In Liverpool

I remember saying in one my posts, I guess in Black, that I will keep going back to writing about, or getting help from music. Particular songs. The song of the day, of that day. Sometimes the song itself is the source of inspiration. At other times, I have something to write about in mind, a theme, a feeling, mostly – always? – when I am feeling bad, and a song magically finds its way into the theme, capturing the feeling better than anything I could write.

That’s what happened today when I took myself forcibly off of the bed to take a stroll in the empty streets of Vienna, with the vain hope of drenching my solitude in strangers’ eyes, furtive looks and improbable encounters. As always, I looked for “cafés nearby” in Google Maps and decided on one, some Luxor-Bar on Grünentorgasse 19B, which seemed promising for someone in search of “eyes, looks and encounters”.

The weather was gloomy, the streets emptier, the café more woeful than I expected. Cheezy music, uncomfortable chairs, and one customer, a middle-aged nice-looking guy with messy hair (the proverbial “artist” or writer), taking notes on his laptop while sipping his cafe. I could have chosen any chair as the whole place was mine and his, but I chose to sit across him. Maybe I was trying to attract his attention, to exchange a smile.

This was exactly when Suzanne Vega’s angelic voice broke into my reality, kidnapping me from myself and the present:

In Liverpool
On Sunday
No traffic
On the avenue
The light is pale and thin
Like you
No sound, down
In this part of town
Except for the boy in the belfry
He’s crazy, he’s throwing himself
Down from the top of the tower
Like a hunchback in heaven
He’s ringing the bells in the church
For the last half an hour
He sounds like he’s missing something
Or someone that he knows he can’t
Have now and if he isn’t
I certainly am

I knew it was coming. I knew he was coming. I knew I was missing something, or someone I knew I can’t have now, at least not in the reality I inhabit.

Maybe he was still here with me as mamma keeps telling me. “When you cry he’s by your side, hoping you will see all the good things in life”, she recently reminded me, when I reached out to her in one of my many breakdowns. But if he was here, why wasn’t I able to see him, to feel his presence as she could? Why couldn’t I even look at pictures of us, laughing, playing, having fun (living is fun, dying is boring, right my son?)?

Maybe I had to change my reality to be able to see him. Not the way I perceive reality for, as I said above, this wasn’t possible, but start thinking about inhabiting another reality, his reality, the place I could find him. This required a huge sacrifice, not for me, but for those who love me, and maybe for him too. “He wants us to live in all the ways he couldn’t”, said mamma. For that, I had to stay alive. I had to persevere, endure the breakdowns. But how could I know that this is what he would want? He wasn’t old enough to know the meaning of altruism. This is us imparting ideas on him, to make his departure from the world of the living more bearable. We all suffer in different ways, and we are all:

Homesick for a clock
That told the same time

And yet, there is no such clock. Clocks show different times; it is 13:51 in Vienna, 06:51 in Guadalajara; it is Suzanne Vega here, the Little Mermaid over there. But what time is it where he is? What song is he listening to? If he were here, we would be listening to Despicable Me. But he is not here. And sometimes, most of the times, I don’t want to be here either.

The guy sitting across me packed and left. I am still here.

Happy Father’s Day Sweden…

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Speed. I am speed.

