Saturday, August 15, 2009
TRACES OF THE WESTERN SLOPES
Events converge, are indistinct:
tragedy’s routine, and hope routed. Even in small towns, banks bursting with
nature raw, this catastrophe continues. It seeps into cracks and saturates. It
is atmospheric. It conditions. It gives pace to the corrosion of innocence.
What can be said to be certain still: Karachi, faith, murder. You can hear them
scratching floorboards beneath your feet, those who say: it is time to go back
to purity, "...until evil is extinct, until the death of death."
I dived off the harbour at Jard-sur-Mer
into water thick with salt and petrol and full of long, leaping fish. This was
for refreshment, and to complement my morning. I needed to get newspaper and
document stains off my fingers; to ease out coiled energy and menace, knotted
flesh and muscle. Climbing out, I felt healthy, bronzed. Skin purred and fizzed
as I dried in hot afternoon air. I cycled back into town and stopped for lunch
in a dank, grubby bar on the high street. I stuffed crayfish beneath ceiling
fans that cut shadows across my forehead. I drank Pernod served by a young
woman with strict, noble, Florentine visage. Shadows and potted shrubs tinged
the heavy, cool air. And yet, even so, tension and temerity still. Too tightly
wound to carve a crisp new phase. Cycling home along roads lined with poppies
and dry grass, sun searing and heat rippling the surface, Pernod did not sooth
or follow through.
Satellites circle a well-webbed sphere,
knit by bullet trains and budget airlines, fibre-optics and holography. “It
sounds like psychological warfare” said Bibi, resplendent and sprightly on Sky.
Shimon Naveh was making space smooth, was walking through walls. “You stupid
bastard,” screamed Gobi, in exasperation, “just arrange the fucking tanks!”
Stewing safely in Damascus, Meshal sent in kids and things blew up. From Mr.
Zapatero, routing bishops while Spaniards defaulted on loans and construction
companies collapsed: “finally I would like to highlight the importance of the
Mediterranean.” Ships shelled Gaza beaches. Queen Rania al-Abdullah, radiating,
said: “We in Jordan will do our part.” Kuwaitis, with fat gore $$$ mouths,
built the City of Silk on arid sand: a glossy smear of coloured glass, warped
metal and liquid light boasting world class art galleries and towers taller
than Burj Dubai. Emirate princes roamed European capitals in pursuit of Picasso
and Cezanne. Theme parks, from Legoland to Las Vegas, were imported, improved.
Abu Dhabi purchased branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim. Al-Saud princes
with ravenous eyes snatched Riviera casinos, Chinese coal fields, North Sea gas
concessions, Australian gold mines and English football teams. Republican
Guards and jet patrols and surveillance systems covered massing desert
machinery, so everything kept working, and money circulated.
My blood is quick and busy. I watch
carnivorous reserves with patience, alacrity. Trade on Brent crude,
reconfigurable warships, revolving tropical storms. These are deep plans. The
lure of privatisation, the weakening of consumption, the dizzy and delicious
cyclical slowdowns. For those counting on fortunes and futures, let's just say,
shall we, the point's been missed all along. The fun's been elsewhere. Some of
us got into position, acquired the right sensibility, understood the message,
the aesthetic and the pay off. It's been dicey, I concede: a case of sin taxes
on a blessed product. But look at me now. Drama steeled me. My skin is richer
than before. Ruddy cheeks highlight creamy complexion: country
life evanescence. City bars keep me toned and wired; in peak condition. At
16, I was reading Nabakov and at 18 I was reading Dostoevsky. Now I'm into
Essex girls and football and West End clubs. No transition here, so parents stay
proud, and paid off.
Markets lie stunned. Drexel Burnham and
Lazard Freres & Co. an early and eery prologue to months and years of
panic and mania. (Giuliani said: “If I were sitting in my old place at the
Justice Department, I would recommend a pardon for Michael Milken, and if I
were president, I would sign one, and if the president does sign one, I'd
congratulate him.”) Banning short selling makes markets more volatile. Shares
continue to fall; vast, opaque liabilities exposed. Caverns of debt. (“Anyone
who has closely examined what it is that Milken confessed to will tell you the
crimes are so esoteric, so nuanced, as to be nearly indecipherable.”) Years of
mantras and panics. Yulia: "new and invisible borders arise in
Europe," and "our choice was irrevocable."
