12. I don’t need alcohol, but I will
I haven’t been this sober since I was fifteen. Two months with no alcohol, and I haven’t missed it.
I haven’t wanted it either, just the occasional slight pang when friends have drunk beer in my room ( as it turns out, according to a long term British science research project, there is now evidence suggesting that long term beer drinking is directly linked to cartilage loss – well, now you tell me…..so all those beer-drenched dance parties were ironically destroying my knees….)
Red wine, though, my main tipple of choice for quite some time now, is apparently actually quite good for knee degeneration, which is good to know, but even so, the thought right now at this moment of any form of dizziness, queasiness, spinning, or loss of even the slightest hint of control is total anathema to me. These still unready, healing legs I feel intensely protective towards and I am not going to do anything that could endanger them. The thought of an unctuous, thick, Spanish red gliding down my throat into my newly freed, unvolptuous bloodstream feels very scary ( he says, unconvincingly..)
I can imagine falling and hitting them. Plus the physiotherapist has said it increases pain. Quite a lot.
Besides which, I am already full of drugs. If anything, I need to try and detoxify, not add to the overload. Hangovers, dehydration- bad for the joints.
Without drinking alcohol I do feel calmer. More stable. More sharp-minded, and clear-headed. Also a bit slimmer, which is an extremely welcome ( but undoubtedly shortlived, knowing me) side-effect.
But it is also boring. I could, but wouldn’t want to, go on like this indefinitely. I’d rather die younger. I love life passionately, but simultaneously, time is like an endless, white continuum that proceeds without flux ( it is in this that the deep appeal of drinking most definitely lies).
According to the staid, biblical prohibitionists, you are just supposed to continue, until the day you stop living : getting up, having your day, going to bed, getting up, all with a similar level of consciousness and awareness of life, and of death- well no thankyou: from the very first brain-altering taste of alcohol as early teenagers, neither Duncan nor I have looked back, never could and never would. It is a wonderful respite; an evasion of the vast and overriding scope into the velveteen personal; deeper, more enclosed, both more and less intense, where you can just be suspended and womb-like for a while: to prick the continuum and slide mercifully and with a gulp of relief under its belly. Laughing.
I am not of course talking here about alcoholism. That, like heroin addiction or any other pitiless craving that ends up destroying you, is destructive and cruel and affects so many peripheral people around you like a life-sucking vortex. And I have never been one to drink from morning until night nor on workdays ( except the occasional binge after work when things get stressful), even if I do have a couple of drinks on the way home – because my head categorically needs it.
I have never been interested in drugs, but wine really works for me. I need the neurological distancing, the immediate relaxation. I couldn’t keep teaching otherwise, and would get no sleep from the constant psychic overstimulation.
Weekends, well yes, we do get through a few too many wine bottles sometimes. But somehow I don’t find myself really regretting it. For me, wine, and alcohol generally is like a beneficent gift from the gods: human beings have always loved the stuff, and with extremely good reason.
13. Beauty is amplified in the confines of a hospital
A hospital is white.
White, light grey, sometimes yellow. Or pale blue. But predominantly, it is white.
Like my room.
It goes without saying that going white is tranquillizing; calming, even numbing. But as a ‘break from the world’, two months of my life sealed off, or at least very distanced, from what goes outside, beyond room 402 and the hospital, it has been ideal.
An environment devoid of colour is definitely not my preference. I can see the appeal of minimalism ( for other people ) : a way to escape from the clatter and and chaos, to retreat to a void. A cool void: deliberate.
That is not me, though, because my senses require stimulation for me to be properly happy: visual, auditory, olfactory, I crave it all constantly and greedily, but at the same time it has been interesting, for a while at least, to have been placed in this temporary mode of ‘sensory deprivation.’
Gradually, the peacefulness of the white has dimmed the sharper edges of each day, and they have morphed imperceptibly into one another, like imaginary snowdrifts, contoured in clinical, cotton wool, so that I am no longer really aware of time, in the usual blocked way of days, weeks, and months. It all just flows together uninterrupted within The Routine.