“Okay, here we go. Focus. Speed. I am speed. One winner, 42 losers. I eat losers for breakfast. Breakfast? Maybe I should have had breakfast? Brekkie could be good for me. No, no, no, focus. Speed. Faster than fast, quicker. I am Lightning. Speed. I am Speed.”
I don’t know how many times we watched this. It was one of his all time favourites after all. Pixar’s box office hit, The Cars, the computer-animated story of Lightning McQueen who intends to be the first rookie to win the famous Piston Cup race. The movie would start with the above monologue by McQueen, a self-motivating mantra he repeats before each race. When time is up, the doors of Mac, the veteran trailer which carries him, would open; and we hear the rallying cry “Oh yeah” while the cameras are flashing in the background. Every detail of this opening scene was carved into our minds; so was the timing of the exclamation. We used to shout with him: “Oh yeah”. For we were McQueen.
I had never thought how much McQueen’s mantra described me, from my mannerisms to my overall philosophy of life, until he was gone. I was speed; I had to be faster than fast, quicker than quick. I had to be active, or “pro-active” if you are into those fancy neologisms, to simply live. Speed and action was a means of survival. I felt I would die, cease to exist, if I slowed down, let alone stopped.
Now people are telling me to slow down. People who truly love and care about me, with the best of intentions. I know they are right. Both in their diagnosis and in their suggested cure. “Slow down”, they say. “You’ve been racing all these years. Now it is time to slow down, to take care of yourself.”
Some, like the wise P., introduced me to “slow living”, the movement which was born in Italy in 1999, through the idea of cittaslow, or slow cities. “Towns where men are still curious of the old times, towns rich of theatres, squares, cafes, workshops, restaurants and spiritual places, towns with untouched landscapes and charming craftsman where people are still able to recognise the slow course of the seasons and their genuine products respecting tastes, health and spontaneous customs,” as explained in the Cittaslow Manifesto.
Others warn me about the dangers of speed, in particular in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. “We know that you want to see concrete results, and start life anew. A life that is not structured around him. A life that includes him, but that does not consist solely of him.” “This is all very understandable”, they say, “but not feasible”. Again, I know they are right deep down inside. It is neither realistic nor healthy to expect others to keep up with my pace. Why should they? They haven’t experienced what I have experienced. They might have had similar traumas in their pasts, but there is no set way of recovering from them, of coming to terms with loss. And people are different. For what we know, they may have the opposite need, not only to slow down, but also to isolate themselves, to enter into a dialogue with their inner selves. Who am I to expect them to hold my hand and run with me, towards an unknown, undefined destination?
So where does this leave me? How am I supposed to break through the impasse? It is not that I don’t try to slow down. To breathe, and to enjoy each and every breath. But the moment I slow down, my mind starts playing tricks on me. I start asking questions, soon ending up facing the worst question of all, “why?”. Failing to come up with a reasonable answer, I go all van Gogh, vanishing in a dizzying maze of memories and images, crippled with a sudden burst of anger. Like van Gogh’s, the anger is directed at myself because, as he put it in a letter to his brother Theo, “I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.”
And this leaves me nowhere. My impasse is a deep dark well. I fill in the well with projects, words, (often failed) connections, but the well leads to the void. It is indeed deep and dark. Speed keeps me alive. So is anger. For now.
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I am tired

Your wheels are turning but you’re upside down
You say when he hits you, you don’t mind
Because when he hurts you, you feel alive
Is that what it is

Red lights, gray morning
You stumble out of a hole in the ground
A vampire or a victim
It depends on who’s around
— Faraway, So Close! U2

I am tired. More than anything else, I am tired. Of not sleeping. Of trying to drench the pain in meaningless activities. Of the rage. Of idiots. Of “vampires and victims”. Of having to come back to Sweden. Of Sweden. Of Tiny Toon. Of seeing him wherever I look. Of knowing that he is not coming back. Of writing. Of crying. Of not being able to cry. Of the absence of choices. Of not having the freedom to leave, to cease to exist. Of you. Of myself. My wheels are turning – I guess – but I am upside down.

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Denial

“The five stages of grief”, developed by the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”, is one of the most well-known analytical frameworks of modern psychology. Based on Kübler-Ross’ comprehensive fieldwork on terminally ill patients, the model originally aimed to understand how people cope with death, and not grief per se. In later years, Kübler-Ross extended her model to the process of grieving as well, to correct widely held misconceptions about the model, showing in particular that these stages are not consecutive stops in some linear timeline in grief . This was indeed the main thrust of her book “On Grief and Grieving” that she co-authored with David Kessler in 2004.

