Saturday, May 14, 2011


130. Goodbye #1. To my favourite T-shirt.

In the initial months, Anna and I often went shopping together. When I bought this T-shirt, my first ever purchased item of clothes in Brussels, Anna bought another T-shirt from the same Zara collection. Even though they looked different, we pretended to be twins whenever we wore the T-shirts on the same day. It took me a few days to spot the "Made in Vietnam" label, and it took me much longer to realize the specific location of the eyelashes, thank to the not-so-subtle stares and subsequent explanation from Gupta. Despite this, I wore the T-shirt regularly, a fact made obvious through the photos of last summer (when one can survive the European outdoor weather with a single T-shirt): Zoe's birthday, holiday trips, conferences...

In the Madrid conference last July, rumor had it there was a crazy girl presenting in my session. We all were curious; each female speaker was a suspect. In the evening, drinking red wine and waiting for our pizzas, we exchanged notes and agreed upon one particular candidate. Her slides were full of writing, which was clearly copied and pasted directly from a paper, someone pointed out. Another added, that when told she had two minutes left, the girl simply sped up her reading of the slides, finishing the last thirtysomething in fifteen minutes. The chairman, who had the double misfortunes of being both a laid-back Australian and the immediate speaker after her, could not do anything to interrupt her determined speed-reading. "And," I offered my piece of evidence for her mental instability, "she was wearing a pink suit." Puffing his cigarette, the Irish dreamer looked at me, "I don't know. This afternoon I was at a talk, where the girl wore a T-shirt with moi même written on it..."

131. Goodbye #2. Listening to Colin Firth, in an episode of the TimesTalk series of New York Times, on A single man, a movie directed by Tom Ford, based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. A group of us, including Carrot, Celery, Zucchini, Frenchie and myself, have gone to see the movie last year. About the supposedly last 24 hours of a gay man, who intends to commit suicide by the end of the day after the recent pass away of his 16-year partner, the movie understandably depressed Zucchini. 

Colin Firth has a different take. "...he's woken up in the morning. Amongst the first things you hear him say in the interior monologue is that It hurts to wake up. He does not like being in the present moment. Waking up begins with the words *am* and *now*. That's the way that the novel starts, and inhabiting the present is intolerable. And that is why he's decided to kill himself. In his world and then in his perception, this is a perfectly rational decision to make. What, I think, is magical about the story is, that everything that happens to him is a challenge to that decision. The decision to give up on life. His past judgement on life has not been worth living, and everything that happens challenges that..." 
"Except for the people next door," the interviewer interrupts. 
"Well, except he meets the little girl from next door, who suddenly has gone from being the brat next door to the most beautiful child he's ever seen. And I think, that one of the most poignant things about the story is, that the things he sees which are all, like, visions of beatitude, or all kinds of, you know, holy revelations are all completely and utterly mundane everyday things. The sunset which looks like a vision of paradise is just smoke. The most beautiful face he's ever seen in his life is the hustler outside the liquor store. I mean I know [Tom] happened to cast the most beautiful man..."
"That guy is a supermodel...," the interviewer points out.
"I know I know, but he's heightening things because this is George's perception. Let's say we were seeing things through George's eyes. Let's say that we had the opportunity to go back and look at the actual things that George saw that day. And if we were there, we might say, well no, the sunset wasn't that red. The sunset was smoke, you know, it's pollution. And, if we went back there, that wouldn't be, the hustler outside the liquor store next door probably wouldn't have been played by Jon Kortajarena, who is a supermodel. He would look like every hustler outside the liquor store ...
But basically, I think Tom is heightening things, not because he's a fashion designer, just flaunting his skills. I think he's sincerely trying to say: this is the day in which the senses are sharpened, in which everything you see, because you see them for the last time, that actually today it's as if you see it for the first time...
But, I mean, listen, Dennis Potter gave the most painfully poignant series of interviews, as he was dying. That's one of the great English writers. As he was dying of cancer, he basically decided to discuss his illness and the process of dying, publicly. And, he talked about flowers. Remember George sees the rose, and again, he knows in his mind that's the last rose that he'll ever see, so it's more like just a rose, you know, it's a spiritual experience. And, talk about being in the present, this is the man who despises the present who suddenly finds himself inhabiting the present, because the present is upon him, because it's all over within a few hours.

