A series of unfortunate coincidences that made me think of amor fati and my own self-representation (a serious case of bad PR) has caused hell and havoc within the confines of my mind. That I was somehow grossly throwing out slanders into the world and hurting people in ways I didn’t even know. That somehow even though my physical presence wasn’t there, this person could still feel me lurking around trying to pick a lock (okay maybe this is true). That I was using sacred and meaningful words and attaching them to the river Po or a peach pastry so that if you took the association two steps further in the wrong direction, it’d be covered in shit and I’d be eating it. That simply knowing I’m out in the world eulogizing a remembrance not even my own but of someone else’s love story had to be stopped, silenced. That I was some Louise Joséphine Bourgeois spider trying to weave myself into a narrative I was left out of and seeking young blood.
Paranoia, as though everyone was in on it, friends and strangers alike. When your upstanding friend’s 2-year-old daughter and a Greek art blogger with sexual tendencies both start telling you hand is foot, something is up. This innocuous and rather naive blog with writings of E. M. Forster daydreams, came alive in the most macabre fashion. And these people seemed angry, ready to send me to prison.
I kept looking where I shouldn’t, it had become an habitual tick. It had been going on for years but things changed last year when more antagonists entered the picture and I soon realized I wasn’t the only one who knew some version of the story. The general consensus seemed to be “You’re Calypso thinking you’re Sicily.” I can see how insufferable my IG account would be to someone who believed this. I kept looking in the same place for a different answer, but the light in which I was seen never changed but the way I was seeing myself was changing. I was starting to feel the most negative and at times positive emotions in the most real ways.
The entrance to the prisons of the Palazzo Ducale are blocked with lines of shore excursion tourists from the steady stream of cruise boats parading into Venice. It’ll be a long time on the Bridge of Sighs before I ever get in. That is why I couldn’t see the catacombs of Gente di Palermo by Gordon Douglas.
I spotted three middle-aged American gallery girls in London having the same problem I was, finding the entrance to the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. We tried to enter a cinema, crossed the street, crossed back over, and then finally realized the entrance was buried deep in the underpass. Then somehow we managed to get lost separately once inside and then meet again at the ticket counter, that is how large the center is.
This was a Thursday in mid-December and perhaps the record crowds had already come and gone but the staff was still left creating a three staff for every 1 visitor ratio. There was even a staff worker opening doors, which made me feel like I should have given him 20p.
When I entered the exhibition, the space felt wrong and the image greeting me felt wrong. The space consisted of two floors with small cubicles along the sides of the upper floor and a larger ground floor in the center and a staircase next to a cinema projection screen in the middle. Projected onto the screen, you had a silent film on loop of Basquiat not painting or speaking but rather what could only be described as prancing around in place. This central image had to remain mute as the smaller rooms had his voice audible in the form of interviews, spoken poetry (4 corners of the earth on repeat), or films.
I wanted to go straight to the paintings on the ground floor but was told to go up the stairs, then I wanted to turn right, away from the crowds, but was told to start from the left. Patrolled and restricted, I had to start the exhibition in chronological order. It soon became apparent that I was being given a biographical account almost like how Obama wrote his autobiography before he ran for president, that if we knew his story, we’d vote for him. The approach seemed similar in manner, that somehow if the visitor was introduced to Basquiat’s biography and contextualized in his time, we’d be convinced of his merit. I thought back to the Cy Twombly exhibition at the Centre Pompidou earlier in the year and remembered just rooms and rooms of his paintings. That is what I wanted here but was given something else.
Not that biography isn’t important, I stood looking at the painting above and thinking so this is how/ when Madonna became the number 1 cartoon breakfast cereal, but a sense of speed was lost (a defining quality) as the result of the slow pace of learning his biography and those cubicles were like rest stops I didn’t want to take.
When I did finally get to the large-scale paintings, I wondered who has all of his work, Leonardo DiCaprio? Once you look at the paintings, you notice how clear the colors are and the lines of the text clean. You are given the feeling of first stroke was the last stroke, winning at the first punch.
After the exhibition, I left seeing the gardens of the Barbican to lazy chance and it didn’t cross my path. I looked for the restrooms but found none. In the end, I left with a carrot muffin having only found the cafe.
