Not wanting to cancel our appointments at a hair salon down the hill yesterday despite deciding to no longer attend the wedding tomorrow afternoon, D went in first: I followed him an hour later. I have never been one to enjoy having my hair cut – to put it mildly – and have been sticking to the same old barber in Ofuna for a good few years, intermittently, when I don’t just snip at my barnet myself (I often just can’t be bothered with all the hassle of the experience; the having to make conversation, avert your eyes, watch yourself get transformed – often not in quite the way you imagined – and walk out feeling like a different person). Which I get is the whole point for many people – when it goes right, a new haircut can be quite refreshing, like sprucing up a hedge in the garden, or dusting your shelves, or a good-fitting new winter coat.
Yesterday’s experience was one of the better ones. We had never been to that particular place before : straight down the hill on the bike to the corner that meets the railway tracks, and it was pricier, but they were younger, there was a lot of natural light, and space, and the conversation in my always slightly stilted Japanese flowed fairly smoothly: I suppose having not really socialised with many people outside this household for a while I suddenly found myself in super-extrovert mode, making them laugh the second I went in, playing the buffoonish gaijin……….. the whole process felt effortless (as though I wasn’t even aware that they were cutting my hair…………). I came out of the shop feeling neater, and somewhat renewed – a bit preppier, younger; not that anyone is really going to see me for a while, as we are thinking that from today we might be shutting ourselves in properly just like everybody else.
Neither the hairstylist nor his assistant were wearing masks. And neither were Duncan nor I. You have to question yourself: what does this mean? I know in the UK, hair salons are going out of business – I have a friend who is now unemployed – it seems obvious that this is a perfect opportunity to get infected, with all the personal space being reduced to the intimacy of physical contact and shared oxygen, but, like many people here – despite the semi-mandatory lockdown this weekend, in which no one in Tokyo is supposed to go out of their houses except for the essentials – cue mass supermarket panics like everywhere else – and throngs unable to resist the allure of the opening cherry blossoms – reality has not quite bitten yet. It is still lurking as a possibility. Japan is a genius of deflection: turning a (knowing) blind eye a preternatural state of existence.
And yet this morning I have read that Birmingham Airport, ten minutes by car from my parent’s house, is being converted into a temporary makeshift morgue to store 1,500 bodies in the expected rise in mortal cases. My cousin’s case of coronavirus has come back, and now her husband has got it as well. Another cousin’s close friend actually died of it yesterday. I am sure we have reached a situation, or will do soon, in which everybody will know somebody who has either come down with the illness or died from it, or at the very least lost their jobs and entered a perilous state of financial security (someone even closer in my family has reached this dreadful situation and is in a very dangerous state psychologically ). D and I even talked, quite matter of factly, of making wills this afternoon just in case. Not that we have any especially exciting assets to speak of (except, bizarrely, for an apartment in Berlin), but, you know, just in case. I like to be truthful, face facts, and not to unduly beat around the bush ( though I do love to bush around the beat, and was dancing upstairs in the room I am writing this yesterday, vogueing like a fool with D, concurrently just living in the spontaneous moment because I have to and we totally felt like it. Nothing can stop me enjoying life, especially not the shadow of death). It is quite mindbogglingly awful, though, that the whole world is now in a similar predicament, in fear of no longer existing: or much worse, that we have entered the rites of plague, without funerals, that a hangar in my hometown is now being turned into a place for corpse storage, that the virus is in the town where my parents live: it is difficult how to know what to do with the worry, where to store it, in which internal organs, out of reach……..
I am aware of the great importance of being thankful for what you have got. So far, it seems that both of our jobs are safe; that we will still get paid, because education is at the very heart of Japanese priorities, more so than anywhere else I am aware of. For parents, it is everything. Far too much, in my humble opinion. To the detriment of too many other things, like free time and self-exploration, or just the criminally under appreciated importance of simple relaxation ( I thank god that despite the histrionics of my nature, my nervous volatility and piteous lack of impulse control -as a result of which I truly do live in the moment, another thing I am grateful for despite its sometimes dangerous repercussions – I am simultaneously really very good at doing nothing and truly switching off. My family knows that I am the best at this: the slob to end all slobs: I can luxuriate all day; a friend the other day said she just sits on the edge of her sofa and stares at the sky and I think that this is wonderful: some people can never turn off their brains, which is why it is so necessary to be able to focus on other things, such as reading, watching TV series or films, writing, playing the piano, cooking, swimming, having sex, running, walking, talking to others, daydreaming, even – with almost 100% of your concentration. To lose yourself. I always have been good at doing this,I must say, but I mean that in a good way; particularly in the times we are living in right now : if you can’t escape, mentally, spiritually, from the relentless misery that is in the news then there is the potential to go under, and I don’t want to until I am taking my very last breath on that ventilator, intubated alone (that is, presuming the Japanese authorities even let a foreigner take a place in one of those limited hospital beds, who knows?) Until then, though, I intend to keep surfing on the crest of the ether and the pleasure receptors that are working full tick, in fact better than ever, if I am truthful with you; a curious state of affairs when you think about it, given these grotesquely surreal current circumstances.