Oysters slip down a fully open throat.
Crave seawater and its stringent and rejuvenating effect. I am now fully ill. I
am in pain. Flow of alcohol and nicotine while gulping cold air and acid rain.
I was also chatting up Latvian whores, as it was Riga, and the winter was icy,
and I was full of hard liquor. Medieval streets in aspic, now streaked with
neon and the dangerous and dirty come-ons of desperate starlets. Crowds
spilling and rolling round churches and strip clubs. A certain venture on the
brutal breeze: not a cure, or an answer, but a possible route, or several
suggestions. I was here years ago, this was my city, very cheap, and there to
learn the syllables of disgust. Running naked through empty hallways with a
body in pain at various hours of the morning. Breakfasting on white wine with
feet chipped to bits by snow.
Around this time you think of retaining
dignity into old age, of physical well-being. What are you eating? You should
closely regulate this: reduce saturated fat, up fibre intake, balance
carbohydrates, etc. Listen: the expanding sun, or the atmosphere expiring, will
allow beautiful English vineyards to bloom. Maybe French actors or American
producers will buy these, and turn vast profits. Markets open and expand
without pause; they are not predictable. The future is febrile. You must secure
your place in it. You see, everybody would like a bright and healthy future. It
is the driving basis of the Western spirit. Many do not understand the
sacrifice or preparation required and follow a different route, with all its
lusty attractions and romantic aspects. Others bet on neutered,
self-destructive systems and services, but value freedom, dynamism, discipline.
It is not tenable. Think: in time, why should you suffer? Why should you
struggle? Each action and decision is an investment or a divestment in the
years and decades ahead. You choose to lose, or succeed. So optimise your
health, avoid anemia, cholesterol, hypertension. Buy a heart-rate monitor. Go
low-GI. Invest in yourself. You mean that much. You are far too important to
The robust breeze and chopped swell.
Sand soft up to the tidal line, a rush of stone and shell sifted through white
water. The low, wracked dunes; wire fences clogged with rust, ripped,
collapsing. White sails and the forests and banks of Ile de Re on a sweeping,
full-circle panorama. The breeze picking up to wind, full of salt,
sun-saturated, above a curved drizzle of sea shells, dead molluscs: lovely
white decay, subtle shades of white. Dried-out thistle and grass on uneven dune
slopes. Little choppy sand breaks on the incoming tide, break from each point
in patches, with gentle turbulence. And the sun, as it emerges out of laborious
slabs of cloud, shoots light through the shore swell.
I cut my feet to shreds on the Vendee.
I crushed snails and skewered lizards. The girls behind windbreakers were
robust, bronzed, rich. Such health and delicious vigor - like Belinda Carlisle
in LA, with puppy fat but without smack - while stubbing out Camels on sand.
Turreau's death squads: colonnes infernales. Regional elements,
shared, sustained: salt, blood. This canvas for clouds: white, black, light,
heavy; sun-shafts and downpours and lightning. Dogs and herring gulls chewing
charred corpses on searing sand. It happened. The salt marshes, their mechanics
only grasped as you dry out on them, lips salty, bitten. Terns and avocets and
egrets, circling, grazing. The marsh cows, harriers and hawks, herons and
swans, moving slowly through murky air, low altitude.
A crisis not quick to be solved or
resolved or undone. Of course you must remain social and rational and social to
remain rational and somehow redeem rationality. And yet, there I was, spewing
vast scarlet vats of Rioja and large chunks of Japanese cuisine outside the
restaurant. Feeling, at times, untouchable; at others, like a sick man who
invents stories. A while ago, problems began; hangovers spanned whole horizons
and undid days. What happened? (We are not the bright young things of Karachi.)
