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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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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