Noting that, “there is no correct way or time to grieve,” Kübler-Ross and Kessler begin by exploring the notion of “anticipatory grief”, which they describe as the “beginning of the end”. During this initial phase, one operates in two different worlds at the same time; the familiar world in which we feel safe, and the unfamiliar world, deserted with the death of the loved one, where we no longer feel safe. Anticipatory grief, the authors say, is one of the mechanisms the subconscious deploys to prepare us for a new, uncertain world.

Anticipatory grief is more silent than grief after a loss. It is experienced introvertedly. It is impervious to external reactions. It does not like to talk, and often it cannot be verbalised. For that reason, a person experiencing anticipatory grief prefers silent interactions, such as being comforted by a gentle touch or silently sitting together.

The person facing death starts grieving “in advance” so as to prepare herself for the inevitable end. The people who love her grieve with her, sometimes without even being aware of it. The five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – help us understand anticipatory grief as well. Grief is not only experienced after death; it may precede death as well. Kübler-Ross and Kessler note that going through these five stages during the period of anticipatory grief will not make the process of grief after death easier. Anticipatory grief has its own dynamics; it takes its time.

The five stages in question are not chronological and neatly separated from each other. Not everyone experiences these stages in the same way and in the same order. These are all ways of coping with the loss of loved one and learning how to survive without her.

The first stage, denial, does not necessarily entail the repudiation of death itself. We know that the loved one has died. The feeling of denial is more symbolic in this sense. It is about not being able to accept that the loved one is not going to open the door and greet us again when we come home.

Denial is a state of being paralysed, of numbness. It helps us to survive the loss, and the shock of death. At this stage, life is meaningless. Everything is “too much”; everything annoys. We do not know whether we can go on living or how we will go on. Our sole purpose is to get through the day. Denial is the mechanism that makes this possible.

People who have lost loved ones often find themselves telling the story of their loss over and over again. This helps us to cope with the trauma of death. As denial fades, acceptance creeps in. Slowly, we start asking “how” and “why”. As we review the circumstances that have led to the loss of the loved one, we try to find an answer to the question “could it have been different? Was there another way?” Asking those questions means that we begin to accept the reality of loss and its inevitability. She is not coming back. She won’t open the door to us again. This time she couldn’t make it and defeat death. As the feelings of denial fade away, other emotions we suppressed in that process spring to mind.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross passed away on 24 August 2004 at 20.11 after a prolonged period of struggle with disease, without seeing her book “On Grief and Grieving” published.

The death of Kübler-Ross leads David Kessler to go through the five stages of anticipatory grief and grief himself that they have written about one more time. “I have to say that if I hadn’t seen it for myself, I might not have believed it, “he said in the preface to their book. “Many people agreed that in some way they thought she was immortal. She always said that when she ‘transitioned and graduated’, it would be cause for celebration since she would be ‘dancing in the galaxies among the stars.’”

He, on the other hand, did not know the meaning of death. Or the death he knew of was something that would happen in games. Only “bad guys” died. Good ones never died, and even if they died, they would come back to life with a blow. Sometimes in order to continue playing, it was required to blow the bad guys back to life as well. All in all, death itself was a game.

Real death was boring. Life was fun. That was what he said to mamma one night. But to me, he said he was afraid of death. His grandmother was with us too. She had come all the way from Turkey to see him, to kiss him one last time, despite a healing broken hip and an injured knee. The Swedish and Danish police were mobilised to make it possible for her aging, worn-out body to meet her grandson.

“Baba”, he said while playing with his Lego. “What if the cancer becomes 100, 1,000? Wouldn’t I die then?” I could not answer. Me and mamma never lied to him either, so I replied his question with a question, like mamma used to do. “Why oğlum? Are you afraid of dying?”. “Yes”, he said. His eyes were full with tears. I started crying as well. “Don’t be afraid. No matter what happens, mamma and baba will be with you, you know that, right?” was all I could say.  “Yes”, he replied in a certain and confident tone. I was relaxed somehow.

But now, I cannot relax. Yes, I was by his side, we were by his side until the last moment, and even after that. But he is gone. He is not with us anymore. All these clichés, “He doesn’t suffer anymore”, “He will live in your hearts forever”, “He is watching over you from the sky”, they are just empty talk. You know it; they know it. They are trying to share your pain as best as they can. This the only thing they can do. If I were them, I couldn’t do any more either.