I have a friend who lives in Berlin – A French/ Indian/ British dancer and performance artist who deals with quite abstract philosophical issues: last time we were in London Duncan in fact took part in one of her ‘collapses’ – a protest against Brexit, staged in front of King’s Cross St Pancras station in which the participants slowly – out of the blue – in broad public, started falling, very slowly, towards the ground, in an eerie and provocative dance piece of solidarity and collaboration. I was one of the spectators, just one of the public sitting in the square, and though the skeptical will find such ‘nonsense’ pretentious posturing and so on, I personally found the ‘disruption’ of normal perception very interesting; cleansing; watching people’s reactions on the street : it was like opening up something pre-existing – I remember a Chinese man coming up to me and striking up a conversation about what the hell I thought was going on: to me it was like slicing through the quotidian grime of people zoned out in their own preoccupied little capsules of apprehension; all of us walking forward lost in our thoughts, trapped in our necessities and agendas, getting through the day.
Writing this I suppose I should be now be saying, how I yearn for those regular times before all this happened, the normality, just the normal clockwork workings of the day, but as I tap these words onto the computer that is not actually the way I am feeling. Does that make me terrible? I don’t know. Dominique, the artist in question, has written extensively, and done performances, about her theory of ‘somatic revolt’, the idea that even when you are consciously aware of the importance of an office job, for example, in which you feel repressed or which feels deeply unnatural to you – as it does for me, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, like psychosomatic illness, your body will eventually revolt ; against itself, against society, which is why there are so many auto-immune disorders and so much mental illness worldwide: this ruthless system, in truth, just doesn’t work for people (and don’t think for a minute that I am just a spoilt little bitch who is not aware of ‘the necessity of work’: I come from a regular background, and as I have written above, people I know are in quite dire situations and I am very worried for them ; I am genuinely grateful to still have a job; we don’t have sufficient savings to sustain us should we become unemployed; I have always worked, and would be fucked if I didn’t have any income coming in) – but at the same time, I dp know that working, at least doing what I am doing, or at least the general environment, is not good for my actual health. Right now I feel 100% human; 100% alive. In some ways, despite the horror, quite amazing. Four weeks ago I was in a situation – which I documented on here – in which the reprehensible decision by my ‘superior’ to make me work and teach students in ludicrous emergency conditions even though the rest of the company and the whole country was on lockdown made me so angry – I would say apoplectic – that I literally exploded myself out of the situation in the purest form of somatic revolt: my body simply could not contain my frustration and fury and I lost it, with the result that although I have been working in that particular school for almost twenty years, my desk has now been ‘removed’ : I have been summarily ejected, and I will be working in another section from this April, assuming the virus hasn’t spread, and we are still required to go into the school in order to teach our lessons.
While part of me was indignant, and slightly embarrassed, to be honest with you, to have ended my time. my ‘career’ in that stuff, unbreathable and mouldering teachers’ room in such an out of control fashion, a much, much bigger part of me is truly delighted; I did it! I will be with much more sophisticated colleagues from now who will actually talk to me, and with much more natural light surrounding me (which is absolutely essential to my well being). I am pretty sure that my stress levels will be significantly reduced, so in the end, my uncontrollable instincts were proven right. I don’t deny them, nor disassociate myself from them. Work environments can be extraordinarily stressful; sometimes you don’t even realise yourself how much they are affecting you until you are taken away from that physical space. And I imagine that all around the world right now, though people are dismayed at the prospect of rapidly changing living and work circumstances – and the prospect of actual death ( I know several friends back home in the UK who are probably reading this and nodding to themselves ruefully : some literally even wondering how they are going to put food on the table, I am not in any way ignorant of this ) – at the same time, I have to say that this enforced isolation will probably be making a very large number of people reassess the meaning of their life itself; when forced to slow down, to stay inside, to regroup, and remodel your whole way of living,you are taken away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of daily life (which I know we all ‘need’ to keep busy, though deep down I say it can go fuck itself) :you are compelled – against your will in many cases – to travel inside.