From my window I have seen one cherry tree blossom and go green; the mountains in the background, also, heralding summer. In the garden, narcissus ( quite perfumed; I would sit nearest to it on a wooden bench, exposing my scarred legs to the sunlight and open air and drink in the scent) flowered, and then withered; tulips that have bloomed forth and then been headed; next it will be time of the peonies : round, stubborn fistheads whose bitter, hard pink unfurling I am now look forward to ( and I really want to steal for my room…just one flower would look so beautiful against the white – magnificent – but they would know, immediately, that it was me).
Perfumes rise up in my head like apparitions; fully formed in my smell memory with their accord-to-accord harmonies and alluring,magnetizing personas, and i miss them, like the ghosts and spirits of real people. Today it was Calandre or Rive Gauche: I just wished that one of the nurses could have been wearing a silvery aldehyde rose that would trail luminously around a corner.
Cinema has been incredible. The vivid, viscid, almost vibrational reds, pinks and oranges of the films of Pedro Almodovar have been a beautiful, private thrill. Talk To Her, set in a hospital, and seen, also, in a hospital, I finally understood, for the masterpiece that it is. This environment – my slowed down, analgesic reality, categorically changed my perception of it.
The Skin I Live In, his recent gender/ medical horror masterpiece, I have never been more engrossed.
Another film, and one I had been waiting with great anticipation to see, actually left Duncan and I floating as if in a dream: an effect that has actually lasted for several days. But thus is the power of art. For the receptive, it can be like a pupil dilator of the soul: quelling, and purifying.
The film in question was 2016’s ‘Cemetery Of Splendour’, by one of my very favourite directors, Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasthukul, whose ‘Tropical Malady’ I once wrote about on here in relation to D’s sickness in Laos.
I watch all kinds of films. Forget food, I am a cinephile. My brain and body need it. I was thrilled by the latest Bourne film, for example, which I watched in here by myself with the headphones on, exhilarated by the propulsive, ceaseless, heart pounding action. I saw a brilliant and unpredictable Italian drama called Hungry Hearts ; a commercial horror film- perfectly executed and with unbearable tension, recommended by one of the younger, more hip and fun nurses, that had me practically jumping out of my skin but which gave me a nerve-jolting morning energy :Don’t Breathe, amplified greatly by the bored, and deadening surroundings.
And then, finally, one of my ultimate films of all time, Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way, starring Al Pacino, which I must have seen about seven or eight times now but which had never been more satisfying on every one of my levels: so tragic, so romantic, so sweeping, so exciting, that at the end, and before, actually, I was weeping tears of pure emotion and catharsis into the white, crumpled hospital sheets of my bed.
Cemetery Of Splendor is an entirely different fish. It is slow. It is mesmeric. About dreams, it puts you in one. We sat, with the curtains shut, but the wind blowing gently; a warm sun-filled evening, with apricot orange sunlight, quietly enraptured together and not talking (the slow, languorous takes and intuitive capturing of a peculiar kind of strangeness set in a Northern Thai village, where in a small local hospital – and former school – a group of soldiers are lying comatose with sleeping sickness, but looked after by volunteers :one of whom, an older woman, begins to fall in love with a member of this regiment who wakes up at intervals and begins to talk.
The film is at once an example of social, but also magic, realism, as a psychic reveals that the original site was once a royal palace, and place of battle, and that kings from a thousand years ago are sucking down the living soldiers’ spirits, now, to continue their crusades. This keeps them anchored in deep sleep.
What is wonderful about this director’s films, aside their striking originality and visual beauty, is their restorative, contemplative sense of healing. I am not the most political of people, but most of the TV and cinema fare we are exposed to, in general, is violent, aggressive, or full of dramatic sentiment that nevertheless, once you have finished watching it, just dissipates rapidly from your mind.
This is entirely different. Reality became fused with the film. If you look at the picture that Duncan took above, unknowingly, the soldier in the hospital is wearing almost identical pyjamas to mine. There were several other coincidences, also, and I started to feel that I were entering another portal.
Strangely, the second picture you can see above, of nurses, actually isn’t. They are actresses. Just before Duncan had arrived with the projector, a TV crew had appeared at the hospital ( the Japanese love their medical melodramas ), and it was pleasingly disorientating for me for a while, as I watched the filming, to see people dressed up as doctors and nurses without actually being so.
The film, so multilayered, oneiric and strange, unifying, touching, left us both in a mellowed out trance for several days ; altered, like genuine magic.