But I am not them. I am the one experiencing the loss. I am the one suffering. In this sense, I am alone. And I am not ready to accept it. Not yet.

**

A note to readers: I know you are bored with that story. Your life is hard, with the dollar rising and the lira falling capriciously, people languishing in prisons for no reason. Evil is everywhere. At least on the weekends, you would prefer to read something light, something beautiful. But I don’t let you. The editors of Ahval are complicit in my crime as they continue publishing my morbid tales. And yet I am not going to apologise, for this is my reality, at least for the time being. In this reality, in this parallel universe, there is no dollar, there are no prisons. There is only cancer and death. I am trying to get through the day, and I do it by writing. I will however stop writing about this once I write about all five stages of grief. The real grief will not end. I don’t know whether I will be able to write on other, more mundane, topics for death has transformed me. But I am sure I will give it a try. I will give life a try. The show must go on, right? Or… Should it?

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A love like no others

A dark hospital room illuminated only by the dim light emanating from the IV drip he is attached to day and night, the silence interrupted by the odd beeping of the machines when the quiet flow of the “toxic cure” is blocked. A frail, pain-stricken body tossing and turning in bed restlessly, hugging a brown or blue monkey in search of a sense of security.

The concomitant loss of the sense of time and space. The past reset since that fateful day when you walked into the room where you are told by a caring doctor that the “entity” they discovered is malign; the future vanishing into thin air when you realize that all you can do is to go through one day at a time; eternally trapped in the present, trapped into now and here, trying to make the best out of it, or to avoid the worst of it. A calendar dotted not by festive days, but by weekly or monthly intervals, depending on the type of treatment he is currently on, in between the start and end days. An episodic existence indexed on “good” times and “bad” times, an itinerant life where “being home” is a luxury you cannot always afford.

Notes detailing which medication needs to be given when and at which dose, a list growing uncontrollably as side effects of chemotherapy kick in; text messages between mamma and baba outlining the “symptoms of the day” or offering a tally of the quantity of food and liquid he has consumed, accompanied by a smile when the figures are relatively high; the unique joy you feel when the number of meds he is on is going down while the quantity of food he consumes is increasing, sometimes to the point where you enjoy the “very bearable lightness” of not counting.

The dismal realization, which mostly hits when you are alone or while watching the little angel sleeping, that this is his “normal” life, the only life he has known – a life where he can only attend birthday parties of his friends or take a swim in the pool when his blood counts allow for it; where plasters or bandages covering the countless punctures in his frail body turn into an object of obsession he cannot live without. The intense feeling of revolt and the profound anger that gradually become the “wallpaper” of your existence, running in the background of everything you do; the often unfulfilled quest for compassion – not differential treatment or pity. Just pure, simple compassion.

All this combined with a firm determination to persevere against all odds, defying statistics and resolutely chasing miracles. Encouraged by his superhuman strength, his “epic” struggle; rewarded by his boundless happiness and his disarming smile; motivated by his eagerness to turn every ordeal into a game where the good guys always win, where the Green Ninja defeats the Snake or the Great Devourer, where Minecraft Alex triumphs over the Skeleton or the Zombies. A hero who doesn’t mind learning to swallow pills while his peers play hide and seek in kindergarden; a little big man who thinks being bald is “cool”; a “peaceful” warrior who ponders over his next lego project while surrendering his teeny-weeny finger to the nurse for his 1500th blood test.

A boy with a will to live like there is no tomorrow. Maybe there is no tomorrow. Maybe he knows something that we, adults, don’t know. Maybe he has a mission, a purpose to show us all that life, however fleeting it may be, has a meaning that transcends time and space as well as the worldly and the spiritual.

For us, his family, he simply means “love”. But a love like no others.