The quality of this ‘travelling’ of course, will depend on what kind of apartment or house you are living in. I have friends up in Tokyo who live in tiny shoeboxes: one in particular who is hoping to move soon to London (what timing!) to further her work as a milliner is living, like a great many Tokyoites, in a tiny space; hardly enough to move around and I do worry about what will happen to my friends in these situations if it all actually does come to a fully fledged lockdown. It might be a little bit like being trapped in a prison cell, albeit one decorated with your own furnishings. I am worried that they will feel too penned in, submerged in their own isolation tank. In contrast I am lucky: I happen to live in an old, quite run down house that is nevertheless the perfect, ideal size for me. It is not big: D estimated the other day that it is no more than 80 metres squared, which shocked me ( I would have said at least a hundred, but his spatial awareness is far better than mine is so I will kowtow to his slightly more mathematical brain). I do know though that I often see huge, spacious, palatial houses and apartments in TV shows and films and unlike many, who sigh with aspiration – I must keep working to ‘better myself’; to climb the ladder! To have more! to ‘live the dream’ – I just see cold, empty spaces full of air and windows: meaningless ostentation. Showrooms. Catalogues. For me, the perfect balance between claustro and agora phobias – enough space to feel free and unhindered but also withdrawn enough, unvisible, to be able to hide, and nest – must be right for me to ever fully enjoy living somewhere, and this place just happens to hit the spot very nicely. Our old place – just one street along where we lived for thirteen years – was ok in some ways but a little too cramped and you could hear the man upstairs: where we are living now, since the earthquake, in a house, D says he sometimes finds cramped, or rather in his words, ‘poky’ – but it is the opposite for me. Quiet. Virtually no noise. Just ambient sounds from outside. An upstairs and a downstairs; a contrast between a bohemian, den-like kitchen and sitting area with red lights and an almost sleazy aspect to it, packed with records, art books, knickknacks, spice shelves, patterned fabrics, kitsch bits and pieces – my dad sometimes says it is like talking to me in a red light district in Amsterdam when we communicate on FaceTime or WhatsApp – why is your face always orange, why are you always in a bordello; but to me it is my lair, my refuge. I know there are a lot of bitter online debates between people about minimalism versus the opposite, but some friends who came the other day and marinaded themselves in our peculiar surroundings said that they now were rethinking their positions – ‘we love this cosiness’, —- and so do I.
Upstairs is very different. Light blue, green, or aquamarine. All the plants. The kitchen gets very little natural daylight, which is why it was pointless having it as anything other than a Madamish parlour à la Toulouse Lautrec (incidentally, we found some fabulous art books the other day in the trash, including a couple on the ultimate Parisian decadent: Friday is book collection day, and you wouldn’t believe some of the beautiful books that get thrown away, just tied up with a little string, or sometimes kimono fabric: though considered rat like and scummiest – the stinking foreign reprobate – I have no compunction in riding along on my bicycle and – yes, I’ll have that pile thank you very much : whipping it up with my little finger and enduring the pain until I get the pile back to our house just down the street: wonderful to then lie on the sofa with your herb tea or beer and leaf through some art catalogues from the seventies, or books on psychology and sociology, or just picture books on Persia and places around Japan (although there was a deathly dull book I picked up the other day which featured a series of photographs on the North Japanese logging industry, in black and white; rarely have I been more bored than staring at pictures of tied up, immobile riverside logs); still, it provided a momentary diversion, and I think I am going to keep it. Why not? You never know when a Log Lady might turn up for the evening and be in absolute heaven, leafing through the pages in somatic ecstasy.
Yes, exploring our own house has actually been quite fascinating. We never would have done this if we hadn’t had so much time off to physically do so. Not able to go out as much as usual, we have made discoveries. The record player is broken, as is the projector, so there are so many films, so much beauteous vinyl just sitting there, pleading to be enjoyed, but it will just have to wait. When this coronashite subsides – and it WILL, it MUST – I will sip on a whisky and enter heaven on multiple occasions, on repetition (my favourite films are in my bloodstream; I sometimes have a physical ache for them); my record collection is no less precious. I could swear that just looking through my 12″s and LPs strengthens my immune system. I can feel it. But moving upstairs, past bookshelves filled with novels I have never read, and magazines and pamphlets I never knew existed (my boyfriend is a true magpie: not only is there always an ever growing dressing up cupboard, there are draws and draws filled with jewellery and sunglasses and postcards and inexplicable paraphernalia and curious accessories if you ever fancy coming round and dressing up, not to mention the costumes of Burning Bush and D Whom and Zarza Ardiente and Leon Charmé, if you can even get into the galakutabeya, or rubbish repository, or jumble cupboard, or Mr Benn’s changing room , whatever you want to call it, with its dolls heads and mannequins and taxidermy and wigs and god knows what – D’s family were supposed to be coming for a holiday in March and we were looking forward to having movie screenings and dressing up boxes with his four nieces and nephews – I can just imagine what hilarity and chaos would have ensued – but it will have to happen another day, maybe next year in October…………….
