sigilosamente, making sure no one else knows where they have spotted their stash of setas – rovellons, pets de llop and the rest of it. Every year. Their clandestine pilgrimage into the wet soil, under the leaves, amongst delicious rot, wicker baskets in hand and lots of hush-hushing. They certainly won’t share their precious locations. Their knowledge of where the best, most fruitful forest decay lies, is probably their most valued possession.

Well, my Liverpool mushrooms are, naturally, from Tesco. Or Sainsbury’s. They are boring, they are mass produced. But I still like them. Doused in good quality olive oil I have brought all the way from somewhere nice in Catalunya; tossed with rosemary branches I grow in my terrace; sprinkled with garlic from I do not know where. Very satisfying, all in all.

So, I do not know what’s wrong with mushrooms. But I will keep eating them and thinking of secretive pensioners proudly tip-toeing into the humid mountains, first thing in the morning.

Stupid Machines. Please

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I do not want my machines to be intelligent.
I want them to be brute servants of my needs
I want to use them and exploit them and be inconsiderate towards them
If I treat them badly, of course, what they can do in return is fail & stop working
But fail, meaning just failure. Not revenge on me.

I do not want my machines to be intelligent.
Because I do not want my machines to be hurt.
I do not want my machines to have feelings.
Because I do not want my machines to judge me and revolt against me.

I need to be able to count on something – a thing, not a being –
whose only purpose is to serve. And I need not to feel guilty about it.
I will exploit the machine, without malice, simply because I need its service.
And the machine will fail me, without malice either, simply because it has been misused.

That should be the end of it.

I will learn to use a machine in the adequate ways – if I choose so –
in order to avoid major failures.
But feelings, loyalties, emotion, will not be part of it
Trust and relationships should not be part of it either.

I want a machine to remain a machine.
Let’s please not humanise machines. Let’s not make them like us.
Let’s accept their limitations, and force ourselves, us humans, to keep acting like ones.

I do not want a machine more intelligent than me.
I do not want to stop knowing how to do things important to me
and count on my machines to know so instead.

I do not want a machine guessing what matters to me. Nor proposing it to me.
I do not want an algorithm replacing my capacity to think and decide what is beautiful,
what is meaningful, what is a memory, what I love.

I want to impose limits on machines. And I want the right to choose a stupid machine.
I want to keep being forced to think, to decide, to remember, to discern,
to make an effort to find out what is relevant, what is valuable and what is right.

The Comfort of Digital Turtles

I am in pain
Deep, relentless pain

I feel it, it does not go away. It increases when I move around. When I think.
When I smile.

The nurses asked me not to lift anything heavy.
Well, as a woman living alone, there are a thousand heavy things to deal with constantly. Specially, right now. From pumping the wine vacuum stopper to carrying a full water jar for those fresh flowers so essential to my survival this evening. I cannot be asked not to perform these pleasure-production duties.

*

The procedure was uncomfortable.

Pushed around this machine, forced to embrace it furiously, my body crashing against every harsh plastic corner, with my breasts but also my arms, neck, face. It is the most unpleasant type of contortion imaginable. But there you go. I am privileged in that I am tested for signs of breast cancer every year. So I take it. I trust the system. I let them do with me what they may.

This time, the procedure was going further. Needles were going to be inserted as well as a little tube with something that would allow the surgeons to extract a piece of me, from deep down into my breast tissue.

They asked me to look the other way. I found myself facing this turtle.

A turtle on a screen. Followed by palm trees on white sand and turquoise waters. Then the temple of Angkor Wat; a street in Barcelona; infinity swimming pools. Picture after technicolor-picture of glossy dream holidays. On a small ipad, located just there, on top of a plinth placed by my contortionist-torture machine. An improvised – or carefully advised, by expensive consultants – visual-comfort mechanism.

“We know you are in pain. Let’s distract you”

It works. I try to look down into the plastic containers and refuse bag on the floor but it is too demoralising; the pain too sharp; the position too uncomfortable. So I go back to the turtle, the paradise island, the temples and luxury resorts.

There are a few pictures of perfect people in trunks and bikinis. Pictures of feet behind a piña colada. I look and I think: how many of these places have I been to? A little cloud comes over me: how many will I never go to again? They are couple-holiday-type places.