When a moment of unseen clarity erupts from its hard shell and becomes a colored, delicate light form leaving behind its dark liquid state, this is the image I want in my mind this new year and that they may all connect into a central living heart and feed other ideas. To the ideas about to die, the intensity of its color coalescing in the center to then go down into donut holes.
In Godfather III, Michael Corleone dies a dog’s death in the relentless Sicilian sun. He topples over from his throne filled with hate and holding an orange with a dog next to him, his face hitting the arid sand. Sans family, sans love, sans everything.
Michael Corleone, the only son with an American name, begins the story in the film dressed in military uniform returning home a war hero and bringing home an American girlfriend, telling her that (violence) is my family it’s not me. But every time he interacts with the outside world, they see him through his family, they see mafia guinea. When Michael does finally pledge his allegiance to his father, who doesn’t feel a certain joy when he says I’m with you now.
If in a Balzac novel the social climbing hero recently moved to Paris has to shed his provincial ways to make every gesture one of social grace or else he’d give himself away, then in America he has to erase traces of his heritage. No more buying oranges, lawyers not violence, and get that cannoli out of my house. Along Michael Corleone’s journey to becoming American and less Sicilian, moving from the criminal underworld to the world above, you have other Americans who came and settled just a little bit before him, telling him no matter how much money he makes or how much he tries to be, he will never be American. You’ll always be a puppet you muppet. But the world above has just as many crooks and dishonest men as the world below, different weapon same intent.
The higher he climbs and the cleaner he makes his money, the more he loses his loved ones. His intentions were good and yet where does Michael Corleone go so wrong, even he wonders by the end “why am I so hated?”
There were two books lying on top of a row of books. When I picked up one in an excited manner, the other one fell behind the other books.
“I wrote my masters thesis on this book!” (It was Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)
“I’m interested in the other book.”
He walked over and reached his hand behind the books to pick it up.
“Pick any line from this book and it’s wisdom,” he said. For him, that book was love.
I looked over and read the title, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)”
“But Andy Warhol was an asshole.” I took the book in my hand and briefly scanned it, thinking wisdom?
Long after this conversation ended and I was no longer apart of his life, I read as much of Andy Warhol as I could but there was no other line I liked more than that phrase inside the parentheses outside on the cover. So I kept using it and repeating it like this… from A to B and back again.
“Something beautiful. Something true … then, out of nowhere, a flock of birds flew by the window, extremely fast and incredibly close. Maybe twenty of them. Maybe more. But they also seemed like just one bird, because somehow they all knew exactly what to do…” Foer, found right in the middle of the book.
We hit all the main sights of Paris, starting with the Trocadéro walking to metro Jasmin, on to Montmartre and then to Notre Dame. While walking through the 16th, I tried to take us off the main road, a surprisingly large one for Paris and found he was trying to take us to a specific point before we wandered. Before we hit this predetermined point, we passed a branch of Pierre Hermé. My friend loved their artisan jams and since they didn’t ship to the U.S., her supply came from my sporadic endeavors. We walked into an empty store, even the shop assistant had left her post. He went straight to the macaroons and I went straight for the jams. My hand reached up to a top shelf to grab an Ispahan jam, her favorite. They were stacked going no higher than two tiers. I reached for one on the bottom, suddenly causing one from above to crash to the ground. The shop assistant came out and looked over with a sigh of oh well to the splattered jam. I apologized and she motioned such things happen.
When we had first arrived at Trocadéro, I had given him this piece of chocolate I had saved from my Lufthansa flight breakfast. A little Berlin bear holding an “I love Berlin” red heart made by a local chocolatier Fassbender & Rausch. Why do we like to give little sweets to our potential sweethearts? After taking in the always surprising view of the Effiel Tower from Trocadéro, I was moved enough by the view to muster some courage, to give him what I had wanted to give him at Charles de Gaulle.
“I brought something for you from the airplane.” Oh the elegance of my conversational prose, blunt and simple like a butter knife.
“That is so sweet, let me guess. Is it sweet?”
“Is it chocolate?”
I fished in my overloaded Longchamp bag and brought out my Berlin bear.
“That is so sweet. I’m going to eat it right now.”
I felt so much better after he ate the chocolate, I felt accepted again. I was thankful for this, I had feared his refusal of the Berlin bear. On my return flight to Berlin, I again received a Berlin bear from Lufthansa which I ate myself. There was less cacao and more sugar than a 27% chocolate.