As you go up the narrow staircase you reach the only typically ‘tasteful’ room in our house. More refined, with no colour, only natural materials…..the traditional Japanese room, made of wood, with high ceiling, shoji screens, tatami mats – but also antique armoires packed full of perfumes for you to peruse and spray on (what time are you coming over?). It has been wonderful just lazing around in the morning and reaching out for some perfume I had forgotten I even had, or else one of Zubeyde’s, which I had somewhat neglected to put put back in her collection – and which is still in the genkan, blocking the entrance, hundreds and hundreds of rare and precious perfumes she has not yet been able to pick up (Z, your coffee awaits you!) ; this morning I was trying on something from my own collection that Duncan had brought home for me one day and I hadn’t yet properly tested on my skin, Alla Festa, by Pola – a Japanese marigold floral a little like vintage Lauren by Ralph Lauren with a rich shampoo sheen that will do nicely for this afternoon. Enlivening. Just one spray and it takes me out of myself.
The cat is clearly very contented having us both home together at the same time. She follows us everywhere. The other day we found ourselves in the piano room, looking through books and finding things we didn’t even know were there (or even existed, really): oh look at this, this is interesting; where did this come from? actually using those that had been neglected or unread or unlistened to: a beautiful book of paintings and sculptures by Max Ernst, one of our surrealist favourites, some vintage Japanese erotica; photograph albums (enough to lose a whole day in); boxes of tapes – incredibly enjoyable to be listening to; whole eras and times I had forgotten coming back; not being able to listen to records has made us listen to long forgotten CDs and cassettes again, compilations from when we first met each other – one he made me for Valentine’s Day when I was 23; yesterday I really teared up and became emotional listening to one made in my friend Peter’s university room and which I remembered listened to on the day after I came out to my parents – (literally: Dancing Queen), a very momentous day for me emotionally, the importance of which cannot be underestimated; and the list of tracks ended eventually, after some music from the gorgeous French film Diva, about a down and out biker falling in love with an opera singer, with some unexpected music by Michael The Zither Man, a homeless, madrigal-like musician who used to play very magical music on his strange instruments that tinged the twilight blue sky outside of King’s College, Cambridge on June summer evenings – hearing it all again quite startling.
With a need for evening entertainment, but no DVDs to watch until we hear from the projector factory, we have been glued to the screen of the computer on which I am writing this (the lightest room in the house, and the one that houses the more contemporary perfumes for me to reach out for when I am writing about scent as well as white painted shelves housing part of the movie collection)………….I don’t think it can be emphasised how lucky we all are in many ways to be living in this era and to have access to such endless visual diversions. Whenever we want them. Yes, as my favourite film critic Manohla Dargis wrote the other day in a very moving piece in the New York Times about the beauty of sharing a space in the dark with your fellow man to watch a piece of cinema, and the great loss she is feeling right now from its absence, the alternative might be merely ‘suboptimal’ TV series on streaming services such as Netflix (which for a month cost half the price of one cinema ticket ), but in my view, so many of these series are so totally involving, and of such quality, that the so called phenomenon of ‘binge-viewing’ (which unnecessarily denigrates the natural pleasure of viewing and being fully engrossed in something) is a true blessing for humanity, especially right now, and I couldn’t be more happy to be so susceptible. Granted, were you to spend every single day of your life doing nothing other than being immersed in other people’s worlds, it might be regrettable – depending on your life philosophy- although a very ill friend of mine in Leicester truly has no other option as she is virtually unable to move because of paralysing nerve issues and it really does give her a portal to staying afloat when her body has been giving up on her for so long – – – – – – she is sustained and kept part of humanity by continuously watching the programmes that she loves. But though we tend to feel ‘guilty’ about spending so much time absorbed in the dramas of other people’s lives, real, or fictional, for me it is the opposite: I couldn’t be more curious about other spaces, other realities, other places, I want to go everywhere, I want to step inside every house, to smell it, see through its windows, feel how the occupants live, sense their lives, imbibe them; hear other languages, wonder over other cultures; different realms of possibility; the beautiful stimulation of different light, nature, belief systems, knowledge (we watched a very interesting documentary about babies that was extremely enlightening the other day ); to be aroused, horrified, excited, amused; the fact that we have these experiences constructed by other, creative people on tap for us at the mere touch of a button is in many ways nothing short of miraculous when in truth otherwise we could be just interiorising our fears and own built in limitations and just fretting; wrecking our bodies with all the stress : I say no, turn your gaze outwards ; drink in the world through your senses, take it in without tedious remorse over laziness or ‘unproductiveness’: instead, in my view, this is a gift.