Luca la Rambla

A life like no other (in pictures)

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When you are attached to IV pumps which release the “toxic cure”, and you feel nauseous and weary…

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There is not much to do other than playing Minecraft on i-pad or building legos…

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You eat whatever you find, hoping that he “eats” too while empty cups and plates are staring at you… You feel blessed when Barncancerfonden (The Cancer Foundation) brings good food every Wednesday…

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You pass through “children’s books” (!) that explain cancer to 5-6 year olds in a way they could make sense of it… And adult books that try to teach you “how to live with cancer”…

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Ending up in “sköljrum” (the special rinsing/cleaning room) to leave the urine and sometimes other bodily secretions of the loved one…

You hear Louis Armstrong’s unmistakably raspy voice in your head “and [you] think to [your]self what a wonderful [life]” this is.

 

In silence, poetry (re)unites…

2.

the truth – don’t they say? – is painful


and needs, you know, your blood


needs your wounds


only through these will the life you sought in vain

pass – if it ever does pass through –


together with the wind’s whistling and ghosts

 

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To the one stranded on an island, sharing a similar predicament…

 

 

 

Polluted by memories

Like everyone else, I have favourite movies, directors, writers, songs and song writers, and I keep returning to them in a cyclical way, not regularly, without following a particular routine, but often enough to discern a pattern.

If you happen to know me in real life or follow this blog, you must have already noticed that I am quite fond of Bergman (not so much as a movie director as what I would call a philosopher), Calvino (in particular his Invisible Cities), Bukowski (the poet, not the writer, a qualification most literary critics would deny him), Camus, and most recently Eddie Vedder – an obsession which is bordering on the pathological, but that deserves another post – to name but a few.

I know, a very eclectic list of strange bedfellows. There is thread that runs through all of them however, and countless others that I have not cited here. They are all haunted by loneliness and belonging, space and time (cities, past-present-future) and the meaninglessness of life. As I sip my Staropramen alone in one of Lund’s landmark bars, Ariman, I’ve been pondering about how we mark the places we live with memories, some good, some bad. Polluting them, so to speak – since good memories are more similar to butterflies than turtles; they never last long, in most cases leaving behind more misery than joy.

I remember the first time I came to Lund. It was 2007, as part of a research network established by a Swedish colleague who used to live in Turkey. We were staying at the good old Duxiana (Thomas had not gone bankrupt back then), having fika next door, at Coffee Break. Call it getting old or tired, I thought I could live here. For a while at least. And I did. I came back in 2009 and spent three months here. I loved my friends but I also loved solitude. I was in the midst of a protracted and painful process of making peace with it anyway. So I returned.

I soon realized that this was not a place to “die” if you are alone, without a family – of sorts. Then he happened. I did have a family “of sorts”. Then he became sick. I had to be there for him, no matter what. In any case, I had nowhere to go (back) to.”

Time to revisit Calvino I thought: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

I chose the first one. I adapted; acclimated myself; I “became such a part of” the Swedish way of life that I could no longer see the inferno I was living in. When I did, I compared it to the other infernos I lived in, and there was no comparison. My inferno was everybody else’s Eden. A promised land that took good care of me and my son, that appreciated my work, valued equality and freedom more than any other place I’ve been to.

And what about my part in the creation of the inferno, I also said to myself. Inferno is something “we form by being together”, wrote Calvino. He was certainly right. I had made choices, not all of them right or conducive to my personal Eden. So whatever the inferno was, it was also my own doing. I was the one polluting Lund with bittersweet memories. Yes, a life spent in between home and hospital was not particularly sweet either, but there were moments to enjoy, to cherish, before everything got worse. Have I made the best of those fleeting moments? I am not sure. As Eddie Vedder would say, “never been too good at happy endings” – or enjoying “happinesses”.

When the first strategy didn’t work, I opted for Calvino’s second suggestion, seeking and learning to recognize “who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno” trying to make them endure. He definitely was one – “the” one. There were others too; but they disappeared one by one. I found new ones; they weren’t enough. The city of my dreams was polluted beyond redemption. And the pollution was getting thicker and thicker; the air too difficult to breathe; the places I frequent too contaminated by bad memories to purify.