I have not been in a couple for years and years and I do not see me going back there any time soon. Specially not for an expensive and elegantly boring resort holiday. That part of my life is over.

Pang, the pain intensifies.

The turtles are neutral. I can travel and see turtles by myself. Angkor Wat is a neutral distraction too: it was visited by me as a disappointed wife carrying, singlehandedly, her three-year old son in tow. Paradise islands have been walked by on my own, as well, as a newly independent single woman, defying the flirting of waiters hoping for a tip.

Resorts, water skis, petals in bed… are another story.

*

Now I write from my apartment. The moon is performing a seven-veils dance. It is an exquisite sight, a satellite enveloped in a celestial Dior-looking gown. What a perfect framing: a ruffle of semi-transparent clouds partially uncovering a moony shoulder.

I think of the pains, confusions and disappointments of dating in a digital era.

The pain is there, heavily felt. Pouring out of my bandaged breast and my too-fresh-a-memory of dancing to the tunes of the contortionist machine, no Dior gown – celestial, or otherwise – in sight.

So here I am… alone, thinking of the digital turtle that held my virtual hand at a moment of deep discomfort. The turtle that helped me forget the passing of time and the rise in interventions and ugly moments; the normalisation of hospitals, checks and treatments that I so despised not so long ago and are now part of life, my life, opening the gate to many more discomforts and scares to come.

I drink my glass of wine and look at my fresh flowers. My heavy-lifting provokers.
I feel a childish pleasure in disobeying the nurses’ rules.

I feel the pain. While I forget about unnecessary, picture perfect, never-again, fake-dream couple-holidays.

 

Hombre o no…

Acabo de leer una historia corta de Milan Kundera en The book of Laughter and Forgetting. Se titula The Angels y es una historia profundamente perfecta.

Es tan perfecta que duele muchísimo — y molesta. Es una historia que crea momentos magníficos, de una gran belleza. Hay momentos de gran fealdad también. Fealdad que punza mucho.

Leyendo a Kundera ahora, a mis cuarenta y tres — creo que he leído este libro una o dos veces antes — me ha ofendido un par de veces. No lo había hecho en ocasiones anteriores. Me ha ofendido, como me ofendió ver una exposición dedicada a Picasso y su amigo Jaume Sabartés en el Museo Picaso de Barcelona, hace poco. Me ha ofendido por su prepotencia masculina. Es posible que si leo a Neruda ahora que estoy tan sensible y tan fémina en mis sensibilidades, me ofenda también.

Pero la ofensa, ahora mismo, emerge en parte de un reconocimiento a la inteligencia de Kundera. Inteligencia de hombre prepotente, sí, que desea a las mujeres y las ha vivido a menudo como objetos. La prepotencia del escritor y artista que habla sin tapujos de lo vergonzoso que es amar a una mujer ‘fea’. Al tiempo que sabe escribir también sobre la inteligencia femenina y expresar bien la admiración por esa inteligencia.

“la ofensa … emerge en parte de un reconocimiento a la inteligencia de Kundera. Inteligencia de hombre prepotente, sí, que desea a las mujeres y las ha vivido a menudo como objetos”

 

En esta historia, The Angels — leída en inglés — la descripción de los personajes femeninos es bastante aceptable. Admirable, de hecho. Kundera habla muy bien del deseo femenino, de una manera iluminadora, que me ha impactado. Entonces, al final, el escritor, en primera persona y refiriéndose a sí mismo, habla de su deseo de violar a una mujer joven a la que aprecia mucho y respeta mucho. Lo hace de forma tan locuaz y tan real, tan verdadera — estoy segura de que es un sentimiento sentido de veras, de que debe haber descrito Kundera un momento que ocurrió realmente en su vida — que se me revuelven las entrañas. Y al tiempo, no he tenido más remedio que aceptarlo. Se lo acepto. Le acepto esa confesión — que dice no llevó a cabo, espero que sea cierto — porque creo que su veracidad es tan pura. [ Esa parte animal que llevamos dentro. Esa crueldad de la que somos capaces. Como hombres y como mujeres.] Y así, me reconcilio un poco con esa ofensa y ese momento (varios momentos) de detestación que he sentido hacia Kundera.