‘Tiger King’ a wild, bizarre, hilarious, unbelievable, trashy, and utterly thrilling documentary we watched the last two days on Netflix, had both of us agape on the bed, screaming at the camp and the ‘murder and mayhem’ of the true story of rival tiger owners in the US (did you know that there are 5,000 – 10,000 tigers kept as pets in America, but only 4,000 alive in the wild worldwide?), in a plot that you couldn’t possibly make up because nobody would ever believe it, and which, I could tell, was stimulating Duncan to the depths of his core – he looked elated (“This is the best thing I have seen since Toni Erdmann”, he exclaimed, as we rushed to make dinner to get back to it – the beyond brilliant absurdist German film that was the film critics’ number one choice globally a few years ago, a film you can’t quite imagine until you see it, both grotesque and tender and hilarious beyond measure; ; ; ; ; ) this also took us out of ourselves to the extent that I felt thoroughly exhausted and brain-mashed by the time we finally went to bed. I felt that my head couldn’t possibly take any more. It was about to explode with what I had just absorbed into my body and brain, which couldn’t’ quite take in the preposterousness of what I was viewing. (I think of this phenomenon as a good thing though; to empty your own head, and have it occupied, for a while, by someone else, another moment. Just let it flood in). Filmed in Tampa, Florida, it really made me ache for foreign travel again, to go back to the Deep South – New Orleans, in particular, a place that has always stayed with us, badly, for some reason – I remember us, after an especially mad night of tequila and dancing in every club we could find in the town centre of Tampa, where Duncan was going nuts on the dance floor next to go go boys and we danced to merengue in a Cuban bar and he had one of the worst hangovers of his life, the next day while he slept it off I wrote an extended piece on The Black Narcissus about New Orleans, trying to capture the experience, and the city itself in words, as we travelled back from Tampa to Miami by train in a private car, and I couldn’t possibly have been more happy; watching the bayous and the beautiful, trailing Spanish moss trees that seemed so specific to that part of the world alongside the humid orange groves; the sheer wealth of literature and cinema and music from those specific places that are steeped in our general consciousness: Elizabeth Taylor pleading with Paul Newman in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; the moist mysteries of Truman Capote and his strange families of oddballs lounging on their verandas like lizards: Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes raging on the post Katrina streets in the brilliant Bad Lieutenant, Port Of Call, New Orleans by Werner Herzog with its iguanas and voodoo cemeteries; its saloon bars and sea snakes and dry crouching alligators; the over plenitude of crocodiles at the amusement park that we all went to, slinking into the waters but so close to the crowding families out to have fun in the hot summertime sunshine; the swirling deliciousness of the rich, Louisiana food; the crazed delectability of the lobster bisque, served by a waiter who then took us on a secret tour of the famous old restaurant we had dinner in, taking us upstairs to all the backrooms, the laced dining rooms with their solid wood tables where the movers and shakers of the city did their deals, looking out from the balustraded rooftops over the city with its warm, sluggish seduction and its derelict vampire graves; the solemn beauty of the old houses, the cascading trees, the river, and the jazz bars.
The perfumeries of the French Quarter. Hové Parfumeur and its other worldliness; the bunches of dried Creole vetivert grass piled up for purchase; soap, eaux de toilette, parfum strength; this in enough would warrant a trip back for me – next time I will fill up my suitcase with the stuff, I can tell you. The oozy aldehydic Pirate’s Gold that smelled so unctuously glinting on Duncan that he got through his small bottle of parfum in no time when we got back to Japan ; it smelled so decadent, and yet so simultaneously trustworthy and warm. I adored it. And Spanish Moss. What a beautiful perfume. I came across it again the other day, when randomly going through my collection: my small bottle, waiting to be found by me, having forgotten that it even existed. But this is treasure. The smell of acacia blossoms shot through with honey; the bearded willows of the Spanish Moss trees trailing gently above the flowing river waters; sweet with mosses and orange flowers (lilac; heliotrope, osmanthus) ; green, with a clandestine tenderness and optimism; composed within itself with an unforced ease of long ago: a replete – and life-giving – elixir.