At Pierre Hermé, I only picked one macaroon being conscious of the money he was spending. I later regretted not having taken more. I picked a light-colored mint macaroon flavored olive oil & vanilla and he got the same. He mimicked my orders till dinnertime and for the first time in my life, I never had a problem deciding what I wanted to order. No endless deliberations. During the course of the day, he picked three bugs out of my hair and exclaimed in amazement that my hair attracted an abnormally high percentage of bugs. I wondered without him, would I just be walking around cities with bugs in my hair.
Having been a high school drum major, he had theories on the character traits of each of the marching band instruments focusing mainly on the horns. He shared this with me in the metro. I didn’t pay attention to which metro, he always knew where we were going.
“You played the clarinet. I can totally see you as a clarinet,” he said.
“That is not the instrument I would have chosen for myself. My dad picked it for me.”
“Which instrument would you have chosen?”
“You’re not a cello, you’re a clarinet. I always liked clarinets and trumpets the most. Clarinets are the nerdy, quiet ones. The flutes are like the town hoe, the French horns are usually arrogant and egoists, trumpets are more relaxed and easy-going and then it just progresses to more relaxed and more (he slightly hunches over) the bigger the brass instrument, like the tubas.”
“So are you like a French horn?”
“I used to be more arrogant.”
“Because you were smart?”
Earlier that morning, walking under the Eiffel Tower, I had tried to show off my one piece of knowledge about French horns which wasn’t even from my own astute observation but rather one of the few things about classical music I had taken away from my classical music lover ex. My ex had hated French horns in the orchestra. He thought they ruined concerts and were lazy, all around bastards for being the culprits of destroying his musical transcendence. A missed note at the end of an orchestral piece to send him toppling to the ground “Damn the French Horns!” He lamented that all they had to do was hit the last note in the piece and they couldn’t even do that because they were probably just sleeping or just lazy.
“Someone once told me that French horns ruined orchestral concerts by hitting the wrong note at the end.” Delivering my 2 cents worth of French horn knowledge.
“That’s true. There are times when I think, there is no way I am hitting that note. That is why you see a lot of horn players doing this.” He uses one hand to replicate the up and down motion associated with male masturbation. I laughed.
As we walked down into the park below Trocadéro, I needed to use the restroom. He expressed what he thought we could be doing in the Jardins du Trocadéro.
“I was thinking we could get a blanket and some wine and sit here, what do you think?”
“Sure, sounds good.”
It never happened, not even an attempt to go into a grocery store. The idea came and went like a passing thought. When I saw two restaurants along the edges of the park, I made my way over. The first cafe asked for a euro so I went next door and the guy reluctantly let me go for free. When I came back out, I saw him sitting on the edges of a flower pot with his head in his hands, looking as if in deep despair.
“You look like you’re in despair.”
“Despair, that’s a great word.”
We walked along an nondescript boulevard away from the park and away from a lovers lounge in the park. He asked, “Who did you sell to?”
“I was actually pretty good at it, I disarmed them with my quiet demeanor.”
“You have a nice voice, I can see that. You know what I do also involves selling myself.”
“I found that its easier to sell to men rather than women. I never had luck with women. Its just a lot of objection handling with men, if you can convince them logically, they will buy. Its different with women.”
“It was the opposite with me. I had more luck with women. I think with women you have to appeal to their imagination. Funny how that comes into play.”
We circled around back up to Trocadéro. “Have you thought of going back to Academia?” he asked.
“I like their pursuit of knowledge but I don’t think like an academic. You need to be thorough and analytical. I’m more creative and not thorough.”
“I think artists are the most ethical of the professions.”
“But they’re not ethical when it comes to sex. They’re the most amoral in that respect. Sex is apart of their creative process, so they’re free.”
Thinking back on this response, I wasn’t referring to myself but to a 19 year old Canadian artist I had recently met in Berlin. Unfortunately, he didn’t know this.
I continued, “You know my half-brother couldn’t understand what I could possibly be doing in Berlin, so he asked if I was a librarian because he knew I loved books.” We laughed.