Kundera es un hombre que describe, también con gran realismo, el sentimiento de otro hombre — esta vez, inventado — que se avergüeza de haberse enamorado de ‘una mujer fea’. Se lo acepto. Acepto la feúra de tal descripción. Sabiendo, claro, que la fealdad es relativa. De la misma manera que yo he estado escribiendo — en otro sitio — sobre mi propio hombre feo, el hombre feo del que también me arrepiento de haberme encaprichado [no reconoceré nunca haberme enamorado. Me niego a creerlo]. De hecho, escribí algo parecido a lo que Kundera ha escrito en su historia. Yo también puedo ser hombre prepotente, a mi manera.

“Yo también puedo ser hombre prepotente, a mi manera.”

 

Y voy a seguir leyendo. Encantada de redescubrir a escritor tan brillante. Prepotente o no. Hombre o no. Con deseos (incumplidos, por favor) de violar y con opiniones insultantes sobre mujeres inventadas o reales. Con aprecio a la inteligencia. Con capacidad de reconocer sus contradicciones y sus deseos animales. Con capacidad de describirme bien eso que a veces adivino y detesto en los ‘males’, los machos. Quiero reconciliarme con esta idea de ‘hombre’ que, por un tiempo, he sentido la necesidad de detestar.

No me hace falta detestar a los hombres.
No, si escriben bien. Y si, como yo, mujer, se conocen, se humillan y se arrepienten de pensar como el tipo de hombres [que no escriben, que no se conocen, ni se humillan] a los que sí merece la pena detestar, siempre.

The lovers, fight

I see the lovers fight. Honeymoon, perhaps, in this Paradise island. The weather is back where it should. Sun shining. Water shimmering in bright turquoise. Sand white ~white dashing~blinding~white.

And the lovers disagree. Fight, politely. He is impatient and a bit fed up. She is bursting with needs and wants unmet. The light is beautiful. They are both beautiful and tired. Their bodies are perfect and young. Their minds, untamed, are trying to adjust to each other. The Caribbean winds pass through them. And they fight. They fight, a little. They exchange words that are not kind and looks that are not sweet. They will feel better later. They will make love and forgive each other. Later. Not now.

*

The French middle-aged ladies take pictures of each other. The colours are exultant. After two days of non-stop storms, rain, grey skies, the fluorescent island is back, with a vengeance. Wow the eyes hurt. The blue is so blue so intensely blue so painfully blue so precious.

I eat my cheap food and want to feel drunk, slightly. Just a hint of a tad of a little. Just for joy. Despite the fact the cocktails are so atrocious, I want to drink a second one, today. Just today, my last day, while the fluorescent lasts, while this island shows off to me what it is capable of. Just because the blue is so astonishingly blue and I am so grateful.

*

I have decided the caipirinha is the least evil version of a cocktail here.
Otra caipirinha por favor.

[Oh my. Strong. Strong caipirinha. They do not know about subtlety here.
All the better. Enough nuance where I’m from.]

*

The light. The light is back. A blessing. A day of storms was fine. Two days of storms has felt less so. Good for sleeping though. Spending a full day in a palm hut in the middle of a beach swept by torrential rain and winds was an extraordinarily effective lullaby. Siesta, nap, plus long~long sleep, no problem. With a bit of time for re-reading Milan Kundera and being taken to Prague in the 1970s, why not, while looking at lovers that do not fight any more, just walk up and down the beach, holding hands.

[One day of storms sitting inside a palm hut was fine…]

*

Now. I have seen this German couple. They walk. Both grabbing their phones. And then, oops, she takes a selfie of herself, while he ignores her and looks at his screen. I have never seen this before. A selfie taken by a woman with her (probably, just married) husband by her side. She prefers her selfie to his picture. She does not consider asking him to take her in this beautiful honeymoon spot. She prefers to take herself, thank you very much, while he keeps checking whatever you can check in practically wifi-less Cuba. Extraordinario.

*

I eat my fish. It is the only eatable thing here. The fish is cooked fresh. And I love it. The caipirinhas are so strong I am almost knocked out. But it does not matter. I am writing right now, so the absolutely-not-subtle alcohol is allowing me to function all the same.