19 responses to “TRAVELLING INSIDE………….. SPANISH MOSS by HOVÉ PARFUMEUR”
I guess there is a danger that this rambling nonsense might be considered too indulgent and tone deaf in the rapidly worsening situation.
It can probably be reduced to a few points :
Like everyone else:
1. I am terrified.
2. I am very worried.
3. I am also actively enjoying isolation.
4. I am trying to see the bright side and one of those is definitely guilt free viewing of non stop things on streaming TV or movies. To lose yourself is very good right now in my view.
5. Re-acquaint yourself with the things you already have. The films you know you love; the music you love; the books you love. We have a throw away society: so much is wasted, most of what we own in this house is actually second hand, from clothes, to perfumes, to books. You know I am anti the Marie Kondo way of living (for me PERSONALLY – I am aware it works for others, who do mentally benefit from de-cluttering) – but in a way I think this is similar thinking; to not just consume, but get the most that you can of what you DO consume. I have genuinely found these days off quite enlightening.
6. I really hope that we get through this as quickly and safely as possible.
This post is wonderful ! It made me nearly cry. Appreciation, awareness , not being a “ consumer “ monster of everything these are key words for me that I’m trying to stick them poorly in my life. I was trying to talk about those things at our last meeting. Then, like you, I “pick” up one of them among of hundreds of hundreds that is perfectly matches with the “ moment “.😉
So glad you got what I was trying to say (even if I did it confusedly). I was very nearly crying also when I wrote it (without any plan; it just came out as it did). xxxxxxx
COME OVER SOON
Perfume is definitely a big help. You can lie on the futon and just pick one and DRIFT as you say. We need things to simultaneously blunt and AMPLIFY the senses in order to stem the anxiety.
The anxiety just ratcheted up for me… last night the neighbour in the flat next door was hauled away in an ambulance by medics in protective suits. I am not leaving this flat for any reason. Wondering if the building will be quarantined, tested… or they will do nothing.
Oh god…….. exactly!
I hope it all works out for you, I really do.
Do something to try and take your mind off it. Are you the type that can’t get absorbed in things the way I can?
I WILL BE ENGROSSED
I WILL BE ENGROSSED
I WILL BE ENGROSSED
Try it, you have to. My anxiety is pretty tingling in the old veins right now I can’t deny it. I have had shocking emails from my parents. The Midlands seem to be the worst hot spot in the UK, highlighted in dark red on the corona map. Horrifying!
Still, we can’t just throw in the towel. It sounds like a crap way to die.
It’s hard for me to concentrate when I am anxious, but will try to read or listen to music. Having a stiff cup of builder’s tea to boost my morale.
A friend who is a cancer survivor declared that she was not going to die an ignominious death from some crappy virus after beating cancer. I am not going down without a fight either!
Great to hear xxxx
I loved reading about your place in Japan. I’m a strange one–although I am happy to be a minimalist, I like reading about other people’s collections and knickknacks, tchotchkes, bric-à-brac, gewgaws, trinkets….just typing these words made me smile.
I also liked reading about your time in the USA. I’m from a southern state (North Carolina), so I’m glad you had a good time in the south….although Florida and Louisiana are worlds onto themselves. I am praying for New Orleans (cases of the virus are spreading like wildfire there).
I am lucky that I can still make money. I am also lucky that working from home for the past 2 years has taught me how to stay home all day. I miss my walks (I think many people have no idea that São Paulo is a city of neighbourhoods and a mishmash of architecture styles and street markets and pocket parks and a street life that is so alive)… I also became a hermit to get off drugs….I’m still not at the point where I can go to a bar or a dance club (I mourn the decimation of night life in this city….it has to be experiences to believed) and just be content with juice or sparking water. Luckily (?) my husband went cold turkey with me, so I guess I wasn’t really a hermit.
Yesterday I found out that the Internet archive is now open to all (they are calling it an Emergency Library) (archive.org). We can borrow books for 2 weeks. I was thrilled to find out of print books I have always wanted to read, photography books by Brassai, autobiographies by jazz artists (I read these because most of them were addicted to drugs and getting clean is part of their story), books about Mexican retablos….hours and hours of things to explore.