Yet “the” one does not let life go. The precious one who gave birth to “the” one does not let “us” go. Living (in) the inferno requires “vigilance and apprehension”. I have neither of them. I have nowhere to go either. I have no will to go and start over…

“So I imagine in a month… or 12
I’ll be somewhere having a drink
laughing at a stupid joke
or just another stupid thing
and I can see myself stopping short
drifting out of the present
sucked by the undertow and pulled out deep
and there I am, standing
wet grass and white headstones all in rows
and in the distance there’s one, off on its own
so I stop, kneel
my new home…
and I picture a sober awakening, a re-entry into this little bar scene
sip my drink till the ice hits my lip
order another round
and that’s it for now” (Eddie Vedder)

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“FRED HALLIDAY: THE FRAIL COLOSSUS” by Julie Wark

This is a piece written by Julie Wark, one Fred’s closest friends, who was with him at hospital during his last days and moments. Julie did not want to publish this essay – you will understand why when you read it. She kindly allowed me to share it with you, in this personal blog (You may read this with my previous post; they are complementary https://thevoid.blog/2018/03/13/barcelona-fred-barcelona/.)

PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR QUOTE WITHOUT PERMISSION!

 

Fred was a giant in more ways than one. Some months before his death, he weighed almost 180 kilos. Some of us who loved him wondered why he was so wilfully undermining his health. Sometimes we wondered about slow suicide and Fred was indeed preparing for his death, giving detailed instructions concerning his last wishes to myself and another friend in Barcelona as early as 2008. Yet he fobbed off our fears by his huge enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life, his conviviality, his wit and his zest.

In all the tributes to our colossus there is almost zero mention of a couple of key facts of his last years or, better said, lifelong facts that took on their noticeably self-destructive form towards the end of his life. His greatness certainly tended to overshadow his frailness and, in our loss – massive and impossible to take in properly when a colossus leaves us – it is perhaps too hard to think of frailty, not least because it raises questions of whether we might have helped him more. Fred had a severe bipolar disorder and was an alcoholic. It was easy to put his mood swings down to his being a tormented genius and he nourished the deceit. His alcoholism usually took the Dionysian form, so he was generally excellent company over a good meal and a bottle of wine (which he tended to precede with a few extra, solitary, glasses of wine or g&ts) but these occasions sometimes ended in an outburst of amorphous wrath, which he would try to focus on some perceived slight. As soon as the attack was over he would always phone and apologise. But the rage never left him.

He grew up in the Irish border town of Dundalk with all its associations with the mythical warrior Cú Chulainn and later troubles, and was educated by the Marist brothers until being sent off to a Benedictine boarding school in England at the tender age of eight. His well-to-do English father was an alcoholic and Fred’s childhood was traumatic. When he was a young child his mother gave him the task of finding his father’s stash of bottles and perhaps his white-knight streak, his desire to save people goes back that far. At twenty he was in Lourdes washing pilgrims’ feet, wanting to be a priest and, not long afterwards, he had chosen another form of saviourhood, putting his intellectual gifts to the best use he could with the revolutionary Black Dwarf and New Left Review projects in London when he was not with guerrilla fighters in Dhofar.

Nothing he could do, all his knowledge, all his gifts, all his untiring efforts, nothing could prevent the events that led up to the Gulf War (1990-1991) – and the opprobrium he suffered at the hands of some of his erstwhile comrades because of his support for that war – the attacks of 9/11 and everything that followed in the Middle East. He understood the subtleties of Islam, understood the West and the intricacies of its constellations of power, was a brilliant international relations theorist and he could not bear the crude viciousness of the polarisation that tore his world apart. Fred was not an ideologue, which meant he was never a god-that-failed Marxist either, so there was no easy intellectual or political refuge for him. The major nervous breakdown that followed was nothing more than a year’s hospitalised, heavily-medicated respite.