I am sitting in the blindingly white sand, looking at all the lovers gathered here, all the couples, young and old, all the packaged and all the improvised romance. I do not envy them at all. I am so delighted in my own space, eating my decent fish and my delicious papaya (the only saving graces in this tremendously, impossibly~badly presented & cooked buffet. How do they manage to torture food so thoroughly?) I smile.

The black birds are back. Watching over my empty dishes. I have nothing for them. I talk to them in English and in Spanish. Shu, shu – Fuera!  Needless to say, with birds, Spanish is always more effective.

*

I want to stroll again. Take in as much blue as I can.

The lovers are everywhere, fighting and making love, eating and walking and taking selfies and maybe drinking caipirinhas (*) as strong as mine.

(*) The mojito I had yesterday was so terrible I won’t go there again. Shame for Cuba’s national drink! The girl that served it was cheerful and confused. I forgive her.

*

It is so beautiful. I am so lucky. I will go back to exploring the sand, the foam and the horizons, after another plateful of papaya. No more alcohol needed. No more fights, or more lovers. Black birds, watch out. Blue, deep fluorescent blue, here I come.
Gracias

 

Azul | Sepia [audio]

Azul | Sepia     [Audio]

…con brillos de chicle rosa fluorescente

[Si prefieres leer sin audio, pásate aquí]

 

DSC00092

La Havana te embriaga con su exuberancia de buenas a primeras.

¡Chof!

El calor, la humedad te inundan piel y sentidos y ya no hay escape.
Aquí estás, sudando y absorbiendo al tiempo.

Se te salen las neuras y preocupaciones, a chorros o a gotas, mientras te invaden los colores pastel, las tipografías Decó, los agujeros del pavimento, las zarzas y cables que vomitan los muros a tu alrededor, el polvo sepia de tanto palacete urbano, el azul eléctrico de tanta puerta y ventana y auto y lámpara y vestido despampanante que somos cubanos y nos gusta el mar.

Paseas y no es fácil agobiarse. Rodeada de extraños que sudan tanto como tú y te miran y dicen [preguntan, ofrecen] cosas casi todo el rato [taxi | mojito | ¿ya almorzó?] pero nunca molestan. Porque no insisten. Porque van con calma. Con gracia. A un ritmo que funciona, que todavía funciona, porque nadie está agotado del intercambio y la posibilidad de… Visitante, turista, local, afincado, aprovechado, tunante, qué sé yo, aquí estamos todos, echando suerte y paseando y pasando calor; calor, mucha pero con tanta placidez que emborracha. ¿Por qué me siento tan bien tan inmediatamente entre desconocidos?

DSC00122La Havana no es un parque temático pese a tener pinta de postal. No es un circo pese a las masas crecientes de mirones. No es una trampa pese a los agujeros y las grietas y la mugre [descarada y preciosa] que adivinas tras cada puerta. No es tu imaginación pese a que es imposible no ensoñarse. Lo que ves parece una fantasía nostálgica pero en cambio te rodea y te toca [si te dejas] y te recuerda que es exáctamente lo que tienes delante de tus narices.

Claro que es mejor perderse a seguir el rebaño. Y perdida, La Havana te embriaga aún más. No te permite asustarte; no hay tensión ni amenaza, aunque la quieras buscar. Calles desiertas [pocas] y caras de extraños, son todas intensamente afables, te dejan cómoda y tranquila, pueden ofrecerte un guiño [si te interesa] y si no, pues pásalo bien por tu cuenta que no nos amargaremos. Es un diálogo e intercambio fácil entre mirona y mirado.

La Havana se deja ver, enmarcar y capturar, sin resistencias. Te sonríe y te observa al tiempo. Mientras miras, te cautiva a tí, sin atraparte ni ahogarte.

 

InteriorPalacioSepia y azul. Son los colores dominantes.

>>Un sepia dormilón y oxidado se desangra en fachadas y patios – esos que se caen a trozos, pero con tanto encanto. Es el beso de los huracanes, muchos, que han dejado a esta ciudad despeinada y medio coja pero impregnándola de un glamour [trashy, un tanto bajero y súper-seductor] irresistible.