We made our way along another nondescript boulevard into the residential 16th arrondissement. For all the tiny sidewalks, he liked to direct us onto decidedly unParisian roads. Once we began to wander off the main road, into the heavily quiet, empty and residential, we crossed several tiny streets with no traffic. I suspected he picked this based on my now mysterious comments on wealth, which I no longer remembered. The buildings were uniform in material and design, establishing an air of order, stately and grand but a bit uptight. No window showed a burst of individual eccentricity. As soon as we began to cross a street, I would feel his hand on my back. At one deserted crossing, his hand lightly tapped my back twice.
“What was that?” I laughed.
“To make sure you crossed the street safely.” He smiled.
At the start of our wandering point in the 16th, he also noticed that my shoulders and the entire back area behind my shoulders were tense.
“This whole area is tense. I”m going to have to give you a back massage one day.” he said as he touched that area.
“Its always tense there. I’m eventually going to become a hunchback. You notice everything.”
It was true, my shoulders felt more tense than usual. Exactly one skinny, stylish French girl passed us while we were walking in the 16th. She was wearing various layers of black and leather and her walk suggested she had better things to do than walk behind us. He made a negative judgement toward the rich looking pretty girl.
“I was explaining to my Moroccan friend the meaning of the word ‘bitch.’ When I finished, she said, you mean French girls?” As the girl walked pass us, he said, “Kind of like her.”
We passed by a compact, vintage, boxy car. One that gave off the image of being an old classic but was brand new.
“I like small cars, like this one,” he said as he walked around to look into the driver’s seat. “I don’t understand why people like big things… big cars like SUVs. That’s why I liked Bruges. I loved the buildings there. Have you ever been?”
“Yes, I understand.” I liked guys who were not characteristically tall. And it was a good sign when they liked small things. I felt it meant they liked themselves.
“If you could live anywhere in the world regardless of money, where would you live?”
“Also language?” An obstacle I considered stronger than money.
“I’d live in Rome. What about you?”
“I’d want a place in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Another place somewhere along the Mediterranean. I’d like a place in Bruges and maybe a house in China.”
“That’s a lot of places.”
We came across a neighborhood church. I always go into churches. When we entered, he bent down on one knee and crossed himself. He tried to instruct me on doing the same, but I continued to the pews.
“Are you Catholic?” I asked.
“No, but I like to show respect when I enter any church. I sometimes pray.”
“I’m not religious but I also pray.”
We took a seat and stared at the large crucification cross in front of us. It was a modern interpretation made of wood, with the arms of the cross rising into victory arms.
“I’ve never seen a cross look so happy,” I observed.
“I like it. You know there are some denominations that are happier.”
He took out his camera and took a photo of the happy cross. “I used to pray to St. Jude, the saint for hopeless and desperate cases, for hope when I was unemployed and back home,” his face serious in reflection.
Outside we walked past a men’s clothing store and he stopped and looked into the display window. “I like suede shoes, like these.”
My thoughts naturally drifted back to his morning story of the 45 year-old and the suit. In thought, not only did I momentarily stop listening, my eyes stopped looking too. As he looked, I was lost in negative thought.
“Why do you like suede?” I presently had on a suede jacket and suede shoes.
“They’re easier to clean.”
Brought back to the present, I tried to recover how one cleaned suede, but I was looking in a foggy mind. We left the window and I never saw the shoes.
Somewhere deep in the 16th arrondissement near metro Jasmin, we took a cappuccino break and I insisted we sit at the bar instead of one of the outside tables. I recounted my lesson in the necessity of bar seating for cheaper coffee prices. The entire cafe was empty and all the Parisians were just like us clambering to the bar. One old guy dragged a stool right behind us as we took the last two seats and asked if he could be considered as bar seating. They told him he could sit by the window and still be considered at the bar.
He liked the cappuccino and the conversation veered to Asian fetish. I said “Everyone thinks just because I live in Germany I only like blond guys.”
“I know, I once dated a black girl and everyone said I had Jungle fever.”
“You know there are some Asian girls that only date other Asians.”
He nodded his head.
I continued, “The first thing I have to do with these girls is prove that the guy I like does not have a thing for Asians. I also used to think it was a bad thing (and in some cases it is) but when you actually think about it, I want the guys to like Asians. I’m Asian.”
“But don’t you want them to like you uniquely as Johanna.”
“Of course, but I am not a free floating entity. I exist in an Asian body, that is also part of who I am. Do you have a type?”
“I don’t have a type, you’d have to ask my friends.” He seemed upset by this question, which made me think I wasn’t his type.