I still cry and freak out and kvetch and and worry (selfishly… about my investments, not knowing if I should cut my losses and just completely cash out and retreat to a beach (when they reopen….yes, most beaches are closed). I sometimes wake up at 3am scared as hell….but, hey, I’m up, might as well read about how Art Pepper got off the horse….this virus didn’t come with a rule book, a manual from the human resource department….I never lived by the rules anyway, and I’m not about to start now, especially not now.
Congratulations on your recent nomination!
Thank you very much – and your own stories are equally fascinating. I would LOVE to visit all of these neighbourhoods you mention, seriously. Had to look up the word retablo (devotional paintings… I like them in small doses….!), and actually only learned the word gewgaw very recently (and tchotchke only last year or so).
It’s funny. I probably give the impression of being a total Mistress Of Kitsch, but even though D and I are drawn to the grotesque in many ways, I think it really depends on the space. This house is a cheap rented place, that the owners will tear down once we leave it and rebuild on the land (you know how it is in Japan), which means we essentially have license to a large extent to do with it what we please.
But when D first suggested living here, when we came round to look at it my instinctive reaction was NO WAY – it felt so dingy and hideous that I couldn’t possibly envisage it. It is definitely not a beautiful house per se. But he said – no, I can change it into a lair downstairs, and do things with it upstairs,and it has gradually become this objet filled abode whose character is based on the things in it.
The place in Berlin, in contrast, which we haven’t spent all the much time in, is an Altbau apartment in Schoenberg that we bought for an absolute bargain off an underground film maker who seems to have been in some kind of trouble (I kid you not, an sawn off shotgun was found hidden in the wall): the front door is a great metal thing taken from a bank vault. The rooms are too small, really, but the main living room is really lovely; airy, with stucco ceiling, looking out onto a courtyard, and while we were there we kept it extremely minimal. Just some furniture. The space dictated it. I am no interior designer or anything – D is definitely the main instigator in that regard of anything we do – I am forced to defer – but we both usually agree instinctively on how we want to do things.
Great that you have a husband who supports you in this way.
And the beach……I love them too, but wouldn’t it get a bit boring?
(he says stupidly, as the bodies pile up from the coronavirus)
“Writing this I suppose I should be now be saying, how I yearn for those regular times before all this happened, the normality, just the normal clockwork workings of the day, but as I tap these words onto the computer that is not actually the way I am feeling. Does that make me terrible?”
No, because you are still living in regular times in Japan, relatively speaking. Enjoy it, truly, and I’m so happy you can still visit the temples and get your hair cut and zip out for a restaurant meal and all the rest of it. Seriously. Live it up. That was us two weeks ago. A century ago. I acutely feel the loss of innocence.
When Ric and I went into town a few days ago to stock up on groceries, we did it early in the morning so we didn’t have to face any possible drama of crowds, line-ups, empty shelves where the flour and pasta should have been. As it was, even though it appeared to be like any other day of the week, the atmosphere was tense, toxic; you could easily imagine floating particles of coronavirus lingering in the air. People were scared. You could see it in their faces and feel it. Palpable. The two-metres-distance rule was instinctive. We got out of there absolutely shaken despite the superficial normality of a fully-stocked supermarket and cashiers without masks (because we believe in Canada they are of negligible benefit to healthy folks away from medical centres). And we’re both pretty calm, rational people. The fact that we were that upset when there was nothing visually out of the ordinary, just the vibe, shocked the hell out of both of us. As we were leaving, as it got busier, they were starting to enforce the one-person-in, one-person-out mitigation. I was afraid to inhale. And we just learned yesterday that there are only three people here on the Sunshine Coast confirmed to have COVID-19. Only three. Out of about 32,000. We’ve got hospitals poised for the pandemic, fully stocked, fully organized, and it seems we might just do okay.
So we breathed a huge sigh of collective relief, but we’re still in virtual lock-down. That’s what fear can do. (And no, despite some alarming figures being tossed around about draconian Canadian measures, in Vancouver the fine for ignoring social distancing is a max of $1000, so that’s not where the fear comes from.) The fear comes from seeing what’s going on in Italy, Spain, the US and the UK, Switzerland, everywhere, which feels so, so close because we all have family there, friends there. There’s a sense of compassion we feel for their fear and suffering and future and that sense of crazy escalation.