And Potter talks about looking outside the window, beyond the desk where he would write, and seeing the blossoms. And, I don't know how long he'd lived that house, and he'd seen the blossoms. This is distant memory, so I can only paraphrase what he said. But he looked out at these flowers that he'd seen year after year after year, and he'd always liked them. But this time he knew he would never see them again, and he wasn't quite sure how long he had, but there was no way he was going to make it to another spring. And he said, so today it became the brightest, most beautiful, most vibrant, whitest, blossomest blossom that I'd ever seen.

And I've never forgotten that. That came 15 years, I think, before we shot this film. But when I read the script, some of that came back to me. Whether it's about the way that a woman wears her hair, or the perfume that she's wearing, or the way a dog's ears smell, or the way just a young boy's face looks, and he's not trying to have sex with this guy. Or the way a child looks on this particular day, a child he'd seen every day of his life, but today the child is an angel because he'll never the child again. Or whether the owl in the back garden, or breathing the night air, which is just in his own backyard, but tonight, is the night air that's basically feeling like the world just comes into being and it has all this freshness. These are all things that conspire to make him want to live. You know, so, people ask me, is the movie depressing? It's about a man who wants to die. I think, that we should all be lucky to have a day like that."

132. "Why do you want to be useful?" I am asked. 
A few hours later, this would seem like a natural question, given that I have just said, "I want to be useful." Right now, the question surprises me. While I have previously discussed with other people about my career paths, with the priority being something useful, no one has responded by asking me such a question. Staring at the babies bizarrely floating on the ceiling of Belgo Belge, I am struggling for words. No immediate answer comes, at least none that I really want to give. 

My mind wanders back to 2008, when it all started. One late evening during the last visit to Vietnam, I came home to find, in front of my apartment complex, an old lady with her little mobile fruit and vegetable stand. The image struck a chord with me: surely no one would have a sudden urge to buy a cucumber at 10 o'clock in the evening. Still thinking about it the next day, I started doing some research around. My final calculation, by no means an exact figure but still a decent estimate from real data, was that the average profit the lady would make each evening was 20 Australian cents. The morning before I saw her, I had paid for a Starbuck-like coffee 3,2 Australian dollars. Since then, it has never been clear to me where the perpetual self-debate of usefulness came from: the guilt from realizing that my coffee cost more than her earnings from a fortnight of evenings standing on the street; or, the frustration that there was not much I, or the job that I haven chosen, could do for her. All of this seems a little lame for me to offer as an answer. 

Another possible answer, equally true and probably even lamer, is that I like the idea of being useful. It is, to me, lame because I seem to like the idea of a lot of things, without necessarily liking those things themselves. I had not realized that subconsciously I was aware of the distinction, until Victoria told me of a conversation late last year. "What does Gazpacho mean, when she says she likes the idea of being married?" someone had asked her, "Why doesn't she simply say that she likes being married?" In all honesty, I am not sure whether I actually want to be useful, but I like the idea of it.

In the end, I offer a vague "I don't know", which is everyone's standard reply when the real answer would take too long to explain and when no one would care anyway. As it is, the questioning and the answering, both because we, or at least I, like the idea of being grownup, of (trying to be) getting along, even if our last real conversation was passive-aggressive and borderline hostile, which probably did more damage than whatever had led us to the childish behavior in the first place. Nevertheless, while it is unclear with being useful, I suspect that I like both the idea of being grown up and actually being grownup. It's just that being grownup isn't easy.

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