>>El azul te viene a tortazos. Súper intenso. Enmarcando, acentuando, provocando siempre. Te viene directo y te deslumbra. Azul, azul de ciudad al mar, azul para beberte puertas y ventanas y automóviles. Te atraviesa este azul y te hace pensar ¿por qué hay tan pocas otras ciudades que se atrevan con ello?

Hay mucho pastel también. Muchas casas dulzonas, casi empalagosas, danzando como nubecitas por encima de las chapuzas en sepia, de los cables y las basurillas amontonadas en el rincón de la acera. Y hay mucho chicle. Chicle rosa y fucsia y naranja y verde menta. Sobre ruedas. En technicolor. Para llevarte al malecón y a tu versión particular de los años cincuenta.

Los balcones están abarrotados de ropa y plásticos. Tenderete. Tenderete. Tenderete. Las escaleras de interior se retuercen y se ríen con dientes encariados. ¿Te atreves a subir? ¿Te atreves? ¿Te atreves? Las puertas están siempre enseñando entrepierna. Descaradas. Te invitan a sumergirte en el polvo y suciedad de su vientre. Miro, sin pasar. Voyeur, hechizada. Veo contadores parados. Veo tubos y tuberías. Veo grietas y agujeros. Veo cal desparramada y una lámpara que no ilumina. Veo una fantasía intensa y cansada. Esta casa. Este piso. Este palacio. Veo un espejo. Sillas vacías. Muchas sillas. Medio podridas y tan hermosas que me escuece mirarlas. Qué belleza terrible. ¿Qué me enseñas? No voy a poder hacer nada por tí. Te miro. Gracias. Me encantas. Sigo andando. Gracias. No sé qué puedo darte. Mi sudor, quizás, que brota a borbotones y me hace verte en cámara lenta, oirte tamizada, olerte como se huelen las nieblas.

Rebaño de turistas. Me aparto. Daiquiris a go-go. Almendrones. El Ché [en algodón barato]. Un puro, venga. Botella de ron, pon dos.

Desde la piscina de la atalaya se ve el mar y los bulevares. Los chicos saltan en su patinete, sorteando almendrones color chuchería picante. Las chicas están sentadas, en shorts shortísimos y pony-tail. No oigo lo que dicen. Veo a las señoras en su balcón, sorteando trapos y trastos [tenderete. tenderete]. Veo a los señores parados, pensando, en camisa beige y sombrero. Son gordos y son flacos. Los niños corren siempre, en camiseta de algodón barato [sin Ché]. Veo los depósitos de agua. Azules, azules. Siempre azules. Veo la melena indomable de los cables. Colgando. Trepando. Saliéndose de todo. ¿Hay cuántos? ¿Cuántos, cuantísimos hay? Ay, ay, qué montaña imparable de plástico.

Miro a mi alrededor. Hotel. 5*. Pocas tumbonas. Una banda canturrea y exhibe CDs. Los mojitos van y vienen. La señora a mi lado me sonríe. Bolsa de plástico al lado. Botella de ron, asomando. Sin toalla. Cuatro revistas, en su mano.

No estoy alojada aquí. Vengo a bañarme. Trabajo en Holanda dos meses al año. Vivo en La Habana diez. Veinticinco años así. Viviendo, con nada. Feliz.

Buena vida. Sin nada. Con los trozos de tanto roto en polvo, colgando.

*

Azul y sepia. Con brillos de chicle rosa fluorescente.

Cómo no adorarte, La Havana….

*

Perfection is easy and impossible

<<Thoughts & Poem to the End of Summer>>

Perfection is easy and impossible

… In the beach. Trying to find an angle for the sunset. Found. But then.
The sewer, the smell of the sewer < La Riera > takes over a bit. Takes over a lot.

The sea. The water. Wild waves drinking lazy waste.
Pink appearing. Extraordinary sight. Extraordinary stench.

I should walk a bit further. But I can’t get away.

Summer coming to an end. Mi verano, acabando.
Este encuentro transforma mi momento

Me apetece crear un poema para ella

.  .  .

Verano acabado
Verano acabando
Verano enterrándose
Trozo a trozo
Fleco a fleco
Manga a manga
De verano.

En la arena
Algodón turquesa
Enredado
Eso es lo que queda
Glorioso
De mi verano.

Dos mil
Dieciocho.
Un nudo
En ropa
Delicioso.

.  .  .