When you wrote so beautifully about New Orleans, did you know how much poignancy was built into those words and sensations? It’s a building disaster there at the moment. For some reason, Louisiana is spiralling. The infection rate is climbing and so is the death rate, now up to 4%. That will look small a week from now. And some effing pastor there bused in people from five parishes for a thousand-strong service last week, people crammed together shoulder to shoulder, defying the order to keep groups down to no more than 50. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” he declared. “We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.” He vows to do it again tomorrow. Hand-wringing seems a bit dramatic, but that’s what I’m feeling like doing.
You gave us one of your best pieces of writing and I hope you keep it up, for yourself and for us. You’ve made us have fond feelings for you, dear N. I hope all my fears for you and misgivings about how Japan is responding — or rather, not responding — to this unfolding crisis is completely misplaced and we will both tut-tut my silly concerns a month from now. I have rarely wished for anything this strongly.
Thank you so much for painting this crystal clear picture of how things are going. I keep using the word terrifying but don’t mind repetition in this case as it seems the most appropriate word. Why is it, though, that where you are seems to be so well-prepared and ready for the intake of sick people should the epidemic become terrible there, but not other places. I read yesterday (and laughed) that Tokyo has ONE HUNDRED BEDS for critical care in this situation ! Hilarious.
And as we all know, the announcement that everyone should stay inside and that soon infections would become ‘RAMPANT’ came the very day after the Olympics announcement. Until then they were keeping it all hush.
Probably soon it will be all be end of world scenarios here as well. I get paid tomorrow (something I know I shouldn’t be taking for granted so cavalierly, biting the hand that feeds on a public forum!- do I have a death wish?) so we are going to go into Ofuna, unfortunately it will have to be on the bus, and stock up on everything from food to toiletries to essential oils. And then ten days until I have to go back to work, UNLESS
Ps. Religious imbeciles like that moronic pastor are beyond contempt. How can a virus be ‘politically motivated’? Do they come out in red and in blue?
I D I O T S !!!!!!!!
God should give him a big slap round the face.
I just read that it was Mardi Gras in New Orleans that ramped up exposure to coronavirus and subsequent cases.
And just listened to that asinine Brazilian president’s take on it. Holy s**t. My level of incredulity and rage just spiked. That irresponsible bravado will be a mass death sentence. He is insane. And in the driver’s seat. David, please take care.
I just want to build a little bunker and hunker down with my perfumes, Ric and a year’s supply of food and drink. I hope the Chapmans will come out of this in great shape. That is still possible. I cling to that there, and where you are, and here. I want everything to just STOP, freeze, recalibrate!!!!!
Sorry to be alarmist, but this is getting just too bad to be philosophical and optimistic.
But what you are writing IS kind of optimistic I think. Realism is the key; communication like this is therapeutic, and so is perfume, genuinely; alcohol is a divine lubricant to take the edge off – we need a balance of everything to try and stay mentally and physically healthy. D made a delicious roast chicken dinner last night. I am making lentil and chickpea Indian curry tonight with basmati rice.
And we are perhaps stupidly watching a documentary on Netflix called
I LOVE THAT I HAVE THIS MODE OF COMMUNICATION!!!
I agree. And I’m finding this space of yours to be a kind of refuge, and a decompression zone, too. I have a feeling it will be a sanity-saving place for you to unload all sorts of things as this thing evolves/devolves. Reading your honesty is somehow more comforting than all the “reassuring” rhetoric out there. Funny how that works.
The feeling is very mutual. It is cathartic.
Your describe your house so beautifully, it is a treasure trove: books, music and precious items. We are in lockdown here and only go out briefly for groceries and walking the dog. There are so many cartoons about exhausted dogs on the internet as that is the only exercise people are allowed in some countries. I think our Rosie is thrilled at the amount of attention and walks that she is receiving. The house is comfortably messy and I was reminded of that the other day when I did a pilates class on Zoom! The teacher and all the others seem to live in very modern, bare apartments…or at least have one room that is tidy (maybe the Zoom Room?). Not cluttered with books and photos with a dog occasionally bounding up the stairs to join in! Keep writing and try and enjoy this time…xxxAnn
Cluttered with books – perfect. For me, a bohemian mess is exactly how I want it. I understand the opposite need, but I can’t help sometimes comparing it with Nazis. On the other hand, it is also very Buddhist – the simplicity, and purity of space a reflection of your mental state within……..Yesterday I actually did have to do a bit of a tidy up as it can sometimes get excessive.
Good that Rosie is happy with the situation. I think our cat Mori is as well.