The Fred who came to set up a base in Barcelona in 2004 wanted to write about cosmopolitanism and to find happiness. His marriage was over and he was going to rely on his insatiable curiosity about “the persistent unpredictability” of human affairs, his old friends, a good climate and a Mediterranean culture to bring some of the joys he felt London denied him. The bevy of young Latin American beauties whom he fussed over and worried about, and who seriously fleeced him, did not provide the “family” he wanted. Just before his second and final breakdown he said he realised he had only succeeded in making a great big bubble for which, like the financial one that was blowing up everywhere else, he paid a personal price greatly at variance with intrinsic values. His other family was my own. He spent Christmases with us, knew all the ins and outs of our lives, was welcomed, and he endeared himself to everyone, but we weren’t enough either.

Fred’s quest for recognition often took the form of feeling slighted followed by raging about some or other colleague who hadn’t appreciated a favour, the minister who hadn’t sent a car to pick him up at the airport, the editor who never valued his articles or books enough, the government that failed to seek him as an adviser, the colleagues who avoided him. The devotion and understanding of his students, so eloquently articulated in the many beautiful letters they sent him as he lay dying, the love of his friends and of his younger colleagues (and some former ones) and PhD candidates he had supervised with great empathy and attention could not fill his need. He craved love and rebuffed it: love me but noli me tangere. He was so loved and so alone.

A habitué of the spheres of governance, Fred befriended waiters, shopkeepers, bar flies and people he sat next to on planes; he respected the great and powerful, sometimes too much, but never lost his strong anarchist streak; got around, even on quite formal occasions, in scruffy shorts unconcerned about showing off the frighteningly blackened legs of his collapsed veins, but somehow never lost his elegance, even in the most disreputable of the outsize t-shirts that occasionally didn’t quite cover his monumental belly; was a giver of himself and of small, carefully chosen gifts from his travels; an attentive, caring and, at times, most vexing friend; at once heartbreakingly open about himself, his dreams, his projects and his troubles, and eel-like in his evasiveness; the white knight who wanted to ride into battle for a lady (or even to fly across the world to “knee-cap” (roar at) a publisher who once cheated her); a gentleman; a gentle man, who poured scorn on the apostles of postmodernism (“po-mos”) and sloppy mawkish thinking; a tough guy with a touch of marshmallow; stoic in the physical discomfort that was the revenge of a sorely tried body; the ascetic of great appetites; wise man with the child’s curiosity; erudite lover of language, words and etymology, of some poetry, of some music, and implacable teller of corny jokes; the man of commanding presence who crumpled and cried drunkenly (mawkishly even) late at night over his Irish ballads and phoned then to share his sorrows; the revered keynote speaker who, again, got on the phone to Barcelona at three in the morning for comfort when he just could not handle Jerusalem and who was talked though instructions to pack his bag and get himself down to Tel Aviv and on a plane out of there now, obeying with the meekness of a lamb. He had a singularly lovely smile in an often melancholy face.

Fred, the man who seemed to have it all, struggled hard and for a long time with ferocious personal demons. His gallant battle to remain above them, not to submit, and the arms he employed against them – his brilliance, his ethical commitment and his intellectual generosity – were very much part of his greatness. Perhaps this recognition will generally be denied him too for it is easier to revere the public figure.

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Fred with Dhofari rebels, early 1970s. This photo has always been special to him.

Again (update from Luca)

Unfortunately, Luca is not stable anymore. After four months of “normality”, the disease is back with a vengeance. He was taken off the LA trial, and after an intense weekend of email traffic among oncologists from four countries, we brought Luca to Hospital Sant Joan de Deu in Barcelona which offers the treatment developed by New York Memorial Sloan Kettering for which we did the fundraising two years ago.

Time is running out; Luca is not well; so we need your prayers, good wishes more than ever.

P.S. We will try to keep you posted. We may also need to start a new fundraiser as we are now operating on a very tight budget (your contributions already took us to Michigan, Los Angeles, and now Barcelona, enabling us to give him the best treatment available. We are, and will always be, eternally grateful for that.)

http://lucacan.com/again/

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