On the tube home there was a scene: a mentally unraveling Yardie shouted
obscenities at walls and trains and women. Eventually a smooth old man (in
genuine Aquascutum Mac) confronted this slurring bug as the rest of us dug our
faces into books and free papers. Against mutual roars, we kept composure
strict, asocial; felt ashamed, though not sure of what. Not rising as one to
back right and attack wrong. Because righteous mass action would be group
depravity: a Paul Dacre lynch mob. We were not that mob: we understood the
subtleties of the situation, its subterranean tremors. We were psychologists
and politicians. Not crude, but supple and modern. At home, undisturbed, apart
from the ceiling spinning, I recall following the wobble of black ankle-tied
high heels on some wasted tart sleeping opposite me. She missed her stop.
Warning her, I guess, would have ruined my pleasure. The language, when she
realised, was filthy.
Two heels stopped dead on stained
concrete, after celestial sixty degree slice, in support of curt gym-toned
figurine, topped by cute Cleopatra nose and blunt helmet bob. This august
occurrence at Kennington Station with ten minutes until the Mordan train. I
must mention that as the stench rose, the ceiling dripped hot sweat. It was
midnight. Outside was sheer cold. But underground, jammed on the platform, we
suffered in scarves, Macs, sweaters, boots. I must mention: I was clinging to
sweat streaming down curved walls. I clung. It was clammy. The light dim,
during these delays, with barely enough oxygen to breathe. Throat clogged by
vomit while admiring various flesh tones and samples of delicious nylon. Not so
easy: self-infliction, provocation, moral affliction. You learn. In trouble
now: a soul in decline. We are not the bright young things of Karachi. Born 10
years from tattoos and unprotected sex in estate parks and cider injections and
pet torture. Sliding down streaming walls, ogling sluts: you grow.
Sensex plunge. Aishwarya's eyes stay
open: plucked & sublime FULL WHITE MOONS. "We are busy acquiring
the accouterments of prosperity." The lure of Goa; a hippy daughter raped
on golden sand. W. said to Pope Benedict XVI: “Thank you, Your Holiness.
Awesome speech.” Carla: “We have no word for entrepreneur.” Carla swallowed
spam mail. “Gross!” No more tapes & dodgy optical discs – you
simply buy a new stock of hard drives. Carla purred: “it is all so
tactile.” New deep sea discoveries: crusts rich in cobalt; 90 billion barrels
of oil in the Arctic circle; gas hydrates on sea beds. Bickering about
emissions trading and lavish incentives for bio-fuels, windmills and nuclear
plants, in large rooms filled with PowerPoint displays and bottles of mineral
water. Renegade ecologists caught transporting endangered species over borders.
"Normally when people talk about water scarcity, they mean drinking water,
from taps. We mean irrigation, crops." California and Tunisia screaming,
therefore fresh dialogue and pristine plans: edible optics and aquatecture, air
cars and space taxis. Capacity cushion doubled. OPEC, said Obama. "I'm
from Chicago." Nothing original: it happened. Mind is leaping like
dolphins; sharing the planet with Pixie Geldof and can live with it. Bar
Refaeli, backing new initiatives to recover endangered beaches, asks,
"Will these tragic times make us happier?" Liberty Ross, at a
Serpentine exhibition opening, had to make an impact in asymmetric satin.
"So many things happened to me in quick succession that it's no wonder I
blew up." "Fuck, I was enormous." Net the salmon, slit them
open, strip out the eggs, toss the carcasses aside. Caviar.
We own little and owe lots. Maybe more
things will happen soon, or not a lot will. You arrive here, and then go and
let the sun sink, as if it meant to. In that way bones go soft or they get
brittle, if you want them to or let them. A helicopter hovers over white
yachts: the sky is flashed with sun-fire and ripped up by air sea rescue. We
have a new lease, lent by events. For that let’s mark moments and set
thresholds. Things we expect, hope for, fear. The swell picks up and yachts
turn back; waves unfold along thin tectonic plates. Under hostile sky, next to
cracked rock, crumbling wooden shacks, fences half-submerged in sand, we
dispense hours in luxury, before things clarify. Before too much has been lost,
or too many things forgotten. Before we begin to define years and days with
attention and urgency, or develop diversions of posterity, legacy. Before
habits and flaws affect things with force. Or every extra year mollifies and
modifies, and perspective overpowers, or is lost completely. Eventually there
will be a referendum on days. We’ll clamor for quiet, and get it.